Review by Zork86
"Castlevania picks up steam again after a few years."
Since Symphony of the Night on the Playstation, Castlevania hasn't really had as much success on consoles anymore. Sure Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness are pretty good but they never received as much buzz or attention as old SoTN. The Nintendo 64 games aren't even in the same category so they're not worth mentioning. But it seems that the Castlevania magic instead went to handhelds. Harmony of Dissonance was the first one I played for the GBA but I found it to be somewhat of a spotty outing, it seemed like it lacked some serious polish and it reminded me a lot of the 64 games, pretty good but not really Castlevania quality.
I never played Circle of the Moon so I couldn't really tell you my thoughts on it, but I have played the third and final installment on the GBA, Aria of Sorrow. Aria of Sorrow completely surpasses Dissonance in every way possible. The story is more interesting, you have a more interesting cast of characters, there is no more borderline NES music and the graphics are simply better. To top all of this off the story is actually continued on the DS in another game, Dawn of Sorrow. It seems as if with Aria, Castlevania finally got back into gear post SoTN.
The game doesn't have many options to change around but honestly you don't really need much, it is a GBA game. You can change your button configuration which I actually do. All the menus and stuff are nice and serviceable, nothing confusing at all about them. The story is pretty cool too. It's 2035 and there is a Solar Eclipse going on, that causes Dracula's castle to appear.
The protagonist Soma Cruz somehow ends up in the castle with his friend Yoko and many events transpire that reveals Soma's hidden dark power. What does this dark power mean? Well you'll just have to find out.
Apparently Konami thought some gameplay elements needed shaken up a bit. In this game they introduced something called the Soul System. This would be Soma's Dark Power I alluded to earlier. Whenever Soma kills enemies, he has a chance to take their soul into them and he gains an ability. There are three different kinds of souls. There is a Bullet or red souls, these are pretty much just offensive spells that you can cast, a lot of them are pretty cool, Guardian or blue souls, these are usually some kind of utility such as something that would reduce your falling speed or give you the ability to fly, but sometimes they can summon a creature or other things to fight with you or they could be another kind of offensive spell, finally there are Enchant or yellow souls, these souls are passive and they'll give you some sort of stat boost or make you immune to things. I thought this was honestly a pretty cool idea, and since souls have a chance to pop out of an enemy and it's kind of hard telling what enemies have souls and what ones don't or if all of them do or not, it makes the game very interesting and promises that almost every time you play you could have different souls you may not have gotten before.
Now the basic gameplay is pretty much like Symphony of the Night before it. You run around, collect hearts to use spells and abilities, gain abilities that don't use Magic such as the slide, collect items to use and level up. There is also a shop where you can buy stuff too and this is where we start to run into some problems with the game. If you've saved up a lot of money up until the point you can go to the shop, which is highly likely to happen you can buy some pretty powerful items from it. But even later on Hammer the shop owner will get some even better items, and you can buy some weapons that will last you nearly the entire game until you find a few certain ones that are somewhat hidden.
But beyond that because of the shop and some goofy places where they put certain items, it ruins the itemization of the game to an extent. For example there is a part in the castle where you can find a Fire Sword, I forget the name of it but it's actually a really powerful weapon. But when you find this item it's nearly the end of the game, and by this time you have probably either bought an item that is better, or found one of the three really powerful weapons in the castle that surpass it, you actually find one of them quite a ways before this part of the game. Another example is you find a handgun pretty much about halfway or three fourths of the way through but by this part of the game the gun does pathetic damage and it would take you five or more hits to kill something with it. This kind of thing happens quite a few times and it's somewhat annoying and pointless, oh well.
One other thing you can do is trade souls with a buddy if they happened to get a rare soul that you didn't or something, I thought this was a pretty cool idea too, I mean could you imagine just trying to get all of them by yourself reminds me of Pokemon for some reason.
Score: 9.4 Awesome
The graphics are way better than Harmony of Dissonance's. The colors are very vibrant but they also make sense unlike having a bunch of red and blue everywhere. Soma and others are pretty well animated and the backgrounds are very nice. Overall a pretty clean graphics package. I will have to say though that I have seen better on the GBA, but this stands as one of the best games graphically on the handheld.
Score: 9.4 Awesome
Ahh, this sound is such an improvement over HoD. I honestly don't understand why they mangled it on that game, or the graphics for that matter. But anyway there are some pretty good tunes on this installment. There are a lot of upbeat or low key melodies that can set up an atmosphere. But there really isn't anything too memorable about the soundtrack unfortunately. The sound effects are very clean and there is no grating or scratchiness in them.
Actually this game has a fairly high replay value. The Soul System helps with that of course but there are other things, such as a whole other mode to play. That would be Julius Mode. In Julius Mode you play as the Belmont in this game, Julius, and it's pretty much like playing old school Castlevania with this which can be pretty fun. While more people would be inclined to say the Soul System makes up the bulk of replay, I think having whole other modes of play with different characters are better offers personally.
Collecting all the souls or getting 100% map completion is for the completion freaks, which is fine and dandy because I do consider myself one somewhat. Of course you could also try a speed run I suppose.
Score: 7.6 Good
Aria of Sorrow is like a return to form for Castlevania in my view. It's awesome again, it's got a fresh spell and ability system to use and it's just pretty much good overall. I highly recommend you get this game for your GBA or DS, especially if you're a fan of Castlevania.
Overall Score: 8.8 Great
Score modified to 9/10 for Gamefaqs.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/28/08
Game Release: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (US, 05/06/03)
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