Review by LordShibas
"One of the Best Castlevania Games I Have Ever Played"
Anyone who has browsed my reviews on this site may wonder why I play so many mediocre and sub-par games. I do it for two reasons. Number one, while playing mediocre and sub-par games, I often come across games that I really enjoy and I'm glad I took the time to play. Secondly, when I do end up playing games that are really good, it makes it all the more bittersweet and it almost makes it feel like I've earned it. Aria of Sorrow is one of those rare, standout games that I loved from start to finish. I was really sad when it ended, it was that good.
I've been through the other GBA Castlevania games previously, but Aria of Sorrow is just a cut above Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance in almost every way. For those of you that do not know, Aria of Sorrow is the third and final GBA Castlevania release which really culminated into something awe inspiring.
It plays very similar to the other two Castlevania GBA releases, with a few differences. Aria is a side scrolling romp to complete the map of Dracula's castle and stop the threat which plagues humanity.
In order to do this, you will be playing as Soma Cruz, not a Belmont. This was the first thing that I really liked about the game. Soma Cruz is not your typical vampire hunting practitioner. In fact, he's not one at all. He is simply a high school student that gets sucked into the events and ends up being the main character.
There's a little more to it than that, but I really don't want to ruin anything about who Soma Cruz really is for anyone who has not played the game, since his identity is an essential part of the story and quite shocking in itself.
Despite Soma Cruz not being a vampire hunter, he's pretty skilled with a blade, so you will not be using whips in this game. You will be using swords, much like in Symphony of the Night. This is a welcome change in my opinion and makes things feel a little fresh and reminiscent of Symphony of the Night.
The entire game will take place in one castle. Not two castles, not a light and dark castle, and there are no inverted castles either. However, even with one castle, the game still has a decent length and will offer plenty for you to do.
Also gone are the standard sub-weapons from the previous Castlevania games. Aria of Sorrow employs a system of soul collection which is far more diverse and gives you so many more options.
The Soul sub-weapons break down like this. Any enemy that you find in the game, including bosses, possesses a soul which you can capture and add to your collection. Each of these souls breaks down into one of three categories. You will be allowed to equip one of each kind at any given time, and change them at any point in the game.
When you factor in how many enemies are in the average Castlevania game, you can imagine how many souls there are to collect. The soul collecting is a completionist's dream, and can keep you occupied for hours and hours.
Even though it's a very cool system, it has a few flaws. Getting a soul from an enemy does not happen every time you kill one. It's kind of a randomly generated thing which is also determined by your Luck stat. Some of the enemies just flat out don't drop souls, and killing an enemy over and over just to get a soul which could potentially be useless can get old fast.
So it's a cool system at first, and has a lot to offer, but towards the end I just took what I got and didn't really put much effort into killing enemies just for souls. Chances are you will find a few you like and stick with them.
Other than that, it's a typical Castlevania game. You will be searching for upgrades to allow you to access new areas, uncovering secrets, and trying to level up your character. There is also a shop which you can access to sell off excess junk and buy a plethora of useful goods and equipment.
This is without a doubt the finest looking GBA game I have ever laid eyes on. The graphical presentation is pretentious to say the least, and some of the bosses will fill the entire screen. Aria of Sorrow has smooth animations, lots of enemies on screen at once, and little to no slow down throughout the entire game.
Some of the bosses look fantastic, and fans of the series will be glad to know that Konami chose to exacerbate the boss fights and make them much more difficult than the easy as pie bosses from Harmony of Dissonance.
The backgrounds in the different areas may not be as distinct as the previous games, but some of them have huge statues in the back and flowing waterfalls, which will really catch your eye.
So for those of you wanting a great looking GBA Castlevania game, prepare to be cleansed.
Sounds and Music 8/10
The music and sound effects are very similar to those found in Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance. The music impresses for a portable Castlevania game, but pales in comparison to some of the later RPG releases for the GBA. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, just not quite up to Castlevania standards IMO.
Wait, a 9 out of 10 for a Castlevania story? You are indeed correct, Aria of Sorrow has the finest story I have ever seen in a Castlevania game. It's not as deep as standard RPG stories, but for a Castlevania game, it's dynamite.
Finding out who Soma Cruz really is will be quite shocking, and the supporting characters do a decent job of keeping things interesting. I also feel the need to say that there are two endings to this game, and the best ending is worlds better than the lesser ending. There are some stipulations to get the best ending, and there is no indication of how to get it given in the game, just a few hints that are pretty vague.
So I urge you, if you are playing this game, look at a faq, get a strategy guide, whatever it takes, but you simply must see the best ending of this game. It makes the game that much better. It would be along the same lines of not telling someone about the inverted castle in Symphony of the Night.
I'm sure everyone knows what to expect from Castlevania gameplay at this point in their gaming lives, so I'll just say that Aria of Sorrow does not do much to break the mold of the standard Castlevania gameplay. However, I find it to be a good thing, since Castlevania gameplay is so solid, fun, and addicting.
The main thing that is new is the soul system, which is good, but can grate on you after a while. My advice is to not get too wrapped up in the soul searching unless you really, really like it.
Longevity and Re-Playability 8/10
Well it's a Castlevania game, so there is no shortage of stuff to do or areas to discover. I was able to complete the game in a little under twelve hours at level 59 and 95.1% of the castle uncovered. I also missed an entire area which I could not figure out how to get to.
The soul system can keep you busy for a long time, but slaying the same monsters over and over can get old, so the replay value is there, it just depends on how much it interests you. There is also a Boss Rush mode which can be unlocked and an option to play as a hidden character on your second play through.
Aria of Sorrow is one of the finest GBA games I have ever played, and is now my second favorite Castlevania game of all time, next to Symphony of the Night. I don't care if you don't like portable systems, I don't care if the GBA is too old for you to play, if you like the Castlevania series at all, you must play this game. It's a sublime experience from beginning to end, and is an essential part of Castlevania history.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/25/08, Updated 06/03/09
Game Release: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (US, 05/06/03)
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