Castlevania Dawn (5)

Genre: Metroidvania
Year: 2005
Developed by: Konami
Published by: Konami
Platforms: DS
Feeling Like: A New Day

This was the other game I played during a somber, yet exciting family trip to England to say goodbye to Granny Skey. Both are heavily ingrained with that visit, and tied to each other. They’re even too similar to call one a sequel and one a prequel. They both involve 2-dimensional exploration into the horrific unknown. The fundamentals of Metroidvania guided me through castles, mansions and other gothic inspired architecture as I collect new abilities, scour the corners for treasure and fell monstrosities that should be reserved for something much bigger than Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. But Konami wasn’t concerned about what the Nintendo DS couldn’t do, but what it could. This is a stellar example of what the little hand-held that could, could do.

I had missed out on Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, so I was a little lost about who Soma Cruz was, or why a mysterious woman appears to try and kill me, or why I have control over souls, or anything really. Anime cutscenes were just something I would have to get used to, and normally I’m fine with with everything anime, it’s just a little jarring to see in a Castlevania game. Regardless, it doesn’t take long to get going and before long, I was in a snowy courtyard murdering giant evil trees and flying things that wanted to eat my face. This was familiar.

Castlevania Dawn (3)
Blood, guts, weapons and beautiful backgrounds. Castlevania in a nutshell.

It’s easy enough to ignore the story, but I don’t like doing so. I hate jumping into a franchise, or plot, halfway through. I’ve had so many incredible moments reading literature, or watching movies in specific orders that do anything other than experience it in a specific sequential order seems alien to me. It reduces the enjoyment of your current product, it builds up a natural progression and payoffs become bigger payoffs this way. Why do anything else? I didn’t necessarily feel cheated, but I also was annoyed that all these characters were hopping in and out that I SHOULD have known. Yoko? Hammer? Who the…? Bah.

Still, Metroidvanias are my jam, through and through. I love making mental notes to come back to a certain area, I love collecting new abilities, I love backtracking and solving a room I previously couldn’t, I love the straightforward nature of the map and, despite the labyrinthine nature of the areas, I find myself getting lost far less frequent than I do in 3D games.

Castlevania Dawn (4)
Konami knows what Castlevania is all about – lightning spears and pissed off Gargoyles

Aside from some nonsense at the end of the game regarding equipping a useless item to get the good ending, I beat Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow without a walkthrough and I always give myself a pat on the back when I accomplish this. True, it’s not a difficult game, but I’m under no self-delusion when it comes to my abilities. Any beaten game is a victory, especially one that is as satisfying as this one. The forced touch-screen mini-puzzle at the end of boss fights was moronic, but that’s about the only misstep I can recall.

Bosses really do provide an elevated sense of danger, and greater satisfaction upon defeating them. Primarily, the design of them is bordering on disgusting. They’ll have their ribcages showing, or visually suffering to the point where you’ll just want the fight to be over so you can relax and get back to the Manticores and Witches.

Castlevania Dawn (2)
The 2.5 dimensional effect is used extremely effectively during these fights.

I could go on and on. How the DS lends itself so incredibly well to Metroidvanias, since the map is ALWAYS present. It’s the top screen! All the time! How convenient is that? The music is stellar, and the classic Castlevania music is a banger. It never fails to pump me up, freak me out and nudge me forward, one screen at a time.

The details are flooding back to me – how Soma’s purple shadow trails behind him every stpe of the way. How upgrading weapons allows you to choose which style you want to fight with, rather than just the weapon with the strongest stats. How the castle crumbling into the ocean upon beating the end boss is an incredible visual. How all the darkness, demons and drawbacks only fuel further exploration. It’s a terrific little game, and I had a terrific time playing it.

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