Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Reader Review
The moon is full, casting it's haunting glow into the dimly-lit room. Outside, the rain is beating down onto the windowpane, as if trying to force its way in. In the dim light, the shadows making shapes across the wall that seem almost alive... as if they could reach out and touch you...
And amidst this, in the dim glow of a Nintendo DS, a lone warrior weeps... both tears of joy, and tears of sorrow... drained emotionally, unable to determine whether he has just experienced genius, or been abused by a loyal friend...
That isn't to say that Dawn of Sorrow isn't any good. It's awesome. It uses the tried-and-trusted method of 2D platforming, mixed with elements of puzzles and a splash of RPG to build up an enticing, simple, addictive, involving title. The fact that this game holds no surprises is, surprisingly, it's greatest strength... you can't help but think, "Wait, I've done this before, haven't I?" But you don't care. Because you love it really.
From the very start of this game, there isn't anything surprising. Unlike the GBA versions which were all rather different, Dawn of Sorrow sticks with Soma Cruz and therefore, the Soul system. Soma is confronted by a mad priestess who spouts some phophetical nonsense (as you'd expect), and then you end up outside a village, which leads - yes fans - to a CASTLE! Supposedly a replica of Dracula's castle, but who is sad enough to build a replica of Dracula's castle... oh right, a mad cult..
For most people, this game will deliver just what you want from a handheld title. Notable new additions are the fact that you can have your map ALWAYS displayed on the top screen - a feature which, while simple, is deceptively good and ensures you have your bearings. If you want, however, hitting the SELECT button will toggle the screen between the map, and a page of stats - including the enemy you last hit and details of that. There are plenty of save rooms, there are plenty of creatures just begging to be hacked, slashed, shot and beaten back to whatever version of Hell they came from. And it's simple - there's nothing complicated about this game. Equip some gear, and go off and beat stuff up. Level up, get stronger, beat stronger stuff up, level up some more. Repeat until bored. Or until the battery runs out. Whatever works for you.
For others however, this game will prove to be a letdown. The much trumped-up Soul Upgrade system is messy, clunky and pointless - it doesn't help when you are asked to sacrifice one-of-a-kind souls that really you'd much rather keep on your person, just to get the final upgrade on some weapons... There aren't any decent weapons in this game naturally, so you'll be spending time trying to find the souls to upgrade your weapon of choice - some may get off on this, but to others it may just be a hassle too far. Releasing souls via the lovely Yoko is also a bit pointless. Hammer is the merchant, who sells you some... well, stuff. Not much of it is exciting, you'll find you're taking your weapons across the street anyway, to Yoko, for more of that lovely Soul Synthesis.
Also highly rated was the interaction, after all - the DS has a touch screen. It's a shame that the use of the touch-screen can feel a bit forced at times. Using the screen to rid a room of ice blocks is rather satisfying (if a little bland), but the failing comes down to the Magic Seals system. This contrived little mechanism could be your barrier between a fun game and frustration. When you beat up a boss enough, you find a pentagram appears on screen - the idea being, like a pentagram proper (allegedly), to draw the pattern correctly and seal the boss away for good. And to start with, it's very simple - but later encounters might prove to be a bit too much, juggling both a boss and then having to quickly draw a complicated little picture, hitting all the points in order... it's just another wall in the way of what is a brilliant game.
There is a NOTICABLE lack of secret walls in this game, when compared to other titles, which does niggle somewhat at the back of your mind... the few secret chambers are locked and can only be opened if the last three digits of your money match the combination. There are other secrets though - some secret enemies to kill if you meet certain conditions, which is nice but the clues don't really come across well, so you're going to be using game guide sites to find out how to access these hidden foes. Whether this is bad translation or just poorly written dialogue, I'm not sure...
And when you come to the end, it's short. Not much shorter than Aria of Sorrow, but definitely shorter. Most players will whip this in no time, and be cruising onto the hunt for souls, the Boss Rush and the extra game as well - the extra mode is a run through the game but instead of the happy, proper ending, it circles around one of the bad endings. And it features a very familiar face to fans of the series... not like it was a secret, anyway. Find and switch between characters, use some strategy and enjoy. It's a fabulous extra mode which, while seemingly a bit cheap and cheesy, ends up being an absolute riot. A really nice addition to the game which doesn't feel like an afterthought, having a story of its own - I'd rate it one of the best extra modes in a game for a VERY long time.
And so we come to the end... the music is nice, some retro kicks and some nice, new sounds - including plenty of sound effects. Which is nice. The controls feel tight, but it IS a 2D Platformer at heart after all. And overall, the polish is there and the game really IS a right corker. I do love it. REALLY! Scouts honour!
I guess the problem is just that a couple of elements don't seem AS polished as the rest (note: see Soul Upgrade system and Magic Seals), and they are enough to stand in the way of what would otherwise have been a serious contender to Sympony of the Night's crown. As it is, it's definitely one of the best games of the year... absolutely divine. But you can't help but feel, deep down, that this could have been better... and that, in some strange and macabre way, is almost unforgivable...
But thankfully, not quite enough to ruin the whole game.
9 / 10