We’re not going to lie, we were drawn to 9 Years of Shadows because of one thing: its soundtrack has been created by Michiru Yamane.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Michiru Yamane has contributed to many Castlevania soundtracks over the years, with her work on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in particular being a highlight. Here she’s joined by Norihiko Hibino, who’s famous for his work on the soundtracks of the Metal Gear Solid series. Needless to say, 9 Years of Shadows has great music.
While it was Michiru Yamane’s name that drew us to 9 Years of Shadows though, ultimately we stayed for the gameplay. Well, and the visuals. This game looks absolutely gorgeous, as you see from the screen shots on this page. Starting out in black and white, you instantly appreciate the animation work put into the main character, Europa, and the detail laden upon the world around her. Then an event occurs that sees everything come alive with colour, and your eyeballs will be very pleased indeed.
After a curse sweeps the world, killing most, including Europa’s parents, all hope seems lost. But after 9 years she decides to take matters into her own hands. Rumor is that the curse originated from Talos Castle, but no-one that has entered has returned alive. Having already lost pretty much everything, Europa decides to enter. If she finds the source of the curse maybe she can stop it. And if not, at least she’ll find peace in death.
It’s not long after Europa enters the castle that she encounters Apino, a cute ghostly bear. And aside from being cute, he also proves to be a valuable ally. While Europa is skilled win combat with a halberd, there are some enemies that physical attacks just aren’t effective against. That’s where Apino comes in. His magic is at your disposal, and it’s not only useful for defeating enemies, but also destroying certain objects that block your path.
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You have to be careful with your use of magic though. You see, Europa is rather frail, only being able to withstand a couple of melee hits unless you’ve acquired some upgrades. But Apino’s magic acts as a shield, defending her from blows. Incoming attacks initially deplete the magic meter then, but when it’s depleted you’re vulnerable. Thankfully the meter can be replenished by landing melee attacks. And when fully depleted, you can hug Apino for short while to give it a welcome boost.
Other than that, there’s little else here that should surprise metroidvania fans. There are multiple themed areas to explore, and to access them you’ll need to acquire new abilities. You’ll gain the power of the numerous elements, for example, which not only have combat uses, but also allow you activate various switches. A certain set of armour will allow you to breathe and fight underwater, too. And so exploration is now only required, but rewarded.
It’s the panache that 9 Years of Shadows brings to table that elevates what is mostly a generic metroidvania to the next level. The controls are wonderfully responsive, the combat is fun and engaging, and overall it’s just a joy to play. The game’s wonderful presentation and mysterious story are icing on the cake. And let’s not forget the soundtrack.
If you’re a Castlevania fan, or simply love the metroidvania genre in general, we heartily recommend 9 Years of Shadows. It’s seemingly come out of nowhere, but it’s quickly become one of our favourite entries in the genre in recent years.
9 Years of Shadows launches 27th March on PC.