Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow - Reader Retroview  

Sorrow Has a Short Day
by JuMeSyn

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Time-proven Castlevania play
+ Soul collection is addicting
+ Fine presentation
- Sealing of bosses with touch-screen is annoying
- Not much unique material here
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   Castlevania's action-RPG incarnations since Symphony of the Night have all revolved around a certain paradigm. Open-ended exploration of Dracula's castle, with new abilities granted to allow exploration of different parts and hidden rooms/items galore, is the format. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow broadly follows this template to success, which makes even more sense considering it is a direct sequel to a fine example of the Castlevania credo, Aria of Sorrow. Dawn of Sorrow follows in that game's quality footsteps and delivers another enjoyable romp through Dracula's castle.

   The player will take control of Soma Cruz again and traipse all over Dracula's castle while combating the many denizens of the castle that know nothing but destruction. Action takes place from the typical 2-D perspective with Soma able to wield an enormous variety of weapons against his foes; everything from axes to rapiers to knives to handguns. Combat is strictly action-based, with a player's reaction time deciding whether a hit is taken or not. Precision jumping is also required, with a double-jump eventually being added to Soma's repertoire. The RPG elements kick in from Soma's ability to equip the various weapons and armor he is able to find and buy, the existence of money with which to buy these things, the granting of experience and leveling-up from defeat of enemies, and the existence of items that will heal HP and MP in the pause menu.

   Aria of Sorrow introduced a new mechanic for Soma that replaced the traditional sub-weapon system of Castlevania, the Soul system. As Soma is still the protagonist in Dawn of Sorrow, the Soul system returns. Souls can be equipped three at a time; one type of soul acts akin to the traditional sub-weapon with MP (instead of hearts) being lost with every use, one type can be turned on and will constantly use MP until it is turned off, and the third type requires no MP and is constantly in effect when equipped. Souls come from defeated enemies, with their acquisition being a random occurrence. Every player is guaranteed to gain some souls during a playthrough; whether they are the most desirable souls can only be determined through observation. New to Dawn of Sorrow is the concept of multiple enemy Souls of the same type being more powerful; enemies no longer have but a single soul to grant per type, and up to nine of the same type can be collected to strengthen the effect. Not all souls will grant additional benefits upon being collected in multiples, but most do. As there can now be many Souls of the same type collected by the player, a system also exists to infuse Souls into weapons to alter them. Only the available combinations with current weapons and Souls are displayed when doing this, thus the most powerful potential combinations are unknown until the Souls required are possessed.

Dracula Dracula's chandeliers are second to none.

   Dawn of Sorrow also has a couple of touch-screen functions added to celebrate the game's being on the DS. One is rather fun and finds the player using the stylus to shatter certain blocks, though these blocks only appear in a few rooms. The other requires the player to correctly trace a seal in order to defeat most of the bosses in the game, with the consequence of failure being the boss regaining some HP and continuing the battle. The game is fairly forgiving about the design itself but practice is a wise idea for the later seals, because forgetting how they are input will result in pain.

   Aside from the intrusive sealing of bosses, interaction is a non-issue. The few menus are easy to navigate and all effects are easy to understand. Castlevania's controls have never been an issue, and this has not changed. Destroying monsters and navigating the castle is intuitive and easy. The presence of either a castle map or Soma's current status on the top screen only aids in this.

   Visually Dawn of Sorrow shows the power of two dimensions, with incredibly detailed enemy animations at every turn. Almost nothing in Dawn of Sorrow simply disappears or blows up; skeletons shatter into their component bones, demons are sucked into a void, mannequins collapse at their joints, and flying eyeballs have their eyes fall out and explode separate from their tentacle bodies. Certain little touches such as being able to knock the snow off cars or having every weapon look a little different make clear the care that went into these graphics. Aurally the game is just as fine, with a top-notch Castlevania soundtrack to be heard including another rendition of 'Vampire Killer.' What little voice acting is in the game was left in Japanese by Konami, but it is inconsequential since very few actual words are used.

This reminds me simultaneously of the Fantastic Four and Linkin Park... This reminds me simultaneously of the Fantastic Four and Linkin Park...

   Dawn of Sorrow's story is a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow, and features all the characters from that game. It seems that a woman named Celia is a priestess of a sect that preaches true good (aka God) cannot exist without true evil, and with Dracula being dead someone else must become the dark lord. After Celia has involved Soma in this affair, he feels compelled to sort it out and in the process must re-enter Dracula's castle and deal with two men competing to become the dark lord. As a Castlevania game, the story is not the focus, but it isn't outright terrible.

   As Castlevania games go, Dawn of Sorrow isn't terribly difficult. There are more warp rooms than ever before to allow easy access to all parts of the castle. That does not mean the game is easy; this rendition of Death is one of the nastier I recall, and a stumble with the stylus during boss sealing could spell a player's doom. Replay options are abundant after the 8-10 hours necessary to achieve an ending; in the tradition of recent Castlevania titles the first available ending leaves quite a bit unresolved. Completionists will be sucked into the game for many hours trying to round up all the Souls as well. A different mode of play is unlocked via one of the endings, should one desire classic Castlevania minus the action-RPG elements, and this also adds to replay incentive.

   Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow succeeds in being another worthy entry by Konami into the action-RPG annals. Any RPGamer who enjoyed Aria of Sorrow is a natural to enjoy this game, and any player with a yen for a fairly challenging, quite addicting title in the action-RPG realm would do well to explore this one. When the worst that can be said is that its character designs have been altered to look like American Saturday morning cartoons, that is truly praising through faint damnation.

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