2 Gamers Review one Game

Monday, October 17, 2005

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow - Review

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow - Review - DS - PickyPants

First things first. As a serious gamer there is really only one question to be asked about Dawn of Sorrow. Is it the next Symphony of the Night? The only two memorable Castlevania’s in most gamer’s minds are Castlevania II (NES) and Symphony of the Night. (PSX)

I am afraid to say no, this is not the next Symphony of the Night. But it’s the closest we have come so far. That’s all I wanted to know, but feel free to read on if you need more information. And of course, don’t miss Harshly_Von_Smokenstein’s review.

Castlevania has evolved from the a deviously hard platform action game, to an action RPG that is closer in style to a Metroid than a Mega Man. Like so many games of this generation, Castlevania has become a game of exploration, rather than challenge. This is not a bad thing in the case of this franchise. Symphony of the Night, as fan boys will tell you, was a beautifully painted 2D game that came out in the midst of the PSone 3D games onslaught. With all those sub-par 3D games, few people paid attention to SotN until it was pulled from shelves. It had depth, wonderful visuals, amazing bosses, excellent music, and original gameplay. Instead of being a chore, exploring became a reward. Every time a new ability was learned, different parts of Dracula’s massive castle became open to you. Certain items could be paired with each other, creating a customizable equipment and spell system. And the endings, Oh the endings. I can’t spoil it, but there were many late game rewards for the hard core player.

The first thing you will realize when playing DoS is the story. Every Castlevania since the first has moved closer and closer to story and farther and farther from action. I like me some storyline from time to time, but in an action game, I want it PART of the action, not directly before and after. I want Doom 3, Half-Life, or Metroid Prime story. What I get is a bunch of anime frames of people talking to people. Talking about how much ass they will kick, rather than kicking it. It’s a small gripe, but with every cutscene I feel a little part of myself die.

As in Symphony of the Night, Dawn of Sorrow is an action RPG. You get experience, and gold and items from kills. I am so glad this leveling system is still in this series. There is something so much more gratifying about hacking armies upon armies of the same things apart when you know you are getting something for it. You seek out enemies and kill them, rather than sigh and try to fly around them. Also in keeping with the best of this series is the Weps/Armor equipment system. Nothing like a random rare drop to pimp out your (rather gay looking) hero. The drop rate seem right on, just when I notice my wep underperforming, I get a little love from the “drop Gods.” Also money comes in handy again, as you have a shop to buy things at. Furthermore, it’s the best action game economy I have ever seen. Gold is everywhere, and you always need more. Not in a frustrating way. I found myself killing certain monsters just for the loot they dropped. I haven’t done that since Chrono Trigger.

Also, like the GBA Castlevanias, if you kill enough of the same enemy, you get their soul. Those souls can be equipped to do nifty things (from passive increases in ability scores, to copying enemy abilities, to changing the game physics). And on top of that, you can collect up to 9 souls per monster. Each soul makes the ability more effective. Each monster in the game can drop a soul. Since souls are a relatively rare drop, you are looking at slaying a lot of the same guys for these souls to stock up. This is a really good thing, in addition to getting xp/lewt per kill, you are getting a chance to increase the effectivity of your abilities. That makes killing enemies even more fun! Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!

And what makes this even better, is you can visit your blonde haired, Arian girlfriend, (inexplicably named “Yoko”) who can pair souls to your weps. Once they are bound to a wep, you can’t use them as an ability. The choices quickly become numerous. Do I use this badass ability, or put it into my sword to give me lifestealing? It’s just great! Its reminiscent of Final Fantasy VIII (am I the only person who loved that game?) where tweaking your spells/abilities (Do I put “Double” or “Firaga” on my STR score?) could take hours, but eventually you would find the perfect combination. (at least, until you looted more souls)

I hate commenting on “graphics,” because I think they are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. In a game like DoS, however, with a lot of running back and forth, jumping around and killing similarly looking enemies, the visual impact of the game is more important. Keeping that in mind, I would have to say DoS is the best looking Castlevania game so far. Even better than that goddawful PS2 version. There are so many minute details from character animation, to background effects, it’s easy to get lost in the eye candy.

Then there’s the question of the DS’s capabilities. Does it effectively use the touch options and the other screen? Yes and No. Personally I am getting tired of developers being “forced” to use the touch screen aspect of the DS. I love it when games use it well, but most non-Nintendo titles seem pressured to use it “because it’s there.” Nevertheless, DoS prods clumsily into the touch aspect of the game. You use the touch screen maybe 10 times in the whole game. Every time you need to use it, you find yourself scrambling for the stylus and trying to balance moving and touching at the same time. It’s a total train wreck.

On the plus side, the second screen is a Godsend. One annoying thing about the later Castlevania games is taking breaks in the action to equip stuff or check the map. The second screen can either display the castle map, or show your stats, as well as displaying a bestiary. The bestiary is particularly nice, as it shows every enemy as you kill it, its name, hp, weaknesses, drops you’ve received from it so far, and its portrait. So many RPG’s have bestiaries outside of the action, which are used more for reflection than information. This is the first time one has ever been useful “in game.” And all of these second screen options can be toggled without breaking the action. An excellent use of the DS.

Dawn of Sorrow has a lot of options. A whole lotta options. So many options, in fact, you start to wonder if the developers were thinking, “This would be cool,” rather than “This would be useful.” With 100 souls, and every one “doing” something for you, you find many of them sit in your menu, awaiting use that will never come. Now I am all about catering to play styles, I am definitely more of a “run-and-gunner” than a “stealthy Sam,” but there are some seriously useless abilities in this game. And of course the best souls are the ones you need to assign to your weps. That’s annoying too.

Ultimately, DoS succeeds at what it tries to be, an engrossing platformer with RPG elements. That it doesn’t live up to the simplicity and elegance of Symphony of the Night is unfortunate, but it gets really damn close. If you are looking for a truly engrossing experience that doesn’t feel gimmicky or “good in small doses,” Dawn of Sorrow is the game for you. Just to warn you, however, if you take more than a few days off from this game, your memory of the map will fade, and you will find yourself revisiting areas with dead ends over and over again.

PickyPants – 10/17/05

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow - Review - Nintendo DS - Harshly_von_smokenstein

For some reason Picky Pants likes to make me review games that I would never, ever play of my own volition.

See, I'm a multiplayer gamer. I'm not into single player games, console or PC, because the social aspect of multiplayer is a drug. So when he suggested a review on DoS for the DS, it was with reluctance. It should be noted that I always haven't been a strict multiplayer gamer. When you move away from all your friends, sitting in front ofthe TV or Computer playing some single player game loses its appeal.

Fortunately, the Castlevania franchise has been fairly successful at making engaging games.

They are challenging, beautiful, and massive. Lets see that Asian kid beat Castlevania for NES in 11 minutes. Symphony of the Night was an exceptional game. The flavor of backtrack exploration made popular byMetroid (JUSTIN BAILEY!) breathed a whole new life into the genre of the 2D platformer. Gothic soundtracks, intense boss encounters, numerous weapon/skill strategies for both movement and killin'...add up to fun.

DoS reaches like a fat kid reaches for a bearclaw at these ideals...but like that fat kid, has trouble. I wasn't impressed with the soundtracks, the control was responsive but not intuitive.

The former is because it is rehashed shit. The latter more than likely the result of the console itself. I have massive hands. Portable consoles have always been a problem with me. But, this isn't a review of the DS.

For some reason though, the designers decided that abunch of useless, uninformative, action slaying cutscenes were necessary. I have no fucking idea why. An action game should have...action. Not some anime faces sputtering dialogue back and forth for what seems like an eternity,


I think the whole single player adventure game simply isn't for me for another reason. I'm 25 years old. Back when I was 12, I could hunker down over some fine cafeteria food with my friends and they would respect the fact that I had found the hidden missile pack in Metroid.

They would ooo and ahh when I told themabout hitting lvl 99 with several characters in FinalFantasy VI. Remember Nintendo Power Challenges? I loved those as a kid. Beating one of them was a status symbol among my peers.

But if I were to go up to a co-worker that plays games and state that I found the shitty ring in DoS after just getting a way better one from a boss...they would think I was some virgin nerd asshole.

See, when you succeed in scratching your way through puberty...those Nintendo Power Challenge moments lose their magic. No one gives a shit anymore. And that sums up my opinion of the game. I don't givea shit about it. The only thing I can attain from mastering DoS is personal gratification. I'd ratherachieve that through some carefully chosen porn clips, my masturbation rag, and some lotion.

Its cheaper, faster, and I never scream "FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST,COME ON!" at my penis.

So, to sum up...if you are 12 years old, this game would be great. You can master it while your parents are at work late, again, and tell all your friends at school to a series of high fives. If you are over theage of 13, don't bother. It'll just leave you wishing you had saved that money for something else.

Harshly_von_smokenstein 9/21/05


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