Review by Rango
"Konami has put more effort into a GBA game than any other company. This is proof."
Remember Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? Remember how different it was than the original Castlevania titles released for systems before the PlayStation, yet much of it was for the better? You could use new weapons and explore areas similarly to Super Metroid's fashion (map included), and the game had the elements of an RPG, including leveling up, equipping, and learning a bunch of magic spells. Welcome to the Game Boy Advance era. First title by Konami, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, and BOOM. We are already set with the first title to feature Symphony's great aspects of the non-linear exploration, use of magic, and yet, it was still a Castlevania at heart. To boot, the return of the whip-toting heroes came in the form of Nathan Graves. Konami continued their crusade with Harmony of Dissonance. Similar to Circle of the Moon in some ways, it was also worse in some aspects, such as poor music quality, incredibly easy gameplay, and a confusing castle layout. More apparently, it tried way too hard to be Symphony of the Night. Although Juste Belmont used a whip, he looked like the spitting-image of Alucard. Konami realized this mistake, and a half of a year later, we already get Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Another Symphony-esque game? Yes, but the best? Let's just say that many consider it the single best in the series since Rondo and Symphony (before Dawn of Sorrow was released, the direct sequel to this game).
Aria of Sorrow puts you in the shoes of Soma Cruz, a 19-year old student from Japan. It's the year 2035 (now before you get any ideas, this is NOT the Castlenator, not Castle Wars, and not Castletroid! Wait...never mind that last bit), on the very day of the solar eclipse. He's going to the Hakuba Shrine to see his childhood friend Mina, when he realizes the stairs seem longer than usual. He reaches the top, and loses consciousness. As he awakens, he is standing at the gates of Dracula's Castle itself. Europe? Let alone it's hard enough for Soma to believe in Dracula's Castle in the first place, he's in it, and he's not in Europe. He's in the Eclipse itself. He meets Geyna Arikado, who tells Soma that he took him to the castle for a necessary reason, and needs Soma to go to the throne room. Soma wants to leave, but the only way he and Mina will leave alive will be to fulfill this task.
As Soma, you have access to...wait, his last name isn't Belmont. Whips are out, then. For the first time since Symphony, weapons-based combat returns, and better than ever. As opposed to having a ton of swords and a few other weapons here and there, Soma can use various types of swords, as well as Polearms (lances and spears), axes, maces, fistcuffs, and even guns (don't worry. It's just another equip weapon. Besides, it's 2035). That aside, most of the game is basically like Symphony of the Night. Run around and explore the castle with a map, use weapons, jump on platforms, hack at enemies, and own the souls of your enemies...literally. Quite possibly the best aspect of this game, or at least one of them, is the magic system of Aria of Sorrow. As opposed to learning spells and using button combos, DSS, or tomes, Soma has the ability to take the souls of enemies after slaying them. When he does so, he takes their ability. There are three types of souls: Bullet, Guardian, and Enchant. Bullet Souls are set to Up+B and are basically projectiles. Guardian souls are set to R and can be used to protect Soma or even another attack. Finally, Enchant souls raise any of Soma's stats, pending on which enemy he killed. Since there are so many souls, the combinations to use seem endless, and that adds great variety of attack. Moreso, this game also does some things better than the legendary Symphony of the Night. For one, the game is much more balanced, meaning it won't be incredibly easy (granted, many boss fights are pretty easy, but you don't use overpowered items on them and some of them are hard), you can now warp to any point you've been to (as opposed to going to points in order when you warp), and the Equip/Item organization is much better.
A great-playing game has to look good, and what better than a fresh coat of paint over past Castlevanias? Circle of the Moon's graphics were quite basic and not very detailed, Harmony's were good, and Aria is the best. It looks like a 16-bit Symphony of the Night. If you exclude the transparency effects and 3D models in the background, in a sense, that's kind of what it is. The castle's levels are designed well and have nice, vibrant backgrounds. Enemies have nice animations, and while their deaths could be better than just burning away and bleeding+, you can still see their motions well when they attack.
Also, what better way to begin the resurrection the greatness of Symphony of the Night than to blow us away with a track that resembles Dracula's Castle (Castle entrance) theme from that game in the first area? Aria of Sorrow has a fitting soundtrack. Granted, I wouldn't go as far to say that it's the best, but much better than Harmony of Dissonance's and it has a couple of amazing tracks, the aforementioned one (Castle Corridor) being one of them. The rest isn't surprising, but it gets the job done for the levels. As for effects, you can hear Soma go, "Ayah!" sometimes when swinging his weapon, and the different weapon types will have a different effect. You can also hear the burning of enemies when you kill them, and most of the voice acting (of which isn't dialogue-based, but moreso based on battle cries and grunts) is all in Japanese, so you don't have to worry about any bad voice acting.
After you beat this, yes, you'll want to play it again. It's worth getting 100% Soul and Map completion, doing Boss Rush, and playing the three other modes of the game, one that will make you very happy.
In conclusion, if you like classic 2D Action/Adventure games, Castlevania, or games that you can take your enemies souls and use them to your advantage (as well as the use of many weapons), this game is definitely for you. Aria retains the dark style of Castlevania games, featuring Ayami Kojima's artwork, so if you want a game a little more on the mature side, this is for you (note: That was not a hit to Dawn of Sorrow. Despite the anime, play the game, and it's every bit as gory as this).
10/10. If other companies could do more than port the same games or make sub-standard games made only to sell, I don't know if this would be the best. But Konami, you took that extra effort to deliver, and succeeded.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 01/13/06
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