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SummaryYou can't go wrong with Castlevania
The GoodCastlevania - Curse of Darkness is the second Castlevania game for the Playstation 2. The first one, Lament of Innocence, was special because it was (story wise) a prequel to all Castlevania games in existence. This was I guess a second attempt to make a 3D Castlevania game (after a very controversial N64 one I think - I don't know I haven't played it), and in my opinion a great success.
Now they made this game special too, this time because of the protagonist and of gameplay features. The game is supposed to be a direct sequel to the NES game Castlevania III : Dracula's Curse. The protagonist, Hector, is not a vampire hunter of any kind, but a devil forgemaster. He's a former servant of Dracula, but because of all evil Drac did he decided to stop serving him and lead a normal life with his beloved one. Everything was fine until Isaac, another devil forgemaster that remained loyal to Dracula, vowed to get revenge on Hector for his "betrayal" and killed his girlfriend. Supposedly, it's because of Hector's betrayal that Dracula lost in Dracula's Curse (although he did make absolutely no appearance in the NES game - nor did Isaac, neither does any characters from CV3 (Grant, Sypha, Alucard) make any appearance here either).
A question that you might be asking to yourself it "what in the world is a devil forgemaster ?". Well, it's a guy who can create innocent demons (IDs) and make them totally loyal to you, and help you to fight. No idea how this was any useful to Dracula, nor why did those guys serve him, but anyway any excuse for a good game is good.
Those little guys (the IDs) are actually very useful, and if you played Castlevania - Portrait of Ruin for the DS you know what to expect - like the character you don't control in Portrait of Ruin, they are CPU controlled but you can tell them when to use their abilities/skills manually. Also, like in Portrait of Ruin, when they get attacked they make you loose mana (instead of HP) so this is similar. You can however, carry many IDs at a time, so if one dies, you can summon another. You can also make them fully AI controlled so that even the use of their skill is controlled by the CPU (and that's why I did for the most part because I'm lazy). A notable feature is that your IDs also level up and are able to transform into different bodies, depending on how you train them.
Another feature that is back from the portable Castlevania games is RPG elements - while Lament of Innocence took most RPG elements out of gameplay and reverted to pure action, Curse of Darkness has all RPG elements from other recent CV games. I'm not one to judge if this is good or bad - I love CV games with or without RPG elements anyway. A major difference tough is that you will not be buying or finding any weapons, you will FORGE them (this is probably another devil forgemaster skill). When you kill enemies you get items like metals or stuff, and can make weapons with that. And I'll admit it, this system is very cool.
A good thing about Curse of Darkness is its excellent graphics and gameplay. The game obviously uses the same engine as Lament of Innocence, yet definitely show what the PS2 is capable to do. You can control the camera with the right analog stick this time, and this is a good move. Not that the camera was always perfect (sometimes too close to the main character IMO), but it was a definite improvement over Lament of Innocence.
The game also plays in a very fluid way. Square attacks, X jumps, triangle triggers a skill from your ID (that you select with the directional arrows), O does a "strong attack" and open closed doors. Like in Lament of Innocence, R1 guards which makes you invincible to most attacks but you can't attack and move very slowly. This is a good alternative to avoiding attacks, because doing so in 3D is really harder than in 2D. Doing a "perfect guard", that is start to guard at the exact same time you get attacked, make you recover mana (coupled with a cool graphical and sound effect). I like the Guard feature and find it cool. You can also pull out combos by alternating Square and O buttons, and in fact Curse of Darkness plays more like a Beat'em Up than a platformer, because there is few platforms in the game, and you do combos all the time. The only issue I have is that when you start a combo, but suddenly wants to guard, there is sometimes quite a long delay before Hector stops attacking and start guarding, which is usually fatal. This forces you to be on your guard permanently though as you can't rely on guard too much.
A thing I liked too is that this game has a lot of secret hidden everywhere, so have fun searching for them.
The BadA thing that was a bit disappointing to me was the soundtrack. Most tracks are okay, and a few are good, but some are really mediocre too. And considering how MIGHTY the sound track of some Castlevania games is (especially the direct predecessor, Lament of Innocence), this is a disappointment. Not a major issue though.
As I said above, this game plays more like a Beat'em Up than a platformer. Not that this is bad in itself, but platforms are BADLY lacking in this game, and this was a disappointment.
Besides the good graphics in this game, animation of characters during cutscenes is particularly un-natural and very corny. It is somewhat disturbing, but since the story of this game is for the most part a lame excuse for a good game, it's alright.
The difficulty was definitely low. Except for the last few bosses, the game was basically a piece of cake. Harder modes are available when you beat the game though.
The Bottom LineCurse of Darkness is a very good game, and a solid instalment in the series, without a doubt. Like most Castlevania games I'd say it's a must play, and as a bonus, it is a little bigger than other Castlevania games which is GOOD (although it's still beatable in ~11-14h which remains somewhat short). The ID, guard and combo systems really enhances the gameplay. However, the lack of platforming elements, low difficulty, and average music makes this not as memorable as it could have been, and not really standing as one of the best games of the series. That being said, I still recommend playing it.
In the end I want to thank and congratulate Konami for still running this 20 year old series as well as they do. It's amazing how they continue to release high quality Castlevania games without having the series decay (like almost all series eventually do). No matter if they're 3D or 2D all modern Castlevania games are great, as great as their old classics used to be.