Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Playstation Portable
Reviewed: 12/30/2005


Soma and his motley crew are back in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, this time to thwart a bunch of cultists bent on reviving the Dark Lord. And they happen to be staying at a big castle…full of monsters…just like in all the other Castlevania games. At least it isn’t in crummy 3D, right?

Soma Cruz, as many may remember from the thinly veiled back-story in Aria of Sorrow, is the reincarnation of Dracula. I’d start yelling spoiler warning now if this wasn’t stated five minutes into the game, followed by a storyline that is incomprehensibly bad. Double crosses, triple crosses, mildly effeminate soul-stealers, Dawn of Sorrow makes it clear that while you may be here for the gameplay, it’s darn well going to try and confuse the heck out of you. At its essence, the cultist leader Celia Fortner is here to throw various bad guys at you, and you get to beat the crap out of them.

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Soma knew that the Tin Man’s weakspot was in the groin.

Most series fans have followed the Game Boy Advance versions of the Castlevania series hopefully, awaiting the return of a game up to Symphony of the Night’s caliber. It was a long wait, but Aria of Sorrow was when Konami finally got most of the kinks out, and managed to actually make the series better with the inclusion of a soul-collecting system that lets one gain literally hundreds of new powers. So is Dawn of Sorrow a worthy sequel? Yes…and no.

The soul-collecting system is back, and it now plays an integral part in not only kicking monster ass, but also in upgrading weapons. This means players will have some tough choices in deciding whether to give their favorite weapon its final upgrade or hold onto that awesome ability. And don’t be surprised when you find out that Dawn of Sorrow‘s difficulty is ramped way up; bosses now present a major challenge and give the player plenty of reason to collect souls and search out hidden rooms for that extra edge. The core gameplay is refined, choosing the correct weapon type, of which there are a half-dozen, and the best souls, which can be upgraded, leads to a deeper, more satisfying adventure. The castle is huge, with dozens of new zones to explore. The dual screens mean the player can keep one eye on Soma’s and the other on an enemy’s stats at any time, or perhaps a map of the castle. There’s even a very satisfying extra mode once the game is beaten, that lets one play as vampire slayer Julius Belmont, buxom blonde Yoko, and yes, even Alucard himself. However, Konami wouldn’t be Konami if they didn’t try to mess up this great game with something obviously, fundamentally, flawed. Which comes in the form of the Nintendo DS’s damned stylus.

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Never pick a knife fight with Cthulhu; it only makes him angry. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

You’ll need it to break blocks. You’ll need it to seal bosses. You won’t need it for any part of the core gameplay, which means that when you finally, finally beat the pulp out of that impossible boss, you’ll abruptly have to whip out the stylus and play a game of Simon Says. If you fail, the boss gets his HP partially restored and the fight goes on.

Konami, this is not innovative. This is simply annoying. The player is subjected to increasingly complicated sealing spells for bosses, and nothing says fun quite like pulling off a ten point stylus seal on the final boss for the millionth failed time. Is this a small quibble to an otherwise great game? Yes, but the decision to make a platformer occasionally rely on a stylus suggests that someone at Konami is dangerously retarded.

Graphically, there’s nothing to complain about. Super detailed, well-animated 2D graphics are the standard, and your collection of weapons and souls are enjoyable to watch in action. The gothic portraits have been abandoned in favor of a more anime look, which this reviewer was initially worried about, only to realize that the only time they come into play is to push the game’s absolutely baffling storyline along. Music is again Castlevania standard, with a hint of the bleeps and bloops of the origin while still maintaining gothic overtones.

Simply put, this is so far the best platformer on the Nintendo DS. There’s lots to do, a lot of room to do it in, and most complaints about the story are the charming hallmarks of the series. I’m fairly certain that whatever idiot thought that the stylus was a good idea has already been fired. If you’re a fan of Castlevania, or simply looking for a good game to add to your DS game collection, Castlevania: Dawn of the Sorrow is worth picking up.

-Andrew Duff

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Bad
Graphics Excellent
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Legendary
The Verdict: Nine