Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Game Overview

After Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, it's fair to say that the Castlevania series was in a bit of a transitional period. Although the cultural cachet of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had grown in the years since its release, eventually becoming a success both in Japan and Worldwide (although it didn't start that way), the one big success Konami had seen from the series in recent memory had been Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. GBA sequel Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance had underperformed while Aria of Sorrow fared only slightly better, being considered a success in large part because it was built on the Harmony engine and had been cheaper to produce.

What Konami wanted was a hit. Likely they saw how Circle of the Moon had capitalized on the then-new Game Boy Advance to become a must-have launch title after launch. If the same could be done for the Nintendo DS, which had just come out, then potentially lightning could strike twice. With marching orders in place, series producer Koji "IGA" Igarashi set about crafting a next-gen portable title for the series, Aria sequel Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.

In function and design, Dawn of Sorrow (titled Akumajo Dorakyura Sogetsu no Jujika in Japan, translated as "Demon Castle Dracula: Cross of the Blue Moon") feels like a second attempt to pull a success out of Aria's ideas. The story is set one year after Aria, with Soma Cruz, hero of the first game, getting sucked into another adventure where he has to explore a castle, collecting the souls of demons and he charges his way towards the inevitable confrontation with a power evil lurking at the center of the castle. It's functionally the same game, just with improved graphics and touch-screen controls (as it was on the DS).

By this point in the life of the Castlevania series it was becoming apparently that the games appealed more to Western audiences than in Japan (this is also something Nintendo has struggled with in later years with their Metroid series), and more specifically fans of the series without converting in many new audience members. That's why the graphics of this game were changed to a new, more anime-influenced art style (than in the previous few games). Younger audiences were showing a strong taste for anime and Konami wanted to capitalize on that, just to so something to broaden the audience and get more eyes, across both sides of the pond, to play the games.

Its arguable if the anime influence, or the new system, had exactly the desired effect Konami wanted. Although the game did perform better than Aria of Sorrow, it was only in the tens of thousands (instead of approaching the Million Seller status of Circle of the Moon). In its first three months or release the game sold 160,000 units, which was good enough or Konami to later give it a reissue in Japan, and a "Best Seller" release in the U.S. It had performed sufficiently, but maybe not to the grand hopes Konami had.

While the sales may or may not have been there, certainly the game was up to the standards of the series. This was a much improved version of Aria, giving us a strong main adventure (and a fleshed out and thoroughly enjoyable side-adventure that could be unlocked). While not everything about the game has aged well (certainly most hacks of the game cut out the wonky "demon seals" touch controls), this game is still held up as one of the top titles in the Metroidvania section of the series. It's a really solid game most fans of the series love.

And, one final thing it setup for the series: it gave the producers a new version of the engine to work on, which they then carried through into the next two DS adventures, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, cutting down production costs on those titles. If nothing, else, then, the moderate sales plus efficient money management for Dawn of Sorrow would help keep the series running for a few more years under IGA's tenure.