Review by T ConX
Testimony of a Castlevania virgin
Yes, I feel ashamed now. Since I started gaming over ten years ago, I had never dared to try the legendary Castlevania series. When I felt the need to, I was on the wrong side of the front of the system wars. Having an N64, I could have tried Castlevania 64 and Legacy of darkness, but everyone said those sucked. SotN looked amazing, but I never played it, and now I wish I did.
Now, I have finally tried out this legendary franchise, and now see what I have been missing over the years.
Getting to the game, Aria of Sorrow is set in 2035, 36 years after a group of heroes beat Dracula and trapped his castle inside a Solar eclipse (I\'m not sure how you do that either.). Now, the first eclipse of the new millennium is about to occur, and the hero of the game, Soma Cruz, is about to watch it from a Japanese shrine with his friend Mina. He becomes unconscious, and wakes up at the doorway of a giant castle with her there too, and a man who claims to be with the government, named Genya Arikado. He challenges Soma to go into the castle and go to the throne room (which is the hardest location to get to in the castle), because if he spends to much time in the castle, he and Mina will die. As he goes through the Castle he meets Graham Jones, a spoiler spoiler who was spoiler on the spoiler spoiler was spoiler, and spoilers spoiler spoiler, Yoko Belnades, a witch, and friend of Arikado, Hammer, a member of the military who will sell you items, and \'J\' who has forgotten who he was, but later remembers blah blah spoiler.
In order to make your way through the castle, Soma will use souls. When you defeat an enemy, there is a small chance you will steal its souls from it. Using souls, Soma can perform magic attacks (use the Lightning Doll soul to shoot a beam of lightning at enemies), use special abilities flying armor souls will cause you to fall at a slower rate while you hold R), and ability enhancements (The Subbucus soul, when equipped, will grant you 5 HP for every hit you make). Some souls are needed to progress through the story (you can\'t reach the top floor with out turning into a bat using the giant bat soul), while others will be very useful (Just wait until you see the Red Minotaur soul in action). It\'s fun to experiment with all 110 souls, and they all support multiple varieties of playing styles, but sometimes, getting them can be a labor of love.
In addition to these, you have your regular weapons. The castle is laced with tonnes of weapons (and armor and accessories, for that matter) for you to search out (or buy from Hammer). They\'ll be either hidden behind fake, destroyable walls (there\'s a soul you can get to see where they are, or you can just use a map from GameFAQS), or in hard to reach places that require a skill of some sort. The weapons include swords, knifes, spears, 3 guns, and... no whips... sorry long time Belmont fans. You do get a \'Whip-Sword\', but it\'s just a really long, weak, sword. If you do have a hunger for a whip, there is a second optional game where you get to play through the same game as spoiler spoiler.
For a GBA game, this game is pretty violent and graphic. Most enemies bleed when you kill them, one boss, who is a giant with an eye as a weak spot, has his eyeball explode when you kill him. That\'s just 5 minutes before a giant bat appears whom he later grasp and squeezes all it\'s blood out. You feel a chill down your neck the first time you see it. It\'s pretty cool.
These are some of the best graphics on the GBA to date. The animation is fluid, the monsters are well detailed, and the backgrounds are a marvel to look at. The bosses in the later game, which have a habit of being really ****ing big, have sometimes lack actual animation to them. One boss is just a face and two moving hands (the hands rotate and animate a bit, but that\'s it), another is a giant ball of corpse (you have to see it to believe it), and others sometimes seem like monsters (some bosses in the early game become regular enemies in the later game.
The tunes here are pretty good, with different songs for each area. The Arena section of the castle will have a thumping fight sound track, while the Dance Hall section will have old sounding ballroom music haunting you in the background. Some of the characters speak when casting spells, or dying, but most are just war cries or Japanese (I think...).
Simple controls guide Soma through Castlevania with great ease. The traditional GB formula of A - Jump, B - Attack, mixed with R for special souls, L for more needed abilities (Depending on the situation, L will cause you to backdash if you\'re on the ground, and if your in mid air, hit it to do a super jump, but only after you have the souls for each). Hitting Up and B will use your attack soul, pressing start will bring up a menu, and select will bring up the castle map. My only minor problem with the controls are the difficulty\'s aiming some weapons (mainly the hardly ever used guns).
This game will keep you going for a while. After a 10-18 hour run though, you have a selection of 3 different endings. Depending on the one you get, you will unlock special features like boss rush (beat all the bosses in the game as fast as you can to get a special item), sound test, and the ability to play through the game as a second character named Spoiler Spoiler. You can also unlock a hard mode, for both versions (the only difference is the supped up stats of enemies), and repeat your beaten game with all the souls and weapons you ended with. You can also try and collect all the souls in the game.
I still wish it was a little longer. Maybe a few more bosses, maybe a second castle (like in SotN or HoS), but that\'s something I\'ve come to demand of every game, a little more bang for my already spent buck.
With the exception of minor faults (length, and difficulty with a few weapons), this game is a must own for any GBA owner who likes the first two games, or Metroid Fusion. The only people who should not play it are those underage (the game\'s rated teen), and those who think the game\'s too difficult. This one could be a contender for GBA Game of the Year...
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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