Sunday, April 14, 2013

Game Review: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Action/Adventure/RPG; Nintendo DS; Konami; 2005
Well, now that I've gotten Fire Emblem Awakening out of the way, time to play something completely different. Time for some Castlevania, and not that Lords of Shadow crap. Okay, I'm not that fond of the Lords of Shadow reboot, mainly because they changed EVERYTHING about the lore of Castlevania and now with Mirror of Fate it just feels like they are putting character in there just for mindless pandering. *SIGH* Oh well, I still have the good old Castlevania games, and so for this week's review I'm going to tackle the sequel to my favorite game of the GBA Castlevania games: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Let's get this vampire hunt underway.

I couldn't find a good image for story so here's Soma attacking Treebeard.
Taking place a year after the best ending in Aria of Sorrow, Soma Cruz has come to terms with the dark powers resting within him, and is trying to live a normal life with his childhood friend Mina. But that all changes when a cult attacks Soma with hellish creatures, reviving his power to control the souls of demons. This cult seeks to create a new Dracula, and is gathering individuals like Soma who have the power to became this new Dark Lord. Knowing that Mina will be in danger and that he will never have a normal life unless this cult is dealt with, Soma leaves for the headquarters of this cult to stop their preparations. But what will Soma do if he himself becomes the new Dark Lord? Play Dawn of Sorrow to find out.

Okay, As I stated in my intro Aria of Sorrow is my favorite of the GBA Castlevania games, and part of that is because it had a really solid story that had actual weight to it. I cared about Soma and the other characters, and the story (since it takes place after Dracula's ultimate defeat) could have gone anywhere. However, in Dawn of Sorrow there was no sense of importance. There was nothing that made me feel like what I was doing was going to change anything, and at the end of the game it still felt like everything was EXACTLY the same as before. Also, while I liked the cast of characters in Aria of Sorrow, in Dawn of Sorrow everyone felt very VERY flat. Almost as if their character was just boiled down to a single character trait that gets pushed in every single conversation. The story just didn't do anything for me, especially since I never felt threatened by ANY of the villains, they seriously felt more like jokes than actual antagonists.

Ah, Gaibon. When have you EVER been threatening?
If you've played one "Metroid-vania" game you've played them all... to one degree or another. The formula, introduced in Symphony of the Night, have you exploring a vast 2D castle, with various different paths to take many of which either lead to hidden goodies or are blocked off in one way or another that require a new skill or item to be able to access. Here, back tracking is common place, but with a great sense of exploration it is almost never a chore to revisit an older section of the map to find that little nook that you couldn't get to before. Along the way you will fight a large variety of monsters ranging from the easily dispatched zombies and skeletons to the screen filling giant animate suits of armor. Each monster may drop a variety of items from stuff that heals you, new weapons to kill more enemies with, and even their SOULS. Much like it's predecessor, Dawn of Sorrow has a system where Soma can acquire the souls of his enemies to give him various effects, ranging from new subweapons, new familiars to summon, and various auto effects. New to Dawn of Sorrow is not only the ability to swap between two different sets of Souls and Equipment, but also the ability to fuse souls into weapons to create more powerful weapons. Also to take advantage of the DS's two screens, the top screen can either display Soma's current stats and a simplified version of the monster you are fighting stats, or display the map of the castle including your current position. Also, since the bottom screen is where the action takes place, you have a few gimmicks that utilizes the touch screen. Most prominent is the Magic Seal, in which when you beat a boss, you will have to draw, from memory, what the Magic Seal for that boss is. If you are successful than you defeat the boss, if you are not than the boss gets a portion of his life back and the fight continues... dicks.

"Mirror mirror on the wall, damn this boss is annoying."
Unfortunately, it isn't all good. First let's start with the most obvious annoyance, the Magic Seal. It is easily the most frustrating part about the game, when you beat a boss and then you have to pull out your stylus and copy the pattern shown to you when you first enter the boss room and then you screw it up and now you have to continue to fight the boss, when you've used up most of your healing items and the next hit will kill you. I get what they where trying to do, but it feels like pointless busy work on what is already rather difficult bosses. But then there is the soul collecting. Whenever you beat an enemy, you have a small chance at getting their soul. Now, some enemies you will fight enough times to be able to get their soul fairly easily, but most enemies require you to do more mindless busy work killing them over and over and over again until you grab their soul and then pray that you don't get killed before you get to the nearest save point. Now, this was in the original Aria of Sorrow and it was annoying then, but it is made even worse in Dawn of Sorrow because now you have to do this process 2 or 3 or 4 times because not only do you need to collect souls to use them as abilities, but also the more souls you collect of a particular type of monster the more powerful that ability becomes, and ALSO you need these souls to upgrade your weapons. Now they could have still done this and not make it an absolute chore by increasing the rate at which you acquire souls; however, it doesn't appear that you collect souls at a much faster rate than in Aria of Sorrow. So, what they pretty much did was take a grind-tastic concept from Aria of Sorrow and made it even MORE grind-tastic, without adding anything to the fun of it.

Now, with all that in mind, Dawn of Sorrow is still a fun game, but it's main problem is that when it is compared to the other GBA and DS Castlevania games, it comes up really REALLY short. There is nothing special about this game, nothing to set itself apart from the far better Aria of Sorrow or Order of Ecclesia. Dawn of Sorrow is to the DS Castlevania games as Harmony of Dissonance was to the GBA Castlevania games: Fun but forgettable. If you really like the "Metroid-vania" games or are trying to complete your collection then play Dawn of Sorrow, but remember there are better games in this series. It is Recommended.

Until Next Time.

-Crescent, What was Komani thinking with this art style?

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