Thursday, December 24, 2020

Trials of Mana Review

Developer: Xeen
Publisher: SquareEnix
Platforms: NS, PC, PS4
Price: $49.99
Version Played: PC

Now, you might be thinking, “Didn’t you already review Trials of Mana?”. Yes, I did, but that was the SNES version included in Collection of Mana. This is the remake by the same name and released a year later. It’s a very different game, but also pretty much the same game. It’s a 3D remake with a new battle system, cutscenes, voice acting, and a remade soundtrack, but as far as the story, world, and structure go, it’s pretty much the same game I played last year.

If you're looking for a Chrono Trigger quality story, you won't find it here. The characters all feel like anime/RPG tropes and the story is the same save the world by collecting elementals stuff we've seen in tons of other games. Maybe this was okay in the 90s, but it's just boring now. Especially playing through it a second time. I had a very tough time paying attention to it.

You'd think the new voice acting and cutscenes would help keep me interested, but they don't because they're bad. Cutscenes are animated in a very cheap anime-like way. Characters just kind of go from pose to pose and don't do a lot in between. The voice acting is just as bad. It's not Working Designs bad, but almost. The main cast is okay, for the most part, but NPCs are terrible. A lot of them read their lines very slowly and take 2 or 3 second pauses in between sentences. It sounds like they had to do a bunch of takes for each line and then pieced the whole thing together. It sounds terrible and it's boring to listen to.

My biggest problem with the SNES original is the battle system. The action freezes every time you pull up the item wheel or use a spell. It's supposed to be an action RPG, but there's almost as much downtime as in a turn-based RPG. Thankfully, this remake has a new and much improved battle system. Everything happens in real-time and the action doesn't stop to make you watch long spell animations.

The new battle system feels like a modern Secret of Mana with a bit of 3D Zelda, Monster Hunter, and PSO to fill in the blanks. It has lock-on targeting, strong and weak attacks, combos, dodging, and shortcuts for spells and items you can bring up by holding the triggers. You also get a charge move you can do by holding down the strong attack button, which will remind people of Secret of Mana's special moves. These charge moves are not Trials of Mana's equivalent, though.

The class abilities from the SNES game are still here, but the meter works very differently. You now collect shards that pop out of enemies when you hit them to fill the meter, and it doesn't deplete after every fight anymore. You also get a shortcut for each level of class ability, so you don't have to use all your meter every time. This lets you strategize and use weaker class abilities on normal enemies if you want. I like this system much better than the one in both Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana on SNES.

The original ToM doesn't have any kind dodge move. In fact, enemy spells lock on to you and you can't avoid getting hit by them. You can dodge or interrupt every attack in this remake. You get a dodge roll that works kind of like what you see in 3D Zelda games. The game also highlights the area of effect of attacks on the ground for you, so you always know when and where you need to dodge. This is much better than unavoidable damage.

Weirdly enough, they added a jump to this remake, and it actually matters. There's a few platforming sections throughout the game, there's boss attacks you have to jump to avoid, and you often have to jump to hit flying enemies. You can even dodge roll in midair, which looks kind of weird, but is useful. I think it works. It's not useless, like the jump in some other RPGs, and it makes the game a little more fun to play.

The stat and training point system has also been completely overhauled. Putting points into specific stats now unlocks passive and equippable buffs, like MP recovery after battles and attack bonuses. You can even unlock buffs with one character and equip them on another. It's pretty cool. You can also unlock some of these equippable buffs by talking to some NPCs. I'm not a big fan of that, though. It's cool when it's a story-related NPC, but I don't want to run around talking to every random villager. Their dialogue just isn't very interesting. I probably missed a lot of those.

Another cool thing they added is the new objective and waypoint system. You always have a little note on the screen telling you what you should do next, there's little icons marking the way to the next objective, and there are markers on the map as well. It's very MMO-like. It also makes it so you don't have to pay attention to the story to know what you should be doing, which is a good thing in my opinion.

Unlike in the SNES game, there is no multiplayer here at all. And since this is a 3rd person game, and it gets pretty hectic during battles, you kind of just have to trust that your party member’s AI is good enough to get you through. Like in the original, you can customize each of your party member’s AI. You can tell them to attack, heal, assist, or do a mix of different things. I played through the whole game on normal, with Charlotte focusing on healing, and I had a pretty easy time, so I guess the AI is alright. Your party members aren’t great at moving out of the way of boss attacks, though. I didn’t try playing the game on hard, but I did try playing without Charlotte, which is a difficulty setting onto itself, and I had a tough time keeping my party members up during boss fights. I could see this being a big problem on higher difficulties.

There is actually some new content in the game in the form of new post-game quests, two new final classes for every character, and a gigantic new dungeon with a new boss. But sadly, most of this new content is more like recolored content. The new classes are really just the last light and dark classes in a branch combined, most of the new bosses are reused models, and the new dungeon is mostly recolored sections of other dungeons chained together. It reminds me of the kind of bad DLC you see in a lot of games. This is definitely worth playing, though. It's the most challenging content in the game, the new story bits are cool, and the reward for completing it is pretty nice; a New Game+ mode.

This remake features a remade soundtrack, and it sounds really good, but it's the same thing with modern technology. It's not orchestrated or anything. It's still a great soundtrack, though. The SNES soundtrack is also in there as an option.

Trials of Mana is definitely the best looking of the Mana remakes so far. It's not like they set a high bar, though. This looks fine and it runs at a great framerate, but it has the same problem as Dragon Quest XI, the environments don't match. All the characters and enemies look right with their anime-like shading and cartoon outlines, but the environments look like they could be from any other game. I suppose it couldn't be helped. These remakes are obviously not getting huge budgets.

I didn't really like the SNES game, but this is much better. It gets rid of all the annoying stuff, except for Charlotte, and modernizes the combat and UI in great ways. This is definitely the best of the Mana remakes, and I'd like to see future Mana games be made in this mold. The story is not interesting at all, but the gameplay is fun. I say skip the original and play this.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass: The Crown Tundra Review

Developer: GameFreak
Publisher: Nintendo
Price: $30 for the Expansion Pass

After the 1st Sword and Shield expansion, The Isle of Armor, I wasn't expecting much from The Crown Tundra. The Isle of Armor was full of bad fetch quests, had a lame story, and just wasn't very interesting. The Crown Tundra fixes most of The Isle of Armor’s problems. It's a Pokemon expansion done right. It has a really cool campaign, a new and much better designed Wild Area, and 2 new modes of play with Dynamax Adventures and the Galarian Star Tournament. The Crown Tundra makes the Sword and Shield Expansion Pass worth it.

The Crown Tundra is all about catching Legendary Pokemon. Those are the special, 1 per game Pokemon like Mewtwo and the Pokemon they put on the front of the box. Pokemon like Mew and Celebi are not Legendary, they're Mythical Pokemon, and are usually only available through giveaways and special events, so you won't find them here. In The Crown Tundra Legendaries are pretty much everywhere. If you're a fan of the post game Legendary hunts from previous games, you're in for a treat. The Crown Tundra is full of references to those old Regi puzzles, Legendary bird and beast chases, and off the wall Pokemon rumors.

The way The Crown Tundra is structured is more like the endgame of past Pokemon games than the main Sword and Shield game or The Isle of Armor. You have to do some things in order to unlock others, but you're given the freedom to choose what you want to do first. You can go through the story and catch the new Crown Tundra exclusive Pokemon, track down the Legendary Birds or the Swords of Justice, do Dynamax Adventures, or play in the new Wild Area. It's up to you. You'll have to play through the main story quests to unlock Ultra Beasts in Dynamax Adventures and the new Galarian Star Tournament, though.

I love the throwback to old Pokemon post game content, but like Isle of Armor, this stuff isn't going to challenge anyone who played through the main game. Most of these Legendaries are level 70. The highest level one is Calyrex at level 80. Who doesn't have a dozen or so level 100 Pokemon by now? They literally hand out XP candy in this game. The hardest part of fighting the Crown Tundra Legendaries is not 1 hit KOing them while trying to catch them. Thankfully, all these Legendaries respawn right away, unlike in past games. I made a team of level 60s for Isle of Armor, but didn't bother for Crown Tundra because it really wasn't worth my time. I just put my level 100 Ivysaur with Sleep Powder and False Swipe to work.

Dynamax Adventures is a new game mode which uses Max Raids in a different way. In this mode, you’re given a rental Pokemon and choose a path to play through in a lair full of Max Raids. You play 3 raids against normal Pokemon and the final one will be against a Legendary. You can catch all the Pokemon you beat in this mode, and the catch rate is 100%, but you can only keep 1 of the 4 possible catches. You can’t see if any of the Pokemon you caught are shiny until the run is over, so it pays to stick around until the end.

This isn't just a raid gauntlet, though. You get to see the type of all the Pokemon in these raids beforehand, including the Legendary’s, and you are able to switch your Pokemon with any of the ones you catch before the Legendary raid, so there is strategy involved in choosing the path you take through the lair. Ideally, you want your group to have as many Pokemon with Super Effective moves to use against the Legendary. This doesn’t always work out when playing online, though. Apparently, many people don’t pay attention, or just don’t know their Pokemon type matchups. Thankfully, you can save up to 3 Legendaries to go after later if your group happens to wipe. You can replay these saved Dynamax Adventure runs as many times as you want, so you can use this to farm a shiny Legendary by simply not taking the Pokemon with you after completing the run. You still can only get 1 of each Legendary, though. You can't catch them anymore after you keep one.

The Dynamax Adventures are a cool idea, but you are doing 4 Max Raids in a row. The Pokemon don’t put up shields, like they do in regular raids, but this still takes about 20 minutes. It can get boring at times. Especially when other online players seemingly go AFK, don’t pick their moves, and you have to wait for their 30 second timer to run out. It’s faster to do these offline, but also much harder with the horrible AI trainers.

There is another good reason for doing Dynamax Adventures besides catching Legendaries; the new Ability Patch. This new item allows you to switch a Pokemon's ability to its Hidden Ability. It's just one of the many items available for purchase with the special currency you get when completing a Dynamax Adventure, Dynite Ore. You can also use Dynite Ore to buy Pokemon items like Bottle Caps and Vitamins. Now all we need is an item that makes Pokemon shiny.

The Galarian Star Tournament is a new 2 on 2 tournament in the style of the Galar Champion Cup. The cool thing about this new mode is that you get to play with all the Gym Leaders, Rivals, and special characters from Sword and Shield. You fight against them and can pick one as your teammate too. Marnie is in here, Opal, Leon, Hop, and even the weirdos with the Sword and Shield hairdos. Everyone has special dialogue for every other trainer too, including you. It’s kind of like when fighting game characters have unique intros when facing certain characters, like Ken and Ryu's fist bump. It’s really cool. But like everything else in The Crown Tundra, it’s not challenging unless you make it challenging for yourself because there’s no level scaling. You can totally go in here with a level 100 and easily sweep all these level 75ish Pokemon. This would have been much better if everything scaled to level 50 or something, like they have done with gauntlet and battle modes before.

The Crown Tundra is what Sword and Shield have been missing. If you are a fan of those old Legendary Pokemon endgame quests, you’ll love this. The story isn't much longer than The Isle of Armor's, but the level of freedom you are given and the fun of tracking down and catching the Legendaries blow anything in the 1st expansion out of the water. The new Dynamax Adventures can drag a bit, and the Galarain Star Tournament would have been better with level scaling, but they are still pretty fun ways to catch more Legendaries, make money, and see all the game’s characters, like Hop and Marnie, again. The Crown Tundra makes the Sword and Shield Expansion Pass a must have for all longtime Pokemon game fans.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Super Mario Bros 35 Review

Developer: Arika
Publisher: Nintendo
Price: Included with Nintendo Switch Online subscription
Available from: Oct 1, 2020 - March 31, 2021

Super Mario Bros is definitely not the game I think of when thinking of games that would make good Battle Royales. Tetris? Yeah, that works. Tetris multiplayer has been a thing since the beginning. Super Mario Bros was never really about multiplayer, though. Super Mario Bros 35 takes the basic idea of Tetris 99 and applies it to something resembling the original NES Super Mario Bros. It’s not exactly the same game. It’s a weird idea that sounds fun on paper, but feels a little half-baked as it is right now.

Super Mario Bros 35 pits you against 34 other online players playing the same SMB levels. The goal of the game is to be the last Mario standing. You’re basically playing Super Mario Bros, but SMB35’s rules radically change the game. When you kill an enemy, they're sent to another player's game, like garbage blocks in multiplayer Tetris. You can even control who you send your garbage to, just like in Tetris 99. If your garbage enemies kill a player, that counts as a KO for you. You start the game with 35 seconds on the clock, and finishing levels, collecting extra items, and killing enemies gives you more time. If you stand still, your time runs out faster, so you can’t win like that! Collecting coins doesn’t give you extra lives. You only get one life in this game. Instead, they let you use a powerup roulette for 20 coins. This might look like Super Mario Bros, but it's a very different game.

The original Super Mario Bros is about platforming and getting to the flagpole. It’s not really about killing enemies or beating the generous time limit. Those are the biggest gameplay elements in SMB35, though. Sure, you still need to do all the same platforming as in the original, but that’s not enough to win. You have to kill enemies to get more time or you will die, and If you can’t kill the enemies that get thrown at you, you’ll probably die too. It's much more action packed than regular SMB. This game almost feels like a run ‘n gun shooter once you get a Fire Flower.

Another weird thing about SMB35 is that the physics don't feel like the NES original. This feels a lot more like Super Mario Maker. Imagine New Super Mario Bros physics in 8-bit SMB if you're not familiar with Super Mario Maker. You can do the Super Jump and bounce really high off enemies, the controls feel less responsive, you go from Fire Mario to Super Mario instead of small Mario when you take damage, Hammer Bros chase you, and other little quirks are introduced when you start dealing with all the extra enemies. Enemies can overlap each other and you can stomp multiple enemies at a time, for example. I’m guessing most people won’t notice these things, but they’re easy to see if you go back and forth between SMB35 and SMB on the NSO NES.

Super Mario Bros 35 uses the same levels as SMB, but you have to unlock them by beating them during a game. This is where things start to go wrong with this game. When you’re starting a game in SMB35, everyone picks a level. I guess this is like throwing your name in a hat. I’m not 100% sure about what’s going on there. Since most people haven’t played the game much, all they can pick is early levels. That means, you’ll be doing a lot of 1-1. I’ve started every game on 1-1. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to always be like that. I might play through 1-1 five or six times in one game since beating a level doesn’t mean you’ll go to the next one in the order they were in the original. I might beat 1-3 and go back to 1-1 again! This gets boring fast. I’ve barely seen anything above 3-1 in any of my games. I guess this will get better as people play the game more, though.

Since everyone is picking early levels, you also get tons of the same Goombas and Koopas. This is also very boring and it can take a while before things start heating up with Cheep Cheeps, Hammer Bros, and Bowsers. Which leads me to the biggest problem with this game, the length of the games. One game might take 15+ minutes if you make it to the last few. That’s way too long. When I finish a game, I never feel like “one more game”, I feel more like “maybe tomorrow”. The problem is that things can actually get less hectic as the games go on because there are less people killing enemies. If you’re one of the last 2 and your opponent goes down a secret pipe, they could despawn a ton of enemies and you’ll be left with only the default enemies. Then you’re pretty much just waiting for someone to fall down a hole or the time to run out. There is a sudden death mechanic that will speed up the timer when the game gets down to the last 2 and some time has passed, though. Games could last hours if it wasn’t for that.

Besides the main game, there is also a Special Battle mode. This mode has a preset order of levels and other conditions, like starting with 100 coins, but it's only available for a limited time. It’s just a special competition kind of thing. Like a Splatfest on a smaller scale or something. And If you don't have SMB's levels engraved into your mind, don't worry, there's a practice mode in here for you. In this mode, you can play any level you've unlocked, as many times as you want, without having to play through the game, like you would in the NES version.

Like a lot of Nintendo games, SMB35 is severely lacking in the options department. The only options available are toggles to use either the d-pad or stick to move and A and B or Y and B to run and jump. You can't set it to use X and A, and you can't turn rumble off either. I had to turn rumble off in the system settings. Super Mario Bros with rumble feels so wrong. At least put in the same options available in Super Mario Maker!

Super Mario Bros 35 can be a lot of fun at times, but it feels unbalanced. Maybe it should be wackier and more hectic, or maybe it should speed up or even get rid of the level unlocking system. Something should be done to make these games more exciting. I wouldn't be opposed to seeing some Mario Maker style stuff in here either. Some wacky items and enemies might spice things up. I'd also like to see original levels made specifically for this game. That would probably work better. Maybe that's best left for a sequel that's not celebrating the 35th anniversary of the original SMB, though.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo European Research & Development
Available On: Switch (Until March 31, 2021)
Price: $60

When I first heard rumors of Super Mario Bros 35th anniversary celebrations, my imagination ran wild with dreams of a Mario 64 remake, Super Mario Odyssey 2, and a Mario collection with tons of games. What we got was nowhere near that cool. Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a pretty barebones collection of the first three 3D Mario games with very few improvements. This collection doesn’t even live up to its name. The original Super Mario All-Stars on SNES had 4 16-bit remakes of the NES/Famicom Super Mario Bros games. These games are more like hacked emulated versions.

Super Mario 3d All-Stars includes Super Mario 64 (N64), Super Mario Sunshine (GC), and Super Mario Galaxy (Wii). No Super Mario Galaxy 2. Why? Probably because it would have required a lot of work. Galaxy 1 was already ported to the NVidia Shield, which shares similar architecture with the Switch, so some of the work was already done. Nintendo did close to the bare minimum they could get away with here.

This collection doesn't have much in the way of bonuses either. There's tons of Mario history, concept art, and interviews out there and they didn't put any of it in here. Very disappointing. What did make it in is some loading screen renders and the soundtracks for the 3 games in the collection. The music player doesn't have a pause button or any playlist or shuffle features, so you can't make a playlist of songs from all 3 games or anything like that, but at least it plays music continuously, I guess. That's more than I can say for the music player in some other collections. It also has a mode that lets you keep the music playing with the screen turned off in handheld mode. It's like the one in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, except not as good since you can't skip or control the music in any way.

Super Mario 64
I was really hoping that Super Mario 64 would get some major improvements, but it’s really not even as good as playing it on an emulator on PC. The camera really needs to be modernized. It’s your worst enemy in this game! What this game needs is a remake! Most changes to it are cosmetic, though. The UI has been updated with some ugly smoothing effect, the text is legible on a modern TV now, “So long, big Bowser!” is now just “Ba bye!”, and they added rumble. They also flipped all the camera controls. After all the time they spent teaching us to think of the camera as a character with Lakitu, they just flip it? They don’t give us the option to change them back either. None of these games have control options. Non-inverted camera controls aren’t a big deal to me, I can adapt, you should have the option to play it like it was on N64. It is an emulated game after all.

Mario 64 is the only game in this collection that is not in 16:9. The game runs in 4:3 at 720p and the framerate is capped at 30, just like on N64. Notice I didn’t say runs at 30fps. Thankfully, the game looks much better here than it does on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles. It looks bright and sharp and it’s scaled correctly. This version doesn’t have all the input lag found in the Wii U VC version either. I wish it had the Wii U VC’s save states and button remapping, but it really is the best version of the game that’s ever been re-released.

Super Mario Sunshine
Strangely enough, Super Mario Sunshine is the game that has had the most work put into it. It’s probably the game that will get the least amount of play too! It’s still 30fps, but it runs in full screen 16:9, which the GC version does not, and the UI looks like it’s using higher resolution graphics. It looks really sharp and not like it has some emulator filter on it, like Mario 64’s. All the cutscenes also look like they’ve been touched up a bit.

Sunshine’s camera controls have also been un-inverted, like Mario 64’s. I’m fine with this, but it matters more in a game in which you go into that behind the back mode and spray water on enemies. This game most of all should have control options

And if you were wondering, you can’t really use a GC controller with the Smash Bros adapter to play Sunshine. It works, but not correctly. Since they moved the aiming mode from Y to Right Stick click, you can’t go into that mode at all with a GC controller. And since the shoulder buttons on a GC controller are R and L and not ZL and ZR, like on Switch, your shoulder buttons are flipped and you’re missing the ZL button, which you use to butt stomp and center the camera. The GC controller’s triggers also don’t register a button press until they’re pushed down all the way and click, so would not get the analog water spray or the pivoting water spray mode you got on GC, even if ZR and R were switched. The pivoting water spray mode is mapped to R, though. You’re also missing the Select, Home, Screenshot buttons. It’s basically unplayable with a GC controller.

Super Mario Galaxy
I think Super Mario Galaxy is the best game in this collection, but it’s also the one that got the least updates. It runs at 1080p and 60fps and has some slightly upgraded textures. They’re definitely not on par with most HD games, though. There’s also 3 different ways to play it with all the Switch controllers. And yes, motion controls are 100% required while docked. You can’t even interact with the menus without pointing.

The pointer controls with the Joycons and Pro Controller can get a bit weird, since the Switch has no sensor bar, but they work well enough. The Switch’s pointer functionality is great, but since the controllers can’t tell where the TV is, you have to keep re-centering your cursor if you move around even a little bit. It’s not a big deal, but you have to keep that in mind. Aiming the Pro controller at things is also a bit awkward because you have to use both hands, like a steering wheel or something. I like playing with split Joycons the best. Another thing they did with the controls is that they moved the spin move to a button, so you don’t have to waggle. You can still waggle to spin if you miss the Wii days, though.

Playing Super Mario Galaxy in handheld mode is the worst way to play it as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t support motion controls for anything except the racing sequences. Instead, you have to do everything with the touchscreen. All the menus, collecting Star Bits, shooting Star Bits, and the slingshot stuff require you to use the touchscreen. Taking your hand off the controls is not good! Someone is going to drop and break a Switch doing this!

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is not great as far as game compilations go, but the games are fun and these are definitely the best looking versions of these games. I wish Super Mario Galaxy 2 was in here and they included a bunch of Mario history stuff and control options, but I still think this collection is worth it because the games are so great. I'm still waiting for a Super Mario 64 remake, though.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami
Released On: Nintendo DS in 2003

If you ask me, Aria of Sorrow’s story didn’t need a sequel, what it needed was a prequel. But what we got was Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, a sequel to Aria of Sorrow that doesn’t have anything to do with the most interesting part of Aria of Sorrow’s story, Julius Belmont’s final battle with Dracula in 1999. Dawn of Sorrow is basically Aria of Sorrow with better graphics and sound and some nice improvements, like the map on the DS’s top screen. It’s better than AoS in almost every way, except where it matters most.

The story in a Castlevania game is not super important, but Dawn of Sorrow kind of feels like a filler episode, and that’s very disappointing after Aria of Sorrow, which had one of the best stories in the series. Dawn of sorrow doesn’t add much to Aria’s story or Castlevania lore. I did enjoy the character development that came from talking with Yoko and Hammer, though. The new, generic 2000s anime art style that replaces the Ayami Kojima art really completes the filler episode feel of the game. The main villain of the game, Celia, looks like a bootleg Carmilla, and her henchmen look like a couple of random blokes off the street. The game doesn’t even take place in the real Castlevania. It’s a replica of Castlevania. The real Castlevania is still sealed in the eclipse!

I wouldn’t say the gameplay of dawn of Sorrow is disappointing, it’s actually really great, but it never surpasses Aria of Sorrow or Symphony of the Night. It just feels like a lot of “been there, done that”. Now I understand why Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia went with a more Mario 64-like structure, these games needed to try something different. In DoS, you’re still going from save point to save point and fighting bosses for souls that give you the abilities you need to reach new areas, just like in AoS. The big difference between the two is that DoS doesn’t flow from one area to the next as well as AoS. Maybe it’s that the following areas are farther apart, or that Yoko and Hammer don’t give you hints, like Mina did in AoS, but I definitely did a lot more aimless wandering around in DoS than I did in AoS. Some might like that in a Metroidvania, but I like how Aria of Sorrow flowed much better.

Most of the abilities you get throughout the game don’t feel fresh either. You get pretty much the same stuff as in AoS. There is a new charge attack on the A button, but it’s really not that special. It’s just a strong attack with a long animation. The new traversal ability in DoS is a soul that lets you throw a puppet on the other side of small openings to go through them, and that’s basically SotN’s mist with different graphics. It’s just a key. There are also new obstacles that require you to break them with specific subweapon souls. Doesn’t that just scream creativity? You’re required to break 3 of these in a row to get something for the good ending, so you might have to farm for souls, which is still not fun.

I guess the touchscreen stuff counts as a new ability too. These are by far the worst thing about this game. Since it was an early DS game, they just had to put in something that used the touchscreen. What they came up with was a way to break blocks by scratching the screen and a mechanic that has you drawing magical seals on bosses to deal the final blow. They’re both terrible. There’s only a few block breaking sections, but they require you to switch between scratching and doing stuff with the buttons and that sucks. Drawing magical seals on bosses is definitely the worst of the two. You only get a few seconds to draw increasingly complex patterns on top of bosses to kill them. You don’t have to be perfectly accurate with your drawing, but you do have to do it quickly and it’s really easy to mess up. The worst part is that if you mess it up, the boss regains a bit of health and you have to kill it again!

The Tactical Soul system is pretty much the same as in Aria. You get a subweapon, some kind of traversal ability or familiar, and a buff soul. The new thing about souls is that you get a way to switch loadouts on the fly. You never actually need to switch souls on the fly, though. Strangely enough, they found a way to still make you go to the menu screen to switch between floating and underwater walking by switching the underwater walking ability from a soul to an actual ability! This is the reason why they needed this loadout switching system in the first place!

There’s also something to do with souls you don’t need now. You can go see Yoko and have her fuse a soul with a weapon to upgrade it. It does require you to know what you’re looking for in order to farm the souls later in the game, since the drop rates can be pretty low, but you can make some really powerful weapons with this system.

The graphics are a huge upgrade from Aria of Sorrow. The resolution of the DS screens is still below that of the NES, but it looks much better than the GBA’s 240 x 160. There’s a lot of detail and animation in the backgrounds, new 3D elements in them, and they can use more dark colors, since all models of the DS have backlit screens. All the main characters also have new sprites and they look great. The graphics aren’t as nice as SotN’s, but they’re close enough.

The music is also a huge upgrade over AoS in terms of audio quality. The actual songs are great too, but I don’t know if I’d say they’re better than Aria’s. They both have amazing soundtracks. I especially love the new versions of Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer.

Dawn of Sorrow is a great game and one of the best Castlevanias in the Metroidvania style, but it’s not as good as Aria of sorrow and Symphony of the Night. The graphics and music are great, and the gameplay is still fun, but it doesn’t have as much impact. Especially when you play it right after Aria. It’s just more of the same in a prettier package. It doesn’t do enough to set itself apart from the others, and the touchscreen stuff is horrible.