Konami leads us down the dark path of its latest 3D Castlevania in our in-depth look at the beginning of the game.
2003's Lament of Innocence marked the hallowed Castlevania franchise's first 3D iteration since the ill-fated Nintendo 64 game was released in 1998. Now famed director Koji "Iga" Igarashi and his crew are toiling in the depths of Konami's development dungeon to put the finishing touches on Curse of Darkness, the second Castlevania game to hit the PlayStation 2. We got to sit down to play through the first hour of the game to see how the latest vampire-hunting jaunt is shaping up--and we brought back a bunch of new gameplay movies from our first blood-soaked foray.
If you're not in the know, Curse of Darkness picks up three years after the end of the classic NES game Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. Just before the old fangmeister was vanquished by Trevor Belmont, he cursed the land and doomed it to an age of pestilence, strife, and darkness. It's in this climate of despair that you take control of Hector, formerly one of Dracula's trusted lieutenants, who has relinquished his dark powers and tried to walk the path of good. For reasons that aren't yet clear, Hector returns to Dracula's vacant castle at the outset of Curse of Darkness. Well, it isn't quite vacant--Hector encounters another of Dracula's assistants, a vengeful guy named Isaac. And wouldn't you know it: Isaac comes out to greet Hector at the castle gates, where the two quickly exchange some heated words.
Hector's got a bone to pick with Isaac over the death of someone named Rosalie, while Isaac's not too pleased with Hector because of the role he played in Dracula's downfall. Exactly what circumstances led up to this little tiff aren't revealed at the beginning, but the whole thing plays out a little bit like Transylvania, 90210. The introduction we saw was in English (though we noted a Japanese language option in the setup menu), and the quality of the voice-over we heard was quite strong. More surprisingly, the lip-syncing was accurate to the English dialogue, which isn't something you see often in Japanese-developed games like this. At any rate, it's nice to see that the team is focusing its efforts on the presentation of what looks to be a fairly winding plot.
After Isaac proclaims Hector's imminent doom and then heads back into the castle with a flourish, you'll head inside to start battling hordes of the undead and working your way toward your inevitable confrontation with evil. The game has a straightforward combat system that's pretty easy to get a handle on. You've got a basic attack button that you can hammer on to produce one three-hit combo. But when you combine that button with the combo-modifier button in varying patterns, you can issue more-complicated attacks like a spin-slash move or a sword throw. It seems the game will also unveil special maneuvers as you progress; early on, we were given an evade move that got us quickly out of harm's way, and this was soon upgraded to a double-evade that let us roll and then flip for extra distance.
But that's just the basic combat. It seems that Hector and Isaac are the only remaining humans who command the power of devil forging, which lets the wielder create innocent devils, which are the familiars that form the basis of the combat in Curse of Darkness. Not long after he enters the castle, Hector will gain access to his first devil. This one is just a tiny fairy who starts off with a basic healing spell. You can set her to auto so she'll heal you whenever you take damage, or you can leave her on follow so you can make her heal manually.
After we beat the first boss, however, we gained a second innocent devil--one far larger and more powerful. Most of the game's innocent devils--such as this one, a beefy dude made out of rock and magma--will have a number of offensive capabilities, and you'll be able to have your devils play a support role, whereby they'll wander around and help you kill whatever you're attacking, or a purely defensive one, which will make them protect you at all costs. Each innocent devil will start off with a special attack that you can use at the touch of a button--the magma giant used an area-of-effect ground stomp that damaged all enemies nearby, for instance. It seems that you'll gain new innocent devils at set intervals throughout the story, though you'll be able to evolve each individual devil into successive forms with more abilities by picking up evolution crystals as you hack and slash your way through Dracula's abode. From what we could tell, these crystals are applied automatically when you pick them up to whatever devil you're currently using, so it seems like the devils you like the most will naturally be the ones who evolve to their most advanced forms.
Of course, there's more to the game than just fighting. Curse of Darkness will have an item synthesis system such that you'll gain new "recipes" for weapons, armor, and accessories as you play through the game. You'll pick up various component parts--everything from aluminum to wild memory, whatever that is--and you can jump to a synthesis menu at any time to see what recipes you currently have available and whether or not you have the required parts to make those items. For instance, we combined one bronze and one wild memory to make a leather helm, which added two points to our defense rating. We didn't come across any premade items in the game, so it seems like this will be your primary method of obtaining new equipment as you go along.
From what we played, Curse of Darkness is shaping up to be another solid entry in the Castlevania series with a generous combination of robust play mechanics. Between the weapon creation, the evolution and command of your familiars, and the seemingly large number of combat options, it looks like there's a lot to do here. And don't forget, the old whip-cracking hero Trevor Belmont will be making a playable appearance later in the game as well. We'll bring you more on Castlevania: Curse of Darkness--including, hopefully, a look at Trevor himself--before the game ships in November.
- Release Date: Nov 1, 2005 (US)
- ESRB: MTitles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older.