Review by Falion
"Another year, another great Castlevania game for GBA!"
Well, here we are, roughly three years since the GameBoy Advance was launched alongside 'Castlevania: Circle of the Moon,' which was an excellent entry to the CV series. A year later, the gaming public received 'Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance,' which may not have been quite as good as CotM, but still a more than worthy addition to the series. Now, less than a year after HoD, we have 'Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow,' which, while not making any major advancements in gameplay, is easily the most polished and refined of the GBA Castlevania trilogy. Now on with the review!
While 'Harmony of Dissonance' was in development, Konami stated that they intended to move the Castlevania series away from Dracula, who has always been the series' main antagonist. While HoD ultimately didn't mark a serious departure from the series in terms of plot, 'Aria of Sorrow' easily succeeds at establishing a more original storyline. The game is set in the year 2035. In 1999, Dracula was destroyed and the infamous ''Castlevania'' was sealed in a solar eclipse. The main character, a young man named Soma Cruz, somehow winds up in Drac's castle after visiting a Japanese shrine during a solar eclipse with his friend. Once inside, Soma meets several other people inside the castle and slowly begins to unravel the mysteries of the sinister castle. The story is easily the best of any Castlevania game yet, and as you play you'll be dying to see the next cut-scene and discover new plot developments.
Last year, HoD set a new standard for graphics on the GBA. Amazingly enough, AoS looks even better! The sprites are large and detailed, the backgrounds are crisp, and the animation is extremely fluid. For those who have played the amazing 'Castlevania: Symphony of the Night' for PSX, the graphics and animation in AoS are easily just as impressive.
Not only does AoS have jaw-dropping graphics, but it also boasts a very impressive soundtrack. A bit of quality in the music department had to be sacrificed in order to make room for the graphics, but unlike last year's HoD, the musical composition in AoS is quite good. The sound effects are very impressive as well, especially for a GBA title. Shrieks, crashes, explosions... everything sounds great, and you'll definitely be turning the volume up so you can hear everything.
AoS is yet another non-linear Castlevania title, where the structure is very similar to that of Nintendo's Metroid series. You can basically go wherever you want in Dracula's castle, but some areas require certain items or abilities in order to be accessed. New to the series is the ability for the protagonist to absorb enemies' souls and use them in a variety of different manners. Souls can boost your stats, transform you into a demon, allow you to walk on water, or give you a supernatural weapon. Every enemy has a soul, and all of them must be absorbed in order to attain the lofty goal of 100% completion. The controls are simple and responsive, and never cause any frustration whatsoever. To be quite honest, this is easily the most polished Castlevania game yet as far as gameplay is concerned.
I'll be blunt: the game is short. You'll most likely blast through the game in a day or two, and it may take up to a week to get 100%. Considering how addictive and fun the gameplay is, however, you'll be more than thrilled to have the opportunity to play through on hard mode, or as a hidden character. As for the challenge, the game is not too hard, yet it's not exactly a cakewalk. Most special abilities are guarded by bosses, which, although harder than the bosses in HoD, are still a tad too easy, which can be quite disappointing. Normal enemies provide the bulk of the challenge, but you can always stock up on potions from the shop-keeper if you're having a tough time getting through an area. So overall, it could have been a bit more challenging, but I won't complain too much.
This game came soooo close to a 10 that it's actually quite sad. It's definitely the best of the GBA Castlevania titles so far, but it is hurt slightly by its challenge and length. Still, this is easily one of the very best GBA games available, and is sure to become a classic.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/19/03, Updated 05/19/03
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