Featured Content from Ebay

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow Review

I have been playing through the game, Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow for the Gameboy DS (via the 3DS) and I thought that I would share my take on this innovative installment of the Castlevania series.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Picture of Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS

Brief Reviews of the game:

Overall Grade in my opinion: A

Pros about the game
+ Huge map and storyline.
+ Soma Cruz's soul system is pretty revolutionary for the castlevania franchise as you can steal enemy abilities and use them to your advantage (similar to how it is in Mega Man games where you can copy abilities of bosses).
+ Expect many huge boss battles throughout the course of the game.  Also, the game does make use of the stylus system that the DS offers in various ways (such as drawing symbols when you are about to defeat a boss.
+ 3 possible endings.  By the way, you can see all 3 endings in one play though.
+ Great replay value: once you beat the game as Soma (or at least get the 2nd ending) you can unlock Julius mode where you play as Julius Belmont, along with Yoko Alucard which follows along an alternate timeline that assumes that Soma becomes "Dracula"
+ Nice storyline too
+ It is also worth noting that DOS is one of one of the few modern Castlevania games that brings back remixed versions of some of the music from some of the classic castlevania games (especially when playing on Julius Mode), such as the "Vampire Killer" theme in the "Silenced Ruins" level of the game.  Also (***spoiler alert***), if you are playing on Julius mode, the final boss fight against Soma plays out much like a typical boss fight against Dracula (teleportion, beast form, etc) from Dracula X and similar games and even has the classic "Dance of Illusions" theme song there.  Many current Castlevania games don't have music from the classic castlevania games (Portrait of Ruin for example, did not have them, neither did Lords of Shadow too for that matter), so it is worth pointing out with this title.

- The stylus system can make some of the boss fights harder than normal, especially some of the later ones.  Also the symbols do change periodically too and become more and more complex as the game goes along.  You will definitely need to practice your drawing to make some of the boss fights much easier (at least when it comes to using the "magic seals" to defeat the bosses).

Overview of the game / Story:

Castlevania Dawn of Sorrows is definitely one of my favorite Castlevania games (being a veteran Castlevania player myself) and is on par with Symphony of the Night, Portrait of Ruin and Harmony of Despair.   Dawn of Sorrow is the direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow (for the Gameboy Advance) and continues the storyline of Soma Cruz.  Basically in Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, the storyline assumes that the evil Count Dracula (the "evil genius" of the castlevania series) has been defeated "for good" by Julius sometime during the 2000's.  Ironically while Dracula never makes a formal appearance in Aria of Sorrow or Dawn of Sorrow, apparently his spirit still lives (kind of like how it is with the Sigma virus system in the Mega Mega Man X series where Sigma always manages to come in one form or another no matter how often you defeat him) and wants to use someone to posess and use in is ongoing schemes for world domination.  Soma Cruz is a convenient target for Dracula and he tries to influence Soma through the soul abilities system and turn Soma into the Dark Lord.  In Dawn of Sorrow, Soma is sent to investigate a shadowy cult lead by an evil lady named Cecila, along with her minions, Dario and Darus, who want to basically want to revive the evil Count Dracula and it is up to Soma to stop Celia's schemes (much to the dismay of Julius Belmont) while also battling his own inner demons that want to turn Soma into the evil Dracula.  The cult hideout is pretty much another incarnation or Dracula's castle and plays out much like Dracula's castle from Symphony of the Night and similar castlevania games, filled with ghosts, gouls, monsters, demons, huge and hideous bosses and other enemies for Soma to defeat.  The game does have 3 possible endings and it is possible for Soma to lose to Celia or even turn into the evil Count Dracula.  (see spoiler section for ending details). 

Julius Mode:

As with Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia, after you finish the main game, new modes open up and one mode worth mentioning is Julius Mode.  While in many similar castlevania games where the extra modes (such as Richter Mode in Portrait of Ruin) tend to be a bit bland, Dawn of Sorrow does add some unique twists to Julius mode.  Some of the twists include:
- Alternate storyline, which basically assumes that Soma turns into "Dracula".
- While initially you assume the role of Julius Belmont, Yoko and Alucard (yes Alucard does make an appearance in Dawn of Sorrow, perhaps a first since Symphony of the Night) join in Julius' quest to defeat Soma (aka "Dracula") and become playable characters as well, and so you will assume a trio of characters, each with their own unique abilities, skills and personalities.  Julius is a classic whip user and uses his whip and sub weapons to defeat enemies.  Note: Julius automatically has all of his sub weapons equipped (unlike in other castlevania games where you have to find sub weapons in candles) and you can switch between them (including he throwing knives, cross boomerangs, a cross crush attack, holy water bombs as well as throwing axes.  Yoko is a magic user and wields 3 different kinds of spells that she can use against enemies and bosses (such as ice bullets that shoot almost every direction, lightning balls, as well as a fire bullet attack).  Also, whenever she hits enemies with her staff weapon, she steals the enemies' health (which you can use to help restore the trio's hp bar).  Alucard is a tonned down version of himself from Symphony of the night and wields his signature alucard sword and shield.  He can also shoot the hellfire fireballs at enemies (the they shoot out in 3s) turn into a bat (great for reaching high places), jump really high (by holding the dpad up and pressing the L button) and do the backstab attack (where he teleports behind an enemy and attacks him/her from behind with his sword).
- The background music does change in some of the maps.  By the way, old school Castlevania fans will like the fact that DOS is one of the few newer Castlevania titles that does offer remixed versions of music from some of the classic castlevania games (namely, Vampire Killer. Bloody Tears, and "beginnings" if you are familiar with those songs).
- Different final boss fight.  Instead of fighting Menace, you will fight a Dracula version of Soma which plays out much like a typical Dracula boss fight from Dracula X and Rondo of Blood (even has a remixed version of the "Illusionary Dance" boss theme for those of you who are familiar with it).
- The map is not as linear as it is for Soma (especially once Alucard joins the trio) and you can change alter the route and boss fights you can take on (note: the Mine of Judgement section still does not become available until after the Aguni boss fight). 
- Note: unlike Soma mode, the trio cannot heal themselves with potions and food.  Instead Yoko can steal health from enemies and bosses when she hits them with her staff (though the healing process is slow, especially early in the game), which makes this mode more challenging and does mean you will need to save more often too as you pass through the various save points in the game.

Soul System:
If any Castlevania game were to take after a typical Mega Man style game, it would probably be Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow (Aria of Sorrow too for that matter).  You know how in most (if not all) Mega Man games, whenever you defeat a robot master boss, you get to steal that boss' abilities (such as their weapon).  Dawn of Sorrow has a similar system where whenever you defeat a monster, ghost, boss or whatever, there is a chance you will receive their "souls", which is essentially their abilities and weapons.  For example, if you defeat an Axe armor and get their soul, you can hurl axes at your enemies.  Or when you defeat Gergoth (one of the bosses in the game), you get to shoot a huge laser that kills enemies in your path rather quickly.  Some abilities will let you fly, have enemies forced to become allies (such as summoning Gaibon to follow you and charge at enemies he encounters), move around in water, etc.  Obviously some enemies have better soul drop rates than others, but there are incentives to getting more souls, such as getting stronger, having more abilities and skill, plus if you get all of them, you can get a special ring (Chaos ring) that gives you almost unlimited MP points.  Obviously some souls (abilities) are better than others, while others can be worthless.  My favorite abilities includes: the flame demon's fireball attack, summoning a pet gabion (he charges at enemies at random), the final guard's shield abilities (great for blocking otherwise hard to avoid attacks and is great against bosses), magnora, bat company's flight ability (lets you fly, plus if you have flame demon's fireball attack, you can shoot fireballs at enemies while flying) as well as abaddon's locust attacks.  Bosses always drop souls when you defeat them while other enemies will not always drop them (which meiceans that you will have to defeat them multiple times to gain their souls). 

Boss Fights and Magic Seal system:
Watch the youtube video below for a sample boss fight against Abaddon (this also shows the magic seal system in action)
Like just about any castlevania games, Dawn of Sorrow has plenty of huge and goulish boss fights each with their unique patterns, weaknesses and difficulites.  Some of my favorites were Puppet Master (the spider like monster that tries to kill you by placing voodoo dolls in iron maidens), Paranoia (a mirror monster you fight), Aguni (a huge fire demon monster), as well as Menace (the huge final boss at the end of the game).  Unique to Dawn of Sorrow (both Order of Ecclesia and Portrait of Ruin has this) is the magic seal system.  This is a unique system that utilizes the stylus that comes with the Gameboy DS / 3DS system and it is essentially where whenever you are about to defeat a boss (with the exception of a few boss fights), a huge circle appears and you have to draw symbol correctly and quickly in order to defeat the boss.  The symbols start out simple (with the first one being a "V" shape), but they do get more complex and trickier to complete as you progress through the game.  If you draw the symbol correctly, the boss gets defeated and you move on.  Get it wrong, the boss regains health and the fight continues with the magic seal prompt popping up periodically again and again until you get the symbol right (or Soma dies).  This system will likely be either a blessing or a curse for people playing Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow.  The magic seals were not too difficult for me to master, but I am sure that some people will have it easier than others.  By the way, the game does offer a mode that lets you practice drawing the magic seal symbols at your convenience (which you can use to practice and master the symbols you are struggling with) and it can definitely be frustrating for some people, especially if you are fighting one of the more difficult bosses in the game (such as the Puppet Master or Gergoth) and you can't defeat the boss since you are not able to draw the magic seal symbol(s) correctly. By the way, you will need a stylus for Dawn of Sorrow, if you don't have a stylus you will definitely need to buy one (I am not sure how you can use the magic seals system otherwise).  Note: the magic seals do not apply to Julius mode and Julius, Alucard and/or Yoko will automatically defeat the bosses they fight once their hp runs out.

Final thoughts of Dawn of Sorrow:
DOS is definitely one of my favorite Castlevania games ever.  It is a fitting sequel in the symphony of the night era castlevania games.  The soul system is fun to have it gives Soma plenty of useful power ups, abilities and skills to use.  He can also equip weapons like swords, guns, staffs, spiked knuckles and even Death's Sythe to defeat foes as well (my favorite weapons are probably the Valamway sword and the Death Sythe) and he can be customized to your fitting and likings.  The soul system does offer Soma extra skills, abilities and even sub weapons he can use, such as shooting fireballs at enemies, summoning monsters (such as Gaibon) that attack enemies, improve his luck (useful for finding rare items and soul abilities), shooting laser beams at enemies (obtained from Gergoth), or even transform into some of the monsters he defeats (like Barbosa which is invincible and charges forward and defeats enemies as he runs into them). Dawn of Sorrow has just about all of the elements that any castlevania fan would like, including all of the signature monsters from the series, Halloween style feel, huge boss fights and even remixed versions of some of the background music from the classic castlevania games (one area in the game even pays tribute to some of the earlier castlevania games complete with a retro feel, a bat creature boss as well as "vampire killer" playing in the background).  I also like the alternate storyline that Julius mode offers, which is a change of pace from typical castlevania games where alternate modes tend to be mediocre in comparison to the main story line.  Dawn of Sorrow does have a few flaws though.  The magic seal system for example, while innovative will take some mastering to do and may be a frustration to some players (especially if you have poor drawing skills).  Also, Soma does start out weak which adds to the challenge, though he gets a lot stronger as he levels up and gains more abilities and skills.

Overall Grade: A

 Spoiler Section: (note: this section assumes you have either played through the game or don't mind spoilers)

Endings: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow has 3 possible endings.

Ending 1 (bad ending):
in the pinnacle level of the game, you will fight Dario a second time (the first confrontation with him takes place in the Garden of Madness level).  To get the first bad ending, ignore Aguni (the fire demon boss that you can see in the mirror behind Dario which you can only reach if you have Paranoia's ability that lets you enter mirrors) and simpy defeat Dario.  The fight plays like a watered down version of a typical boss fight against Dracula where Dario teleports around, shooting fireballs and other spells against Soma.  Eventually Dario will go down and gets killed by his inner demon (Aguni).  Then in a cut scene, it shows Soma leaving the Castle with Genya Arikado (with Celia no where to be found) and Soma suffering mysterious symptoms (probably after his fight with Demitri earlier in the game in which he accidently absorbs Demitri's "soul") and Genya refers Soma to the church for examination.  The ending is pretty bland and implies that he lost to Cecilia and is at risk of becoming "Dracula".

Ending 2 (worst ending):

  To get this ending, when you get to the second boss fight against Dario (in the Pinnacle Level), make sure you have the Paranoia ability equipped and defeat Aguni (ignore Dario).  After that, there is are some boss doors a bit early in the garden of madness level (the one that is guarded by a giant snail monster) that you couldn't get into area earlier in the game.  Go in there without Mina's Talisman equipped and watch the cut scene.  Long story short, Cecilia basically provokes Soma into a rage by killing a fake version of Mina (Soma's girlfriend) and Soma succumbs into becoming the Dark Lord (Dracula).  It also shows Julius, Genya Arikado (who is really Alucard) and Yoko going into the castle to defeat Soma (who is essentially "Dracula" at this point).

Ending 3 (best possible ending): Note - the video below also contains the final boss fight

Equip Mina's talisman before the cut scene with Cecilia (see Ending 2) and the game will be extended considerably longer (it won't end with Soma turning into Dracula). Continue to the Mine of Judgement and later the Abyss levels and defeat the final bosses of the game (namely Death, Abaddon and Menace).  In the ending, Soma puts a stop to the cult's schemes, avoids turing into Dracula and is reunited with his girlfriend.

Other spoilers:

-As mentioned in Ending 2, Genya Arikado is really Alucard from Symphony of the Night (though this fact is not fully revealed until Julius meets up with Alucard in "Julius mode").  
- For old time Castlevania games, Dawn of Sorrow is one of the few newer games in the series that features classic bgm titles, namely: "Bloody Tears" (plays in the background during the Dark Chapel level of the game on "Julius Mode"), "Beginnings" (plays during the Lost Village of the game on "Julius Mode", "Dance of Illusions" (plays during the boss fight against Soma at the end of Julius mode) and Vampire Killer (plays during the Silenced Ruins level of the game on both modes).  Note: Bloody Tears and Beginnings do not appear in the main story mode, so you will have to play on Julius mode (which should open up when you get Endiaeng 2 and / or 3) in order to hear those sound tracks (the music is considerably different during the Lost Villiage and Dark Chapel levels in the main story mode).
- If you get all of the possible souls in the game (will take time, skill and patience to accomplish even with the soul eater rings equiped), the chaos ring will appear in one of the sections of the Abyss level and basically gives Soma almost unlimited MP (makes it easier to use bullet, guardian and support souls that would normally drain Soma's MP bar and basically gives Soma an unfair advantage when fighting enemies and bosses).
- Soul eater ring: if Soma has enough gold, he can buy at least one or 2 soul eater rings (they are expensive to buy) at Hammer's Store (which is located across from Yoko's shop in the Lost Village level) and basically increases Soma's chances of obtaining souls (especially rare ones).  Note: the Soul Eater ring does not guarantee that Soma will obtain rare souls since enemies do not always drop souls even with soul eater ring equipped, but the chances of obtaining the rare souls should increase a bit with those rings.

 Optional Bosses (though necessary for the best ending):
 there are actually 2 "optional bosses" in the game.  Note: While you don't have to fight them if you don't want to and are satisfied with the bad ending (see ending 1), you will eventually you want fight them, especially if you want to extend the game and go for the best ending of the game (after all, Dario is not really the final boss of the game you know).
1) Paranoia - this is a 2 part boss battle lurking in the top of the Demon guest house level (the Demon Guest house is unique in that it actually has 2 boss encounters instead of one like most of the levels have in the game). In the demon guest house level, there is a huge tower you can climb (with the top area closed off until you have made it to the Pinnacle level of Dracula's Castle (there is a switch that you can access when you enter the demon guest house level via the Pinnacle that lets you access the top levels of the tower), and near the top of the the tower there is a passage that leads to the boss door for Paranoia.  It is a 2 phased boss fight (a small version of Paranoia followed by a larger version of him) where you fight a monster that lurks inside a mirror (look up the Paranoia boss fight on youtube to see what I mean) that has wiered mask.  By defeating Paranoia, you will gain the ability to enter mirrors (if you explore Dracula's castle, you will find areas with mirrors and with Paranoia's ability you can enter the mirrors and access hidden power ups and items with it) as well as access the Aguni boss fight.
2. Aguni - When fighting Dario in the Pinnacle level, you should notice a mirror in the background with a fire demon monster (not sure how else to describe aguni) lurking in it.  If you have Paranoia's ability that lets you enter mirrors equipped, ignore Dario and enter the mirror.  You will now be fighting Aguni instead of Dario.  Obviously Aguni is a much more formidable foe than Dario is in many ways. 

That is all for this post.  Have you played Dawn of Sorrow (or Aria of Sorrow for that matter) and have your own take on the game (or have comments you want to add)?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Thinking about getting Dawn of Sorrow?  You can get yourself a copy either at your local game store (such as Gamestop) or buy one online at Amazon.com. 

Note: You will need either a Gameboy DS or 3DS in order to play this game.  Note: I use a 3Ds which is the latest system from Nintendo and Dawn of Sorrow plays perfectly on the 3Ds.  Note: there is a secret rare ring item (along with several other easter eggs you can find) by inserting aria of sorrow into a Gameboy advanced slot on the Gameboy DS, but there doesn't seem to be a Gameboy Advance slot on the 3DS and so you will need a DS if you want to use the Aria of Sorrow cartridge or even play Aria of Sorrow.

Note: I also just recently played through Portrait of Ruin as well as Order of Ecclesia as well. I will post reviews for those two games when I get around to it.

Similar Games you might like (from Amazon.com):
- Castlevania Order of Ecclesia. 
- Portrait of Ruin.
- Castlevania Aria of Sorrow (Gameboy Advance).  This is he official backstory to Dawn off Sorrow.
- Castlevania Harmony of Despair (Xbox 360), which you can download on Xbox 360 live and seems to be the direct sequel to DOS, OOE and POR.
- Castlevania Dracula X Chronicles (PSP).  I haven't played this game, but it seems to be a remade version of both Castlevania Dracula X (SNES) and Rondo of Blood (neo geo?).