Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect excuse to get the DS., October 18, 2005
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Video Game)
When you look back at gaming icons from the yesteryears, a few names keep popping up. There's the Mario Bros. There's the legend of Zelda. And then there's always Castlevania. Having wooed fans all around the world for almost 20 years, the legendary Castlevania makes its debut now on the Nintendo DS, and it looks better than ever. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, to put it simply, is an instant classic.

The events in Dawn of Sorrow are set in the year 2036, a year after the last GBA Castlevania game, Aria of Sorrow. The hero in that game, Soma Cruz, returns to fight another day. If you didn't already know, Soma is the reincarnation of the notorious Dracula, who was the villain from many Castlevania games of past. With an evil cult hell bent on using him to resurrect the dark lord this time round, Soma was forced to pay a visit to their headquarters, and generally take up the task of stopping the rebirth.

The process of taking on the bad guys, inevitably, happens in a labyrinth-like castle. The design of the castle is similar to previous establishments. Enemies, tough bosses, booby traps and environmental puzzles are littered all over the place, and as Soma, you'll need all your combat and strategizing skills to complete your ultimate objective.

Dawn of Sorrow throws in a fair amount of enemies for you to fight. In fact, there're a total 116 to take on. Some of these are new enemies making their first appearance in the Castlevania franchise, but many are familiar faces that fans of the game will no doubt remember from previous instalments. To fight these enemies, you'll be given a wide range of weapons. Depending on the abilities of your enemies, different weapons are required. For example, a pole that strikes horizontally may not be effective in taking out a flying enemy, but a large sword that deals a vertical, frontal blow will do the job very well. This basically means that you'll have to master the advantages of your weapons, or face the possibility of being totally overwhelmed.

Weapons are sometimes found in hidden rooms of the castle, and you'll find it worthwhile to pick up some of them if you happen to see them. If you manage to gain your enemies' souls during fights, however, you can cast them into your weapons to form bigger and more powerful weapons as well. This process of upgrading, called weapon synthesis, is one of the most important features of the game. To get the upgrade FOC by killing enemies, then grabbing and casting their souls, the game allows you to increase your effectiveness in combat without the need of spending precious gold on buying these improved weapons. This is definitely a welcomed feature for any player of this game.

You may ask then, what's a soul? Well, if you've played Aria of Sorrow, the concept of souls should not be new. Basically, by killing enemies, you'll get the chance to grab their souls for your own use. Not all enemies give up their souls easily though. In order for you to get some of them, repetition is required. In fact, repeatedly killing an enemy just to get its soul is one of the most mundane parts of the game, and for completists who have to collect every soul, the challenge will be even greater.

Apart from improving your weapons, getting souls also allow you to utilise the special powers of your enemies. For example, if you've the Skeleton soul, you can use it to throw bones at your enemies. If you get the Waiter Skeleton soul, you can start attacking your foes by throwing plates of delicious curry (!). Well, you get the story. While some souls are practically useless, some, like the Axe Armor soul (which allows you to throw flying axes), are very useful in taking out the various bosses in the game. It's advisable to spend time grabbing these souls if you want an easier time in the castle.

Boss fights, like fighting enemies, are frequent occurrences throughout this game. You'll usually get more powerful abilities after taking out bosses, again in the form of souls, which allow you to proceed in the game. For example, you'll need to kill the first boss to get the Flying Armor soul, so that you can "hang" in the air while jumping. This is essential to reach a previously unreachable area because a high platform is blocking your way. Environmental puzzles like this are common in Dawn of Sorrow, and when you encounter one, you'll have to ask whether you've the required souls to solve them. So, even when grabbing souls could be tedious, you'd want to spend some time doing it, if only just to get what you really need to progress. In any case, if you're really out of sorts, you may consider trading extra enemies' souls with your friend through Wi-Fi.

Soul-searching is not the only thing that requires repeated effort though. Recent Castlevania games have included a levelling up element that is commonly found in RPGs, and Dawn of Sorrow is no exception. Fighting (and beating) enemies earns you experience points, and gaining these points will in turn make you a stronger fighter. For example, an enemy that takes you three strikes to destroy at level 1 will be a breeze at level 10.

Enemies in the later part of the game are very tough, so gaining a respectable level will definitely help your quest better. However, as the game is pretty short in the story mode, you may not reach a high enough level to take on the game's more powerful bosses. As such, you'll need to spend time killing enemies over and over again to raise your levels, and this gets annoying after a while. The good thing is, while soul-searching and levelling up take up a lot of time, at least the enemies will always respawn, thus speeding up the process a little. Still, if repetitive gameplay bores you easily, you may find these portions of the game really tedious.

Apart from weapons, you'll also come across a variety of items in the game. This could include healing items (potions, meat strip, milk, etc.), protective gear (tunic, scarves, breastplate, etc.) and even performance-enhancement rings (get more gold, increase luck, gain more experience points, etc.) Some of these items can be purchased at a permanent shop, while others require some exploration. Again, this gives you the incentive to check out the castle completely for any hidden rooms. Apart from these items, you'll also get seemingly useless items like rotten food, which reduces your health if you take them. But then again, if you gain a soul that allows you to eat unpalatable food, the same rotten food can become a healing agent when the going gets tough.

The shop also sells items like periodicals, which include stuff like tabloids and maps. The tabloids will inform you about rare souls that hide in the background of the screens they appear, and how you can get their souls. These are important if you want to achieve 100% souls. But the most important periodical to buy is no doubt the castle map. The map will appear on the top screen of your DS, which means that the days of pausing the game just to check your map are over! This is definitely a handy improvement from previous versions of the game, thanks to the DS' dual screen.

Dawn of Sorrow also utilizes some the DS' touch screen, even though not in abundance. After earning the soul of Balore, you'll be able to break ice crystals that block you path by touching them with the stylus. The game also introduces the concept of Magical Seals, which are essential in completely destroying a boss. When a boss' health reaches zero during a fight, a magical seal will appear on the touch screen. You'll need to draw the seal with your stylus so as to "seal" the boss for good. If you don't do it properly, the boss will regain health, and you'll have to fight it again. This is a nice little idea that makes use of the DS' feature, but it's not entirely user-friendly for left-handers. Thankfully, you don't really need to draw the seal in an exact fashion. As long as you get the strokes right, the game will register it, and you should be fine.

The graphics of the game are also top-notch. Yes, they're 2D, but they're also as good as you can get for a 2D presentation. The background of each level of the castle, for example, is simply breath-taking. The levels are also separated by various themes, so you'll end up visiting an eerie garden, a creepy playhouse, a dark chapel, and even hell. The designs for each area are drawn to such perfection that you'll find yourself immersing into the background as you go along. Also, while the characters do look a little small on screen, the details on them are still amazingly rendered. The mood of each level is also aptly complemented by some great music. In fact, the music is so good that Konami decided to include a Sound Test as an unlockable if you manage to complete the game with the "good" ending. This allows you to listen to the various tracks without having to play the game. Ideal for enjoying them without worrying about the dreaded Medusa Head floating around on screen!

Recent Castlevania games have a similarity. They all have a "good" ending, a "bad" ending, and a completely "fake" ending. Ideally, you should achieve every one of them if you intend to watch all the possibilities, but you'd really want to achieve both the good and bad ones, because they unlock some really awesome goodies.

As I mentioned, the good ending unlocks the Sound Test, which is really cool. It also triggers a brand new play mode called the Boss Rush Mode. In this mode, you'll take on the bosses that you fought in the story mode in quick succession, and beating the specific time requirements will earn you special items not found in the regular game. Sounds good? Well, there's more.

Completing the bad ending will unlock the Julius Mode, which allows you to engage the current castle with characters like Julius Belmont, Yoko Belnades and Alucard, who're established characters in the Castlevania universe. Telling more about this mode will spoil the fun, so I'll just leave it at that.

Apart from these special modes, completing the game will also unlock Hard Mode, which is essentially the same game you've played, only with a host of tougher enemies and environment. And if you fancy playing the game with a friend, you can take the Enemy Set Mode, which allows you to design your own castle, and then take on your friend through Wi-Fi to see who can finish the areas faster. Regardless of what additional modes you decide to play, they've all been included to encourage replayability, and they should add to the 10-12 hours of estimated play time you can clock on the main story mode.

This game is named Dawn of Sorrow as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the DS, but it's really a dawn of a brighter future for the Castlevania franchise. Dawn of Sorrow has the potential to be the game of the year, at least for the DS, and it's not difficult to understand why. Great gameplay, impressive graphics, awesome audios and a whole lot of goodies to boot - what do you mean you don't have a DS?
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