Review by Tenshi No Shi
Belmonts? Who needs the Belmonts?!
It just seems like less than a year ago I was writing a review for the last Castlevania game, Harmony of Dissonance. Wait a minute, I was just writing a Castlevania review less that a year ago! What's Konami trying to pull here? Being that Castlevania is my all- time favorite gaming series, I was a little more than wary of such a quick-to-the- shelves sequel not matter how promising it looked. Turns out Konami got a couple of different teams (under the watchful eye of IGA), working on multiple Castlevanias at the same time. So how does Aria of Sorrow stack up to the previous titles?
Realizing that the same old Dracula has returned, send a Belmont to vanquish him' plot was getting a tad stale, IGA decide to go for a little more substance- Back in 1999, during a solar eclipse, Dracula and his castle were sealed inside the darkness of the eclipse, forever banished from the Earth. Fast-forward to 2033 during another eclipse when two high school students are suddenly transported inside Castlevania, left to find their way out of the hellish waking-nightmare. I won't ruin anything by revealing anymore of the story, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by who you meet and why your character (Soma) was sent to the castle in the first place. This is easily one of the best Castlevania plots to date and most certainly one of my favorites, surpassing even the Rondo of Blood- Symphony of the Night story.
While not as impressive as Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow is still a very good looking game (much better than Circle of the Moon). Since it's in scrumptious 2D, animation and sprite detail are obviously the most important things graphically, since that's about all there is to a 2D game. Thankfully, everything from the characters and enemies to the backgrounds and objects are not only detailed but easily seen on the Gameboy Advance screen as well. Character and enemy animation is also impressive, though hardly a step forward so it doesn't really impress but rather stands content to merely be better than most. There are also a couple of nifty special effects thrown in for good measure that are reminiscent of Symphony of the Night that impressed me more than once.
I generally play my Gameboy games without sound, so the only time I got to really listen to Aria of Sorrow was the first couple of hours I had it (via the SP headphone adapter) and whenever I got the urge to play it on the Gameboy Player. Needless to say I wasn't too impressed. Sure, the sound is better than most of the other portable games out there, but Circle of the Moon still remains the most impressive sound work on a Gameboy Advance game to date (in my opinion) and it's hard to appreciate such obvious MIDI pieces when you realize that a launch title is still better. Still, it was nice to hear new remixes of familiar tunes and all the familiar audio effects are in place, but I'm holding out for Lament of Innocence to get my Castlevania music fix.
It's nice to see that the controls still remain tight and responsive after all these years. Those familiar to the RPG-infused Castlevanias of the past will feel right at home with the simple-to-grasp layout of the latest installment. Sure a few changes have been made, but all the core signature moves have returned in one form or another (to the delight of long-time fans, I am sure). In case you're wondering, I had no problems whatsoever playing on the Gameboy Advance SP despite the constant use of the 'L' and 'R' buttons.
IGA's team of Castlevania designers continue to refine their skills with each installment and it shows. It would be easy enough to just rehash Symphony of the Night over and over, but instead each sequel has had a new magic/weapon system to encourage exploration- Circle of the Moon had the card combination system, Harmony of Dissonance had the book and sub-weapon combination system and now Aria of Sorrow introduces the enemy soul system. The premise of this new feature is you can harvest the souls of each enemy you encounter and equip them to enhance your abilities through new moves, different attacks or stat boosts. It's quite an interesting system (that also happens to tie in well with the story) and encourages repeat visits to try and collect every single one. Oddly enough, HP and MP leveling up relics are missing this time around but the enemy souls more than make up for it.
Upholding the tradition established with Symphony of the Night, once you beat the game you can enter a code to play as a Belmont (Julius in this case), replete with the usual arsenal of traditional vampire- slaying weapons. There is also a Boss- Rush mode to be earned that, as the name implies, allows you to battle all of the game's bosses. And while there is no inverted/mirrored castle to explore, under the right circumstances you can enter an area known as the Chaotic Realm to fight the game's real final bosses...
The question you have to ask yourself isn't whether or not you should get Aria of Sorrow, it's how fast can you get to the store to buy it. Sure I'm a little biased when it comes to Castlevania games, but if ever you were a fan of the previous games or Nintendo's similar-in-concept Metroid series, you must give this game a try.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (US, 05/06/03)
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