Yet another handheld Castlevania takes a shot at dethroning Symphony of the Night. Learn all about how Dawn of Sorrows plans to do it.
As the first direct sequel in Konami's "Metroidvania" line of games, the branch of very popular Castlevania platformer/RPGs born from the legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on PlayStation, Dawn of Sorrows borrows heavily from the GBA's Aria of Sorrows while significantly refining its predecessor's features. Even the story is a direct follow-up, taking place one year later as Soma Cruz, the good-natured human form of Dracula, finds himself at odds with a demonic cult hoping to draw out his evil side. That these events take place in the year 2037 pales in importance once Soma enters Dracula's maze-like castle once more, as the mansion's decorative style is distinctly gothic.
The core gameplay has changed very little over the years, ever since Symphony of the Night revolutionized the Castlevania series by introducing RPG-like elements and a tightly designed map clearly inspired by Super Metroid. Soma gains experience levels as he kills enemies, and his exploration of the castle is meticulously (and automatically, thank goodness) plotted out on the in-game map, now conveniently displayed on the upper screen of the DS, so you don’t even have to pause the action to see your location.
Soma also has the curious power to absorb the souls of his defeated enemies. As in Aria of Sorrows, the souls fit into four broad classes: weapon, special, bonus, and ability. Literally every enemy in the game (and there are hundreds!) can be absorbed and utilized in some way, including the bosses, whose souls usually unlock new areas of the castle or otherwise grant Soma new movement abilities such as a double jump. A new feature in Dawn of Sorrows makes Soma's soul abilities more powerful as he finds multiple copies of that particular soul. Some souls visibly "level up", activating vastly more powerful and more impressive attacks once several copies of the soul have been collected.
The arsenal of weapons available to Soma is even greater than before, including boomerangs, axes, several types of swords, guns, and metal knuckles. Most of these weapons can be bought from the castle's item shop, and there really aren't many special weapons hidden elsewhere. Instead, Dawn of Sorrows implements a Weapon Synthesis system to power up old weapons. A new kind of shop lets you implant certain souls into weapons, thereby upgrading the weapon with new strength and possibly some characteristics of its new soul. Some weapons have more than one upgrade path, so you have some choices to make: concentrate on increasing the attack power of your favorite sword, or imbue it with elemental effects and a boost to your intelligence rating? Upgraded weapons look different, too, with flashy new visual effects accompanying their usage in combat.
Since the main gameplay is displayed on the touch screen, Dawn of Sorrows makes some minor use of the touch feature. A special item lets you break up certain ice blocks by touching them with your finger or the stylus. Usually, the ice blocks can be strategically removed so that a few remain to form stairs up to a higher platform. There is also a magic seal system used to finish off boss enemies. Basically, the game teaches you to draw a simple line pattern on the screen. When the boss's life has been depleted, you must quickly recreate that pattern on the touch screen to finish off the demon. If you fail to complete the pattern correctly or within a certain amount of time, the boss regains a bit of health, and you'll have to fight him some more to get another chance at drawing the seal. It may seem like an annoying requirement, but the idea is to provide a new kind of challenge, as even these simple patterns can be hard to draw under pressure.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrows aims to please fans of the previous game by providing the same formula, and even the same characters, but with expanded gameplay features and improved graphics and sound. Of course, it's enough for fans of the Metroidvania games just to have a new castle to explore! And without spoiling too much, we can promise that Dawn of Sorrows has a deep bonus mode that will remind you of one of the most popular classic Castlevania games. All this adds up to one very hot game. If your demand isn't yet frothing, it's time to start churning that spit.
Last updated: 01/02/2005
Castlevania fans will be glad to know that it will be retaining its 2-D presentation on the Nintendo DS. A direct sequel to the GBA classic Aria of Sorrow, Castlevania DS is set twelve months after the conclusion of the previous game in the year 2037. Players reprise the role of Soma Cruz as he battles Celia Fortner, the leader of an evil cult that wants him eliminated. Everybody who survived AoS makes a return here, including Genya Arikado (a.k.a. Alucard from Symphony of the Night), Yoko Belnades, Hammer, Mina Hikuba, and Julius Belmont.
The new DS hardware promises to make this one of the best Castlevania titles yet. The graphics look better than ever, rivaling Symphony of the Night on the PS1. The soundtrack, supervised by series veteran Michiru Yemane and featuring several of her pieces, will certainly put the DS's excellent sound to the test.
The DS's dual screens allow several gameplay modifications. The castle map is permanently displayed on the top screen, while the game action takes place on the touch screen. The touch screen is used because the stylus is incorporated into boss battles; before a boss is finally beaten, players must use the stylus to match a shape drawn on the screen to "seal" the boss away. This use of the touch screen doesn't significantly alter the Castlevania we know and love.
The Enemy Soul system also returns mostly unaltered. Enemies, when attacked with the right weapon, drop orbs that can be equipped in different combinations. Each combination allows Soma to unleash deadly special attacks, and series producer Koji Igarashi promises more attacks than ever. Enemy Souls will be able to be traded using the DS' wireless capabilities, and gamers will be able to exchange customized maps as well. How the customized maps are going to be incorporated into gameplay remains to be seen, but it should be an interesting new feature.
Castlevania DS looks to be another great installment in the classic series. It's sure to be one of the most anticipated upcoming games for Nintendo's handheld.