Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is the first version of Castlevania for Nintendo DS. It is also the direct sequal of the last Game Boy Advance Castlevania, Aria of Sorrow. You once again play the role of Soma Cruz, the rebirth of Dracula - including his dark powers. In Aria of Sorrow, you, with the help of your friends, manage to resist the call to become the new dark lord. One year later, you and your friend Mina are talking about old times (what you experienced during Aria) and you find yourself confronted by a cult leader Celia. She eggs you on to bring you to her castle, where she promises to defeat you and bring up another dark lord. It is there you start your adventure, looking for Celia, and hoping to defeat her and the other dark lord candidates she wishes to replace you with.

So what is this game like?

This game is a 2D action/adventure platform game with RPG elements in it. In a lot of ways it is similar to the often mentioned GBA prequel, Aria of Sorrow. Feel free to refer to that review for a bit more background. Soma also keeps his ability to absorb souls, as well as a new feature where you can use those souls to improve your weapons by adding souls to them. Once forged, a soul in a weapon cannot be reclaimed. There are quite a few different kinds of weapons, including knives, swords, chains, axes, maces, spears, brass knuckles, and even a handgun or two. Almost all of the powerful weapons require soul-forging, so if you like to collect souls, you will need to get more than one of some. There are many magical powers you can gain access to. There are 113 different souls available to collect, and each one gives Soma a specific power. Many of these are called Bullet souls which give you a specific attack power, similar to daggers, holy water, axe throws, etc. from other Castlevania games. Other souls are Guardian souls which allow you to transform into something else, gain defensive or offensive power, or other effects that take up magic points as long as they are active. Enchant souls have enhancing effects like attribute bonuses, etc. Ability souls are the last type of soul, and when they are given to you Soma is given new abilities, like double jump, walk in water, etc. You can have one of each type of soul (except Ability souls, which can be always on) active at a time. There is a particularly useful new ability in this game. One ability soul is Doppelganger, and once received, you can switch between two different equipment and soul presets at the press of a button (X). It\'s really a fantastic feature that makes good use of extra buttons on the Nintendo DS. Soul harvesting (which is technically somewhat optional) plays an important part in this game. Soma gains new powers by gaining new souls; there is no other way. Many bosses give you a soul whenever you beat them, while most enemies give you theirs randomly whenever they are defeated. There are several items which help increase your chance of getting a soul upon killing a creature, including raising your luck which always makes a difference. Some harvesting is needed in order to get the best ending, the best weapons, and even to proceed at all in a few spots. Without a few in particular, you can miss important parts of the game. Even still, most of the time as you play you will randomly get some without too much effort; but if you put in the extra effort it really pays off. That said, you cannot get the final, or \'best\' ending without having harvested a few specific ones and used them at the right place. The castle houses a fairly large map with a few secret areas. It is smaller than Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow from what I can tell. Movement in this game is incredibly fluid. The first time I saw this game, after recently having played Aria, my jaw dropped at the fluid animation. The controls are incredibly tight and respond exactly as you would expect them to. If you beat the game with the best ending, there is also a really nice New Game+ mode where you can restart the game, in a new Hard mode if you wish, and you keep all of your equipment and non-plotline souls, though you restart at level 1 (which is not hard to regain with certain experience-granting items.) You can also unlock a Boss Rush mode where you can race through all of the bosses of the game, as well as a Julius mode where you can play as a Whip wielding hero, as well as Yoko and Alucard, which are picked up later. They can be switched out at any time. It\'s a well done mode; they even remixed some of the music in Julius mode! There are no soul or item powers in this mode.

How are the Graphics?

The graphics in this game are incredibly fluid. Though the graphics are basically 2D, there is an incredible amount of depth. Some level areas have animated backgrounds, others have scrolling, moving background areas. Others pump with life, darkness, cloudy fog-like area, or other environmental arenas. It\'s hard to overstate how smoothly it all comes together. The color pallete is also fairly dark, which looks good for a Castlevania game. Though it looks great in a regular DS, I was surprised how much more color depth there is on a DS Lite. Some of the darker areas really come to life, and the background details that are sometimes hard to notice really come to life. The animation is extremely fluid, and the monster graphics are quite an upgrade from the Game Boy Advance as well. Some monsters are as large as the screen, and still move very smoothly. Others take advantage of the pseudo-3D modes to make some very neat looking enemy effects. The weapons also each look noticeably different from each other, and have unique animations. The characters are also noticably larger than the Game Boy Advance versions. The larger screen really pays off here. Also the action takes place on the bottom screen, and the top screen is used for either a constant map (handy!) or it shows you your current experience points, gold, the last enemy you hit, and some stats about it including how many souls of that creature you have. Though it may not especially take advantage of the touch screen capability for most of the game (there are token moments it uses it) for the most part you find yourself really wishing that you had a second screen for a map and such on other games. For a 2D action platform game, you really could not want a whole lot more graphically.

How is the Sound and Music?

This is another area where this game does very well. Compared to the Game Boy Advance games, the music and sound effects sound incredibly bright and vibrant, in part thanks to the improved sound quality of the Nintendo DS. The sound effects work quite well and are very fitting, and the music is really good as well. I often find myself humming the tunes in between game sessions. It adds an appropriate atmosphere to each area of the game. The sound effects are really great. There are occasional voices as well as clear, obvious weapon sounds that completely fit what they represent. Great job, here.

How appropriate is this game for Christians?

This is the area where this game falls flat, I\'m afraid. The setting in 2036, a year after Soma avoids becoming the dark lord and defeats evil using his dark powers in Aria of Sorrow. The cult which confronts you espouses a \'balance\' of forces, states that in order for there to be an ultimate good, God, there has to be an ultimate evil, the dark lord Dracula or equivalent. The game does eventually confirm the sentiments of this cult leader. They intend to bring about a new dark lord, using one of two other candidates who they hope will become the dark lord instead of you once they eliminate you. Since they fail in eliminating you, they plot to turn you instead. As you go through the game, if you do not equip a certain item at a certain place, you do become the dark lord yourself. You fight many nasty enemies, including lots of undead including Skeletons, Ghosts, Zombies, and other things of that nature. There are also Devils, Demons, Were-Wolfs, Harpies, Bats, and other things of this type. There are also a few exotic monsters like Golems, Succubus, and others. Though Castlevania generally has dark things around, and you are fighting against them, it is still inundated with them. There is also summoning which you can perform, and you can have familiars fight for you, which is another occult-like concept. There are also some questionable symbols, including a Hexagram, though no Pentagrams, thankfully. Some enemies which are female (Succubus, Lilith, Alura Une, Harpies, and others) are almost certainly not clothed, and, unlike the prequel Aria of Sorrow, this screen is of a much higher resolution and more detailed. They took the graphics to the next level in many ways, and they certainly did not exclude the naked females. While before there were just \'curves\', this time around there are breast outlines, as well as \'jiggling\'. Let\'s just say that it went way too far here. It may be rated Teen.. but it has definitely pushed it too far as far as I am concerned. I am very disappointed with what I saw, and I am seriously considering no longer playing future entries in this series, which is a real shame, since I enjoy the game style so much. The underlying theme is both good and bad. Soma has many dark powers. The game asserts that though the powers are dark in nature, it is the heart of the wielder who decides whether or not the powers will be used for evil. Soma is still in relatively constant conflict, though he is fairly settled on having overcome the evil inside. This is a good thing. It\'s still somewhat troubling that he can still fall, and that the mystical prospects of these other \'candidates\' could bring about a dark lord through another means - even though Soma has Dracula\'s soul. Though itis good that he stays true to himself and uses his powers for good, we know that evil can only truely be defeated by good. It\'s a tough balance, and it\'s difficult to say how big of a deal this really is, but it\'s certainly something to consider carefully. There was perhaps one or two uses of the word \'d*mn\' or similar in the game. Appropriateness Breakdown: Violence/Blood/Gore: Killing non-human, fictional beings (-3.5 pts) Small Red Blotches or Drops = (-1 pt) No Gore. Foul Language/Sexual Dialogue: Swear Words Acceptable for Prime Time TV are used Once or Twice (-3 pts) No Sexual Dialogue or Innuendo. Nudity/Sexual Content: Full Frontal Nudity (-5 pts) Given the \'jiggles\', I am going to deduct an additional 3 points here. (-3 pts) No Sexual Content. Occult/Supernatural Game takes place in an environment that is filled with major occult references. (-5 pts) Borderline magic (hard to tell if occult) is used by player. (-3.5 pts) Cultural/Moral/Ethical The only issue here is that you decide to ignore the pleading of some of the other characters (like Arikado) and go behind their back to get information to find the cult\'s base. The Storyline rejects authority figures. (-2 pts) Though some of the problems are not too surprising given the setting and all, it doesn\'t excuse the problems it does have with appropriateness for Christians. The nudity problems cross the line in my opinion, or at least toy with it in ways that are far worse than necessary. This could have easily been avoided and was not. Are bikini tops that hard to draw? Think very, very carefully before getting this game.

Overall & Conclusion

This is a truly excellently well made game that is a blast to play, and yet it has serious flaws. The dark setting may be very off-putting for some, and they should avoid this game outright. Others who are comfortable with the dark setting should still think twice about this as the content really pushes the envelope, and then some. Though the ESRB has rated it Teen, I really think it is more appropriate for Mature adults who have thought through whether or not the content will cause them to stumble. If not, the game play is excellent.

Appropriateness Score: Violence 5.5/10 Language 7/10 Sexual Content/Nudity 2/10 Occult/Supernatural 1.5/10 Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8/10 Appropriateness Total: 24/50 Game Score: Game Play 20/20 Graphics 10/10 Sound/Music 10/10 Stability/Polish 5/5 Controls/Interface 5/5 Game Score Total: 50/50

Overall: 74/100

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