Review by mayonaiserhino
"The Very Best of the Castletroids"
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is not simply another Symphony of the Night rehash. In some respects, it actually far exceeds it's predecessor.
This is just about as good as it gets on GBA. The backgrounds and level designs are just superb. The castle is laid out much like SotN. But, it feels more thorough and developed. Although I wish for some prerequisite scenes that take place outside Castlevania, the castle itself is more than sufficient. The arena layout his both highly detailed and challenging. There are some little aspects on the game that go a long way. For instance, there are wrecking balls that Soma must hit back and forth in order to demolish a crumbling wall. The ballroom with the reflecting mirrors is stunning, the floating garden is gorgeous, and Soma Cruz is just about the most detailed sprite ever seen in a 2D game. He even exceeds Alucard! Many of the bosses are artfully displayed. The Headhunter and her lair sticks out in my mind as absolutely awe-inspiring.
During many moments, the music is very well orchestrated. I've found myself humming tunes during lectures and whatnot. But, it's not completely solid. Much of the music is a bit forgetttable. Certainly, it doesn't hold a candle to Simon's Quest, Symphony of the Night, and Legacy of Darkness in this category. Yet, ''Purification,'' the Castle Corridor theme, and the epilogue that remixes ''Bloody Tears'' are all excellent. Conversely, the forbidden corridor and underground resevior themes are a bit unpolished. Slow tempo scores in Castlevania are more than welcome, but some of these really don't go anywhere and lack energy and emotion. Many of the soundbites are a little silly. Although, the Japanese voice bits from Graham during his battle are highly entertaining (you can take that statement however you like).
Aria of Sorrow takes place during a solar eclipse in the year 2035. Eventually, the sub-characters in the game reveal to Soma that the total dissolution of Dracula took place in 1999, 36 years prior by the hands of Julius Belmont. Mina is Soma's love interest and his main drive for escaping Castlevania. Genya Arikado is a mysterious guide who looks strikingly like a main character in Symphony of the Night. According to Genya, someone is attempting to gain Dracula's dark powers. Soma must reach the throne room before this charismatic yet eerily determined man does. This is where the game begins. I don't want to spoil anyone because it is a superb storyline. The endings are essential to relishing in the gull experience of this game.
This is where Aria of Sorrow shines. The ability to choose whether to use a spear, a sword, an axe, a whip-sword, mach fists, etc., is a good addition. It is sort of the same system as in SOTN. Except in that game, I found myself picking up all these unnecessary weapons that I really had no need for. In AoS, the weapons you find become progressively better as you move through the level except that there are obviously some types of weapons you'd rather use than others.
The soul system is probably the most innovative system to come from the Castlevania series. It is much more engrossing than the secondary systems in Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance. I don't know how I'm going to cope with not having some of these abilities in other Castlevania titles (such as the ability to levitate, have a revolving sphere of flames, and the ability to take HP from enemies).
The replay value in this game is spectacular. Of course, I'd expect so with a game that is only marginally harder than SotN. It's true, AoS is relatively easy...but only if you're going through the motions to get the wimpy ending. The three alternate ending are definitely worth experiencing. The last two endings add quite a bit of gameplay onto the game including two more bosses and a whole extra area (Chaos Realm). Finding 100% of all the souls and completing 100% of the map are also pretty hard to do. The replay value in Aria of Sorrow has no equal in the series except for Legacy of Darkness.
Aria of Sorrow ranks as #3 in my favorite Castlevania games...and I've played all the main games in the series except Bloodlines and Rondo of Blood (which I hear is supposed to be the best). Unfortunately, I feel that Aria of Sorrow may be the final Castletroid. Although I'm upset about this, AoS embodies the phrase ''going out on top.'' Hopefully, we'll soon get a completely unique and groundbreaking Castlevania. My guess is that it will revolve around Julius Belmont and his complete destruction of Dracula in 1999 (as was revealed in Aria). 2D or 3D doesn't really matter. All that matters is that it is as entertaining and engrossing for me as Aria of Sorrow was.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/08/03
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