Third time’s the definite charm for the Castlevania series on the Game Boy Advance.
The Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula and his hoard of evil minions has always taken place in the past. But series producer Koji Igarashi decided to up the ante and steer the games in a new direction: the future! Will we see skeletons in flying cars? No, not really (but that’d be cool, right!?) Enter Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow for the GBA.
Genre: Action Adventure / RPG
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Original Release Date: May 6, 2003
ESRB Rating: T for Teen (13 & Up)
Reasons for Rating: Animated Blood; Mild Violence
It’s the year 2035. You play as Soma Cruz, a Spanish exchange student living in Japan. He’s heading to the local shrine to watch the first solar eclipse of the 21st century with his friend (and daughter of the shrine caretaker) Mina Hakuba. However, he suddenly passes out. When he wakes up, he finds that he and Mina are in Dracula’s castle located… wait for it… in the solar eclipse! Now you have to find a way out of there, but it won’t be easy: the place is crawling with monster. OY!
Gotta say, I love the story. It is a nice change of pace that your objective is to get the heck out of there and not “go fight Fang Face” again. You know what else is nice? Like in any good story, there’s a twist. What’s the twist? I ain’t tellin’, go play the game to find out 😛
There Is No Visual Sorrow Here
To say that IGA’s team learned a lot from Harmony of Dissonance is an understatement. This game is gorgeous. I thought Harmony had a lot of detail; Aria has it in spades. The Inner Quarters, the Dance Hall, the Chapel… all the areas are more in line with what you’d expect to find in a castle, and they look spectacular. You’ll want to cover as much ground as you can in order to see everything.
The character designs are wonderful, enemy designs are great (many older enemies have entirely new sprites!) and are phenomenal to watch on screen, as the animation is silky smooth. And the bosses? Bad ass. All in all, top points for visual presentation.
A Beautiful Aria. Your Ears Will Thank You
In Harmony, the music took a hit in exchange for good graphics. Fortunately, this is not the case in Aria. THIS is Castlevania music at its finest. Each of the songs suit the area they play in perfectly. From the rockin’ tune in the Castle Corridor that gets you pumped for the adventure ahead to the eerie, haunting song in the Floating Garden, there are plenty of memorable tunes that’ll get stuck in your head. I could keep rambling on about it, but I won’t. The music rocks. Period.
Time For Some Soul Searching
Since our boy Soma isn’t a Belmont, he doesn’t have the Vampire Killer whip, nor can he use the classic sub weapons. Instead, you’ll have to find weapons and armour hidden throughout the castle. You can also visit Hammer, your friendly neighbourhood army guy-turned-merchant, who will upgrade his wares as the game progresses. And since this has RPG elements (like Harmony), you’ll have to fight and level up so you won’t eat dirt.
The magic system also gets revamped. Gone are the Magic Books from Harmony. This time, you’re dealing with Souls. Every time you defeat an enemy (be them a regular grunt or a boss), there’s a chance you can absorb their Soul. Red Souls will give you a projectile attack that consumes MP; Blue Souls will give you some offensive and defensive abilities and transformations; Yellow Souls boosts your stats and can also give you abilities. You can only equip one of each at any given time, so you won’t be walking around like a totally dominant storm… well, almost. As with any RPG, equipping the right armour and spells will allow to escape any hairy situation. There are other Souls, called Ability Souls, that give you abilities that are always on and don’t need equipping (like double jump, sliding, etc.). You’ll find those during the course of the game, so no worries about missing them.
Anyhoo, I really enjoy the magic system in this game. Not only is it fun, but it also gives you more of an incentive to do some level grinding (which isn’t at all boring to do in this game, by the way).
To help with all the backtracking you’ll do in your quest for freedom and Soul Collecting, there are warp portals you can use and – here’s the best part – you can CHOOSE which area you want to warp too! THANK GOD! I know it seems odd to get excited over something like that, but go use the warps in Harmony, then come back to Aria. Trust me, you’d be happy, too.
As for the difficulty, it’s about middle of the road. Not too difficult and not too long. However, as I mentioned earlier, all you need to do in most situations is do a bit of level grinding to get stronger and you’ll be able to handle things.
I Demand An Encore!
There are 3 different endings to the game (gotta catch ’em all! Wait a minute…). And yes, you can get them all in one save file (if you know the trick, that is… bwa, ha, ha, ha!)
After that, though, you got some options. You can go through a Boss Rush Mode, or you can start the game over and give yourself a challenge: no use of items, or magic. Or maybe you’d like to play as *muffle, mumble, mumble* (yea, I’m not gonna spoil that surprise. Sorry!). And, if you want, you can indulge in “New Game +”. You’ll start off at Level 1, but you’ll keep your equipment and a good chunk of your Souls (except for the ones that are just hidden in plain sight throughout the castle). Nice!
A Standing Ovation
Aria of Sorrow is an outstanding game. Konami hit all the right notes with this one: excellent music, excellent graphics, excellent characters, excellent… everything! You probably noticed that I had nothing negative to say about this game. That’s ’cause there is nothing I can knock Konami on. They did an exceptional job. If you love Castlevania – nay, if you love Action / Adventure RPGs – pick this one up!
Final Score: 10/10
A Joyous Aria!
- + Outstanding presentation; graphics and music are spot on
- + Revamped magic system is awesome
- + Great story, with a nice twist (I shall not spoil it…)
- + Plenty to do after the game’s done
NOPE! GET THIS GAME!
More Castlevania! More Mania!
- Backlogging It! Review: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA)
- FANDEMONIUM!: Castlevania Bloodlines ReMix – Iron-Blue Intention / Reincarnated Soul
- FANDEMONIUM!: Longplay – Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)
Have you tried Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the Comments Section!