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CONSOLE: PlayStation 2 DEVELOPER: Konami PUBLISHER: Konami
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 1, 2005 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

The Vampire Killer gets stuffed into a storage locker.

NOTE: I am using the PlayStation 2 version of this game for review purposes.

Even after well over a decade, the gaming public is still not sure quite what to think of Castlevania games in 3D. First, there was Castlevania for the Nintendo 64, a novel excursion past the side-scrolling days of yore but lacking that Castlevania charm and tight gameplay that the series sorely needs. A few years later, PlayStation 2 owners were treated to Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, a game that, despite a few little flaws here and there, was worthy of its Castlevania title and demonstrated how the transition to 3D could actually be achieved. A second game for both PlayStation 2 and Xbox, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, followed in 2005 (which we'll be looking at now), and it followed a very similar formula to Lament of Innocence. And, of course, there is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which took the series in a completely different direction. No one is quite certain about that one... In all, Castlevania has had a bumpy road while changing dimensions. Is Castlevania: Curse of Darkness a bump?

No, not particularly, but it's no ramp either. Curse of Darkness puts you in the shoes of Hector (no last name given, which is odd) in the year 1479, three years after Dracula's defeat at the hands of Trevor Belmont. Hector is a devil forgemaster, a former slave of Dracula who defected in search of a regular life outside the sphere of vampirism. He successfully did so, even managing to settle into a loving relationship with a girl named Rosaly, who he was to marry. Happiness and a lack of conflict don't make a good story, so Rosaly is accused of being a witch and is burned at the stake at the behest of Isaac, Dracula's other devil forgemaster associate (former, I suppose, considering Dracula was defeated). Hector now needs to hunt down Isaac and make him pay for his actions. The very flamboyant Isaac seems to desire this for reasons that will make themselves known in time. Revenge is a dish best served with potatoes.

Unlike Lament of Innocence, the regions of the world are directly connected, although you can travel throughout via special warp gates instead of leading the life of the pedestrian. These gates are good to have, considering the amount of necessary backtracking. There are twelve areas in all, ranging from forests to mountains and from temples to the signature clock tower, but there sure is a high amount of gray in this game. I was surprised by how many instances of entering a new land, only to be struck by a palette of grays. Some extra splashes of colour would have really made a difference; don't anticipate more than muted colours for the most part in this entire game. Worse yet, the layouts of the regions aren't exactly challenging. Although there are a few branching pathways, most of your travels will be very straightforward, requiring little exploration off the main path. There are also far fewer secrets to be found than in Lament of Innocence, requiring very little close examination of your surroundings for hidden clues. Worst of all are the long hallways filled with... emptiness. I didn't pay good money to NOT be attacked!

Naturally, found within this haunted wasteland are enemies. Most of them are fairly standard offerings, some even carried over directly from the previous Castlevania game. Skeletons, spectres, Medusa heads, and really irritating dogs/skeletal dogs will cross your path frequently. You know, all the usual spooky stuff of legend. Flying creatures show up sometimes as well, and they're pesky to kill, though Hector's double-jump is of great use. Sadly, palette swaps are quite common, so you'll be sure to see the same enemies multiple times over. If you really enjoyed whipping creatures in Lament of Innocence, be prepared to be disappointed: Hector doesn't use a whip. He can, however, use a variety of other tools, such as swords, axes, and spears. Using the power of alchemy (or "Combination", as Konami has called it), you can forge weapons, helmets, and armor with metals dropped from enemies or found by Hector. Unfortunately, you may end up wasting a valuable metal and create a weaker piece of equipment, requiring either a sad face or a reset of the game (which also leads to a sad face).

Wait... what about sub-weapons, another staple of Castlevania games? Someone took that staple out of this cursed paper.


If it's the whipping of Dracula you seek, then... well, you'll be disappointed.

So what exactly makes Curse of Darkness stand out? Perhaps the one thing that renders the game as unique is the inclusion of Innocent Devils. Similar in nature to the "gotta catch 'em all" burst of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hector can find Innocent Devils that will fight alongside him and make his journey a bit easier. And it's not as though they're well-hidden. In fact, finding your own navel is a greater challenge than locating the Innocent Devils. Of course, you need them and their special abilities to progress through the game. A Bird Type, for example, will carry you across small chasms; a Battle Type, on the other hand, can open large iron doors that would be otherwise impenetrable.

They gain experience when equipped, just as Hector does, and they can also be upgraded by collecting Evo Crystals, jewels left behind by enemies. The colour of the crystal depends on what weapon you're using, and that, in turn, affects the evolution of your Innocent Devil. Collecting different types of crystals results in new and funky forms of your devil. Depending on what form your devil has, it will learn different additional abilities.

Also, director Koji Igarashi's love affair with chairs shines through in Curse of Darkness. Various chairs can be found in the game (including a secret meadow filled with different chairs), complete with jaunty descriptions of each. That's great if you need a brief respite from jabbing packs of wild dogs in the neck.

Sadly, Curse of Darkness suffers from one major drawback: it's a bit boring. Contrary to the belief of some (source: nobody in particular), a SCARCITY of enemies is just as rough on a player as too many. That's where this game falls short: too many long corridors with not enough in them. (This occurrence DOES help me survive, though.) There are other downsides, such as the muddily dull graphics or the lack of a thrilling soundtrack, but the tedium issue took the cake. Then it ran away with that cake, and I had no cake left.

CAKE.

I did enjoy the CG video clips, though. The lip synch is extremely impressive; either it was rendered in English, or the localization team did a topnotch job of synchronizing the script with the mouth movements. Even the voice acting is decent for the most part. Some characters are just plain bizarre, like the time traveling Saint Germain. And why does Dracula look like Chad Kroeger from Nickelback?

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is a competent game, but it doesn't offer the same level of thrills as other action games in its peer group. There's a heavy focus on, well, walking around and exploring. The inclusion of Innocent Devils is a nice touch (and yes, indeed a welcome one that I enjoy), but it's a tad gimmicky. I admit that I really liked this game the first time around, but after playing through it years later, it just doesn't have the same appeal. Either I've become more matured, or this game simply isn't as wonderful as I once thought. I don't think I'll ever be mature, so...


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