Review by Shadow Edge

"The closest CV game to SotN you'll ever get!"

The Castlevania series of Konami, dating back to 1986, has already had a portion in every gamer's hearts. Many gamers have already witnessed the Belmont clan's efforts into putting Dracula and his castle to an end, but Dracula always resurrects in one way or another for the sake of the people who love this game. We can't have that story go again and again in CV sequels. And that's what Konami does with tries with Aria of Sorrow, which proves to be quite impressive and nearly as addictive as Symphony of the Night.

Konami has had already attempts in entering the handheld gaming industry with Castlevania games. The first attempt was Circle of the Moon. It had excellent sounds, gameplay and proves to be quite challenging. However, the downside was the graphics. True, it's fairly detailed, but it's very hard, if not near impossible, to find the right place to play this game. And it's all because of the game's darkness... literally.

Second in line was Harmony of Dissonance, which was a disaster. Sales didn't go as high as CotM had. HoD is like the opposite of CotM: very detailed graphics, but suffers in sounds very badly. So bad you might not even distinguish NES CVs from HoD. The graphics, though very well detailed, lacks the smoothness of animation and right proportion. Enemies are either kinda big or small.

Learning from its mistakes, Konami releases Aria of Sorrow, which is a big hit, very close to one of Konami's best selling CV game Symphony of the Night. And I'm here to provide the good and the bad about the game, so read on.

Graphics: 8.5/10

The graphics in the game are very well detailed. It's not blotchy and blurry, but crisp and sharp. The animation doesn't suffer either. Sprites move more smoothly due to more layers of sprite animation. The game physics is very similar to SotN, which makes the game easier. There's no drag or stopping when you jump, attack, etc. etc..

The backgrounds are also well done, though some places may suffer a bit by being a little foggy. But aside from that, the graphics are quite astounding for a GBA game.

Gameplay: 9/10

The meat of the game. Gameplay is similar to SotN because you don't use the traditional whip, but you can use and equip weapons you can pick up or buy from the shop. This time, Konami introduces the Soul System. Soma Cruz (the main character) can use his enemies' powers by killing monsters. When lucky, the soul of the monster is released for Soma to absorb, therefore being able to use it using MP. Souls are grouped into Red, Blue, Yellow and Green. Red souls are "bullet souls", which is like your subweapons. Soma can throw spears, create blade vortex, shoot fireballs and many more at the cost of a certain MP when used.. Blue souls are "activate souls". These souls, when activated, provides support for Soma such as reduced falling speed, summon familiars and even transform! However, when a blue soul is activated your MP continuously decreases. Yellow souls are the "power-up souls". Most of the yellow souls give Soma status bonuses like increased STR or CON. Some yellow souls are more interesting, like draining attacks, water walking or underwater breathing. Green souls are the "ability souls", which gives Soma new abilities like back dash and double jump. Green and yellow souls don't require MP, by the way.

Playing AoS is fun. You have a whole gigantic castle to explore, over 100 monsters to slay and get souls from, lots of weapons hidden throughout the castle and boss battles to beat. The game isn't too hard nor too easy. Any experienced CV gamer would not find this game too difficult. You will also find the traditional parts of the castle like the zombie corridor, mermen, clock tower and chapel. Newbie or probie, any gamer who picks this game off the shelf is in for a ride.

If you feel lazy about soul collecting you can trade souls with your friends (lol, that sounds funny) with the Soul Trade. So less work for you, that is, if your friend says "yes".

Story: 8.7/10

The story is different from other CV games. Unlike other CV games where you play Belmont and kill Dracula, the main objective of Soma is to find a way out of the castle. The story goes like this: In the year 2035, Soma (highschool exchange student and the hero) and Mina (childhood friend) were climbing the Hakuba Shrine to witness the first full solar eclipse of the twenty-first century. However, they were somehow transported into Dracula's castle. Arikado, a mysterious man, tells them that they are inside Dracula's castle inside the eclipse, and tells Soma to go to the Master's Chamber to find out more about the castle and of course, to escape. You'll meet more characters like J (excorcist with amnesia), Yoko Belnades (works for the church) and many more.

Now I can't explain here how AoS' story is different from other CVs. You'll find out when you buy the game and get to the Master's Chamber. Trust me, it's a big twist.

Sounds: 10/10

The sounds.... I can't find a word good enough to describe it... it's excellent! Michiru Yamane composed the background music here. You're in for a treat when you hear the sounds, which is even better than CotM (and a thousand times better than HoD). If the GBA was capable of playing real sounds and instruments, then you'd probably listen to the sound test for long times. Oh, and if you want to hear three orchestrated music of AoS, search the web. I found one from an official website of Konami or Michiru Yamane (can't read Japanese) and the musical score blowed me away! It's a contender for SotN's music!

Controls: 10/10

The controls deserve a 10 out of 10 because I haven't experienced any problem whatsoever with the controls when I played the game. You use the left, right and down on the D-pad to go left, right and duck. Up is used together with B to use red souls. You navigate through menus with the whole D-pad. I know I don't have to explain the use of D-pad for menus because it's so obvious anyways. Press B to attack and A to jump. The L shoulder button is used for ability souls while R should button is used for activate souls. See how simple it is? Wait till you play it.

Lifespan: 7/10

Unfortunately, the lifespan of the game suffers a score of seven. The game may get repetitive after a while especially for impatient players. Collecting all the souls and items is a very tedious job which requires A LOT of patience as souls don't go often. When you finish the game, you can unlock a character, new game+, hard mode, sound test and boss rush mode. Boss rush mode is a mode where you have to kill all the bosses of the game as quick as you can. You'll earn prizes for being fast enough. New Game+ (as I dub it) is just a plain new game, but you get to carry items and spirits from your previous game (not all souls are carried).

Ratings
Graphics : 8.5
Gameplay : 9
Sounds : 10
Story : 8.7
Controls : 10
Lifespan : 7

Total : 9 (8.9) (Remarkable)

PROs:
- New, innovative soul system
- Refreshing storyline
- Excellent gameplay
- Great sounds and music

CONs:
- May get repetitive after a while
- Soul collecting is a time consuming job

RENT OR BUY?
Buy this game! It's one of the must-have games your GBA/SP deserves!


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/12/05


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