Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Review by Mike Finkelstein
After the events of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, dissention brewed among Dracula's followers. Two of the demon-forgemasters (a character class introduced in this game, and then never heard from again) -- those responsible for the creation of many of the monsters in Dracula's realm -- were at odds about what to do next. Issac, loyal to Dracula, wanted to bring the dark lord back and work towards ruling the world, while Hector, disgusted with Dracula's policies (murder, mayhem, meat on Sundays), left the fold to forge (drum riff) a new life for himself. He got married, settled down, and worked to live the good life.
Sadly, three years later, Issac came around, killed Hector's wife, and blamed Hector for it, saying that Hector left the fold, and Issac had to get vengeance for that slight against Dracula. Now, Hector has to explore the lands of Romania, working to get his own vengenace and stop the potential resurrection of Dracula.
Functionally, Curse of Darkness plays a lot like Lament of Innocence. In the game, your character explores section after section (sometimes room after room) "dungeon crawling" through various terrain, killing monsters, collecting weapons and items, and leveling up. The addition of a fleshed out RPG system (like earlier entries) is an improvement over Lament -- at least there's a reason to keep killing enemies.
The big system in place -- the magic system each Castlevania game reinvents -- is the "Innocent Devils" system. Hector can create various devils that will aid him, not unlike familiars in Symphony of the Night. As they are used, the devils will level up and grow along with Hector, and their various effects (and potential attacks) differ between the devils. Like the familiars, there will probably be some types you use more often than others, but each has their benefits in certain situations.
Meanwhile, unlike the hub world in Lament, Curse of Darkness sports a fully-explorable world, mapped out in a hybrid Lament style. Those that were turned off by the ridgid structure of the levels in Lament will appreciate the more free flowing, open "rooms" of Curse, but by and large the whole game feels more like a refined sequel to its predecessor, and not a fully different game.
Graphically, the game is about as nice looking as Lament with only a little refinement from the previous 3D entry. I'll be honest, I liked the design style of Curse well enough, but as with Lament, it's not spectacular, and many of the areas end up feeling fairly "samey". "Oh, another stretch of forest. Another set of dull grey rooms."
And the soudtrack is decent, if not memorable (a complaint that is becoming more and more frequent with later iterations of the series). Snippets of older songs -- "Vampire Killer", "Beginning", and "Reincarnated Soul" to name a few -- feature in new songs, providing familiar threads to the new tracks... and yet none of the songs are any I'd listen to again outside the game.
After seven similar-playing games -- five iterations of the Metroid/Castlevania formula, and now two games built as more of a 2D/3D hyrbid -- all with anime inspried graphics and increasingly lacking, ambient soundtracks, it's hard to shake the feeling that the Castlevania series is just treading water. Curse of Darkness is not a technically impressive game, nor is it interested in doing much of anything new. It's Lament of Innocence with a thin veneer of Symphony of the Night -- if Lament didn't interest you, Curse of Darkness won't. It's just more of the same, slightly refined and yet blander all at the same time.