Dawn of Sorrow is the first game in the Castlevania franchise I have played. It is the most recent in terms of timeline for the franchise and it takes place after Aria Of Sorrow. In comparison to the previous Castlevania games set in medieval times, Dawn of Sorrow is set in the year 2036 but its contemporary, not sci fi. If you haven’t played the first game there is a recap in the intro that explains what has happened in the previous game Aria of Sorrow.
Soma Cruz is the reincarnation of Dracula who was killed decades ago in 1999 by Julius Belmont. His castle was sealed during a solar eclipse. There was also said to be a prophecy that there is a certain person in the world that can be the candidate for his reincarnation. Like the rest of the games, Dawn of Sorrow takes place in Dracula’s castle.
Soma Cruz is a Romanian transfer student who is studying in Japan and it has been a year since the events from the first game and his powers have been sealed at the moment. A mysterious cult seeks to resurrect Dracula once more. The Cult is known as With Light, a group who believes that if there is going to be ultimate good, then there must exist an ultimate evil so Dracula representing this force must be brought back to life. Mina is kidnapped by the cult and as such Soma, has to save her and stop the cult from bringing Dracula back.
There are also two other candidates considered as the reincarnation of Dracula. Dimitri and Dario who work with the cult in order to be deemed as the next Dracula.
Dracula’s castle is extremely large and for its time this was quite a technological feat itself considering the DS system is not as powerful as the PS1 system in terms of hardware. The games borrow elements from the Hammer Dracula films and the Bram Stoker novel as well. Mina Hakuba is named after Mina Harker and Alucard Is Dracula’s son. It is a lot more focused on supporting characters than any other Castlevania game.
The cast is not large and everyone is relevant to the story. Alucard was really a carbon copy of any government agent seen in other forms of fiction. He was actually more multilayered in Symphony Of The Night. The dialogue itself not really the best either and Castlevania is more oriented to gameplay, not story telling so don’t expect any character development.
One of the most notable things about the game is its change of art style.
Much of the previous games utilized a gothic medieval like art style but since this game was designed for younger players, it uses the 2000s anime graphic style.
The opening anime scene was well animated.
The gameplay comes from the Metroidvania of Symphony of the Night but with some tweaks to the system to accommodate the portable Nintendo consoles.
Returning from Aria Of Sorrow is the Tactical Soul system where Soma can absorb souls and use the enemies abilities as his own. You can absorb most souls in the game except for human enemies and your chances of getting souls vary from enemy to enemy, some enemies can give you more souls than others. You can also get multiple copies of the same souls in the game and collecting them will also increase your effectiveness in combat depending on the type of soul you are using.
There are many variations of souls: guardian, abilty, bullet and enchant souls. You can only equip one soul at a time with up to 3 slots. Bullet souls are magical projectiles that require the use of your magic points. Guardian souls provide you with special effects that are continuous as long as you have them equipped like summoning familars, mythical creatures or defensive maneuvers. But as long as you have them active, you magic points will be depleted.
If you combine both bullet souls and guardian souls together, you can create tactical soul combos which allows you to perform powerful attacks to enemies. Special abilities include double jumping, breaking ice and teleportation. The doppelganger soul allows you to equip more souls and weapons to use in combat and you can freely select them anytime you like.
The castle areas are all interconnected and every area has its own design, enemies and ways of getting around. You can freely explore the castle and the progress system is non linear so you can complete objectives in any order. The gothic atmosphere gives the sense of danger and suspense and its very effective despite the anime stylization.
I like the graphics of the game and it still looks good today. The animation for an early DS game looks really impressive. Boss fights are very challenging and each requires a different strategy to defeat them. There are several traps hidden in the castle as well to that you need to work your way around. Defeating Bosses gives you their special powers to further explore the castle and also to aid you in combat. You can find areas where you can save your progress and at the same time, regenerate all health when leaving and fast travel to any part of the castle when you find more safe spots. This feature is quite handy. You can customize your abilities and playstyle however you like. You can equip multiple different abilties ,armor and accessories and discover more as you progress.
For a DS game, the load times were quite quick. The audio and musical score were very high quality. The control systems outside of the touchscreen were very good.
There are numerous deadly enemies in the game and the series is notable for its challenging gameplay. But since its more oriented to beginners, it has JRPG elements in it so as you level up by killing enemies, you gain more health, defense and you do find better equipment as you progress through the castle.
You can keep track of your progress anytime you like. Enemies occasionally drop coins and you can also find hidden chests in the castle. The chests are inaccessible until you have a certain special ability or find another way around to get it.
Attacking Candles gives you hearts which allow you to use your special abilities that you have equipped.
There is a variety of weapons but even in the modern setting, you can use medieval weapons and also guns and rpgs. Each of the weapons you find has its own strengths and weaknesses, one weapon can be quicker but weaker and another can be stronger but slower. You can use the coins you find to buy equipment from Hammer, an ex soldier who now works as a merchant, or from Yoko, a witch working with the church to help stop supernatural related issues like Dracula. She can enchant your weapons with the souls you have to make them more powerful. Some weapons can only be acquired by collecting a certain amount of souls.
There is a lot of extra content in the game. There are multiple endings depending on how far you have progressed in the story. You can play the game multiple times just to see what it is like.
Julius mode allows you to play as other characters with their own playing styles. You can get this mode by beating the game on the best or worst ending.
Alucard uses his play style from Symphony Of The Night. Julius Belemont uses the whip and Yoko uses magic based attacks. It follows the same jrpg Metroidvania style and much of the layout remains the same. If you have a DS lite and Aria Of Sorrow, you will have access to special items like the rare ring.
There is a multiplayer mode but Nintendo’s wi-fi feature is no longer functioning so I can’t cover that part. From what I have researched, you and a friend could wirelessly trade your souls to help each other. There was also even an enemy set mode where you can create your own scenarios in the game. The user interface itself was easy to navigate through. Fans will also appreciate the callbacks to the previous games hidden throughout the castle areas.
There were a few problems with the game. If you played Aria Of Sorrow and Symphony of The Night, you will notice there are a lot of recycled assets from those games. The biggest peeve was the seal system, the worst use of a touch screen I have seen in a DS game. You have to draw certain patterns from the seals. These patterns are scattered across the castle and they are also used to open up other areas. They become more complicated the more you explore the castle. There is a very short time limit and you only have one chance at it. You can practice drawing them as much as you want but even then, it still follows the same flaw. If not, the boss fights will regenerate their health and you have to keep fighting them over and over until it appears. Julius Belemont doesn’t have the seal ability and it plays more like a traditional Castlevania game. Nothing was wrong with my touchscreen. This was just poorly designed feature that shouldn’t have been in the game in the first place. It made boss fights harder than they should have been.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is really one of the best games DS game I have played.
It gets 5 stars out of 5.
If you can find a copy of this game then go ahead and pick it up from your local used game store. You’ll be supporting the local stores and not Konami since companies don’t make money off used games.) There is a sequel to this game but it’s a novel only available in Japan. There are fan translated English copies online. In the sequel, Curtis Lang and Michelle Dynasty hunt down Olrox, another boss from Symphony Of The Night, who has returned to take over the world.
I do plan on getting Order Of Eleccia and Portrait Of Ruin eventually as I already have Lament Of Innocence. Also, I will buy Symphony Of The Night, the game that really put Metroidvania on the map.