Review by Psycho Penguin
"More like Aria of Psycho Penguin's Sorrow"
I remember when I wanted a sequel to Symphony of the Night. It seems like such a long time ago now, since there have now been THREE Castlevania games on Game Boy Advance, and they've been released in a span of about three years. You may think that the games suffered from a lack of quality due to the quick turnover rate of them, but nothing could be further from the truth.
And Aria of Sorrow is proof of this.
It may not be the most evolved game out there, but it's certainly fun and unique enough to warrant a purchase. We all know about these new-style Castlevania games by now, and this one is just as fun as the others. It has some flaws that prevent it from reaching Circle of the Moon, but overall it's still another mighty fine and mighty fun adventure from Konami. I'm so glad they decided to make these games, as they are so much fun to play through. Exploring castles have never been so much fun!
Konami actually decided to do something shocking for a change. The storyline is not your typical Castlevania fare, so don't expect to be a Belmont going through his castle. Instead, you take control of a character named Soma Cruz. In the 23rd century (!), Soma decides to witness an eclipse, but suddenly he is drawn into it. He wakes up in a strange castle, where he finds out that he was drawn to Dracula's World. While the storyline still revolves around killing Dracula, you will soon find out that it's completely original, and it will throw some twists at you towards the end. Fans of the series might not like the conclusion, but I felt it was a much needed and very refreshing change to a series that was starting to show its age when it came to storyline.
Aria of Sorrow may feature an original storyline, but the basic gameplay retains most of its elements that made the game so fun. This is an exploration game, like Super Metroid and the previous 3 Castlevania games. You get a map, and you go from room to room in a quest to find items, kill enemies, and progress through an enormous castle. The thing I liked a lot about these games was that enemies had HP and gave you experience points. It made the game have RPG elements, which I always appreciate seeing in these adventure type games. Plus, leveling up is a whole lot of fun and makes you a lot stronger. You also get to equip weapon, armor, and accessories, and you can find gold in candles which can be used to purchase goods from a seller in front of the castle. The game has tons of RPG elements, which I definitely enjoyed.
Don't think it's all RPG-like, though. Combat takes place in real time, as you can use a special weapon you get in candles, or your trusty weapon. This game gives you a variety of weapons to equip, which separates it from its Game Boy predecessors, and finding which weapon you like is a key point to the game. For instance, some weapons might have high attack power, but their range is fairly short, so killing enemies that fly or enemies a little farther away from you would be bad. Sacrificing attack power for weapon distance is a sometimes necessary element to the game, and makes the equip process a whole lot deeper.
Aria of Sorrow does feature the deepest gameplay of the 3 GBA games once you get down to the options you get. The biggest innovation to the game is the Souls system. Soma has the ability to steal the souls of enemies he kills. When he takes their soul, he can then use their soul as an ability. Each enemy drops a soul, and then you can use them in the select screen. You get to equip three different kinds of souls: one for attack, one for support, and one ''special'' Soul. The amount of Souls you can get is staggering, and the amount of combinations you can equip will keep the game fresh for the duration of the game. You will always spend time fiddling with your abilities to make sure you are as strong as you can possibly be.
However, the Souls system is a flawed part of the game, in my opinion. For one, it didn't take advantage of the fact you can add Fire to your weapon. Why would I want to add fire to my weapon if only books are weak against it? I wasn't doing any more damage against plants, and there were no real Ice-based enemies in the game, and by the time you got to one, you already had better abilities to choose from. Most of the abilities truly did feel like a waste of time, and I had no idea why Konami decided to include so many. No one's going to use the Zombie Soul for an extended amount of time, for instance.
If that wasn't bad enough, collecting Souls was random and just was a cheap attempt at making the game feel more replayable than it actually was. The game is not terribly long, and there's nothing really new about it, so the Souls system was the best Konami could think of. Collecting Souls proved to be annoying for me, as I hated to walk around a room for twenty minutes killing Zombies just to get one of their Souls, then kill a Persephone on my first try and got her Soul. Plus, I might have been the only one with this problem, but sometimes Souls would fly out of the enemy and completely escape from me before I could get them. I am told that bosses automatically give you their souls, but I had to kill a Creeking Skull later on in the game to get its Soul.
Another flaw of this system was that there were alternate endings, and to get this alternate ending, you have to equip three certain Souls at the end of the game. These Souls are somewhat hard to find, and I had no clue I was supposed to equip them until I read a guide, because I kept wondering why I wasn't getting the ending everyone kept telling me about. Again, it seems that Konami just wanted to make the game unique, but there was no real explanation during the game as to why you need these 3 Souls equipped, so no one is actually going to know what souls to equip at the end. It just seems like lazy programming again.
The Souls System pretty much is there to mask the fact that the game is so short, too. It's actually shorter than Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissoscance, which were shorter than Symphony of the Night. I beat the game in about 10 hours, and that's with collecting a bunch of Souls. If you say screw the souls and just want to complete the game, you can probably beat it in about 4 hours. That's not a terribly long game, now is it?
Also, the game is not exactly revolutionary. Those who got bored of the formula by Harmony of Dissoscance is not going to find much here to keep them coming back to it. Fortunately for those of us that actually love this series and don't want it to change, Aria of Sorrow is still a blast. The bosses are more creative and more challenging this time, and the stages are more well designed. I especially liked the Clock Tower with the gears, or the Floating Gardens with the elevator-like platforms. Konami seemed to want to implement classic Castlevania features into the game some more, and they did a very good job.
They also did a very good job with the graphics in the game. Those who complained about the tiny graphics in the first two will be happy to note that the characters and enemies are now bigger in Aria of Sorrow. Another thing to note now is that the game has much more in common graphically with Symphony of the Night than the other 2 GBA games do. The menu system is designed almost the same way and looks quite similar, and if you look on the upper left hand corner of the screen, the HP meter, etc. looks just like it did in Symphony of the Night.
Don't expect the game to totally look 32-bit, though, but it does look very impressive for a portable game. The backgrounds are the best part of the game's look, as they are extremely detailed and very well done. The game takes a brighter look compared to the first two, which certainly helps, as it means you can now see everything more clearly. This leads to seeing wonderful details like birds flying on top of the fountains in the Floating Gardens. Everything looks extremely well detailed and each new area will impress you more than the last did. Plus, the enemy designs are extremely impressive and varied. All the classic Castlevania enemies are in this game, but Konami decided to include new ones, which look just as impressive. I was blown away with the quality of the graphics in this game, for sure.
Sadly, the music hasn't totally taken a step up in quality like the graphics has. I won't fault Konami too much, though, since it's hard to produce great music on the system. The music sounds too tinny and some of the songs are not impressive at all. However, some of the songs are actually decent and won't make you want to turn the sound off. It's definitely a mixed bag here, and the music disappoints for a Castlevania game, but I won't harp on it too bad. The game does have worse problems than that, you know. The sound effects are alright, I especially liked the sounds that certain enemies made when they died, as well as the sound of Soma screaming when he dies.
You won't die too often, of course, but the challenge has certainly taken a step up from the decidedly easy first 3 games in the series (I always include Symphony of the Night when talking about the GBA series, by the way). Enemies will hit you harder than ever before, and there's obstacles like spikes and moving platforms to overcome. Plus, there's more enemies in this one than ever before, and you might be so worried about collecting Souls that you forget about your HP and die. It's also a tad harder to level up, as it takes more kills to do so, and therefore you're a little weaker throughout the game than normal. It's still a fairly easy game, but it's getting on the right track.
The increased challenge level of the game certainly makes it more replayable, but sadly, this is not the most replayable game in the world. The formula is starting to get a little old, and adding one new element to each game is going to get OLD quickly. The Souls system may seem like it adds a ton of replay value to the game, but it really doesn't. It will add some replay value at first, until you discover that it's completely random, and then you might get to start a tad tired of it. Those who are completion freaks will come a lot to come back to, though, since you not only have to get 100 percent of the map, but 100 percent of Souls, too. The game keeps track of both, so replay value during the game could help. I never wanna play through this game again, though. Collecting Souls is not as fun the 2nd time through, and the game is not as fun as Circle of the Moon was to begin with.
That's the problem with Aria of Sorrow, it's not as fun as it could have been, and the new system is not as great as you'd expect. I wish I didn't spend so much time complaining, but there's a lot of flaws that have to be adressed in this game. I still enjoyed it a lot, though. The Castlevania series has always been a lot of fun, and this game is certainly no different. It's just showing some annoying flaws here, that needed to be addressed, and despite all of them, I still loved the game, hence the 7/10 score.
And yes, the game does have flaws. Sure, I had a lot of fun with this game. It's still a Castlevania game, and it still has all the same elements. It doesn't really do anything wrong, but maybe the series is starting to run its course. Souls collecting is fun.. at first. Then you discover it's completely random and you might get sick of killing the same enemies over and over again. The game is still a lot of fun, and well worth a purchase, don't get me wrong. I just expected a tad more, and I expected a little more from it.
Time to shake it up, Konami. Just keep the same gameplay engine and add a ton of elements to it, please. This series is starting to grow old on me already. Thank you.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/29/03, Updated 06/29/03
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