Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow review

Nintendo DS

25th August 2005 in Japan
30th September 2005 in Europe
4th October 2005 in America

This is a direct sequel to Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow on the Gameboy Advance. This game follows Soma Cruz once again in his quest to destroy Dracula’s castle. This game plays just like Aria of Sorrow and has new and improved features. It’s also very similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night so expect to play great game.


The game begins with Soma talking to Mina Hakuba about the return of Castlevania. She was captured by Chaos in Aria of Sorrow and then rescued by Soma. Soon after the mysterious priestess Celia Fortner appears and attacks them. This woman traps Soma in a force field and then he has to fight some monsters. These monsters won’t be much of a challenge to kill because this is a tutorial stage. The first is a Skeleton; second a Pole Knight and lastly a Stone Golem. Each will give you its soul then the force field will be released.

Soul Collection

Each enemy you kill has a chance of giving you its soul. Enemy souls are used to give you a certain abilities from that enemy. There are three types of souls which are Bullet (red), Guardian (blue) and Enchant (yellow). The more of the same type of soul you collect, the more powerful it becomes. When you get five of the same soul it upgrades and when you get nine it upgrades again. The more powerful or useful the soul is, the less chance you have of getting it. Some souls may take an hour or more to get one.

Every boss will also give you its soul. This will give you a special ability or skill that’ll allow you to progress further in the game. There are also certain enemies that’ll give you special abilities or skills. Occasionally there are abilities or skills souls hidden in the castle. These are held in a jar which you’ll need to attack to receive the soul. The kind of skills you'll receive are double jump, transform into bat and fast dashing attack. The new abilities or skills will give you next access to previously inaccessible areas of the game.

Enter Castlevania

Soma will enter the castle in to an open area through a huge door. This is common is most Castlevania games. He’ll meet up with Hammer who’ll say that he’s setting up a shop in the castle. He set up shop in Aria of Sorrow at the castle gate, but in this game he has his own store.

Soon after exploring the castle you’ll meet up with Yoko and Julius. There will be a brief dialogue then Yoko will ask you escort her. You quickly find a sealed door and Yoko will tell you to break the seal using magic. To use the spell you’ll have to use the DS stylus to draw it. This is shown on screen then you need to copy it.

After you’ve defeated the first boss you’ll be able to access the town area. You’ll find Hammer’s shop on the right and Yoko’s soul trade on the left. Yoko will allow you to trade souls with a friend who has the game. You can also dispel any souls you have, not that you’d want to. I can also confirm that the English and Japanese versions are compatible with each other.

Each time you open a boss door you’ll need to use a more complex spell. When you get the boss’ health low enough you’ll need to use the same spell as the boss door. If you do the spell incorrectly the boss battle will continue until you get it right. When finally defeat the boss and get their soul. The boss’ soul will give you an ability that’ll help you progress further in the game.

Each area of the castle is drastically different, each having its own theme. Most of the areas are extremely detailed, each having multiple layers to it. If you’ve played any Castlevania game before you’ll know the kinds of areas to expect. Each time Dracula’s castle gets resurrected it changes. Most of the same area themes remain but they’re always new and exciting.

Soma can equip a vast range of weapons, armours and accessories. Most of the usual types of weapon are present and some new types like the sword whip. Since the game is in the not too distant future there are also some modern weapons. You can get a 9mm pistol and even an RPG. There is a large amount of armours and accessories to collect, each having different abilities.

Playing the game on the DS has some great advantages. The top screen is used to switch between enemy data or the map by pressing ‘select’. The bottom screen displays the game itself. In other Castlevania games you’ll almost always have to look at the map every five minutes. All you have to do is look up and it’s always there. The enemy data is useful because it gives elemental weakness, item drops and other useful details.

Sound, Music and Controls

The sounds and music on this game are great. Konami have pushed the DS hardware to get the most of what it has to offer. Every sound is well suited to its purpose. All the music in the game is excellent and suits each area very well. In the English version over 100 voices were removed because they were in Japanese. It seems unnecessary to have done it and it takes something great away from the game.

Soma moves fluidly and controlling him is easy. He has an amazingly large amount of animations for a portable Castlevania. This makes the game so much better to play. He can backdash as well as a verity of other special moves. Most of his special moves have appeared in previous Castlevania games like double jump, anti-gravity jump and transform into bat.

Bonus Modes

Boss Rush
This mode will put you up against every boss in the game, one after the other in order. You'll be restricted to lv40 and can use anything you’ve collected from the main game. The faster you complete it, the better the rewards.

Level Editor
This game has a very limited level editor. There is a set amount of rooms and route you have to follow. You use the souls you’ve collected in the main game to place enemies down. You can place enemies anywhere in the rooms you like within reason. The game has a set amount of memory for each room, so you’re very limited to what you can put down. The bigger or more complex the enemy, the more memory it’ll use. This means you’ll usually be using a lot of smaller enemies.

The only advantage to this editor is you can transfer you level to a friend using DS Download Play. Personally I think this editor is a waste of time. Its limitations make it almost pointless. If it didn’t have DS Download Play it might have been good. Also you can usually finish your level in less than a minute.

Julius Mode (Terrible Trio Mode more like)

This mode allows you to play as Julius Belmont. When you explore the castle you’ll join up with Yoko and Alucard. You can switch between each of the characters with the press of a button. Each character has their own specific set of attacks and moves.

Julius plays like a classic vampire hunter using the Vampire Killer. He has all the usual sub-weapons including daggers, throwing axe, holy water and throwing cross. He also has an ‘item crash’ super move for the throwing cross.

Yoko uses an overhead attacking mace. This is slow so has to be timed right to be used correctly. Every attack she does with the mace restores her health. She can also use fire, ice and lightning magic attacks. This is the first time you’ve been able to play as Yoko.

Alucard looks just like he does in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. He uses the Alucard Sword and Alucard Shield. He can still do his phase shift attack with the Alucard Sword. He has two special moves which are Hellfire and transform into a bat. The biggest disappointment is that he’s had a lot of his animations removed. His remaining animations have sped up so it doesn’t look right when he moves. He’s been scaled down so he looks weird and squashed. Also his shadow effect is red instead of dark blue which is stupid and annoying.

This mode is really bad. You spend far too much time switching between characters. You take a lot of damage and it’s quite hard to play with three characters. When you level up your characters it doesn’t really make you more powerful. You can’t use healing items and boss battles are a real pain. This mode is basically what Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin turned into.

Final Thoughts

This is probably the second best game in the entire Castlevania series. This game comes very close to being as good as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It has just about everything you could ever want from a 2D action RPG. There are a few pseudo 3D elements in this game. This further enhances the games appearance and makes it more enjoyable to look at.

The large castle will give you a lot of game play hours. It should take at least ten hours to complete on your first play through. The soul collecting aspect will keep you playing long after you’ve completed the game.

There only a few bad things I can really say about this game. First is that there’s only three save slots. This is no where near enough and really annoys me. Another is that hard mode is pretty much the same as normal mode. Lastly is that the level editor is almost useless and Julius Mode is just really bad.


Score: 9/10


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