game reviews and playing tips: Sony PSP games Read our review of the Nintendo DS here!
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Review posted August
2005 by Corbie Dillard
Publisher: Konami Entertainment
Release Date: October, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
Genre: Platform Action Adventure
With the several mediocre attempts at bringing the Castlevania
series into a 3D world, it seems 2D fans have been relocated
to sinking their teeth into the three Game Boy Advance Castlevania
releases. While these three games have been enough to keep
the series alive and kicking, they've never been able to reach
the same level of originality or excitement of the last truly
great 2D release, Symphony of the Night for the Playstation.
With the release of Dawn of Sorrow, Konami has managed to not
only return the Castlevania series to its rightful place atop
the Platform genre, but they've also managed to include some
truly original and useful new features using the DS touch screen
capabilities. The end result is one of the most enjoyable Castlevania
titles ever created, not to mention a rock-solid platforming
experience with enough style and substance to place it among
the best the Castlevania series has to offer.
The story in Dawn of Sorrow takes place one year after the
events of Aria of Sorrow have unfolded. This time an eccentric
cult, obsessed with reviving the evil Count Dracula, have built
an exact replica of his castle and have kidnapped Soma's friends
and taken them inside the mock castle. Now Soma must enter
the castle, rescue his friends, and put a stop to the vile
plans of this village cult before they can carry out their
plans of reviving the evil prince of darkness.
As in the previous Game Boy Advance Castlevania games, the
majority of your quests will involve exploring different rooms
and corridors found throughout the castle. Thankfully the game
automatically generates a map for you, located on the top DS
screen, to keep track of where you've already explored in the
castle. At certain points, you'll come face to face with a
boss, which will have to be defeated in order to move on in
the game. Like Aria of Sorrow, as you defeat enemies, occasionally
you'll be able to capture the soul of that particular enemy
and gain the use of its special ability in the process. This
holds especially true with the bosses you'll fight throughout
the game. You'll have to acquire and use these abilities in
order to gain access to new parts of the castle.
In Dawn of Sorrow you have three different categories of souls
at your disposal. Bullet Souls give you enhanced attack characteristics,
Guardian Souls give you increased defensive powers, and Enchanted
Souls allow you to use other unique special abilities. Different
souls bestow different powers and abilities, some more useful
than others. The game even allows you to forge a captured soul
to your weapon, making it even more powerful, but you lose
that particular soul once you've done so.
Also similar to Aria of Sorrow is the weapons, armor, and
leveling up systems. You're allowed to select a weapon, a suit
of armor, and one accessory which in turn increases your character's
attributes. New to Dawn of Sorrow is the ability to have two
distinct character sets. Once you've located this ability within
the game, you can then configure two different setups complete
with different weapons, armor, accessories, and souls. You
can then switch between the two sets using one of the buttons
on the DS. This will make it easier to use your lighter weapons
for most ordinary circumstances, while switching to the heavier
weapons and armor when facing stronger enemies. As you defeat
enemies and bosses in the game, your experience points will
build up causing your character to level up. All of these things
combined together will determine how effective your character
will be at defeating the stronger enemies and bosses in the
game and play a key role in how you progress through the castle.
Two new features found in Dawn of Sorrow make use of the DS
touch screen capabilities. The first one allows you to draw
special seals, which involves drawing different line compositions
on a pentagram shaped board. You will need this to open certain
sealed doors as well as to seal the soul of a boss you have
just defeated in order to gain that boss' special ability.
You'll find these seal descriptions hidden throughout the castle
that will quickly show you a specific line composition that
you must remember for future reference. The other new feature
allows you to break certain blocks throughout the castle, allowing
you access to areas that were previously unreachable. Some
of these blocks have to be broken in a specific pattern in
order for you to climb them, or avoid them while riding on
some of the game's moving platforms. While these may seem somewhat
gimmicky in nature, they do play a key role in the way you
gain access to newer regions of the castle.
Multiplayer mode is something new to the Castlevania series.
In this mode you can compete against another player wirelessly
in a race through a twisting maze of rooms in the castle, each
filled with a wide array enemies, depending on how far along
you are in the game. You can even choose to place these particular
enemies yourself, although this doesn't particularly add much
to the experience itself. It's certainly nothing terribly groundbreaking,
and has little to do with the actual quests of the game, but
it's a nice diversion from the main quest.
Anyone who's played the previous Game Boy Advance Castlevania
titles will immediately notice the higher quality visuals in
Dawn of Sorrow. It's not until you've played the game a little,
however, that you begin to notice many of the slight graphical
nuances that slowly come together to create an even more impressive
visual experience. Character and enemy sprites sport a crisp,
detailed look, and move very fluidly, made possible by the
additional frames of animation. Bosses in the game are among
some of the best the series has ever seen, with some bosses
spanning nearly the entire screen. Even something as minor
as the way in which an enemy bursts into flames when defeated,
further highlights the noticeable attention to detail that
was put into the game. Another impressive graphical highlight
would have to be the parallax scrolling in the game. There
will be times when there are three or four depth levels of
scrolling, adding even more realism to the already structured
backdrops. It's fairly safe to say that Dawn of Sorrow really
shines in a way no other portable Castlevania title ever has
before, and further illustrates the fact that 2D gaming is
still a very viable format for portable gaming.
Not since Symphony of the Night has a Castlevania
soundtrack sounded as crisp or well written as this one. Beautifully
orchestrated music echoes through the DS speakers, changing as you
enter each new area, while retaining that trademark Castlevania musical
styling that has been somehow missing in each of the Game Boy Advance
Castlevania releases. The sound effects in the game perfectly compliment
the foreboding settings in the game, with enemies all sporting their
own individual moans or screams. While it would have been nice to
have had some voice acting in the game's wonderful conversation scenes,
it's clear that Konami squeezed about as much audio out of this game
as they possibly could. This is one game you'll want to turn up the
volume on, and one perfectly suited to show off the impressive DS
It's almost a forgone conclusion that most Castlevania
fans are going to embrace this game right off. Not only does it take
some of the better aspects of the Game Boy Advance series of Castlevania
games, but it also manages to expand upon those ideas with several
unique touch screen functions that add even more originality to an
already established formula. While some developers of Konami still
struggle to bring the Castlevania experience into the world of 3D
gaming, other members of their development teams have just created
the product that once again illustrates just how well the game can
still be executed in a 2D format. If you've been looking for a reason
or excuse to buy a Nintendo DS system, you've just found it.
Playing Hints and Tips
- Every boss in the game has a distinct pattern. If you're having
trouble defeating a boss, try to watch its movements and attack it
when it's most vulnerable.
- Sometimes bigger isn't necessarily better. Generally the stronger
a weapon is, the heavier it is, thus making its swing speed much
slower. Try to choose a weapon somewhere in the middle, where you
can get some of the strength without losing too much swing speed.
- Get used to using the backdash move as it can get you out of some
sticky situations in the game and provides a solid means of avoiding
some of the deadlier boss attacks.
- It probably goes without saying, but save rooms are generally
close by no matter where in the castle you are. Use them often.
- Defeat enemies every chance you get as the more enemies you destroy
the more your character will advance his attributes.
- Don't be afraid to make use of your special attacks and abilities
as your special abilities meter fills up as time passes. If you find
your meter low, duck into an empty room and allow it to fill up.
(Save rooms will also immediately refill your life and special ability
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
The step up in visual quality from the
Game Boy Advance titles may seem subtle at first, but when
the many graphical improvements are coupled together, they
show just how far ahead of the Game Boy Advanced titles Dawn
of Sorrow truly is. Outstanding detail, and terrific use of
the DS' duals screens, make this one of the most visually impressive
Castlevania games ever.
Musically, Dawn of Sorrow is the best
Castlevania soundtrack since Symphony of the Night in terms
of both quality and composition. The sound effects in this
game are among the best ever heard in a Castlevania game and
a true testament to the sound capabilities of the Nintendo
DS. Actual speech would have been nice, but the game doesn't
suffer for this minor omission.
You won't find a better or more in-depth
game for the DS system to date. Overflowing amount of gameplay,
an enormous castle to explore, and some absolutely stunning
bosses to fight make playing Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow an
absolute joy. Even those new to the Castlevania series should
find the toned-down difficulty easier to pick up than most
A gradual increase in difficulty makes
getting into the game quite easy, and the ability to collect
monsters and souls gives you a good reason to come back to
the game even after you've initially completed it. The multiplayer
option is a nice addition, but doesn't add much to the overall
package. What will keep most players coming back to this one
is the fact that it's simply a lot of fun to play.