#9: Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
There are better ways to expand on Castlevania III’s story than this
Initial release: 2005
Platform: Playstation 2, XBox
The second of Konami’s attempts at bringing Devil May Cry-esque “stylish action” to the venerable Castlevania franchise, and yet it somehow manages to be both more interesting and more dull than Lament of Innocence at the same time.
Lament’s biggest problems were the combat and the level design. Curse of Darkness supposedly “improves” on these, but these improvements are purely cosmetic. The combat is certainly more dynamic and fast-paced, but that doesn’t make it interesting.
The levels have more varied environments, many of them borrowing from Castlevania III, the game’s immediate predecessor in the series’ in-universe timeline. You’ll traverse mountain passes, aqueducts, a forest, a zombie-infested town, etc. Unfortunately the game is even more linear than Lament of Innocence.
While there are multiple branching paths and dead ends, all roads lead, ultimately, to the same place. The worst thing about the level design is that every room and corridor is huge and identical to the others, and it takes ages to get anywhere because you move so slowly.
While occasionally there are some links back to earlier areas, as well as teleporters that you link up as you find them, there’s very little reason to backtrack except to visit the shop. And it’s clear, towards the end, that the level designers had given up.
By the time you reach the final level, Dracula’s Castle, the game abandons all pretense of exploration and puts you through roughly ten copies each of the same identical rooms and corridors, over and over and over, and many times the exit is locked until you clear the room.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the combat wasn’t fucking infuriating. While you can lock on to your enemies, it seems to serve little purpose other than to keep the camera on them, as the tracking is non-existent. You WILL be swinging at enemies and missing them entirely. Often.
Making matters worse is the “innocent devil” system in which familiars fight alongside you, level up, and occasionally evolve. The problem is that for them to be of much use, you’ll need to evolve them a lot — and if you don’t grind, you’re eventually going to hit a wall.
I absolutely fucking detest this kind of forced grinding. It’s one of the worst aspects of the habitually overdesigned jRPG genre. The familiar system itself is also poorly documented in-game, forcing you to rely on guides to know which way to evolve them.
The familiar system replaces the items of previous Castlevanias, which would be fine if not for the fact that hearts are much rarer to come by, as is money, as is items. Torches and the like no longer guarantee an item drop of any sort, and the shop basically robs you.
Let’s talk about the story, shall we? I’ll be blunt: it’s stupid. Granted, Castlevania games aren’t known for the depth or breadth of their storylines. but Curse of Darkness has a particularly extraneous storyline that serves essentially no purpose to the series’ overall plot.
You play as hector, a “devil forgemaster” (someone who can summon familiars) who used to work for Dracula (given the timeframe, Dracula would have been synonymous with the real-life Vlad the Impaler, though I have my own ideas on how to square real-life history with Castlevania lore) only to turn against him during the events of Castlevania III.
Short of the prequel manga, which I didn’t know existed until review time, I want to point out that this is the only time “devil forgemasters” are ever mentioned in the franchise. And there are only two: Hector and the game’s primary villain, hector’s rival Isaac, who is so queer-coded he could’ve come out of an 80s cartoon.
In any case, hector has sworn revenge on Isaac for killing his wife/girlfriend/whatever before the game starts (supposedly the prequel manga details hector’s life as a civilian) and Isaac did it as revenge for betraying their dead boss. They don’t get along. (Worth pointing out that all of this is thrown out for the anime, and both of them have very different backgrounds and motivations.)
Isaac leads hector on a chase across the countryside. Along the way he meets a weird monk named Zaed, a witch named Julia who runs a shop, a fop in Victorian-era clothes named Saint Germain, and a very pretty-boy rendition of Trevor from Castlevania III.
Saint Germain is probably the most interesting of the lot, as he reveals himself to be a time traveler (hence his clothes) involved in… some sort of time stream management? Do you think he knows Booster Gold?
Anyway some stuff happens and Isaac turns out to have been possessed by ~DRACULA’S CURSE~ in a plot to get hector back to fighting shape so that Dracula’s soul can take over his body, aided along by Zaed (who turns out to be Death, go figure.)
Oh, and Julia is Isaac’s sister. And Trevor gets stabbed by Isaac and is never seen again, though Julia apparently has him in her care or some shit. And then Dracula uses Isaac’s body instead and then Hector kills him anyway.
It’s dumb and I don’t care.
Let’s talk boss fights, shall we?
They’re bullshit. Each one is progressively more bullshit than the last. The very first one isn’t so bad, but they get progressively worse. The most irritating one has to be the skeleton on the zombie shark, which takes forever to bring down.
Your more human enemies, meanwhile, are absolutely infuriating. You fight Trevor and Isaac twice, and both times they are ludicrously fast while you’re still stumbling around swinging your sword or whatever into the space they just stepped out of.
The worst, however, is Saint Germain, who is a cheating bastard. Aside from constantly teleporting around, he will frequently manipulate time to fuck with you, for example poisoning you and then speeding up time to do tremendous damage to you unless you take a serum. When you finally manage to kill him, he… fuckin’ rewinds time to give himself more health COME THE FUCK ON!!!!!!!!!111
After about 10 attempts at beating him I gave up and watched the rest of the game on Youtube and I do not regret this decision at all. The game is dull as dishwater; I’d been dragging my feet going through it because it’s just endless drudgery punctuated by frustrating bosses.
Even the soundtrack is largely unremarkable, a big sin for the franchise and especially annoying considering how Lament of Innocence’s soundtrack almost made up for the rest of that game’s shortcomings.
All in all, this has to be one of the most disappointing entries in the franchise. It’s a misunderstanding of what makes games like devil may cry fun, combined with bad jRPG nonsense that’s poorly explained and adds little to the gameplay. You’re better off playing Castlevania 64.