On our tour of the sprawling Gothic structure that is Castlevania we’ve already peered through the window into Netflix’s TV series and fought our way through the halls of Circle of the Moon, and it now time to climb the peaks with Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Dawn of Sorrow was an early release on the original Nintendo DS, and follows the weird tendency for DS games to have acronyms that spell DS. Like other early DS games it also makes gratuitous use of the touch screen. The ‘Magic Seal’ system simply required the player to draw a pattern after defeating enemies to seal them away. It might feel a little unnecessary, but its also a nice little touch that doesn’t intrude too much into the game.
Dawn of Sorrow continues to ‘Metroidvania’ game-play that made the previous few games so popular but with additional refinements. The game is a follow up to the Gameboy Advance game, which added the ‘tactical soul’ system to the series and established the core cast of characters. The tactical soul system gave players a chance to receive a monster’s soul after defeating them, making for a flexible system of customisation and power-ups, as well as adding an extra incentive to defeat enemies. The main character is a pale teen named Soma Cruz, with a surprisingly complex and compelling story for a Castlevania game (for a change, you don’t need to kill Dracula - he’s already dead). Appropriately the game adopted a much less Gothic and far more anime art style for its characters, as can be seen in the E3 trailer.
The biggest weaknesses of Dawn of Sorrow are the result of its position as a sequel. Given that the game had a new look, on a new console, the fact it is a direct continuation of the last GBA game, Aria of Sorrow, can be a little off-putting. This is particularly true now, where Aria of Sorrow is much harder to find on the second hand market, and commands a much higher price than the sequel. Its a shame as between the two titles they boast some of the most engaging plot lines and characters that the series has had to date.
If you’re looking for one of the last great Castlevania games then most people would agree they’re found on the original DS. Afterwards the series loses its way somewhat, but the DS era saw two more entries that were both highly regarded (though Soma Cruz did not return). Any of the DS games are great entries, but the two self-contained entries build off the strengths of Dawn of Sorrow without the backstory.