Dracula is dead, betrayed by the devil-forgemaster Hector, and defeated by the actions of Trevor Belmont. That was 3 years agoâ€”since then, Hector has renounced his powers to lead a normal life after his beloved was executed as a witch. But Hector nurtures a need for vengeance against fellow devil-forgemaster Isaacâ€”who manipulated the witch trialâ€”and is now luring Hector back to the land of Valachia to embrace his forgery powers once more. But why? And who is Zead, the man seemingly intent on granting advice and guidance to help lift Draculaâ€™s curse, which has spread plague and famine across Europe since the Countâ€™s death? And what are the motives of the mysterious Saint Germain, who appears almost comical as an elegant circus ringmaster, and repeatedly implores Hector to cease his pursuit of Isaac? So many questionsâ€”do you have what it takes to find the answers and face the doom they may bring? Enter the world of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness.
At its black heart, Curse of Darkness is a gritty and gory story-driven hack-and-slash adventure with evolutionary RPG overtones. Thereâ€™s no direct environmental manipulation or NPC interaction to draw out the narrative experience over an unnecessarily long period, itâ€™s just Hector progressively leveling-up amid hordes of undead warriors, ghostly specters, and dramatic boss encounters. But Hector is not alone in his quest for revenge and, through his embraced devil-forgemaster powers, a selection of â€˜Innocent Devilsâ€™ can be nurtured into massively powerful allies that accompany Hector throughout the game and offer various invaluable attributes to differing gameplay situations.
Beyond the familiar hack-and-slash battle mechanics, which involve simple button combinations to unleash destructive fight moves, the Innocent Devils are quite possibly the gameplayâ€™s central component. Each spawned Devil collected throughout the game offers a particular battle power or useful interaction asset to help Hector access previously unreachable areas. For example, the floating Fairy Devil watches over Hector, replenishing his dwindling energy levels as well as opening booty chests, whereas the stomping magma-imbued Battle Devil provides heavy-handed stopping power and the ability to smash through obstacles and pry locked doors. Other gathered Innocent Devils include the Flying Devil that can grab Hector and glide him to fresh areas, the Mage Devil that uses impressive magic attacks, and the Demon Devil, which is perhaps the gameâ€™s most potent Innocent Devil. All the Devils are instantly interchangeable but can only accompany Hector singularly, which, in part, contributes to their leveled evolution.
Hectorâ€™s skills as a devil-forgemaster also extend to weaponry, and heâ€™s able to constantly expand his attacking and defensive arsenal by melding metals and materials collected from defeated enemies, chests, etc. Enemies also drop colored â€˜evolution crystals,â€™ which are gathered by the accompanying Innocent Devil and slowly transform them into the next form on the evolutionary ladder. If players choose to favor swordplay then dead foes drop red crystals, while axe usage reaps blue crystals, metal knuckles see yellow, and spears get green; with each different color influencing the growth and appearance of the Devil. Every crystal-specific transformation improves the effectiveness of the Innocent Devil and also opens further opportunities for it to learn new attacks, power moves, and magical spells based on its position on the evolution chart. The strength and skill of the Innocent Devils quickly becomes paramount to success in Curse of Darkness as sheer weight of numbers soon makes â€˜going soloâ€™ as the gameâ€™s hero virtually impossible. This is never more apparent than when embroiled in boss battles where timed use of the Innocent Devil alongside Hectorâ€™s own fighting moves is not an option but a requirement.
Graphically, Curse of Darkness has a grimy, unclean feel, which is certainly compliant with the dreary 15th century aesthetic, but the constant grit does lower the pizzazz factor of the game. This is especially noticeable through the environments, which constantly run to darkened castle ramparts and hallways, claustrophobic cobbled streets, forest paths, and ominous dungeon corridors. Animation is excellent and full of variety through the gameâ€™s plethora of inventive enemies and their unique attack patterns and splendid visual effects. Also, the rendered sequences, which open the story and serve to segue between separate narrative sections, are all sumptuously produced and add considerably to proceedings. The overall visual atmosphere may occasionally slide into repetitiveness but the unrelenting action soon renders that all but obsolete in terms of affecting the game as a whole. And the buckets of blood splashed liberally across the screen from vanquished enemies certainly add a modicum of vivid color to an otherwise dull and uninspiring canvas.
Game sound consists of satisfying battle grunts, sharp weapon clashes, and blood-curdling death screamsâ€”especially prevalent from dispatched skeletal wolves. Character voiceovers are all convincingly delivered with a blend of pace and emotion not so readily available in videogames, and Hector as the central protagonist is thoroughly believable, if not a tad whiny every now and then from the weight of ignorance and vengeful longing. Music is perhaps a little disappointing in terms of power and effect, and falls flat through its electronic mix of dramatic atmosphere where a genuine fully orchestrated accompaniment would have better suited the gameâ€™s grandiose themes.
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is an instantly accessible, thoroughly entertaining, and worthy addition to the busy hack-and-slash genre. The evolutionary Innocent Devil mechanic proves to be the gameâ€™s most compelling feature, pushing the player forward long after repetitive and under-whelming environments may well have sparked the rush of boredom. The constant, blood-soaked action and massive array of applicable weaponry always provide fresh battle combinations and smiles of gleeful destruction as players wade, knee high in bodies, toward Castle Dracula and the gameâ€™s inevitable showdown.