Now that I have access to the entire DS library of games, I’ve been looking for titles that made a splash on the gaming scene during the prime of the Nintendo DS. I remembered a certain video game franchise that really thrived on Nintendo’s handheld systems and found someone selling all three titles that were released on the DS. I’m talking about the Castlevania series, and for this post, I specifically want to talk about the first Castlevania game for the DS, which is Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is the sequel to Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow which came out on the Gameboy Advance. It is a 2D style platform action game where you control protagonist Soma Cruz as he explores another incarnation of Dracula’s castle yet again.
In Dawn of Sorrow, the castle is presented as a series of rooms. To travel between rooms, you either have to go left, right, up or down a room by walking or jumping. The game is somewhat non-linear, but you’ll discover that you won’t be able to access certain areas until you get certain items or abilities that will allow you to move a little differently (e.g. gain a double jump move, for example).
Unlike the other Castlevania protagonists, Soma Cruz is not armed with the renowned Vampire Killer whip; instead, he’s similar to Alucard from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in that Soma can equip different kinds of weapons and armor that you can find in the castle. This puts a little strategy in the mix – do you equip the weak but long-ranged pistol? Do you use the stronger halberd that attacks quickly but only directly in front of you, or the slightly weaker and slower falchion that attacks in a wide-arc from behind you moving forward?
Like Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow also follows an experience system which allows Soma to get stronger as you level up, but I personally didn’t feel the mechanic while playing the game due to the minor differences in between levels. I did see my damage go up by 1 after leveling up, but didn’t see anything really dramatic.
What sets Dawn of Sorrow apart from other Castlevania games is the Soul System – like in Aria of Sorrow, Soma Cruz has the ability to capture the souls of the monsters that he vanquishes. These souls in turn, give him different kinds of powers and abilities that he can use throughout the game and gives completists more stuff to do. Aside from collecting souls, the game also allows you to use your collected souls as weapon upgrades, but from my experience there’s not that many weapons that you can upgrade.
In terms of dual screen functionality, you can either have a map screen or a status screen displayed on the upper screen and the actual game screen on the lower screen. This was new to me since most of the games that I’ve played so far displays the game screen on the upper screen. One other feature, called Magic Seals, makes use of the touch screen functionality. There are times during the game where you’ll be required to draw specific patterns that you’ll also learn as you make your way through the castle. You’ll need to do this before entering a boss room, and to finish off a boss.
Personally, I hate how Magic Seals were implemented in boss fights – first of all, the bosses don’t have their health points displayed, so you have no idea if one is near-death already. Second of all, the magic seal just comes from out of nowhere, and doesn’t stay on for long. So you’ll find yourself taken by surprise, fumbling for the stylus, then botching the pattern, which then adds a little more life to that tough boss that you almost killed.
Outside of the anime-styled introduction cut scene and the minimal use of the touchscreen, I didn’t find Dawn of Sorrow to be that much of an upgrade over Aria of Sorrow. Graphically, it still looked like a Gameboy Advance game, and there weren’t any big advancements in the game’s mechanics that utilized the power of the DS.
Despite that, this is still a good game. It has a compelling storyline that keeps you wanting to know what’ll happen next, a level design that makes you keep wanting to explore more, and a Soul System that’ll keep your completist side nagging at you to get 100%. I finished all three Castlevania games released on the Gameboy Advance, so seeing this reminded me of how good those games were.