Review by plasmabeam
"The GBA Castlevania trilogy concludes with this solid game"
Game Boy Advance has had a lot of great games released for it, and the three Castlevania adventures are some of GBA's biggest highlights. Aria of Sorrow has more similarities with the stellar and hard-to-find Playstation hit, Symphony of the Night, than with the previous two GBA Castlevanias. Luckily, Konami has graced gamers who never had the chance to play SotN with the opportunity to play the closest thing to it. Although I think that SotN is a far greater game, Aria of Sorrow is the perfect alternative.
Aria of Sorrow is the first Castlevania to take place in the future, rather than the past. But don't worry about the game being stuffed with cars or ray guns, because you wouldn't even know the game took place in 2035 if the game didn't tell you. The intro explains the story of our feminine-looking hero, Soma Cruz, and how he happens to find himself in a mysterious castle with his friend Mina. The story only interrupts gameplay a few times throughout the game, and it's interesting for the most part. Soma soon realizes that he has to find a way out of this castle, and he sets off into the castle.
Following a trend among recent Castlevanias, you can have your character level up by constantly defeating enemies. Just like in RPGs, you gain experience with every enemy you kill, and eventually you will become more powerful. I love this feature, because it convinces you to fight every enemy you encounter, rather than just dodge or run away from them. It also helps if you're struggling against a certain boss and just need to make Soma a bit stronger.
As I mentioned, Aria of Sorrow is a lot like SotN. Instead of having just a whip to use throughout the entire game, Soma can equip various swords that he acquires by defeating enemies or by buying them from a shopkeeper. There are a lot of swords and armor to collect, but there is something much more interesting to collect in this game.
Aria has a cool power-up system of collecting enemy souls. You can get these souls by killing enemies, but don't think you'll just get one with every enemy you kill. You might have to kill a certain enemy dozens of times before it releases a soul. That means you'll have to walk in and out of a room many times to make the monster reappear and kill it again. As tedious as this may sound, it's actually a lot of fun and quite addictive. There's only one downside to soul collecting: it makes the game easy because of leveling up. If you are constantly gaining experience points, you'll be leveling up rather fast, and most of the bosses will seem like a joke. I didn't die until very late in the game on my first play through, which was a bit disappointing. There's over one hundred enemy souls to collect, and you can even trade them with your friends, who also own a copy of the game, via link cable.
Now, you may be wondering what these souls do. They basically take the place of the special weapons (such as knives, axes, holy water) that are used in every other Castlevania game. This time you have a much bigger selection of what to use, as there are four different types of souls. Red Souls let you attack with a variety of weapons and magic. Blue Souls are usually used as guardian shields around you. They also allow you to attack and change into a bat. Yellow Souls give you protection from status changes, improve your stats, or help you swim. Silver Souls let Soma use special abilities that let him progress through the game. Red and Blue Souls also consume your MP, so don't overdo it.
Aria of Sorrow features brilliant level design with a lot of different areas in its massive castle. Every area has a boss, which usually needs to be defeated to progress through the game. As you battle your way through the enemies in each room or hallway, you will also find breakable walls and other hidden secrets. You will do lots of exploring in Aria, but unfortunately, the game is over before you know it. Unless you invest a lot of time in collecting souls, you'll reach Aria's conclusion in five or six hours. There are two different endings, and depending on whether or not you found a few secret notes, you might now see the game's true ending.
The graphics are much brighter in Aria, than in the previous two GBA Castlevanias. In the past two you had to do a lot of squinting, unless you owned a Game Boy Player or a GBASP. Luckily, this time around you don't have to strain your eyes to see what's going on. The graphics are quite nice, with a lot of colorful and detailed sprites. Although brighter, the graphics still convey Castlevania's moody feel and give it a great atmosphere.
The Castlevania series is quite famous for having superb music in a bunch of the games. Aria is no exception, with a load of memorable and catchy tunes. Once again, the Clock Tower music is flat out awesome, and the game has plenty more to offer. The sounds are less significant, but they get the job done. There's nothing more satisfying than the sound of an enemy releasing a soul and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it.
Aria is over quickly, but there's plenty of stuff to do after you've seen the credits roll. You get to play through the game with a new character, hard mode is unlocked, and you can also start a new game with all the souls that you have already collected. There's also a boss rush mode in which you face all the bosses one-by-one.
Aria of Sorrow is a fantastic game, that could've been better if it were a few hours longer. I also wish Konami would've thought about making the game harder, since many gamers will spend time constantly beating up enemies to gain souls and experience. The extra experience and eventual leveling up made the game a tad too easy. Nonetheless, Aria of Sorrow is one of GBA's best games, so don't even think of missing out on it.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/15/05, Updated 07/16/06
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