The second chapter in the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow saga, the 3DS's Mirror of Fate, brought the series closer to its roots than it has been in years. Side-scrolling action made a comeback, with a small amount of Symphony of the Night-style exploration in tow, but it also maintained the combo-driven combat established in the first Lords of Shadow game. The combination of the best elements from different corners of the series worked well, and the reimagining of the connection between the Belmont family of vampire hunters and Dracula provided an interesting if somewhat predictable twist. Unfortunately, a small number of design choices got in the way of the good stuff, but in porting Mirror of Fate to consoles, Konami had a chance to finally fix those failings. Mirror of Fate goes further than the expected visual upgrades, making small improvements that lead to a much more enjoyable experience.
The story in Mirror of Fate picks up after the conclusion of the first Lords of Shadow and follows the paths of three characters: Simon Belmont, his father Trevor Belmont, and Alucard. Each of their stories is told separately, but these threads weave together by the end of the game. Unfortunately, due to the heavy hints laid out in the beginning, the intended element of surprise ultimately falls flat.
Plot aside, Mirror of Fate is a straightforward affair with few innovative constructs, but what is there feels tight. With your map and its handy objective icon, you navigate the halls of Dracula's castle, fending off zombies, seething, skull-headed rat-dogs, and undead knights, with an occasional challenging boss fight along the way. It isn't tricky to maneuver through the castle, but a plethora of platforming sections keep things interesting. The character's whip-like Combat Cross let's them grapple and swing from chandeliers and broken bits of castle, then flow into hand-over-hand climbing sections where you have to leap over chasms before pulling yourself up to solid ground. The orchestration of these sections present a reasonable challenge, but more importantly, you feel like you're exploring the depths and heights of Dracula's castle, rather than sticking to plain paths laid by hallways and staircases.
The three-character setup is an interesting method for storytelling, but it also allows for a bit of variety in play styles. That's not to say the Belmonts and Alucard are wildly different from one another, but each comes with a slightly different repertoire of movement and attack abilities. Regardless of the character in question, the game's combat system makes it easy to string together a series of direct and area attacks, well-timed blocks that can stun enemies, and evasive maneuvers. Thanks to the tight, responsive controls, it's easy to mash your way to victory, but every encounter provides opportunities to demonstrate mastery over the nuanced timing and complex commands.
None of this has changed for the Mirror of Fate HD update, where the most obvious changes are in the visuals. It's not immediately apparent which textures or models are old, but what's here shines on a larger, clearer display. Mercury Steam's beautifully twisted gothic designs for Mirror of Fate finally get the presentation they deserve, and though the in-game models appear rough around the edges compared to console-native games, Mirror of Fate HD's presentation is surprisingly strong.
Interestingly, the graphical boost isn't the only difference between versions of Mirror of Fate. Least of all, the controls have been loosened a bit, allowing you to use the D-pad to control your character. Beyond this, the most important change is the removal of the vast majority of quick-time events. When I reviewed Mirror of Fate the first time around, I lamented the fact that the game constantly shoved in quick-time events. Want to open a treasure chest? Get ready to tap the A button a dozen times. Ready to deal the final blow to a difficult boss? Prepare for a series of button presses that can't be missed. In both scenarios, you've proven your abilities and shouldn't be subjected to laborious inputs for the mere sake of it. In most instances, quick-time events have been removed from Mirror of Fate HD in favor of allowing the action or cutscene to progress without further input.
These are small changes, but the latter has far-reaching implications on the game at large. I no longer view Mirror of Fate as a good Castlevania game plagued by annoying design issues. Now, in the case of the HD port, the positives rise to the surface rather than the negatives, and Mirror of Fate finally feels like a great addition to the series. It has the most intriguing story in any Castlevania game to date, even if it is a bit predictable, and the emphasis on combat above exploration is a fair trade, primarily because the combo system is so fluid and sports a good amount of depth. Mirror of Fate on the 3DS may not have been the side-scrolling, vampire-hunting adventure that we all hoped it would be, but with its heightened presentation and revamped mechanics, Mirror of Fate HD is a big step in the right direction.