Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is the first game in the legendary Castlevania series for the Nintendo DS and also is a direct sequel to Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, taking place one year later.  Unlike many of the console versions of Castlevania, Dawn of Sorrow sticks strictly to its roots, staying 2D for the adventure of Soma Cruz as he tries to stop a cult from resurrecting Dracula.


The game features a number of touch-screen enhancements and the ability to collect and use monster’s souls for various purposes in-game.  As I haven’t had the chance to play a Castlevania game in many years (not since the NES, actually), I didn’t have any expectations either way.  All that was being looked for was to see if the game was fun, so on with the review!

Simply put, the graphics in this game are stunning.  While not a 3D game like one might expect on the DS, the 2D graphics are still incredibly crisp and clean, using a number of effects to make things stand out.  For example, when Soma runs, jumps or is in movement, he has a motion-blur effect behind him.  The backgrounds blend in with the area to make a seamless whole, with the moon shining through windows and shifting with perspective changes, mirrors reflecting differently as you move along and other effects.


The character faces while talking are very well done and keep the whole anime-style vibe going throughout the game.  The faces even change emotions with the characters to help emphasize certain things.


About the only drawback with the game’s graphics has more to do with the fact that it’s on the DS as opposed to a console:  the characters on-screen are very tiny, and it’s hard to get a lot of fine detail from Soma or other characters.  That being said, it’s still amazing the amount of detail that -is- there.  One instance of this would be that Soma wears a long coat and when he jumps the coat moves independantly of the character.  Simple, perhaps, but still quite amazing to see.

Considering that this is a handheld system and isn’t the PSP, it’s amazing how crisp and clear the sounds are in this game.  The stereo effect is in full force as sounds shift from one speaker to the other depending on which side of the screen it’s on, including the cursor.  Each weapon and monster sound somewhat different and what little voice is in the game also sounds stunning.


Castlevania’s always been known for its music, and Dawn of Sorrow is no exception.  The music fits the theme of the game perfectly with eerie themes to fit each area.  Bosses, of course, get their own music as well to up the feeling of menace when going up against one of these beings.  While it may not be the best music in Castlevania history, it’s pretty close to it honestly.


The only thing that’s really lacking in the sound department is a complete lack of character voices.  We know the system can handle it, and it would have been nice to have it.  Perhaps the next Castlevania game on the DS will include this feature.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow controls much like its predecessor on the GBA.  The B button jumps while Y is your attack button and A is the super attack button.  Up and Y set off your Bullet Soul attack and the R button sets off your Guardian Soul.  The L button sets off your default ability.  All of these controls can be changed however you like it, but the default settings work quite well for the most part. 


The game dosen’t use much of the DS’s dual screen functionality, but it really isn’t missed in this game.  The lower screen is your game screen while the top screen is primarily used for the map, which is quite handy.  Pressing select will change that to your stats. 


As far as the touch-screen itself, the main uses are drawing the various Magic Seals you find in the game and breaking ice blocks (after unlocking that ability).  Unfortunately, there aren’t a large number of the ice blocks in the game and scrambling to get the stylus at the end of a boss battle or hoping that your finger can trace the pattern nicely enough can cause some frustration.  All in all though, there’s nothing wrong with the setup that they’ve got going. 

As stated before, the storyline of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow picks up one year after the events of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.  Soma Cruz (the reincarnation of Dracula) is spending time with his friend Mina Hakuba when a woman calling herself Celia Fortner shows up with the aim of killing Soma to cause Dracula’s rebirth.  He’s rescued by Genya Arikado and soon after sets off to track down Celia Fortner and her cult of evil. 


Much of the gameplay in Dawn of Sorrow is similar to Aria of Sorrow.  You still kill monsters with a variety of weapons and can collect their souls, then use them to augment your own powers.  You still gain levels and experience (much as the other GBA Castlevania games were).  The addition this time is the use of the Magic Seal.  Various doors are sealed and you have to have the correct Magic Seal to unlock them.  Not only that, you also have to utilize the Magic Seal to kill the boss behind that door once you’ve whittled his health down to nothing. 


Everything else is classic Castlevania, down to the destruction of candleabras to gain magic power and money.  One of the other uses of the souls you collect is augmenting weapons.  Each weapon you pick up can be augmented with a specific soul to form a more powerful weapon.  This is good, considering some of the higher-level weapons are both hard to find and quite expensive in the shop.  Obviously, the best weapons will be made with the rarest souls, which are the hardest to collect. 


While Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is still a classic Castlevania action-adventure game at its core, over the years a number of RPG-like elements have been included which have almost pushed the series into the action-RPG realm.  Dawn of Sorrow is no different, and it really gives you a bit more connection to the character as building him up, making him stronger, and collecting the souls help you in your quest to defeat the forces of evil and save your own soul.


The game is quite engrossing, and it’s very easy to spend an hour or two at a time diving into this game, playing it until your fingers are numb.  It’s very fun, highly entertaining, and not at all hard to pick up and play even for someone who has never played Castlevania.

While you wouldn’t expect much in the way of replayability from this title, you might be surprised by what is actually there.  Not only do you have the map to explore and all the soul to collect for those who want to finish a game 100% of the way, you’ve also got the fact that you can unlock alternate characters to play through the game, the famous New Game+ mode, three different endings, items to unlock by fulfilling certain conditions and the list goes on and on.


Beyond just the replayability, there’s the fact that there’s a LOT of gameplay.  A few hours into the game put me at just under 20% of the map explored, and there’s numerous areas to go back and re-check later on as new abilities are enabled.  Taking that into account, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow can be expected to last between 10 and 20 hours and quite a bit longer than that for those completionists out there.  That’s a heck of a lot of game for $30.

Honestly, this is another one of those Must-Own titles for the Nintendo DS if you’re into action games or action-RPGs at all.  For $30, you simply can’t go wrong with this title.  The fact that Doublejump decided to make a strategy guide for this title tells you by itself that there’s an immense amount of gameplay involved in this title. 


The pre-release buzz on this title was quite favorable, and I’m pleased to say that the buzz was quite well-deserved.  Definitely purchase this game.

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