Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Working for Dracula bites. Sure, the guy is extremely wealthy and affluent, but most of his staff is comprised working stiffs, guys that look more dead than alive, and lusty underage women. You ever work in a decrepit old castle in the middle of nowhere? It’s not as fun as it sounds. Considering the crusty pools of spilt blood and slimy monsters everywhere, the place is probably a giant health hazard. Don’t get me started on the boss. The Prince of Darkness is only awake at night, so picking up his tunic from the dry cleaners or getting some food isn’t exactly the easiest thing to accomplish. His thick Transylvanian accent makes taking dictation a headache. Dracula isn’t the most approachable boss either; someone asking for a small raise will likely end up with their head on a platter and their blood used as a quick refreshment. He’s literally one of the most powerful supernatural forces on Earth, but he keeps getting killed every time some self-righteous hero wanders into the office. What kind of job security is that?
At least Hector quit when he had the chance. After working for years as the Dracula’s Devil Forgemaster, this hero of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness decided to find another way to earn his paycheck. It couldn’t have happened at a better time, either; Dracula had just gotten his ass kicked yet again, this time by Trevor Belmont after the conclusion of Castlevania III. The world was supposed to be safe from the Prince of Darkness…at least, until someone figured out how to resurrect him or whatever other unlikely methods needed to bring him back for the next game. But before Dracula was sent into the hellish abyss, he left Europe with a parting gift: a curse that spreads disease, incites violence, and leaves everyone in a pretty nasty mood. Sick of all the gloom and doom, Hector goes home to live happily ever after with his wife. Unfortunately, his apparent retirement was short-lived; Hector’s wife was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. He learned that Isaac, Hector’s coworker and Dracula’s second Devil Forgemaster, orchestrated her death. Fueled by nothing but passionate revenge and hatred, Hector has returned to the realm of Castlevania to avenge his murdered wife.
Ahh…it’s the Monopoly guy…
Unfortunately, he’s too caught up in his anger to realize that he’s begun his epic quest of revenge armed with nothing more than a short sword. Even if he is a badass gothic warrior with murderous intent, he won’t last very long against the legions of unholy creatures roaming the countryside. In order to ensure his survival, Hector must find chunks of different types of metals and combine them to make brand new weapons and armor. In the tradition of the newer Castlevania games, our hero can equip various items, which will affect his offensive, defensive, and a slew of other stats that you won’t care about. The only thing that you’ll probably care about is the large arsenal of weapons to create; Hector can wield all sorts of swords, knuckles, spears, and axes to decimate his foes. Each type of weapon comes with its own moveset, which is basically comprised of a series of quick hits followed up by a handful of finishing moves. While this isn’t quite as awesome as the whip of the Belmont family, the weapon system is pretty impressive.
Too bad the same can’t be said about the Devil Forgemaster system. During his time working for Count Dracula, Hector specialized in Devil Forging, which basically amounts to creating little creatures that can be used for fighting. These ‘Innocent Devils’ aren’t quite the same as the monsters of Pokemon fame; the I.D.s can be summoned in the heat of battle, each with their own unique capabilities and powers. For example, early in the game you’ll acquire a little fairy thingy (kind of like Navi from Ocarina of Time but a hell of a lot less annoying) that can heal you either on command or automatically. Aside from replenishing your health, it’ll open up chests that contain maps, items, and metals needed to complete your mission. You’ll get to order around a giant golem-esque lava creature, command winged beasts, and a handful of other creatures that have their own uses. Since these little critters fight side by side with you, they’ll level up and become more powerful as the story progresses. However, an I.D.s development doesn’t simply revolve around bashing baddies and crunching numbers. In order to create a truly powerful monster, you’ll have to use various weapons to kill your foes, which will grant your devil special affinities and grow specialized stats. While such a task isn’t necessary, it can make the whole Devil Forging system pretty tedious affair.
You can’t go wrong with dragons
Unfortunately, the tediousness doesn’t end with the overly complicated system. Fans of Lament of Innocence will likely treasure their memories of wandering through dank and twisted corridors, and then finding themselves suddenly surrounded by a dozen ghouls and ghosts. From that point forward, it was a matter of how many fast-paced whip combos you could get off before all the tough-as-nails baddies bit the dust. Curse of Darkness lacks that kind of exhilaration; exploring the European countryside only requires you to stroll down a given path (sorry, old-school Castlevania fans, no platforming), smacking around a few minions, hoarding metal to make new items, and slowly but surely making it to the next uninspired boss. There’s little in the way of exploration, either; all of the hallways are the exact same width with few secrets to be found, and even fewer baddies to fight. Once you actually engage in combat, you’ll find that many of them are fairly inept warriors. Many of them will simply stand around in a supernatural stupor, waiting patiently for you to annihilate them with a flurry of attacks. The lack of difficulty is balanced out by an incredibly shoddy camera system, which will rotate or readjust on its own whenever you try to target a nearby enemy. Forget Dracula – bland gameplay is the real evil in Castlevania.
But for such a boring experience, Curse of Darkness is a remarkably beautiful game. The cutscenes are wonderfully executed CGI with great voice acting, depicting the struggles of a man blinded by vengeance. Though the music is pretty generic for Castlevania standards, you’ll be too impressed by the visuals to really care. You’ll get to traverse through crumbling castles, trod through dirt roads and through sinister mountain passes, and plenty of other interesting locales. You’ll see things like the cracks in the hallway floors, the layers of rock imbedded in the walls, the way the light emanates from candles and fire-breathing monsters, and plenty of other nifty little details. Hector stands tall, decked out in a few layers of armor, a fancy black and white emblem stitched on his back, enough long white hair to make even Alucard blush, and some bright red belt/scarf/fashion accessory thingy flowing behind his every step. Even when he’s standing still, you can see his chest moving up and down and a rhythm, as if he were trying to breathe some life into those deathly pale cheeks of his. Gamers will likely delight in seeing this pretty boy in action, be it his intense sword combos or his insane floor-sliding spear attack. Though the combat of the game doesn’t seem quite as awesome as Devil May Cry 3 or flow quite as smoothly as God of War, Hector makes it look good.
You stink! Get in the damn bath!
For shame, Konami. If you’re going to give the gaming world another Castlevania game, at least make it something worthwhile. The story is decent, if not a little cliched. The weapons system is an awesome idea, and the specialized combos and moves for each weapon makes things seem pretty fresh. Too bad the game is bogged down by unimpressive enemies, a horrendous camera, a fairly easy difficulty and bland level designs. In hindsight, the Devil Forgery system is kind of a tacky feature as well; couldn’t the effort in designing this tedious gameplay gimmick be better used for daunting foes, more engaging gameplay or anything else that this game lacks? I wanted to like Curse of Darkness. Not just because I’m a raving fan of the series, but because I had faith that the latest Castlevania title would deliver as well as its predecessors. Sadly, such is not the case.