Monday, February 27, 2006

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow review

Dawn of Sorrow is the second Castlevania game to take place in the dark future and is the sequel the the hit Aria of Sorrow game on the Gameboy Advance platform. Our hero Soma Cruz, the reincarnated Dracula returns, this time to battle a cult who worships god. However the cult also believes that if god exists so must evil - namely Dracula, and Soma Cruz isn't doing a good job as the dark lord at the moment - instead preferring to spend quality time with his girlfriend Mina Hakuba.

Dawn of Sorrow features Japanese anime/manga style character design

With Dracula's blood in his vein, it is fair to say he got all annoyed when he was attacked by Celia, the cult leader who has a master plan of replacing Soma with ideal candidates who can probably do their potential evil job better. Soma, being a 19 year old kid, gets all angst and seeks revenge (tsk, kids of the future, what will we do with them?) in the cult's headquarters - a replica of Dracula's castle. This is where the game begins.

*spoiler ends*

With Dracula's powers, Soma has a couple of abilities that are quite simply awesome. For starters he has the ability to absorb the souls of enemies he kills. With the souls, he gains their powers, much like those in Final Fantasy and uhm... Pokemon. Lucky guy indeed. This is similar to the gameplay in Aria of Sorrow. However this time Some has the ability to 'upgrade' the powers by acquiring multiple copies of the same soul.

The game retains the side scrolling Platform Adventure Action RPG style similar to 2D Metroid games (aka Metroidvania gameplay). You begin with a simple knife and as you progress through the game you can collect cash, items and souls. With them, you can upgrade your weapons, buy potions and other stuffs from the dodgy dealer Hammer and get cool new armour. As you kill more monsters, your experience level will increase giving Soma more offensive and defensive power, among other things.

Because this is for the Nintendo DS, the game takes place over two screens. The top screen can be toggled to show either a useful map or a detailed stats of Soma Cruz. The action takes place on the bottom screen. Touch screen is used in a couple of modes. One is called the Magic Seal where you have to draw symbols in order to finish off weakened bosses. This can get annoying and it feels as if Konami only introduced this gameplay because the DS had a touch screen.

The graphics is wonderful. As far as 2D sprites goes, this is as good as it goes and is a significant upgrade to Aria of Sorrow. Some in his trench coat is quite simply the coolest hero I have ever had the pleasure to play as. Enemy designs are wonderful with some bosses spanning almost the entire height of the screen. Such wonderful design and massive bosses gives this game a very epic feeling. The animation is detailed and you can even see Soma's aura when he moves - something I have never seen on a 2D portable game.

The audio takes advantage of the DS's superior speakers by improving over the GBA games. The soundtrack is mainly gothic and are all quite catchy with each area having its own theme. There are no voice acting apart from a couple of grunts, screams and laughter (all creepy). A wonderful collection of soundtrack that are mostly memorable.

Gameplay is similar to almost all 2D platformers where you control character movements via the D-pad and the other buttons are for toggling different actions. This is as simple as it gets. The game itself is quite easy once you get the hang of it. Due to upgradability of experience level, you may find yourself with dozens of weapons and souls by the time you meet for your real challenge. The castle is massive and finding every single soul took me quite some time.

This game is an excellent value due to its replayability. Among the bonuses you can find in this game is the wireless soul trade mode where you and your mate can trade souls. Nifty. A cooler bonus is the unlockable games, one of which is Julius mode where you can play as Julius and Yoko. Complete that (and Soma Cruz mode at 100%) and you can play as Alucard. How cool is that? Me? I haven't even begin the Julius mode but will probably do so when I am stuck in a long flight.

It has been out for quite some time and you should be able to find used copies of it in the bargain section. Still it is very rare. Screw the New Super Mario Bros. This is platformer at its very best.


Buy now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK

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