Castlevania’s first foray onto the dual screen action of the Nintendo DS. How does it fair?
Castlevania has enjoyed quite a long life in the videogame industry. And much like Nintendo’s line of consoles, it’s always trying to re-invent itself. Back when the Big N released their successor to the Game Boy Advance, the Nintendo DS, developers were trying to find creative ways to re-invent how we play games by taking advantage of the DS’s two screens (the bottom touchscreen in particular). Konami producer Koji Igarashi and his Castlevania team took the high-exploration style of their recent Castlevania games –- dubbed “Metroidvania” — which have been very successful on the GBA, and brought it over to Nintendo’s new console. How good was Konami’s first attempt? We’re about to find out!
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Developer / Publisher: Konami
Platform: Nintendo DS
Original Release Date: August 25, 2005
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Reason for Rating: Blood and Gore; Fantasy Violence
Taking place one year after Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, pretty boy hero Soma Cruz was getting back to a normal teenage life. One day, he is attacked by a Celia Fortner, leader of the growing cult “With Light”, who announces that she is trying to free the soul of the Prince of Darkness, Dracula. Why? So that there will be balance in the universe (for God to be absolute good, there must be absolute evil). Naturally, Soma and the gang don’t like the sound of that, so they storm the cult headquarters to stop Celia and her plans.
Oh My Anime!
Those who’ve played Castlevania games for a while, particularly the “Metroidvania”-style, will probably notice something different about the character designs this time around. Gone are the gorgeous, intricately-detailed gothic style of artist Ayami Kojima, instead replaced by your typical anime fare with a more simplistic style. The reasoning for this was to make the anime intro that plays if you sit on the title screen, as well as to attract a broader audience. While I do like it, I kinda prefer Kojima’s style a bit more as it has a darker tone to it.
As for in-game visuals, they are as interesting as they’ve always been in other Castlevania games; the giant fortress filled with the typical variety of areas. They all have great details, from the beautiful plants in the Garden of Madness to the stained glass windows in the Dark Chapel. There are some nice little touches, too, like being able to knock snow off parked trucks in the Lost Village, seeing your breath in really cold places, or sets of eyes on a painting that follow you. There are even some 3D effects in the background of outdoor areas.
Many classic enemies make their return, as well as some new, nastier foes. They all look and animated very well, be them big, slow, lumbering giants or small, nimble witches riding on their brooms.
The Castlevania series always had some of the most awesome music in gaming, and this one is no exception. The original music, as well as revamped versions of classic Castlevania tunes, are as invigorating, haunting, and pulse-racing as ever before.
Hey Soul Brotha!
Once again, Soma can absorb the Souls of his fallen foes. There are three types that enemies drop: Red Bullet Souls, which are for the most part projectiles that drain your MP, Blue Guardian Souls, which usually allow you to summon that particular monster (or that monster’s abilities) to help you which can cost you MP to activate, and Yellow Enchant Souls, that help you in a variety of ways from boosting stats to enhancing the power of your other souls. There are also Silver Souls that you can find scatter about that will give you new abilities, like being able to double jump.
What’s different this time around is that your Souls can level up! The more of that particular Soul you have, the stronger/more useful it becomes. Not all the Souls can level up, so be sure to check the status screen to make sure.
So you’ll collect Souls as if they were going out of style, and you’ll end up with multiple souls that can’t level up. Ya can’t drop them from your inventory, so what do ya do? Your friend Yoko Belnades has set up shop in the first area of the game, The Lost Village. If you visit her, she can take weapons from your inventory and fuse them with your Souls to create new, more powerful gear. Of course, this will mean that you lose that soul, so think carefully before you commit. You can also simply choose to let souls go free, if you want. While you’re in the area, stop by Hammer’s shop, as he’ll sell you much-needed potions and other weapons.
For a fledgling cult, “With Light” certainly has a large fortress! Fortunately, Warp Portals make their return. When you find one, you can use it to go to any of the areas you’ve been to, provided you found the Warp Portal in that area.
Other than the Soul System, combat should be familiar to you if you’ve played Aria of Sorrow, or any of the other “Metroidvania” games. They are more RPG in nature, so in order to advance, you’ll have to do some grinding to increase your Level and get stronger. You’ll find a plethora of different weapons and armour that will help you, and as previously mentioned, you can forge your own weapons with your excess Souls by visiting Yoko.
Much like in Aria of Sorrow, I really like hunting down Souls, as it gives you an incentive to go through every nook and cranny to find ’em. And like Aria of Sorrow, navigating the huge compound is easy thanks to the Warp Portals. I also like how I no longer have to worry about getting the Souls of bosses, as you get them automatically; there was a chance to obtain Boss Souls in Aria, but the chances were slim (though you did get a chance to get ’em later, I’d rather get them the first time around and not have to think about it later).
This time around, you’ll gain the ability to equip two sets of equipment, and you can switch between them on the fly. That is awesome, as it means I can have a set I use for Soul Hunting and a set for dishing out tough love. All of this is made simple with solid controls (though Soma moves a bit slow).
Also, I love the fact that you can do more with Souls now with the Yoko’s synthesis. There’s lots of possible combinations available for your various weapons, and you don’t have to worry about getting something random, as Yoko will tell you what the weapon/Soul combination will give you.
Wait a Minute… What About The Touch Screen!?
Ah, yes… this is on the Nintendo DS, after all.
All the action takes place on the bottom screen, while the top screen can display a mini-status screen, or the map (you can switch between the two).
But since the bottom screen is the touchscreen, you’d expect there to be some sort of functionality for it.
Well… er… there is some. But I don’t like it.
One of the Souls you’ll get early on gives you the ability to break walls of ice by tapping on the touchscreen with the Stylus. There are only a couple of places where you’re actually need to use this, and you kinda forget that you have the ability as you progress further
Then there are the bosses. You see, the bosses don’t stay dead when you take away that last pinch of health, as Celia’s using some Magic Seal to power them up. So you have to counter with Magic Seals of your own.
You’ll learn five over the course of the game, and when you enter a boss room, it’ll show you which Seal you’re going to need. Once you’ve inflicted the last hit on a boss, the Seal appears again and you must draw that Seal with your stylus. If you take too long, or if you screw up, the boss gains a second wind with quite a few Hit Points coming back.
That irks me. A lot.
Since you have no way of knowing how low on health the boss is, you’ll be hacking and slashing on the boss when the Seal suddenly appears out of nowhere, and you scramble to get your stylus out just to trace the pattern. I remember one instance where I was going against a boss that had whittled my energy down to next to nothing. I had no potions left, and had to do some ninja-like actions, senses at an all-time high, and I managed to stage a comeback.
But then that Seal appeared, which I actually forgot was a thing that had to be done in the game. I scrambled to get my stylus and tried to draw the pattern, but I messed up. Zoop! The boss gets 1/4th of his life back. ACK!
Honestly, I think Konami would have been better off just not including anything stylus-related. I mean, it feels like they threw the functionality in as an afterthought more than anything else, particularly since you only really use it at bosses.
Storming The Fortress Again and Again
There are a plethora of things to do once you’re done with the main game.
First of all, there are three different endings that you can get (and it’s possible to get all three on one game file). Once you get the good ending, you’ll unlock Boss Rush Mode, and Sound Test. You’ll also get New Game +, where you’ll be able to start the game over with your gear, your money, and some of the Souls you collected.
The coolest mode is Julius Mode, where you play the game as über-strong Vampire Hunter, Julius Belmont. Julius comes with the classic Holy Water, Cross and Axe sub-weapons, and the Burning Cross Item Crash move made famous by Richter Belmont from Rondo of Blood.
Now, as strong as Julius is, there’s only so much he can do on his own, and needs help. You’ll be able to enlist the help of Yoko, and everyone’s favourite Vampire Prince, Alucard. Too bad there’s no descendant of Grant DeNasty, then the nod to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse will be complete. You can switch between the three at will, and you’ll need everyone’s unique abilities to make it through.
Not Much Sorrow Here
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow isn’t too bad of a game. It continues to ride the wave of Aria of Sorrow, and once again, presentation is spot on. Gameplay is fun for the most part, with the only gripe I have is the use of the touchscreen. If you enjoy the “Metroidvania” style of games, then you should give Dawn of Sorrow a try.
7.5/10 – This game has lots of potential. Not a bad experience at all
Birth of a beautiful Dawn
+ Music is awesome, and so are visuals
+ Love the Soul System, and the Soul Synthesis System
+ Lots to do when you finish the game.
Oh, the Sorrow
– Use of the touchscreen seems more of an afterthought