Genre : RPG
Release Date: Fall 2005
If you’re a Castlevania fan, or if you enjoy fun, you’ve probably spent some portion of the last eight years wishing Konami would make a true sequel to Symphony of the Night.
To be fair, they’ve been trying to. In the Game Boy Advance Castlevania games, Konami took the same Metroid-esque approach that Symphony did, but two out of the three games - Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance - were somewhat mediocre. They weren’t exactly bad, but they were steps backward.
Aria of Sorrow is where Castlevania got back on track. It could’ve been a bit longer, but in every other regard, it’s a classic of the genre and a high point in the series.
Castlevania DS is a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow, but in every way that counts – gameplay, graphics, music, the overall quality of the experience – it appears to be an improvement on what was already an amazing, addictive game. I won’t lie; what I played was not a complete game, but what I played makes me badly want to see the full version.
It takes place three years after the conclusion of Aria of Sorrow, and thirty-nine years after the final defeat of Count Dracula. Soma Cruz, the unwilling reincarnation of Dracula, is trying to lead an ordinary life when he’s targeted by an evil cult. They want to sacrifice Soma in a dark ceremony, and in so doing, give rise to a new dark lord. Soma’s only hope is to enter the cult’s lair, a vast castle patterned after Castlevania itself, and defeat them.
Castlevania DS shares the same style of gameplay and hook as Aria of Sorrow. Again, you’ll be exploring an enormous 2D labyrinth and defeating the monsters inside, and again, you’ll be able to acquire and wield those monsters’ abilities by absorbing their souls. With more than a hundred powers to choose from, as well as a large arsenal of weapons, armor, and protective items, the game acquires a lot of replay value and malleability. You can challenge yourself by avoiding the most powerful weaponry, play around with all the different subweapons, or use them in new combinations to uncover brand new secrets.
The action in Castlevania DS plays out on the touchscreen, which influences the game in a variety of ways. Several souls will let you use the stylus for new effects, such as tapping the screen with it to shatter inconvenient crystal blocks.
Your opponents include a host of classic Castlevania monsters, from bone-throwing skeletons to winged demons, and some truly memorable and dangerous bosses. Before you can take on one of the latter, you’ll need to search the castle for a variety of Magic Seals. Without the Seal, you can’t defeat the boss; with it, you can draw a quick geometric shape on the touchscreen to imprison it and end the fight.
On the DS’s larger, brighter screen, Castlevania DS’s graphics come across as bolder and more colorful than past portable Castlevanias. The onscreen action is pure 2D, with beautifully animated sprites representing every monster and character. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, there’s something about Soma’s big white pimp coat that says “badass” to me, especially the way in which it waves around behind him. There’s a lot of attention to detail in Castlevania DS, and that’s just one example.
Of course, the music’s amazing. It always is in Castlevania, but Aria of Sorrow’s soundtrack was limited by the tinny little GBA speaker and hardware. With the DS’s additional audio capabilities, Konami’s come up with some brand new tracks that come close to the orchestral sounds that characterize tabletop console Castlevania.
I’ll admit to some small previewer bias here, as Castlevania is one of my favorite gaming series. In its 2D “Metroidvania” games, it often blends platforming, action-adventure, puzzle-solving, exploration and horror into a single great package. As far as I’m concerned, Castlevania DS, with its new features and proven gameplay, is the first truly killer app for the Nintendo DS.
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