Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Reader Review
First off, is the critical stuff for those of you who won't read the rest of the review. This game is essential, you will buy it, and you will love it also. It has a pitch-perfect learning curve, with utterly zero innane difficulty spikes, flows excellently from A to B, whilst throwing the odd curveball to keep you guessing, and all the while plays fantastically throughout. Get it. Now.
Right then, for those of you who, like me, would be new to the Castlevania series with this game: it is a free-roaming, 4-way scrolling action RPG, in the simplest of language. You explore a massive castle, fighting your way through bosses, progressing through tiny snippets of story to the end. Your character is one Soma Cruz, soul-proprietor (I'm here all night) of the late Count Drac, giving him the curious (and jolly good fun) ability of being able to absorb the souls of his foes, thereby gaining their abilities. And not just particular foes... all 115 of them.
As Soma, you are pitted against Celia, the maniacal cultist looking to ressurrect the Dark Lord, and her crony 'candidates' Dmitri and Darius. Aided by loyal friends Genya Arikado, Yoko Belnades, Julius Belmont and the illustrious 'Hammer,' Soma will battle through the deepest of deepings and the nastiest of nasties, humming along to the catchy music as he goes.
That's the summary - the nitty-gritty part of the review involves taking every aspect of the game and telling you how well Castlevania manages to do it. So then, the visuals...
Magnificently drawn, to the final detail. The environments manage to feel just that, and not like 2D place settings. The castle comes alive thanks to vivid imagery in the dungeons, gardens, chapel and towers, throwing in just about every corner of a castle you could ever expect to find, short of the Whore's Quarters. No, don't spoil it for me, every castle had them. Thinking about it, even this one does, after a fashion. So it really does have everything.
The music to these locales is nothing short of brilliance - it's been some time that I've unwittingly memorised so many themes from a game, and they never seem to get repetitive. I've been whistling them all day today - the melancholy tones of the gardens, the strangely upbeat track from the "Silenced Ruin"... all very typically gamey, and fittingly gothic.
Now then, the actual game. I could spend quite a while on this, but I'll try to be brief. After all, you need the time to plan when you're going to buy it and start playing.
It's very very fun. As I said in my first impressions, a lot of the game is quite comparable to the Metroid experience - trundling around, doing your own thing, fighting a boss, gaining a new ability, and reaching new areas. On the way, you'll happen upon a soul from your enemies, and this is one of the greatest draws of the game - the collectability. As I've mentioned, every critter has a unique soul, granting Soma a new power, be it lobbing axes, summoning locusts, launching fish-torpedoes or flicking cards to inflict damage. And those are just the 'bullet' type souls, ones which cause immediate pain. There are also guardian souls, activated by the R button, which can act as shields, stat-boosters, special abilities or super-speediness. On top of these are the enchant souls, which are constant effect, but otherwise pretty similar to the guardian souls. Ability souls are fairly few, but would translate to, say, the Space Jump boots in Metroid. They're the ones that allow you to progress.
All in all, souls are very fun, and rare enough to avoid becoming commonplace, yet not too rare as to stop you looking. On that note, there are some hidden rooms in the game, which are very rare indeed, and you therefore won't bother looking. But it's still nice just to find them.
The DS' influence on the game is, for the most part, minimal. The 2nd screen is used predictably as a map, or alternatively as a handy info screen on the enemy you're currently thwarting. And they are just that - handy. Not revolutionary or particularly clever, but they are good to have around. The touch screen is used to slightly better effect, with one ability allowing you to destroy certain types of blocks (disappointingly however, this was used very little), while also being used to draw the 'magic seals' required to put the smack down on bosses. Lamely, it can also be used to direct the attack patterns of summoned familiars, which doesn't work all that well.
The game lasts a good length of time (I'm currently on 14h 30m, and by no means 'finished'), and has some vastly superior unlockables and modes, which I won't spoil for you beyond what I've said in first impressions. The difficulty is about spot on... where it's hard, it's not really harder, just more inspiring, leading you to try again. And you'll be having so much fun, you won't really mind.
However, there are a few gripes. Firstly, again as I've mentioned before, using the touch screen spontaneously can be quite troublesome. This is even more of a problem later in the game, when you become so absorbed in the more difficult boss fights trying to polish off the rapscalions that you're caught completely off-guard when asked to lock them up forever with a magic seal (some of which can be quite tricky to draw within the alotted time). A mere health bar for the boss you're fighting would've gone miles to improve this.
Secondly, some of the nice features felt woefully underimplemented, such as the block-smashing above, and certain types of clever barriers also. You get the feeling fairly occasionally that the game is trying to do too much, and misses out capitalising on the great ideas. Great as they are.
Another problem is one that, really, I hesitate to add, because it didn't bother me. In fact I rather liked it. Like Metroid, it can be painfully difficult at times to know where to go, or what to do. Now being a Metroid fan, I love this challenge, and really enjoy finally working something like that out. The game offers plenty to do while you're thinking about it. Go soul hunting for a bit, or rake in some money to buy items. It's good fun. But I know this isn't everyone's style, and people can get seriously hung up on it. Major negative for some people.
And the only other negative I can think of is that the weapons aren't very well balanced. But you don't notice, because so many souls function as weapons that you'll have a varied enough time as it is. Most people are likely to play through the whole game just upgrading the axes, and buying the Silver Pistol. Ah yes... the upgrading. Certain weapons can be upgraded by fusing with monsters' souls, making them more powerful. Adds an incentive to soul hunting, this. Nice little touch, if again underimplemented, as most people will stick to one weapon.
And that's it. I can't think of anything else to say, other than superfluous ramblings on how good this game is, and how much you need it. But honestly, though, you do. I am about to utter the immortal words. You know what they are, and you're already doubting me. But no, let me explain.
Castlevania is the best game on the DS.
And don't give me that Advance Wars rubbish! You all know as well as I do that Advance Wars is very much an aquired taste, and for some people will never be rated highly at all. I'm one of them - and similarly I can see its charm, but I will never be so absorbed by it as a true strategy fan. I still enjoy it, though.
But Castlevania, now... Castlevania is universal fun. I can't imagine anyone not getting along with it, in the way that you could a strategy game. Any flaws you find to put you off are instantly offset by the overwhelming goodness of the rest of the game. And so, to conclude... the score.
9/10 - Buy it, and buy it now.
9 / 10