Gaming - Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

On our Defective Inspector's desk there's always a small, dust covered pile of casefiles from back in the day that he never quite got round to completing the paperwork for. Today he re-opens the casefile for Castlevania: Curse of Darkness...

For those of you who don’t know me personally it may surprise you to find out I have a retro gaming collection. It’s extremely modest and mainly accumulated out of nostalgia but it’s become a lovely little respite from my Steam library. While browsing through the archive of the ageless, I found Castlevania: Curse of Darkness and wondered how many people actually played this barely Belmont game. So in honour of the old ways I am going to return to many of my childhood favourites throughout a series of article. Where better to start than right here? With a vampire called Hector….

Let me just put this link here. If you don’t know about Castlevania then it’s not worth reading much further on. The tl;dr version is a bloodline of vampire hunters called Belmont are consistently trying to kill an immortal Dracula and wondering why it doesn’t seem to last. Curse of Darkness takes a semi-break from the Belmont bloodline floating in the 15th Century. It focuses on Hector, an excessively dramatic ex-general of Dracula himself who has the power to train, breed and evolve demonic companions. In this game you play as Hector himself, set out on a vengeful quest to kill his former buddy Isaac.

The big changing factor in this game compared to its classic counterparts are the companions themselves. They are called Innocent Devils (Or I.D. for short) and come in 5 separate types (6 if you count the useless one) and can be trained, levelled and evolved based on Hector’s battle style. I love giving examples so here is one. Battle I.D.s start off as a lava encrusted golem and depending on which weapon you use it shall evolve into either a creature with a massive gem fist OR a soulless piece of armour which obtains a sword/bad attitude. So it’s rather clear you need to consider weapons throughout the game and will often need to try out different styles to actually progress properly. In fact, some of these creatures will have particular moves to find hidden zones.

Making these weapons is also very interactive. By either killing enemies of stealing from them you obtain materials ranging from common ores to fantastically unreal materials like Devil Iron or Immortal Shards. This sounds easy but the stealing difficulty ranges from simple to clinically insane. When I first played the game I barely stole a thing, just plodded along and completed the game. The developing desire to improve my completion percentage forced me to go back, try again and see how much I missed. This is why the occasional non-Belmont game is worth playing as there are no limitations. You don’t need to use whips (or spear on the odd occasion) and thus it opens up a great big armoury of different weapons with affiliated play styles and elemental powers.

Environment plays a big role in a game like this and while graphically it’s rather interesting the truth is the famously impressive soundtrack really sets the tone. My partner is a casual gamer at best and so often she is doing something else around the room and trying to ignore the grunts of Hector as he swings his sword. Despite having other interests the music is so powerful it seeps into her mind. There have been a few occasions she hums the tune for Evermore Tower while cooking dinner only to exclaim profanities because “That f*cking game is stuck in my head again!”. So let’s take a moment to acknowledge the legendary Michiru Yamane who quite frankly is one of my favourite gaming composers to ever exist. If you ever wanted an example of magnificent ladies in gaming she is one of them!

But this game is dated, so how does it hold up looking at it 11 years later? Well the graphics definitely have not retained its glory but that’s no surprise. I can’t think of many games which age well visually without being remastered or re-invented. While the occasional creature maybe a tad triangular for my liking there is an above standard PS2 era appearance and so it is still enjoyable and understandable. As with most Castlevania games it requires fairly fast reaction speeds for both attack and defence and that pace is just as insane as its future instalments. The voice acting can be hilariously dramatic but generally speaking it is consistent. If you find someone speaking like a 15th century duke the vocabulary and sentence structure doesn’t shift in the slightest so perhaps it was just an attempt give it the time relevant dialogue. Truth be told it just sounds ridiculous and we as a gamer suddenly have an appreciation that the English language has developed over the years.

So have I enjoyed playing it again? Damn right I did, I love returning to ‘not quite 100%’ game saves. While that honour usually falls to Final Fantasy it’s great to have something less Square and more action packed. If you are new to the game or simply never finished it, I recommend you grab a copy in your local retro gaming shop and live the dream.

Images from Castlevania Wikia

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