Review by BigWorldJust

"Best DS Game?"

Score - 9/10

Story -

The story of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow picks up one year after Aria of Sorrow ended. Sora has had a peaceful time, lost his ability to dominate souls, and tried to forget about being the rebirth of the lord of darkness. That all goes to pants, however, when Celia, a leader of a religious cult, shows up and attempts to recreate the whole ultimate evil thing using two new candidates. Naturally, Sora isn't a big fan of the concept so he goes out to attempt to stop Celia as well as to save his own skin.

It's not much as far as a story goes, but it does get interesting with a nice twist at the end, depending on the ending that you get. Fans of the series might disagree with me, and that's okay, but I've never found the story to be the central factor to a Castlevania game. Some are better than others, though, and this is definitely one of the better ones. It's also one of the few times that there is a direct sequel to a previous Castlevania game and is the second game to take place in a future timeline. Castlevania games are all about the gameplay, though, so I won't torture you any longer.

Gameplay -

As the first Castlevania game on the next generation handhelds, Dawn of Sorrow had some big boots to fill. The three Castlevania games on the GBA were some of the best games released for that system and really defined what Symphony of the Night started: a redefining of what makes 2D side scrollers so much fun. For the DS, the graphics are larger, more polished, more defined, and with far more graphical features. Just get to the Abyss and you'll see what I mean. The game also benefits significantly from the addition of the extra buttons. You have the standard jump and attack, as well as a "power" attack that uses your magic power to do a stronger attack and finally you can use the "X" button to change between two weapon and soul configurations (you have to gain the ability in the game first). Soma starts the game with ground slide and back dash capabilities, which is a nice plus as well.

You're never fumbling for which buttons to press when playing this game. That's a good thing, considering that you're often trying to stay alive and not get hit. You don't often have time to look down and remember which button is which. Five minutes of gameplay and you'll be ready to make it through the entire game.

Dawn of Sorrow also takes advantage of the touch screen. There are blue blocks that (once you gain the ability) you can shatter with your stylus to make room for your passage. There are also new additions called "Magic Seals" that are the only way to finally defeat the bosses of the game. Once you drain them of their HP, you draw the magic seal on the screen and they are destroyed. Fail to draw it properly and you'll have to wear them down again. It's an interesting idea, although it would have been better if they had a left-handed option as well. Although I'm right handed, I imagine it must be REALLY frustrating for the south-paws.

A couple of other features worth mentioning. First, you no longer have to stop the game in order to look at the castle map. YES! Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they have added a Standby option to the main menu. This is a must for any portable game, as far as I'm concerned. It basically borrows from the concepts of Save States that emulators have been using for years, or the Quick Save of many PC games. It allows you to make a one-time use saved game from ANYWHERE in the game and return to it at any time. No more desperately searching for that saved room right before you have to do your real life stuff, and a MAJOR addition.

Sound -

When you have games that feature names such as Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow and Harmony of Dissonance, you're pretty much begging to get a reputation for focusing on sound. All fans will be pleased to note that the sound is entirely intact for the DS. There aren't really any voices in the game, but the sound effects, footsteps!, and music are all exceptional. Each area, as usual, as its own fitting theme and do a terrific job of setting the mood for that area. Huge axes whoosh as they swing down to smite the foe, and smaller swords dart out with a lighter, faster sound. It all adds up to create a truly unique aural experience. This section is short only because there aren't any flaws that I can name with the sound. Even the fading out of one theme and the introduction of another as you go through the "red doors" is exceptional.

Replay/Shelf-life -

Don't pick this game up if you plan on only playing it once. You're going to miss out on a good 50% of the experience. Getting the good ending can be challenging. Getting all the souls can be both challenging and frustrating. Those don't even hold a candle to Julius mode this time around, though. While I was pretty disappointed in Julius mode for the GBA, Konami has definitely made up for it with the DS version. You get three characters in one, with Julius, Yoko, and Alucard. Yeah...frelling Alucard. Julius has the typical Belmont "stash" of crosses and holy water, Yoko has some magical attacks and can help regain health by attacking enemies and leeching off of them, and Alucard is...well...Alucard. He's kick ass. He can do the triple fireball attack or can change into that bad ass bat. Playing the game again with the terrible trio, pretty much having the entire castle open to you from the very beginning, is like playing a completely different game. Different strategies, different attacks, and the lack of equipment really change the way you approach it. Julius mode by itself, I guarantee you, will bring you back time and time again.

Wrap-Up -

This game is absolutely kick ass. I've been waiting a long time for it to come out and the wait was absolutely worth it. Konami has spent decades refining their approach to Castlevania and it shows. The changes they have made to this game were made for the fans, quite obviously, and brings them that much closer to the perfect Castlevania game. If you haven't tried this one yet, do so. If you haven't bought this one yet, it's worth it. THIS is what the DS is all about. If the Seals had been made more forgiving to lefties and soul collection wasn't still quite so tedious at times, I would have been thrilled to give this one a 10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/03/05

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