Thursday, 20 December 2012

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Review (DS)


Following on from the excellent Aria of Sorrow comes the next imaginatively named chapter in the Castlevania story. The title continues the tale of High school student Soma Cruz as he is drawn to a mysterious village to try and stop an evil cult from resurrecting Dracula. The story may not be original but then this Is Castlevania and as the plot has stayed the same since the days of the 8-bit era it would seem a shame to break tradition now.

Aria of Sorrow showed a number of small steps away from the 'classic' Castlevania mould and these departures are continued here. Once again Soma can use any number of weapons to defeat the hordes of beasts rather than being restricted to the vampire slaying whip of the Belmont clan (though a member of the Belmont family is also investigating the village).

Another departure is the gradual change in both music and graphical feel of previous titles. Aria started it with hints of Neo punk overtures. Here the style is integrated a little more into the games structure. This most noticeably with Soma himself being portrayed in a long white coat and looking like a standard Anime hero during cut scenes. The music has also taken on a more Japanese synth feel to it, which, while not unpleasant and expertly composed, does not have the same power to conjure an atmosphere as the elegant chords of something like Castlevania IV.

Dawn of Sorrow may not be classic Castlevania in the strict sense of the word but that does not mean that the game is anything short of remarkable for fans of the series. After calling for Konami to try and make the player feel they are exploring more than simply another castle for the hundredth time we are pleased to see a fresher approach to the game area. For instance, Soma starts out on the outskirts of a village and only a few screens in do we reach the Castle. Even when inside the variety in graphics makes the game world a much more varied place to explore than the last few titles.

Soma himself handles like a dream. There is a certain grace and smoothness about movement in the game- a good thing as enemies do their best to come at you from awkward heights. After three games on the GBA and Symphony of the Night on the Playstation it seems the control system has been refined to near perfection. As classic as it is, Symphony of the Night was a little sluggish and awkward when you needed to react quickly. Soma is far more flexible and agile meaning quick reactions should see you safe from harm.

Making a welcome return from Aria of Sorrow is the Soul capturing ability. Any Enemy Soma kills may release a soul orb that will grant him an extra power. These range from throwing weapons, stat enhancements or the ability to summon monsters and allow the player to find a balance that suits them. The only problem is that collecting souls is all down to chance. This means that while one player may pick up powerful souls early on, someone less lucky may have to struggle through without them.

Boss battles are suitably grand and imaginative affairs. Creatures are huge and foreboding giving a sense of achievement when they bite the dust. They also bring into play the somewhat pointless use of the DS stylus- with players needing to quickly draw a magic seal once the monster has been pounded to the brink of death. Failure to draw the seal in time leads to the boss gaining a small amount of health back and the battle continuing.

Castlevania DS falls is a strange thing. There is very little to pick fault with here and there is certainly nothing you could describe as bad design. However, this is the Fifth version of the non-linear Castlevania series and there really is only so much wandering around a map you can do before you start playing on instinct and memory rather than finding yourself experiencing anything truly new and exhilarating. The game itself is a great title but we can't help wondering how many more times players can be sent around a castle before they start living in a permanent case of De Ja Vu.

Overall Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a stunningly made title; yes it may be 'castles' again. But there is no questioning that this is the best handheld version of the series and arguably the best of the non-linear series (yes arguably even better than Symphony). The Idea as a whole may be heading closer to cliche but once you actually start playing it is nigh on impossible not to feel the Castlevania magic take you over. A must for fans and one of the DS's most accomplished titles.

8/10

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