Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

August 09, 2005

Review: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow (DS) - Suck or Blow?

This is a new experiment feature meathod for reviewing games. It's definitely not going to become standard, but if response is positive, we'll continue to do it. The guest reviewer today is Jose Lopez (aka DiGiTaL MaStEr 87), and we'll be going head to head, or at the least discussing back and forth the pros and cons of the game. We both apply a score, and the VGP score is the average of those two scores. Enjoy!

Adam Malcolm VS Jose Lopez
VGP Score


Adam's Score - 9.4 / Jose's Score - 9.8

Adam Malcolm: Well first off is gameplay, so I guess I should just first state: wow. This game refines what it means to be a Castlevania game. It's an action RPG at heart, and features one of Castlevania's largest and most labrynthine maps in the history of the franchise. How did you find the exploration?

Jose Lopez: Honestly, I'll say that the exploration is easily the best of the Castlevania series. As usual, there's backtracking, but it's not as tedious as it has been in the past. All the areas interconnect at just the right spots to make exploring the vast expanses of the village and castle rather simple, and the teleporters make it even easier. No complaints at all.

AM: The teleporters do make it easier. I do really wish they would place the save points closer to the warp points, since I was sometimes deciding which warp to use based on closest save point, and not which area was closest to my next goal. Not a major complaint though. Speaking of which, I do wish there were more save points, or at least check points in the game. I was kind of annoyed by having to backtrack to a save point just to make sure I didn't lose a rare soul I collected, but overall I found navigating the map intuitive. I should note that this is the perfect game for the DS' second screen. With such a convoluted maze, you'll be checking it a lot, and keeping it on the top screen constantly makes navigation that much easier than say Aria of Sorrow or Symphony of the Night. How about the combat?

JL: Well, the combat really puts a wealth of options at your disposal in terms of fighting styles. The sheer amount of different weapons available in the game (each with their own advantages, disadvantages, and special abilities) leaves plenty of room for you to develop your own technique. Many weapons, however, need to be unlocked or created. Unlocking weapons in Boss Rush Mode is rather easy, since you just need to beat the mode in a certain amount of time, and only three weapons need to be unlocked this way (Terror Bear, RPG, and Nunchaku). However, creating weapons is a hassle at times, since you need to locate a specific soul and fuse it into your current weapon. Some of the souls are more common, but you can count on eventually sacrificing rare souls in order to get Ultimate weapons. Though it's a unique idea, and quite enjoyable at times, it can also be stressful and annoying as well. However, I'll say the combat system, as a whole, is quite superb

AM: I'm inclined to agree. I do recall some bitching on your end about tracking down certain rare souls just to upgrade a weapon, but the rewards are usually worth it. The amount of weapons is at times daunting, no? However, it makes for a fully customizable game. You name a weapon, and this game will have it, and with the ability to equip two sets of armour and weapons, you an combo a handgun and great sword together, or perhaps a hand-to-hand weapon and boomerang. It opens up some really great options for fighting off different kinds of enemies. What was your favourite two weapon combo?

JL: Personally, I enjoyed the Valmanway [great sword] and Death's Scythe

AM: Good choices. I was more of a fast/ranged attacker. I played up close and fast with the fisted weapons like Whip Knuckle with the handguns and rifle. Call me a coward, but I normally depended more on clever soul usage to defeat my enemies.

JL: What souls did you use most often, aside from the essentials (like Bat Company)?

AM: I mean yeah, souls like Bat Company were essential for travel. The flying armour and Zephyr souls were temporarily in my arsenal, but overall, I would have Amalaric Sniper and Gergoth on one set, and Zombie with Barbariccia on the other. You?

JL: Here's my two favorite sets: Axe Armor, Alastor, Golem & Amalaric Sniper, Skull Archer, The Creature.

AM: I loved Skull Archer. I almost forgot to include the support souls. I always had Creature and Treant on one or the other set, so I could switch between them and recover health and MP faster. Did you find that there were many souls that were just useless and added for kicks and filler? I mean, how many times did I summon a bat or Corpseseed? Never!

JL: None of the souls are worthless, perce, as maxing out the ones that can be leveled up wields much more powerful effects for the most part

<AM: I know, but there were sets that worked so well that others were obsolete. I think there should have been creative puzzles for the different weaker souls.

JL: Bat's actually a decent soul, though Corpseweed may not be the best of choices

AM: Overall though, great combat. An exhausting amount of customizability makes this game accesible to every kind of gamer out there. It's an admirable trait in games these days, wouldn't you agree?

JL: I agree completely, especially on a handheld game. I just wish that the same customizability could carry on into the Julius mode, but I guess that may be expecting a little bit too much.

AM: It's only one cart, they can only do so much, especially since the normal campaign has so many endings and alternate sidequests.

JL: Indeed

AM: I think the best part of the combat, or at least where mettle was tested the most was in boss fights. How did you find the bosses?

JL: Some I found to be quite easy, while others were ridiculously difficult. For example, I found Flying Armor, Balore, and even Paranoia and Zephyr to be extremely easy, but then Aguni, Death, and Abaddon really pushed me to my limits, and I was forced to quickly learn their patterns and abilities and find solutions to the problems they presented. I believe that Abaddon, most of all, was a pain. His attacks were all over the place, and though the Persephone and Medusa Head souls made the duel a bit easier, it was still ridiculously difficult.

AM: I think in that exact example, it's the only boss fight I'd call "poorly designed". It's hard to a point where it's "memorize the patterns", there's nothing intuitive. I can guarantee most people won't beat him on their first try, simply because his attacks aren't too predictable, or intuitively dodged. Others I would give that quality too. I think most of the bosses, even the hardest, were doable on the first try if you were up to snuff. Most bosses have predictable attacks, that can dodged, even if they're not anticipated in advance. Great work from Konami on this part.

JL: What did you think of the final boss of the main game, Menace?

AM: Well that's a good question actually. He's one of those bosses that requires a good amount of leveling up and some strong and leveled up souls, so right there you need a small time investment to get suped up for the battle, unless you're a godly gamer. I wasn't too troubled by it though. The multiple forms wasn't a big problem either, since I actually found the second form easier than the first, but overall a very well designed boss. I guess this is a good time to bring up the quality of the visuals...the sprites, and boss sprites in this game have an uncanny level of detail for a 2-D side scroller/platformer.

JL: It's also important to note that there are several 3-D effects found within the game, including some enemies (like Alastor).

AM: Ah, I almost forgot. The invisible soldier holding the giant sword?

JL: Yes. Though the soldier's ghost was 2-D, the sword (which was, in actuality, the enemy) was a 3-D model

<AM: I was taken by surpise. I was glad to see some 3-D incorporated into a 2-D game. A nice touch. The number of frames added to the animations had to have been doubled. Those fire effects when fighting Dario? Wow, some of the best 2-D stuff on any handheld really.

JL: You didn't get to experience the best 2-D of the game, though the final boss of Julius Mode is totally different from that of the main game, and though I won't spoil who it is for anyone, let's just say it's a nice bit of nostalgia and easily the best looking boss fight of the entire game.

AM: I have to admit that I haven't completed Julius mode yet, but you do get control over 3 different characters, which works quite well. I love playing as Alucard...a good nod towards arguably the best Castlevania before this.

JL: Yes, Alucard is a blast to play as, as are Julius and Yoko. However, I do wish that you could change their equipment, maybe have them learn new skills and spells and abilities as they level up, and maybe even have more differences in their game aside from a different final boss.

AM: That's definitely a good idea for the next game, which I pray to God there will be sooner than later.

JL: Actually, Castlevania DS 2 has been announced for release next year and it's rumored that it's going to be a sequel to the events of Julius Mode

AM: I mean, there's just such a high quality production value here. The environments are varied to such an extensive degree. I sure hope you're right about that sequel.

JL: It's definitely going to be a sequel to Dawn of Sorrow, since IGA has stated that the handheld Castlevania games will all be focusing on the events prior to Dracula's eventual demise in 1999 from now on.

AM: Good to know. What did you think of the soundtrack and other sound effects, etc.?

JL: Well, the soundtrack was pretty good overall. I loved some of the new themes, such as the Lost Village and Condemned Tower. I also loved the three classic themes that returned in this game ( Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and a boss theme from Castlevania 64 ). However, I did have some issues with a few of the newer themes, as some were down-right forgetable. Overall, though, the music is definitely above average, as is to be expected from this legendary series. The sound effects were also great. My favorite was Alucard saying "Julius" in Julius Mode. I don't know why, but it just sounds so great. All the other sound effects are superb as well though. Hearing different death sounds for most enemies was definitely a pleasant surprise, and all of Soma's voice work was great as well. I was very impressed. What did you think?

AM: I'd have to agree. The actual soundtrack was just underwhelming entirely. Nothing really to note. However, I tremendously enjoyed the small snippets of voicework in this title, considering it's only a 2-D game on a small DS card. This shows the extra space goes a long way. I mean, the sound effects were great, and I thouroughly enjoyed the array of sounds for each and every ability, weapon and enemy. Great variety that can only make for a better game. But a game is nothing if it can't control well...what did you think of the controls? And especially the new touch screen seals for the bosses?

JL: The controls were fantastic. Precise and intuitive. And though I found the touch-screen seals to be a nice challenge, I loathed using the touch-screen to destroy ice with the Balore soul. Annoying at best. And it's even worse in Julius Mode, when you can't use the touch-screen and must whip the ice blocks to break them. Honestly, Konami should've left the bits with the ice blocks out of the game altogether. Your thoughts?

AM: I think the ice blocks thing was okay, but they should have remained confined to one large chunk of the castle, because they just impeded the fast pace of the game. I think it was just a gimmicky use of the touch screen to be quite honest. Though the final banishment using the magical seals was such a blast. I mean you screw up, and you have to fight the boss back down. It challenges you to practice them and become efficient at doing them, and it's a fairly nice close to the boss battles. It's fairly forgiving too, so if you're not a precise tracer, the game still lets you complete the seal. A great feature. What else are we forgetting?

JL: Well, we still haven't touched on the story or the game's lifespan, so let's start off with story. What did you think of the whole plot revolving around the cult trying to create an "anti-God"?

AM: I don't think much of it. I found the plot to be a complete afterthought in Dawn of Sorrow. I do acknowledge that it was decent enough, but there was never at any point in the game where I was anticipating what was going to happen next, nor did I ever care what was happening in the plot. I found that the game does nothing to draw you in, as the story is told through sporadic scripted events, which I really didn't take much away from.

I also found that the multiple endings, enabled a multiple scenarios situtation, so that there was a different overall story for each scenario, or at least an extended story. So it was confusing at times. I do think the story was good, I just believe they did a crack job of portraying it and even writing it. The scripting was rather juvenile at times.

JL: I'll say I was underwhelmed up until the very end, when the story converges into two. One one scenario, Soma becomes evil, and in the other, Dmitrii is somehow alive and has copied all of Soma's powers. This is where the story really got interesting. I loved seeing the two scenarios as they occured, though I will say the "Bad ending" where Soma becomes evil really leads to some... interesting developments, and the rumors of this bit being used as 'canon' by IGA is promising. Overall, I'd say the story was decent.

AM: Canon? Wow, that would make it the "good" ending then wouldn't it? (duh dun dunnn!)

JL: Yes, however I can't help feel that, if the 'Bad' Ending and Julius Mode are made canon, then the entire Aria of Sorrow / Dawn of Sorrow will end up repeating itself in terms of story with the next games... then again, IGA's always full of surprises, so who knows?

AM: Too true. So we're in agreeance then that the story overall isn't the game's best feature, but it's just one part of a multifaceted masterpiece?

JL: Indeed. Can't say it's bad, but it isn't good either.

AM: So what about longevity? What was your total game time again?

JL: For the main game and Hard mode alone I've racked in a total of about 30 hours (so far)... and I've spent about 2 hours on Boss Rush Mode... and about 10 on Julius Mode... heh... I'd say I've played for about 45 hours overall so far.

AM: Wow. You're a hardcore Vania trekker. I think my overall time, for the normal difficulty single player, Julius mode and some of Hard mode, that the overall clock readout was only about 17 hours. Pittence compared to yours, clearly. Though for a handheld, anything over 10 is above average.

JL: Indeed. I must say I've become a bit obsessed with this game. I've obtained all the souls (including the bonus soul for beating Hard Mode) and also have created all the Ultimate weapons.

AM: You're a beast Jose. No one dare cross your path if every there's an online mode in Dawn of Sorrow 2.

JL: Heh. You're too kind.

AM: So overall then, great game?

JL: Great doesn't do the game justice. I'm going to have to say this is a Fantastic game, and easily the best game on the Nintendo DS as of this writing.

AM: Easily. Best on the DS, and I'd go as far as saying best handheld game, period. It's just an overall great experience. An unprecedented amount of depth for a handheld game, and replay value is dished out in a 9 course meal.

JL: Indeed. What numerical score would you give this game?

AM: That's a good question. I mean we raved about the combat, customization, ease of control, intuitive interfacing, and complained about very little. I think overall I was displeased with the story more than you were, and there was some forgettable tracks from the soundtrack, and a few minor qualms here and there. However, I should say those negative aspects are transient. You get over them. They rarely impede the process of exploration, and don't make it any less fun because of it. I think a 9.4 would do just fine.

JL: I'm going to give it a 9.8. While I did have some issues here and there, nothing was too major and overall the game is just a superb experience. I really wasn't expecting it to turn out as excellent as it did, so I'm not ashamed at all to give it that score.

AM: I don't blame you. You did afterall acheive the fabled 100% milestone. Would you concur on the point of being the best handheld game to date?

JL: Actually, though this may be a bit of a surprise to you, I'm not going to give it that title. It's definitely #3 as of right now

AM: *SHOCK*...Just for reader reference, what would you give the top two slots to?

JL: While I can't decide which deserves #1 and which deserves #2, in my mind there's a never-ending battle between two games for the title of best handheld game ever made: Tetris for the original Gameboy and Dragon Warrior 3 for the Gameboy Color, and yes, I would give them each a 10. Fantastic games.

AM: Good choices, but I'd argue that those two are antiquated even by today's standard, but that's for another day.
Looks like the overall score we're giving Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is 9.6. DS fans can't go wrong.

JL: Here's hoping the DS sequel that's being released next year is even better!


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