Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Before you read:
I’m a massive Castlevania fan, so my experience with the franchise is pretty broad. Same could be said about Metroidvania’s of which I’ve played a lot as well. Before playing this game, I have played every single Metroidvania Castlevania that came before it, which means I have not yet played Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia. I like to go in chronological order, hence why I haven’t yet. Before I started writing this review, I have completed the entire game as Soma (all souls and full map), as well as Julius mode and the boss rush. So basically, I have been through the entire game before making this review. This was played on a Nintendo 3DS, though it makes little difference when playing it on the original Nintendo DS as I didn’t use the circle pad.
The OST of Dawn of Sorrow is really good. I picked just 5 you can listen to while reading this review but trust me, this is only a small portion of the game’s amazing tracks. I like the Demon Castle Pinnacle track the most out of all!
I can never get enough of the Castlevania franchise, at least most of the games. The Metroidvania games especially provide me with a solid experience for a good amount of hours, and have to this point never let me down. It is strange that I’m reviewing Dawn of Sorrow before the prequel Aria of Sorrow first, but it’s the game I’ve played most recently. The last time I played Aria of Sorrow was over two years ago and while I certainly loved that game, I had some criticisms that I can’t write down at this point in time because it’s been so long and with Dawn of Sorrow taking a lot of elements from that game, I can’t accurately review it right now. I will come back to it some day though as I have not finished Julius Mode yet in that game, neither have I played as any of the other characters in every Metroidvania game before it. I always had the opinion that I didn’t want to play ”the same game” back-to-back, though that opinion has slowly been fading away the more I geared towards completion. I did complete Dawn of Sorrow, so I feel I can accurately review this game at least!
When it comes to Metroidvania reviews, I always take a look at the world design first. I feel that–aside from gameplay–they are the most important aspect to a Metroidvania game. I was excited to see what new areas I would visit as the castle named Castlevania is no more, but… this is still pretty much the castle Castlevania, clock tower and more included. The villains of this game couldn’t get their hands on Castlevania so they were like, we’ll create it ourselves! So funnily enough despite this being a different castle, the areas you visit aren’t that much different than what we’re used to. The layout of the castle is not necessarily the best of the franchise, but it’s not bad honestly. I say that because it’s not as open-ended as older Castlevania titles; There are usually only two ways you can go at a time to progress the story, and after doing one way you’re pretty much forced to do the other. Backtracking for secrets has also been minimalized, as you can go to most rooms in an area pretty much straight away with a few exceptions like higher ledges. I should state again that I don’t think it’s a bad castle, especially not with the upgrades you’re able to get and how fast you can end up travelling through it. The Castle does have a weird obsession with puzzles though. There are multiple rooms hidden behind a number lock, and the entire first part of the Demon Guest House is a slider puzzle. I’m assuming the latter has to do with the Nintendo DS and the developers’ desperate need to use that touch screen. That last part is controversial to begin with as many people hated the inclusion of touch screen mechanics. For me personally it’s sort of a whatever introduction, though it could be handled better. It’s rarely used during gameplay and mostly just forcing you to draw a sign after beating a boss. The worst part about this is that if you draw the sign wrong, you’ve apparently activated the nurse trap card and the boss has restored quite a good amount of health. They’re not grateful for it by the way; you are still kill target number 1. I feel it’s an unnecessary- but mostly harmless mechanic, though it can really suck hard during the final boss fights. In my opinion they should’ve gone with the touchscreen in a different direction, like marking areas of interest on the map. Very late on you get the ability to enter mirrors, which are scattered all throughout the castle. I always assumed the mirrors weren’t just simple decorations, but I couldn’t really mark them so I forgot several of their placements. You could argue this is my own fault but hey, I don’t really have a notepad or anything else with me while travelling. Before I move on to the next part, I want to give a special shout-out to the bosses in Dawn of Sorrow. Like its older brother’s boss fights, they are very fun and challenging to fight–at least, the non-human bosses since they were quite pathetic.
Soma, the beast-commanding beast who should not visit the casino.
The other main attraction which makes Dawn of Sorrow and its prequel stand out from the other Metroidvanias is our main protagonist Soma. To avoid spoilers I guess I’ll try not to mention Soma’s real identity, though you should know who he is if you’ve beaten Aria of Sorrow. To make a long story short, Soma is the Kirby of the Castlevania franchise. While his mouth is most likely not used for sucking like a vacuum, he can still absorb the souls from his fallen enemies. This soul can be used as offensive damage, passive boosts or for helpful agility depending on what monster you slay. Just like my earlier shout-out to the bosses, I also feel like this game does an excellent job on the monster variety. The common Castlevania enemies were still there, but also undead pirates, a water demon with a high woman voice whenever you kill it and even a giant slug of all things. New to this game is the ability to actually use duplicate souls for more than just making you stronger by… making you stronger. That sounded better in my head. Anyway, duplicate souls can now be used to fuse with weapons for stronger variants, or be released for additional effects to the usage of that soul. Aria of Sorrow also sort of did the latter, but it’s more apparent in this game. Now this all sounds handy-dandy, but there is a catch. You probably can already guess what I’m talking about by reading the title but yeah, Soma probably has the worst RNG out of any game character… ever. Even with a maxed luck stat (which doesn’t even help I believe) and the Soul Eater Ring, it still took me about half an hour of killing the same enemy over- and over again to get their soul. I did the fastest methods possible for most souls like constantly charging in with the Black Panther soul, but it would still take literal ages. Now in the game’s defence, there are almost no mandatory souls to get aside from the boss souls and a few random monsters. But I am a completionist so obviously I went for all souls. It was torture, torture that I’ll never ever go through again except for when I hack the game or something. Something like this can influence my opinion on a game greatly, and I was ready to stop the game right there after completing Soma’s story. That’s when I remembered…
…That was only half of the game. Sort of. (Postgame spoiler alert)
I haven’t really bothered mentioning the story in the review mostly because I feel it doesn’t make- or break this particular game, and that’s what my reviews are all about after all. What is mention-worthy however, are three characters in particular. The extra mode I’m talking about is Julius mode, with the main protagonist… Julius. Who could have seen that coming? Julius is probably the most bad*ss Belmont of them all, being responsible for Dracula’s final defeat. He controls like most Belmonts, while being just slightly more agile and having access to all items at once. It feels surprisingly satisfying to go through a castle I’ve only been in just one playthrough ago, but playing it as if it was an old-school Castlevania game. But the best part is; Julius isn’t the only playable character. Julius Mode can be summed up as a homage to the classic game Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Joining Julius are also characters from these games: Yoko Belnades who is conveniently a far descendant of Sypha Belnades, and Genya Arikado who is Alucard in disguise. All three characters control differently–and pretty faithfully to their original counterpart–and can be switched between at any given time once you’ve found them in the castle. Furthermore, this mode is actually a continuation of the bad ending of the main game, meaning that the final boss of this mode is a nice surprise as well. And best of all, I don’t have to worry about RNG here! I’m not saying that Julius Mode is better than Soma’s story, but I certainly appreciated that I didn’t have to bother with wasting a lot of hours just to get a few souls.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a worthy sequel to many’s favourite Metroidvania game in the franchise, and a good title in the franchise overall. The castle was good for the most part, but did have some weird puzzle rooms because they had to force touchscreen controls in. I don’t think the touchscreen controls make the game worse; it just doesn’t make it better, which it probably could have if it was used better and didn’t punish you if you failed. It did improve further on the prequel however when it comes to duplicate soul handling, but somehow made it even worse to get these souls to begin with. The RNG in this game easily is the low point for me and managed to kill my enjoyment at times. Fortunately it is still optional so if you’re not a completionist, you probably won’t have too much issue with this. While I was bummed out, one of the best post-game modes in any Castlevania game was waiting around the corner, so I did end the game on a high note before it was able to influence my mindset. With that in mind, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow gets a 4 ”Final Guard I hate you so much with your big health pool and low soul drop rate” out of 5!
If I remember correctly, this means that there are only two Castlevania Metroidvania games that I haven’t played yet! I might go back to earlier games before moving on to the next ones though, not sure on that one. And even if I did, that would probably still take months since it’s unusual for me to play games from the same franchise back-to-back. Besides, I’ve already done two Metroidvania reviews after each other, so let’s mix that up as well. For the coming period, I will probably focus a bit on games that I have played recently and am still able to make an accurate review on. Main reason being that I’m currently playing a translated RPG that is well-known for its length and with me having to work for home at the moment, I don’t get a lot of time to play handheld games. Soo… no idea what the next review will be!
Question of the Review: Do you feel RNG can influence your opinion on a game? And if so, what game did you get a more negative- or positive opinion on thanks to RNG?