Caslevania: Dawn of Sorrow - Reader Review  

Far from Sorrowful
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

Easy to Medium
8-15+ Hours


Rating definitions 

   A year has passed since Soma Cruz battled the forces of darkness at Dracula's castle, which appeared during a solar eclipse in 2035. Now a cult wishes to release the powers within Soma, who must stop them at all costs. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is the first installment of Konami's series for the Nintendo DS. Direct sequels are nothing new for the series, as the first two Castlevania games on the NES as well as Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night had been dilogies years before. Even so, Dawn of Sorrow proves to be a solid direct sequel with great gameplay largely inherited from its predecessor and decent use of the Nintendo DS's features.

   As stated, Dawn of Sorrow largely inherits its gameplay from its predecessor, Aria of Sorrow, not to mention prior RPG Castlevanias. Like in Aria, Soma can equip a variety of weapons to fight various enemies, which sometimes give him their Souls, three of which he can equip for various effects and abilities, some of which require MP that slowly refills as Soma fights (though hearts gained from breaking various objects throughout the castle can hasten MP recharge). Certain Souls are necessary to further Soma's exploration of the game's giant castle, and in some instances, it can take a while to get enemies to drop their Souls.

   Bosses, in some instances, can be somewhat challenging, with leveling up sometimes necessary to overcome them, although leveling, of course, gives players a good opportunity for Soul-hunting. In most instances, when players completely deplete a boss's HP, they must use the stylus to trace a Magic Seal in order to officially defeat the boss. If the player fails, the boss will revive with some of its HP, in which case the player must once more deplete the boss's HP to try their hand at the Magic Seal again. Mastering Magic Seals can be somewhat tricky, although it is a decent system that makes good use of the DS's capabilities. Overall, combat is a main draw to this Castlevania title.

Half-spider-man Weird-looking monsters return.

   As with previous Castlevanias, the interface is mostly spotless. The menus are easy to navigate, play control is tight, and all that jazz. Here, too, does Dawn of Sorrow utilize the DS's features, with the top screen displaying a handy automap of the castle, or, when the player presses Select, Soma's stats. Exploring the castle, furthermore, is a bit of a joyride, with Soma's abilities sometimes necessary to advance the game. Quick-delete-saves also allow players to quit the game anytime and resume where they left off, although given the somewhat awkward spacing of HP/MP-recovering save points at times, players can in some instances waste up to half an hour playing when enemies kill Soma. Aside from this, interaction leaves little to desire.

   Being a direct sequel, Dawn of Sorrow naturally derives many elements, such as the Soul system and many characters, from its predecessor, although it does introduce some unique elements such as the aforementioned touch-screen features that prevent it from being a total rehash of previous Castlevanias.

   The story, as with most installments of the series, leaves something to desire. While it doesn't rehash the typical "go through the castle and kill Dracula" camp characteristic of the franchise, the plot is skeletal and weakly-paced nonetheless, and only the most loyal fans of Aria will find much to celebrate in the story. There is a databank in the menus that summarizes characters and events from Aria of Sorrow, but otherwise, Dawn of Sorrow further demonstrates that playing Castlevanias for their stories is like reading Playboy for the articles.

Use the stylus, Soma! Sealing away a boss

   The music, in most instances, has always been a strong point for the Castlevania series, and Dawn of Sorrow, luckily, continues this trend. The quality of the soundtrack is a lot better than in the GBA Castlevanias, although headphones further bolster the music, which features a nice variety of tunes that rarely, if ever, go unnoticed by the player. Sound is well-done as well, with decent sound effects and some voice clips, and while wearing headphones, players can tell whether enemies lay left or right of Soma, on or off-screen. In the end, the aurals are the paramount aspect of Dawn of Sorrow.

   Dawn of Sorrow largely retains the 2-D visual style of the GBA Castlevanias while featuring some 3-D elements in some backgrounds and enemies. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the visuals look gorgeous, despite the slight pixelation of certain enemies and some of the backdrops. Series purists, moreover, are sure to take offense at the replacement of the franchise's typical gothic, androgynous character art with less androgynous, anime-style character designs. Unless the art for some strange reason makes your eyes bleed, Dawn of Sorrow is still a pretty nice-looking title.

   As with most Castlevanias, Dawn of Sorrow is fairly short, taking around eight to fifteen hours to complete, more if the player wishes to collect every enemy soul in the game. Furthermore, a New Game+ and a mode where players can play the game as different characters add significant replay value.

   Overall, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a solid addition to the franchise and a nice debut of the series on the Nintendo DS, as well, featuring enjoyable gameplay and solid presentation values. Those looking for a good story should certainly look elsewhere, although those looking for an enjoyable title and series fans who don't mind the different character designs should definitely give this a look.

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