Review by Bkstunt_31
"IGA gets it right and gives us the best Game Boy Advance Castlevania!"
Have you ever sat back and thought to yourself "How many times have I killed Dracula"? If you're a lifelong Castlevania fan like me, it has to be a few dozen times, right? And honestly, the entire premise behind Dracula and the Belmont Clan is just BUILT for repetition. Dracula comes back at least once every 100 years after all, and gamers are used to killing him with a Belmont. Symphony of the Night (and to a lesser extent, Bloodlines) really changed the series by introducing the "mertoridvania" feature (exploring the castle room by room) and making it common for people other than a Belmont to kill Dracula.
Aria of Sorrow is no different, as it takes after Symphony of the Night strongly by giving you a metroidvania type game and a non-Belmont protagonist. Fans of the series have no use for this review: if you like the metroidvania type of Castlevania games, your going to like Aria of Sorrow. If your on the fence though, here's my thoughts on Aria of Sorrow.
Something out of the ordinary...
The story places you in the shoes of Soma Cruz, a high school exchange student studying abroad in Japan. The first solar eclipse of the 21st century is about to take place above Japan (In the year 2035), and so Soma heads to the nearby Hakuba Shrine to witness it with his childhood friend Mina (Mina Hakuba, the daughter of the shrine's caretaker). However, once he enters the shrine gate he blacks out... He is awakened later by Mina at an unknown location, and is told by a mysterious man in black named Genya Arikado that he is IN Dracula's Castle, Castlevania, which is currently located INSIDE of the solar eclipse.
Before Soma has time to question this admittedly outrageous claim, monsters attack! In one move, Genya kills all of the monsters except one, and to protect Mina, Soma is forced to destroy the monster. But by doing so, Soma actually ABSORBS the monster's SOUL! Upon learning of his new-found power (the power of "Domination" which allows him to absorb and use monster's souls), Genya tells Soma that to LEAVE the eclipse and save Mina (who had passed out after the attack) he will need to make his way to the Master's Chambers at the top of the castle. With Mina safe (thanks to Genya), Soma heads through the front door of the castle on an adventure to learn about his powers and to find a way back home.
The beginning of the game doesn't have a whole lot of back-story (very little, actually), but as Soma explores the castle he'll meet several other people who were also caught up in the eclipse, many of who play very important roles in the story that unfolds. Without spoiling anything, the story is essentially a story of self-discovery for Soma, combined with some MAJOR history revelations for the Castlevania series as a whole. IMPORTANT things have unfolded in the Castlevania world before Aria of Sorrow takes place, which you'll learn of through the people that you meet whilst playing Aria of Sorrow. The sheer fact that this game adds so many important events to the series and was bold enough to set the game so far forwards in the future (2035) was a brilliant move by Konami and Iga, and adds a LOT of lore to the series. The game could still use more background information, but the fact that Castlevania fans and Castlevania forums STILL talk about the series lore that came from this game is a testament to how well done it was...
Game Play: 9/10
Variety is the spice of life.
The first two Game Boy Advance Castlevania games just straight-up copied how Castlevania: Symphony of the Night PLAYED but gave you whip-users (who couldn't swap our their weapons) to use. Soma is a MUCH more versatile fighter and so you can find and equip A TON of different weapons. You can find and use swords (short swords, great swords, katanas), spears, hammers, fist weapons, and even some pistols! You'll also equip different types of armor and accessories as well. You can find many items just plain LAYING AROUND the castle, but most of the rarer items are either dropped by enemies or sold in the games shop. Yes, the game has a shop where you can spend the money you find lying around the castle... cause that makes sense, right!?
The biggest (and coolest) change to the game play is the soul system. I mentioned earlier that Soma can ABSORB enemy souls, but what he DOES with them is awesome. Aria of Sorrow lets you absorb the soul of EVERY SINGLE ENEMY in the game EXCEPT two bosses (who are humans, and Konami can't let you absorb HUMAN souls, right!?). These souls are all divided into four categories: Bullet Souls (red souls), Guardian Souls (blue souls), Attribute Souls (yellow souls), and Ability Souls (grey souls). Almost all ability souls are rationed out to you as you play, since your mobility limitations are often used to limit how much of the castle you can explore. Red souls function exactly like sub-weapons, but there are a TON of them in the game, giving you a TON of ranged attack options. Blue souls often give you an effect-over-time ability (such as summoning a familiar) while yellow souls often just buff up a stat of your choice.
Speaking of stats, Aria of Sorrow is really an action-RPG at heart. Soma has a ton of stats (including strength, defense, intelligence, and luck to name a few), all of which do SOMETHING. The core of the game play come from exploring the castle room by room, killing monsters on your way to the boss fights, which is EXTREMELY entertaining in and of itself, but the real fun in the game comes from the sheer amount of souls and weapons you can collect and use while playing. The sheer variety is a refreshing change of pace after the previous Game Boy Advance Castlevania games, plus this game actually has some CHALLENGE to it unlike Harmony of Dissonance. Actually GETTING all of the souls is a completion nightmare and is tedious as all get out (and also tends to buff you up and take away some of the challenge of the game), and may very well be the ONLY real negative thing I can think about the game play. Needless to say, if you've enjoyed ANY of the previous "metroidvania" games before you will enjoy Aria of Sorrow.
What a beautiful night to have a curse...
Ayami Kojima returns from Symphony of the Night and Harmony of Dissonance as the star artist on the project and I have to say that I STILL love her work. Just look at the box art for Aria of sorrow, it's a masterpiece! The character and enemy designs are all very well done as well, all done very artistically with a lot of detail and smooth animations. Even though the game is SET in 2035, little about Castlevania itself has changed. You'll explore around eight separate and distinct sections of the Castle, ranging from the Chapel to the Underground Reservoir as well as the standard Clock Tower. These areas are designed well and have a fair amount of detail, but the developer often re-uses entire rooms. The backgrounds are always well done (for the most part, I though one area was VERY bland), but once you go through a second or third room in an area that looks the same you'll start to notice them. Overall, this is a good looking game, with a TON of souls, art, and awesome animations. It may have a bit of background and room repetition, but overall you'll like the look of this game.
Solid like a rock.
Like other games in the series, each area you'll explore has its own background music on loop. There's also tracks for bosses, characters, and other important areas or screens (like the name selection screen or opening credits). All in all, there's 28 tracks of music in the game (the game has a sound mode you can unlock after beating it). The quality of the music is great, which is pretty standard for a Castlevania game. Most of the area tracks are pretty smooth, catchy, and easy to listen to. The opening and closing tracks are classic Castlevania, but I just couldn't get into most of the boss battle tracks... I don't know, they got your attention like any good boss track should, but they were too abrupt and just not my cup of tea. Not all boss tracks are like that though, just the generic ones. Some of the ending boss fights have their own special tracks... like "Heart of Fire", which is a GREAT track (seriously, go YouTube it). Despite 1-2 tracks not being my cup of tea, this soundtrack as a whole is great. The game also has plenty of audio clips of all of the characters. They are short as the characters don't ever say too much, but they add a lot to the game.
Get your money's worth...
Aria of Sorrow has pretty good re-playability. After you beat the game (which probably won't take you TOO long, but 2-3 good long afternoons at least) you can choose to play through a variety of modes. There's a new game plus mode, a hard mode, and modes that disable the use of items OR souls. Sure, running through the game again doesn't add a WHOLE lot of newness, but you can actually find new items in hard mode. You also have the standard boss-rush mode where you can battle through all of the games bosses in order and gain prizes based on your times, as well as the sound mode to listen to all of the games audio. The new game plus mode in particular is an excellent feature, as unless you are a SERIOUS collection freak, you'll probably end up NOT getting every soul in the game in one play-through. There are a LOT of souls to collect after all, and gathering them all is a blast, but it CAN get quite mind-numbing if you let it...
However the best new mode in the game (which I won't name) is a mode that lets you play through the entire game as a NEW character, which is always entertaining. The new character has their own set of moves and skill set, but is very much limited to what they can do, especially when compared to Soma. All of these modes are WAY better than nothing, of course, and shows the developers care about getting you more bang for your buck.
In the end, Aria of Sorrow is a welcome entry to the series. The lore and story it brings is downright interesting, and I'd personally love to see this game's prequel(s?) made into a game someday (and so would a ton of other fans). The game play is addictive as ever and the game looks GOOD. The music is solid, the story is engaging, and there's plenty of things to collect and good re-playability in general. Overall this is the BEST Castlevania game on the Game Boy Advance, and if you haven't played it yet there's NO time like the present. Have fun and keep playing.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/13/12
Game Release: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (US, 05/06/03)
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