Review by Strider Nemesis
"Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is better described as Castlevania: Aria of Joy"
Both Castlevania games released for the GBA before Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance) have lived under the shadow of the series revolutionizing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and this game is no exception.
Some Castlevania fans keep saying that nothing will ever top SOTN, and they might just be right. But that doesn't mean that a Castlevania game that isn't better than SOTN, isn't a good game. In fact, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a great game.
I will start with the game's story. The story is very deep when compared with previous Castlevania games. For starters, you interact with a greater amount of characters than in any of the previous GBA Castlevania games. Also, the story offers quite a few surprises that will keep you interested and wanting to find out more.
The graphics are just great. I just can't believe how much detail was put into them. You can notice it in the beautiful and detailed backgrounds, and the great design of the Castle. Soma's animation is great also. He moves around very nicely and smoothly. This game offers some of the best graphics (maybe in third place, only behind Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age) ever seen on the GBA.
The music can be from mediocre to excellent. It offers a very unbalanced selection of tunes. There's some that are just excellent and very sticky, and there's some that are very forgettable but still, never bad. Overall, the music is good.
The sound effects are a different story. The swords and the enemies dying sound just great. There's also a very impressive amount of voices (which were left in Japanese) in this game, which sound impressively clean.
The controls, which can be re-configured, are very good and feel very natural. By default, you use the D-Pad to move Soma around, the A button to jump and the B button to attack. The L button is used to do Soma's backdash move (which is very useful), and the R button is used to activate blue souls (I will be describing them later). Something worth mentioning is that you might notice that it takes a lot of time to be able to attack again after you attacked once with a certain weapon, but this was left like that purposely for the reason of adding uniqueness to each one of them. One of my complaints about the controls is that Soma's backdash feels sluggish sometimes, but it's something minor. Perhaps my only other complaint is that you can't exit the menu screen with the Start button, and you have to use the B button instead. That really annoyed me, but it wouldn't be fair to say that this actually affects the gameplay, because it certainly doesn't.
Like in SOTN, you are able to use a wide variety of swords, each one of them with its unique sprite, animation, attack effect and strength. You are also able to equip a variety of defensive armor and accessories (which can have several effects on you).
The difficulty of this game is certainly good. Although for some, this game might be too easy, and for others it might be difficult or just average, it offers a good difficulty. It's not too easy but it's also not too hard. This game also offers a Hard Mode, a No Souls mode and a No Use Items mode (which can be accessed after finishing the game). The extra modes will make the game a little bit harder, but not considerably, so don't expect a greater challenge if you found this game to be easy. One thing's for sure, this game offers a greater challenge than HOD, its predecessor.
Where Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow really shines is in its Soul System. The Soul System is some sort of magic system that allows you to use the souls that you've captured from all of the castle's regular enemies and almost all of the bosses. There's three types of souls: Red (use it like a sub-weapon), blue (use it with the R button) and yellow (it has a permanent effect when set). This system is very original and some of the soul effects are just impressive and very interesting. You'll just want to collect all of the souls to see what each one of them does, adding replay value and length to this game. Also, some areas can only be accessed with the proper use of some souls, making this system not feel optional, but necessary.
The greatest complaint about this game is its short length. Yes, this game is short (it has an average of 5-6 hours of gameplay if you want to uncover 100% of the map), but it offers a lot of replay value. For starters, you can play as another character (like in HOD and SOTN), and you can also play a New+ Game which, after finishing the game, lets you take all of the items and most of the souls you obtained in your first game to a new game. This game also offers three different modes of gameplay after finishing it: Hard Mode, No Use Mode and No Souls Mode. Some of the other gameplay modes are just not different enough, though. There's also items that can only be obtained in Hard Mode, and there's a Boss Rush mode in which you can obtain items as rewards. This game also offers multiple endings, and you'll want to see them all. And let's not forget to mention the Soul System, which will make you want to collect every single soul even after finishing the game, boosting the hours of gameplay.
Overall, I will say that this is the best Castlevania released for the GBA up to date. Playing this game is just a wonderful experience. Though it is certainly short, its very high replay value makes up for that. You'll find yourself playing this game again after finishing it, meaning that you won't just forget about it. This game is really worth buying.
Sound Effects: 10/10
Average Time: 7.5/10 (5-6 hours)
Replay Value: 10/10
Rent or Buy: BUY
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/19/03, Updated 06/21/03
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