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Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Review

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Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami
Release Date: October 4, 2005 Also On: None

Konami struck gold by bringing the Castlevania series to the Game Boy Advance with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. It is one of the highest rated games in the franchise and back in 2001 showed that the gothic art and the whip action could work on a handheld. After two more successful games with Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow, Konami hit the fourth note with Dawn of Sorrow, which is quite easily the best of all four handheld titles and even one of the best DS games to date.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the prequel to this game, and the story revolved around a man named Soma Cruz as he traveled through Dracula’s Castle to save the world from an apocalyptic eclipse. I won’t ruin the outcome of that game, but in Dawn of Sorrow, you again control Soma in his quest to solve the mystery and reason behind his powers that he finds in Aria of Sorrow. A strange run-in with a member of a mysterious cult sends Soma to another castle where he hopes to wrap up his troubles once and for all, living peacefully in the world he worked so hard to save.

The story hasn’t been altered, but added on. Similarly, the two-dimensional gameplay hasn’t had much of a change but there have been several notable additions. For those who haven’t tried Aria, Soma could find and equip dozens upon dozens of different weapons. Each of these weapons had different stats and could be swung, thrown, or shot in a different way. Slower weapons, like axes and great swords, were generally more powerful. Faster weapons, like short swords and knives, were slightly weaker. Depending on the player, each and every weapon had potential to be useful tools in killing Dracula’s minions. On top of all the weapons, the soul-collecting system in Aria that allowed for different abilities is back.

Now, on top of collecting and using projectile, ability, and status souls, the souls can be harvested and fused into weapons to improve upon their stats. This essentially makes soul-collecting a priority, but it’s addictive all the same. To balance out the ease of leveling-up and collecting souls, Konami raised the difficulty bar on some of the bosses, making for some of the most hectic and difficult fights on any of the four handheld games.

To increase the difficulty, and to make a cheap use of the DS’ touch screen function, the player now has to memorize and draw “Magic Seals” that finish off bosses. If the player fails to correctly draw the Magic Seal, the boss is revitalized with a fraction of its health and the fight will continue until the player draws the Seal correctly. This is the biggest use of the stylus that I found, but I’m not disappointed–the gameplay is so beautifully simplistic yet so artfully balanced that throwing in a bunch of touch-screen crap would have ruined the system. Nice move, Konami.

Aria of Sorrow was a beautiful Game Boy Advance game, and Dawn of Sorrow simply adds on with more detail and smoother animation. Things like zombies being cut into halves, huge walking armors collapsing into rubble, and demons being sucked into vortexes are just a few examples of the attention to detail shown in Dawn of Sorrow. On top of this, the music and sound effects are exceptional to say the least. The epic introduction tune, combined with the fact that it’s an anime-inspired clip, is enough to win me over but the detail from the graphics also carries over into the sound. Soma’s little “HA!” noise when he attacks isn’t what I’m talking about; enemies have distinct sounds, and in some instances, like boss fights, sound is almost as important as visuals. The goth-tastic score only adds to the feeling of the environment. Overall, this is a superficially perfect handheld game.

Take a simple gameplay concept and add a shot of addiction, sprinkle in a great story, and coat it in graphics and music that are sweeter than cake icing and you have Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, which is one of the best DS games of the year and one of my favorite handheld games. It doesn’t really use the DS’ functions but it’s a great game all on its own and belongs in your DS library.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 9.5
Written by Cliff Review Guide