Thirteen years hasn’t made a difference in how great this Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is.
With the Netflix adaptation of the “Castlevania” series coming out in late October, it seems fitting to go back and review one of the best games in the series. Originally released in 2005 for the Nintendo DS and developed by Konami, Dawn of Sorrow is, if my math is right, the 20th installment of the influential fantasy action series centering around vampire hunters and their fight against Dracula. Like most Castlevania entries, this game is played in a 2d view, but while even modern 2d games can be boring, this one is awesome.
A deep story isn’t needed for these types of games, but it is worth mentioning the playable character, Soma Cruz, who is supposedly the reincarnation of Dracula, and instead of taking place in Dracula’s castle, it is the base of a Cult trying to emulate Dracula’s castle. Soma is special because he is able to take powers from the monsters he kills, which is reflected into the gameplay. The story is by no means a “Witcher 3” level quality, but it is enough to help cement the atmosphere of the game.
The gameplay of Dawn of Sorrow is nothing short of amazing. There is a leveling system, but the main star is the weapon and magic system. You are given different types of weapons, a physical weapon (axe, sword, dagger, etc.), a magic weapon that the player unlocks when the player kills the monster and takes their soul. Some weapons let you use an ability to attack and some give access to a passive ability, both being given a slot so they can be used simultaneously. These souls add a ton of playability to the game because you can collect certain souls in order to upgrade one of your physical weapons, each weapon having several different tiers and each being more powerful than the last. It is important to upgrade these weapons because while not immensely hard, the game is certainly not easy.
You will be jumping around the area, butchering a wide array of diverse enemies in your path. The thing about this game, though, is instead of separate levels, this game gives you one big map (the entirety of the castle), with parts of the map unlocking each time you defeat a boss. This map system works with the game because every time you leave a room, enemies in the room you left will re-spawn so you will face them again the next time you come back. The only real annoyance in gameplay is when you have to use the touchscreen to open “seals” that you must get through to get to each boss. Some of these are incredibly annoying, but it could be much worse.
It all sounds simple, but with the amazing gameplay that never gets old, and the awesome weapon upgrade system, I clocked in a ton of time into this game, easily the most I have ever played on a portable console.
The graphics are important as well. Being a sidescroller, this game isn’t pixelated, but its backgrounds have an awesome, almost three-dimensional look to them with a great, unique gothic atmosphere, but parts of the castle have their own little aesthetics to them, each drawing you in. One example would be the “Garden of Madness,” which is filled with a variety of plant-based enemies, another being a lab area filled with Frankenstein’s monsters, hordes of skeletons and a few more different areas all having a mix of their own unique enemies and all areas sharing some enemies.
To continue talking about its atmosphere, Dawn of Sorrow’s score is noteworthy. Several Castlevania games are known for their memorable soundtracks and this score composed by Masahiko Kimura and Michiru Yamane is no exception, giving you good tracks to kill enemies.
The last thing worth mentioning for this game is the re-playability, even after putting many hours into the game on your initial playthrough, you are given a number of different endings you can unlock with sets of things you have to do to unlock them, and depending on what ending you get, you will unlock different items and game modes. The most notable being a new game plus mode, which lets you start the game anew with the items and weapons you beat the game with, and Julius mode. I still have a long way to go in beating Julius mode, but it pits you in the same map as the main game. You don’t get access to any magical powers, you are just given Julius and a whip. The whip is a staple of the classic Castlevania games, and although not nearly as powerful as weapons in the normal mode, it is certainly the most fun, changes the gameplay and it definitely makes it more challenging.
It can’t be stated enough how awesome a game Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is, 13 years old or not. It’s gameplay, even with the slight hiccup of seals; soundtrack, graphics, everything are all really fun. I have put tons of hours into it thanks to how much fun it is, and with the bonus content, I will definitely put several more hours in.