Review by Bkstunt_31
Finally, a map on the second screen! I've died and gone to heaven!
Throughout Castlevania's excellent history, there has been a distinct lack of actual sequels (Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night being the obvious exception). Of course, this may be due to the time that it usually takes Dracula to resurrect, but you must admit that it's rather rare to see a particular protagonist star in more than one game!
Well, that all changed when Soma Cruz (the protagonist from the excellent title Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow) returns in the FIRST Castlevania game made for the Nintendo DS: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (See what they did there? Castlevania: DS?! Oh, how witty!). Here's what you can expect from Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow:
The story picks up a year after the ending of Aria of Sorrow, and assumes that you've played the previous game (which you really should if you can!). Mina and Soma will be reminiscing about the events of a year ago when a mysterious woman named Celia will appear and threaten Soma's life. Fortunately for Soma, his old friend Genya Arikado will appear and help him escape certain death. Genya explains that the woman is a cult leader who is trying to bring about Dracula's successor and aims to kill Soma to further her goals. Despite Genya asking Soma NOT to put himself in danger, Soma travels to the cult's base to take them out and protect himself and Mina.
It turns out the cult's base is a copy of Dracula's Castle, and Celia isn't alone! The whole place is crawling with dark energy and monsters, and two "dark lord candidates" are also aiming to take Soma out and become the reincarnation of Dracula. As you can see, the story pretty much continues with the themes that were started in Aria of Sorrow (having a "heir" to Dracula) and many of the same characters.
Game play: 9/10
If you've played any of the handheld games since "Castlevania: Circle of the Moon" (or especially Aria of Sorrow) you'll feel right at home with this Castleroid. The DS shows off it's obvious advantages right off the bat, putting its second screen to good use by letting you view the map or your status at any time while you play. The game features standard RPG-leveling fare found in most of the handheld titles, but also brings back Aria of Sorrow's soul system (TSS). You will gain souls from defeated monsters and use these souls to gain new abilities. There are many different TYPES of souls (separated by color), leading to some very addicting mixing and matching opportunities. There's also a shop where you can CREATE weapons with souls. And in a VERY nifty move, Konami blessed us with the ability to equip TWO entirely different sets of equipment and change them at a moments notice!
Refined 'metroidvania' game play, an addicting soul-collecting system (Gotta' catch 'em all!), and thanks to the new hardware an EASY way to track your progress? Heaven, right?! Well... almost. Tacked onto the game is a ridiculous "magic seal" system, that basically utilizes the touch-screen and makes the player draw glyphs on it to "seal" a boss after you defeat it. Mess up and the boss will remain alive, making you try again. This system seemed more like an added (and unnecessary) add-on, trying to make use of the DS's capabilities. There's also crystal blocks throughout the game that you can only remove by using the touch screen (another unnecessary move).
One thing that long-time fans will IMMEDIATELY recognize is the drastic shift in art style. While Aria of Sorrow had a definitive Gothic look, Dawn of Sorrow takes on a much more anime-ish style. This is a direct result of Ayami Kojima NOT working on the project, combined with IGA wanting to marked the game to a younger audience. Don't get me wrong, the game still LOOKS fantastic, but if you LIKED the art style of Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow (like me), you can't help but wonder how it would have looked if Ayami still held the reigns...
As things are, the game STILL looks good. It's hard to mess up sprites after all! The game has a variety of great looking backgrounds and is still a joy to explore. Of course it also borrows heavily from other games in the series (like the monsters), but what do you expect from such a long-lived series!?
The audio is also noticeably different with the DS's new capabilities. The soundtrack doesn't disappoint either, with it's fair share of catchy tunes. To be fair, there are quite a few tracks here that trace their origins to previous games (like remixes of 'Bloody Tears' and 'Vampire Killer'), so it may not be the most ORIGINAL track list. There's also some very AVERAGE tracks mixed in as well, but for the most part you're going to enjoy listening to Dawn of Sorrow, so turn up the volume!
The game also features a sound mode, which is good as there are a LOT of sound effects from the various monsters and characters throughout the game.
As is usual, Dawn of Sorrow features a wealth of things to do once you finish the story mode (which in itself can be a LENGTHY affair, especially for those who want to get EVERYTHING they can). You'll have your standard 'Boss Rush' mode, 'New Game +' and 'Sound' mode, but what I was REALLY impressed with was the alternate mode in Dawn of Sorrow. Instead of just letting you start a new game with a special NPC character, it actually takes into account what would happen if Soma followed a certain path near the end of the game (making it story-relevant), and than gives you THREE characters to play as! This is really the pinnacle of alternate modes in any Castlevania game I've seen, and while I won't spoil who you get to play as, I will say it is slightly reminiscent of Castlevania III's cast. There's also a level creating tool that you can play with and create your own "rush" modes (or have your friends play through). Without a doubt Dawn of Sorrow will keep its hooks in you long after the story ends...
An impressive entry to the DS lineup, and "yet another" quality Castlevania title (they really can't make a "bad" game, can they!?). If you've enjoyed these types of games in the past, I guarantee you will enjoy this one. And on top of that, it can be found used for cheap! What are you waiting for?! Go pick it up already! Have fun and keep playing!
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (US, 10/04/05)
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