Reviewed: June 30, 2003
Released: May 6, 2003
It wasnít long ago that I reviewed Harmony of Dissonance and now Konami springs yet another Castlevania installment upon us with Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Aria of Sorrow builds upon the foundation of last yearís game and improves upon it in just about everyway possible.
It was argued that HoD was too easy, especially when compared to Circle of the Moon, the original Castlevania GBA title, so vampire hunters everywhere will be please to learn that Aria of Sorrow ups the difficulty to all-new challenging levels. The graphics are slightly improved Ė not that there was that much room for improvement, and the audio has definitely been tweaked to new levels of goodness.
The most drastic change is perhaps the story and gameplay mechanics. This is the first Castlevania to take place in the future, 2035 to be exact, but gameplay and weaponry is still rooted in medieval technology. Soma Cruz is about to witness the first solar eclipse of the 21st century when he blacks out and awakens inside a mysterious castle. You must escape the castle, and all of the evil minions inside to get back home. When you arenít slaying the baddies you will meet other characters who have also been trapped in the castle. They will help further the story and reveal Draculaís insidious plot.
Soma is a slightly different warrior that Juste Belmont. You no longer use a whip, but instead get to mix it up with swords, axes, and hammers that you collect as you adventure through the levels. Thereís even a pistol you can equip if you can find it. Each weapon offers its own strengths and weaknesses, some give Soma increased power, and others are more suited toward certain tasks. Learning which weapons to use and when is a huge part of the strategy in this latest version of Castlevania.
New for this game is the ability to collect souls. Much like the Legacy of Kain games you can absorb the souls of your fallen enemies and then use the power of these souls to gain new abilities. This creates a unique gameplay experience each time you play, and with more than 100 abilities the possibilities are virtually endless.
Souls are divided into three categories; offensive, defensive, and overall ability upgrades. The cool factor is that you gain the ability of the creature you killed whether it be a special attack or defensive tactic or some other character enhancement. The possibilities are too numerous to list but you're guaranteed to have fun experimenting with this innovative new concept.
As with any good action-adventure game you will collect tons of goodies during your adventure. When you canít find the items you need you will eventually have access to a shop where you can stock up on armor, potions, and anything else you need to get you through troublesome levels or challenging boss encounters. In a way this makes the game a bit easier than it would normally be but only if you abuse the system.
Aria of Sorrow uses pretty much the same engine as Harmony of Dissonance so the graphics and visual style are nearly identical. If you enjoy the graphics from HoD then you will love the return of large sprites with detailed animation, colorful levels full of special effects and excellent scaling to give a decisive 3D feel to the game.
Level design actually takes a step back from last yearís ambitious title, but remains creative and challenging. I was particularly fond of the underwater levels, at least after I had the ability to walk underwater.
If you read my review for HoD youíll recall I wasnít very enthused with the soundtrack for that game. Aria of Sorrow improves the audio portion of the game dramatically with a very nice soundtrack that impresses both with quality and composition.
Sound effects are excellent and there is more speech included in this game although some of it is still in Japanese. Congrats to the design team for improving an aspect of the Castlevania series that really needed some attention.
The game itself is rather short and you can probably finish it in a day or two, but if you want to get a 100% completion you might be spending up to a week or more. I found the ending rather disappointing but it does open up another character and you will be highly motivated to replay the game and start collecting those missing souls.
To make things even more interesting is the ability to link your copy of Aria of Sorrow to someone else and exchange souls. Even though there is no true multiplayer this is a great way to include some support for the link cable and make it easier for gamers to get souls they may never have found otherwise.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is an excellent game and easily the best in the GBA Castlevania series. Itís nice to see when a franchise continues to evolve and improve with each new release. Aria of Sorrow put a dramatic spin on the gameplay and the general premise for the story, but it retains just enough of the series to keep veterans happy and newcomers entertained for countless hours. A definite must-have for any GBA owner who craves a good action game.