Game - Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
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When game systems moved out of the 16-bit era, we saw games moving from their two-dimensional roots to the shiny and exciting world of the third dimension. Some games made the switch well (Mario); others were a more qualified 3D transition (Sonic, Donkey Kong, Mega Man). The Castlevania series too went 3D as early as the N64. Having had many incarnations on the NES, SNES, Genesis, and Gameboy in the 2D realm, many of the fans preferred to do their vampire slaying in a genre in flat space.
Arguably the best of the series, Symphony of the Night, appeared on the Playstation in 1997 (and the Saturn in Japan) with much acclaim. Still held to be the best in the series by most, it bucked the normal 2D Castlevania level setup by giving a more Metroid-like map and explore setup. When the Gameboy Advance launched, Konami presented us with Circle of the Moon, another 2D Castlevania, following the formula Symphony of the Night had started. It would be the first of three on the GBA and each would build off the previous. Aria of Sorrow, the third of the GBA Castlevanias, met with praise from critics and fans alike. A large castle, filled with powerful souls to collect and surprising plot twists made for a fantastic adventure.
This brings us to Dawn of Sorrow, Konamiís latest 2D Castlevania, this time making its foray onto the Nintendo DS. Dawn of Sorrow is a direct sequel to Aria: ďOne year laterÖĒ Does that mean that itís the same game? In a lot of ways it is, but thatís not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.
Immediately when starting up the game, the art detail is amazing. If you thought the sprite work in Aria was great, you ainít seen nothiní yet. The characters look amazing and move fluidly. The backgrounds are gorgeous and the special effects for spells are stunning. You can really tell that they took advantage of the DSís extra horsepower to push Dawn of Sorrow beyond what the GBA wouldíve been able to do.
The screen setup works well. The main action takes place on the bottom touch screen, with the top screen displaying either the map or player / enemy status (switchable via the Select button). Being able to have the map on all the time is a great feature as anyone who has played the GBA Castlevanias will be able to attest. The touch screen has limited use in the game, but just enough to be novel and not be obnoxious. Certain blocks can be manipulated with the stylus, but the really cool feature are the magic seals. After defeating a boss, in order to actually win, you must trace out a seal on the screen. The seals are items you pick up (there are five in all), each getting progressively more complex. If you botch it up or donít pull it off in enough time, the boss gets a little bit more life back and youíre back at it. Screwing up the seals is a good way to end up dead in a close battle; luckily thereís a practice mode to get used to them.
The soul system works very much like it did in Aria. Each enemy has a soul and a set chance it has to release the soul to you once you kill it. Some enemies give up their souls readily; some are much more stubborn (Final Guard, Iím looking at you!). However, unlike Aria, having more of one soul will very often power-up that soulís effect. Souls can also be used to form new weapons. You wonít find the be-all-end-all of weapons in the shop or even in the castle; they must be upgraded to reach their full potential. This introduces some frustrating soul hunting to get the weapon you want upgraded. In the end, though, itís worth it.
The castle is quite expansive. I put in almost twelve hours and now have 100% of the castle revealed. The game can be beaten in a much shorter amount of time (a good chunk of my time was spent on soul-hunting for weapon upgrades). Depending on what you do in the game will net you different endings. Thereís only one ďgoodĒ ending that will allow you to play through the whole game to get. The others end the adventure prematurely. The text of the story is a little bit stilted in places, but you get the idea of whatís going on.
Music has always been a staple of Castlevania games, and for the most part Dawn of Sorrow doesnít disappoint. The DSís sound chip is capable of some very nice sound and it is well used to set the tone all over the game. The sound effects too add a wonderful bit of character to the game. The frustration of an enemy easily avoiding your attack is only made worse by the giggle she emits as she does it. If that doesnít make the jump-slash-kill satisfying, I donít know what does.
I know this genre of game isnít for everyone, but I think in Dawn of Sorrow you find it executed about as well as it ever has been. I donít normally play games for extended periods of time but in less than 48 total hours I went from buying the game to having it beaten (and I had to eat, sleep, and get to the gym in there too!). That is at least somewhat of a testament to the fun-factor and drive this game has to it. Thereís always some place to explore, new souls to acquire and try out, levels to be gained, and then of course the final showdown.
If I have one issue with the game (and I doóthis keeps it from getting a 5.0 rating), itís that some of the souls are just ridiculously hard to get, even with luck-enhancing, soul-producing equipment. If that couldíve been eased up even just slightly, it wouldíve made the adventure that much more enjoyable.
After youíve won, thereís still much more to the game whether itís playing with the unlockable modes or fulfilling an Obsessive-Compulsive desire to have a soul from every enemy in the game, the replay value is quite high. Dawn of Sorrow even takes advantage of the DSís wireless abilities to allow for soul-trading between games and multi-card multiplayer mode.
There are so many different genres of games (and I hope more come along in the future!) that everyone is bound to have styles of games they like or donít like. Dawn of Sorrow is 2D action as its best. It doesnít rely on a whole mess of gimmicks to draw you in; itís just fun.
Added: Sunday, October 09, 2005
Related Link: Konami's Official Castlevania Site
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