I've always been a Castlevania fan. Last week I had the opportunity to play (and complete) Dawn of sorrow, the sequel to Aria of Sorrow.
Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed. Here's why.
For starters, the trailer shows some very interesting scenes. At 00:15 we see Soma being invaded by the darkness. This was just like the beginning of the second part of the AoS game, where Soma realizes that he *is* Dracula. Then, at 00:35 we see Julius using the Cross ability. Does this mean we'll get Soma and Julius to duel again?
Don't count on it. They don't. This was a major disappointment for me. Come on! The Belmont vs. You battle had become a classical element of Castlevania series: Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance (if my memory doesn't fail me), and finally Aria of Sorrow (IMO with the best battle). So what about now? Well, there's a Soma vs. some hero battle, but you play the other hero and it's not quite as entertaining (you play Alucard). It's just the typical Giant Dracula shoots things at you then teleports kind of battle. Where's the melee, the jumps, the subweapons? I had expected Soma to battle Julius but this time with Julius being more dexter at dodging your attacks (i.e. having a more advanced AI).
But Dawn of Sorrow failed at this - and miserably.
What other disappointments did I have? Secret areas. Yes, there is a secret area of the castle that is only accessible if you manage to get the "good" ending. OK, two areas, but one is the Abyss and we saw something like that already in Aria of Sorrow (the chaos realm). The other area well, it wasn't really a deep area.
Perhaps you haven't noticed, but something really bothered me in Dawn of Sorrow. The areas are in the majority, corridors with at most two levels. This is PLAIN BORING. A very good joke is the abandoned town, there is a part where you have to move in a zigzag-like sequence to reach the other room. But that doesn't add any more fun of it, only more boring gametime.
This wasn't the case with classics like Symphony of the Night - where the Ice caves (I forgot their name) were deep, and if you weren't careful, you could die because of the water (unless you got the Holy Scuba - er, symbol). But this meant that you could explore a second part of it and keep exploring. The most interesting part was when you reached the abandoned mines, and then the catacombs. This was really an exploring adventure.
Something similar happened with Aria of Sorrow. The watery area was big - no, it was HUGE. You would need the giant bat soul to keep exploring some parts of it - what I liked was that a part of this area was like some underwater roman city, and the other was completely wild. The background with the fossils near the waterfalls captured my imagination.
With Dawn of Sorrow the hidden areas were a disappointment. Yes, I know that there's a hidden area that connects the town with the alchemy lab, but that was still disappointing, very boring (more straight passageways).
Seriously, what happened with the level designer? Did he quit or what? When I finished the game I felt so... underwhelmed. Is that it? Is that all you got?
OK, I haven't played the game in the Julius mode, but a very important part for me is the exploration. If there were areas that were only accessible with the Julius mode, I'd love it. But man, the map is so messed up. There were many areas, but all of them short.
I miss the mystery and secrecy atmosphere of Symphony of the Night, in the abandoned mines. There was this huge snake pillar that made me imagine that this part of the castle was built by some ancient egyptian cult adepts or something. What mysteries did those mines kept hidden from outsiders' eyes? I wanted to go to those mines and start exploring them room by room. And don't forget the lizard sounds in the background. It was so captivating. Dawn of Sorrow just... failed.
Another disappointment was the easiness of winning the game. It wasn't as challenging as Aria or Symphony. Oh yes, except for the annoyance of the darn magic seals. I would have preferred the seals to do some magic spells like Alucard had in Symphony (i.e. Soul Steal!). That would have been much more entertaining. The seals are either boring or frustrating, depending on your dexterity with the stylus (or with the mouse if you're using an emulator - I don't recommend it tho).
So, In terms of replayability, I still prefer Aria over Dawn.