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.