Release Date: October 4, 2005
Buy 'CASTLEVANIA: Dawn of Sorrow': NDS
The Castlevania name is one that has been cultivated over many years. From the arcade, NES, and original Game Boy all the way up to the Xbox and PlayStation 2, Konami's vampire-killing game has served up many fond memories, and will continue to do so into the future. How fitting it is to see that the most successful of the series have been the ones that are two-dimensional. They might not make use of the latest and flashiest graphic engines, but the setting coupled with the exploratory and collection aspects have turned Castlevania games like Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow into instant classics. It's no surprise then to see that Konami is following up on their success with the latest in the series, Dawn of Sorrow on the Nintendo DS.
Recent Castlevania games have taken what made Metroid popular on the NES and SNES and applied it to great effect. The idea of a huge castle to explore and a map to track your progress, with certain areas being blocked off until the player gains new abilities, was pioneered by Nintendo's franchise, but has been adopted by Castlevania and used quite impressively. Dawn of Sorrow continues the tradition, asking the player to traverse a large map and defeat multitudes of baddies before taking on the final boss and beating the game.
Playing as Soma Cruz, the hero from Aria of Sorrow (which Dawn of Sorrow is the sequel to) you've been living a normal life in Japan after destroying Dracula's castle in the prequel. Whilst chatting with your friend Mina, you are accosted by the leader of a cult who is trying to restore the undead king back to power by killing Soma and eliminating any competition to Dracula's power. Several familiar faces make a return appearance: Yoko, Hammer, Alucard and Julius are all back to aid in your journey through the cult's castle. While it's not a necessity to have played the previous game in the series (and it's also a bit tough to find it for sale anywhere), it does help fill out some of the details that you might be wondering about.
Controlling Soma is just as easy as ever, with each button taking care of a specific attack or action. One of the best things about Dawn of Sorrow is the fact that every enemy in the game has a soul that Soma can absorb with his special ability. Every time you kill a monster, there's a chance that you'll absorb a soul and gain the powers of the monster that you killed. There are three different types of souls that you can equip at one time, each that benefits you with a stat increase, new attack, or other special ability that will aid you in your quest. If you're starting to worry that you'll be killing endless monsters before you can proceed on the map, don't. All the necessary souls are automatically provided to you as you defeat the various bosses. However, if you want to complete the entire game to 100%, you'll definitely have quite a bit of work ahead of you.
Speaking of bosses, that's where the most significant change to the game comes in. Each boss must be defeated by drawing a "magic seal" on the touch screen, which increases in complexity as you get closer to the end of the game. As you find these seals scattered across the castle, you'll have the opportunity to practice them before you have to put them to use. Once you weaken the boss enough, the seal will appear on the screen and you'll have to draw it. Succeed and the boss dies, fail and it will regain some health and you'll have to keep fighting. Once the seal appears, you'll have only a certain amount of time to draw it and seal the boss. However, the timer doesn't start until you put the pen to the screen, so you don't have to worry about fiddling with your DS to hurriedly remove your stylus. There are other touch screen elements as well, such as breaking bricks on screen, but they really don't add much and only the seals impact the gameplay significantly.
If you're blowing off the graphics because they're 2D, you really need to take the time to look at them again. The sprites for all the characters are extremely detailed and have incredible animations. The castle has incredible scrolling backgrounds that are nice and varied throughout. And there are even some areas that make use of the 3D capabilities of the DS, to great effect. It all comes together to form an impressive visual experience that propels the game and makes it exciting and fun to play and watch. The only unimpressive thing about the visuals is that generic anime-styled characters have replaced the gothic and realistic character art. To me, it cheapens the whole style of the series and I really hope this was just a momentary lapse of judgment that will never happen again.
Another great audio experience awaits fans of the series in Dawn of Sorrow. The music in the game borrows from previous Castlevanias and also adds some new stuff to get you pumped while playing. Sound effects and minimal voice effects also play a part in making this a great sounding game. Each time you enter a new area and hear that new track of music, you'll keep hoping that the game will never end. The game is easy on the ears, with lots of memorable effects and music.
While the game is mostly perfect, there are some areas that feel like a step backwards. I was really hoping that Dawn of Sorrow would utilize some "sequence-breaking" aspects that allow the player to circumvent parts of the game and get further than they should be able to without using the required souls or abilities. It turns out that the path you take is fairly linear. Not only is the path through the game pretty linear, the castle map in Dawn of Sorrow is also pretty poorly laid out. It's not always obvious where you need to go next, but having the map displayed on the top screen while you play is certainly a bonus that helps alleviate this problem somewhat. And the last little complaint is that Dawn of Sorrow really feels like a sequel to Aria of Sorrow instead of a real progression in the series. Sure there are some added aspects like weapon fusion and the magic seals, but for the most part, it's basically the same game.
Once you've beaten the game, there are a lot of reasons to keep playing. You can go on to collect all the souls (each of which can be powered up multiple times to make it more powerful), explore the entire map and find secret areas, and also play the game again using some familiar characters from the previous game. Boss Rush mode also makes a return, challenging you to defeat every boss in the game as fast as you can, and rewarding you with unique items if you meet certain time requirements. Finally, there are multiple endings depending on how you beat the game.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is the most complete 2D Castlevania game to date. Gorgeous graphics and compelling music combine with exciting exploration and combat to form a great action experience on the Nintendo DS. If you've played any of the Castlevania games that have come before, you'll definitely want to experience this one. If you're a fan of vampires and Dracula, you'll want to play this game. And even if you've never played Castlevania and have never heard of Dracula, there's never been a better time to get initiated. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a fantastic game that no one should miss.
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