Curse of Darkness is the sequel to the much loved Castlevania III and is the second 3D Castlevania game released by Konami for the Playstation 2. Despite having the building blocks for an excellent Castlevania game – Ayami Kojima's artwork and Michiru Yamane's music – Curse of Darkness failed to meet the high expectations that its marketing campaign had built up.
Curse of Darkness follows a revenge-seeking antihero known as Hector. During Castlevania III, Dracula had two apprentice Devil Forgemasters working under him: Hector and Isaac. Having realized the error in his ways, Hector betrayed Dracula and gave up his powers in the hopes of leading a normal life. It was during his absence that Dracula was destroyed. Three years later, Hector learns that his former ally, Isaac, is to blame for the death of his wife. It is Isaac’s careful plotting that lures Hector to Dracula's castle, forcing him to take up the dark arts and become a Forgemaster once again.
As a Forgemaster, Hector is able to summon familiars known as Innocent Devils. After each boss battle, Hector gains more Innocent Devils (which will now be referred to as "I.D.") to summon. The demonic looking IDs vary from healing to offense and only one may be summoned at a time. IDs are also needed to perform certain tasks, such as unlocking chests. They’re a neat little addition to make up for the utter sloppiness of Hector's precision in battle. No matter what weapon Hector decides to swing around, most of his attacks are guaranteed to miss the intended targets.
Like Hector, the IDs may be leveled up through battling. Koji Igarashi (known as “IGA”, Producer of Castlevania) explained in interviews why the RPG-like experience systems were added to the game: "to allow female gamers to enjoy powering up their characters." Excuse me? Baking powder? The leveling (known as “evolving”) of IDs wasn't any fun for this female. We are told that the weapon Hector is using affects the type of ID evolution; nothing else is mentioned or explained. Unless one replays the game ad nauseam or cares to read a guide, they will never know what happens to their IDs.
Adding to the RPG feel of Curse of Darkness is the sensation of hunting monsters and backtracking. To create new weapons and armor, Hector must hunt or steal items from certain enemies and then combine them. An ingame bestiary provides information on what monsters to hunt and by zoning into to the right areas it's possible to spend much time on the sole purpose of building Hector's arsenal up.
Character, ID, and gear building seems all for naught. There does not seem to be much point in the varied weapons made available. The menu must be accessed to change the currently equipped weapon, which slows the game’s pace to a crawl. As well, the invulnerable side stepping control makes for a free ride in a fancy car out of skirmishes that would have otherwise been challenging. Each battle and each area is just more of the same. Being someone who lacks directional sense, I found all castle passages and countryside areas to be near identical. I'd be lost without switching to the map at every turn, or slicing down torches in the hopes of making a breadcrumb trail leading back to where I've been (to this Gretel's chagrin, the torches respawned after some time).
Curse of Darkness was supposed to right everything that its predecessor, Lament of Innocence, did wrong. The fans wanted more of the adventuring aspect and IGA said he'd deliver. So where is it? As I trudged through each indistinguishable area, I hoped for a change in pace or scenery that never came. Unlike Innocence, which was more linear, Darkness allows players to roam areas at random. Was that supposed to be the adventuring aspect? Innocence at least had some form of platforming going on; players were able to jump and explore multi-tiered rooms. For whatever reasons, that aspect is completely absent in Darkness and the jump function has no real use. Considering the many similarities between both games, it is as though Curse of Darkness was only a slightly upgraded version of Lament of Innocence.
Last I checked there was nothing adventurous about running through lifeless environments. What the fans want is what the 2D Castlevanias delivered. The adventure in having the freedom to explore and interact with varied surroundings without feeling restricted.
It seems the curse of the 3D Castlevania games is still going strong. It's no secret that IGA would jump at any chance to develop a 2D game, and it's no secret that Castlevania fans want a next-gen 2D game. Mr. IGA, it's nice to give the fans what they want. Just make sure you know exactly what that is first.
Title: Akumajo Dracula: Yami no Juin
Platform: Playstation 2
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness