Yes, continuing my Castlevania obsession this month is my review for the game Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, which was released on the Nintendo DS in 2005. Yes, it's a bit older now, but I still think it's worthy of a review on this blog. I will be abbreviating Dawn of Sorrow as simply DoS, so now you know.
DoS follows the Metroidvania style of gameplay, the same style that Symphony of the Night used to break the mold way back on the Playstation 1. And yes, Symphony of the Night is the best Castlevania game to date, but Dawn of Sorrow, in my opinion, comes in at a close second. The game drops you into the boots and white trench coat of a dangerously pale teenager named Soma Cruz, who you may recognize from the third Castlevania game to grace the GBA, titled "Aria of Sorrow". DoS takes place one year after Aria, and right when Soma gets used to living a normal life again, an evil cult leader who's intent on creating the next "Dark Lord", whose name happens to be Celia Fortner, decides to come back in and screw it all up again. She sends out a few minions your way, none that Soma can't rid off with his trusty (but slightly rusty, and maybe a tad musty), dagger. Upon trying to approach Celia, Soma is pushed back by an invisible wall, and Celia teleports off, back to her wonderful cult base, which just so happens to be, *sigh*, yet another replica of Dracula's Castle. But Soma will have none of this, so off to the cast- I mean cult base he goes. Yes, it's pretty ridiculous, but the story isn't really what matters here.
DoS is a bit different from Symphony of the Night, mostly because, instead of focusing on advanced, RPG-like character armor customization (leggings, armor, helmet, etc.), DoS instead features a unique soul-capture system. So, the equip screen has been simplified to six slots now, one for your weapon, one for your armor, one for your accessory, and three for your bullet, guardian, and (sorry, I forgot the name of this last one...) souls. But, you may be asking, what are these souls you speak of, and how can I get them? Well, it's all quite simple, really. Souls are unique powers that allow Soma to do anything from grow a giant Corpseweed on his head to summon those ever-so-popular familiars from Symphony of the Night. The only way to get these souls is to kill enemies. For example, if you want to summon archers that shoot arrows from behind you to back you up, you have to kill an "Amalaric Sniper" enemy to do so. The only problem with this system, however, is that you don't get souls by simply killing an enemy. There's a percentage system in place here, meaning that it's only 4% likely you'll get a Great Axe Armor soul, or 55% likely you'll get a ghost soul and so on and so on. The problem with this is that you could spend hours farming for a soul that you need to level up your weapon or to provide you backup so you can more easily take out a boss, and you never end up getting the soul you want because there's only a 4% chance you're going to get it. I think it would've been better to have, no matter what, always gotten the soul of an enemy after the first kill, but then, afterwards, to have multiple souls, have introduced the whole percentage thing. Thankfully, all the souls you need to progress through the game are sure-fire, you will always get them souls, so don't worry about spending hours killing the same boring enemy like you had to do in Castlevania II. Getting those really rare souls is just for completionists, and most of them aren't even that great. Besides, most souls you can get after around 10-20 kills, so it shouldn't be too hard getting what you want most of the time.
DoS looks amazing. The graphics are intricately detailed, and the variety of different effects that get used when you kill an enemy or use a s0ul, etc. are absolutely great, and the animation is super smooth to boot. Sadly, the sound isn't quite as amazing. Some noises are reused too often, and some screams and such are just downright painful to listen to. Luckily, most of these sounds are short and don't last too long, but still, it's something the developers should've noticed. Don't get me wrong though, Castlevania still has some absolutely mind-blowing musical tracks, and the sound is still pretty damn good.
On top of the main game (which will last you quite a long time if you're going for all the endings), there are quite a few of extra modes that you can unlock that are almost just as beefy as the main game itself. One of notable mention is Julius mode, but I'll let you figure out for yourself what that is, and how to unlock it. There's also a Sound mode that's lets you listen to any musical track in the game, as well as all 200+ sound voiceovers, screams, etc., but sadly no sound effects. But let's not forget that Boss Mode, which will allow you to get some pretty awesome goodies if you manage to beat it quickly enough. All in all, DoS will definately last you a long time, and don't expect to see that "100% complete" screen without doing some pretty damn hard work.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is an absoluetly amazing addition to the series, and although it doesn't quite live up to Symphony of the Night's legacy, it comes in at an amazingly close second. If you have a DS and this game isn't in your library, then I will personally kick you in the 'nads should you not rush to the store and pick up a copy of this game.
I give Castlevania: DoS 98/100 Souls