Review by Storm Shadow

Reviewed: 06/18/04 | Updated: 07/03/04

*Almost* as good as Circle of the Moon

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the latest game of the Castlevania series on the Game Boy Advance. It retains most of the qualities featured in the two previous titles (Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance) as well as having subtle innovations that attempt to improve the gameplay. In case you are a fan of the classic 2D Castlevania games, you will certainly enjoy this one.

- Story -

The game takes place in 2035, Japan. The high school student Soma Cruz is going to admire the first full solar eclipse of the millennium with Mina Hakuba, a childhood friend. When Soma reaches the Hakuba shrine, where he is supposed to meet Mina, his senses start to dim and, unexpectedly, he finds himself at the entrance of a strange castle. He soon meets Mina and a mysterious man called Genya Arikado, who tells them they are trapped inside Dracula’s castle and that the only way to escape is by finding the Master’s Chamber.

Suddenly, a horde of skeletons attack them and, when Soma destroys one of them, he absorbs his soul and his powers. Soma cannot understand why he has such ability or why they were transported to Dracula’s castle, but he realizes that they must get out of that dangerous place as soon as possible. Then, he starts his journey through the castle. From this point, I can tell you that the story progresses very well, involving many characters and having a radical plot twist by the end of the game. Quite a departure from the classic “Dracula’s been resurrected, summon the nearest Belmont to kill him” usually found in the series. Easily, the best plot of a Castlevania game in years.

Story: 10/10

- Gameplay -

Aria of Sorrow takes place in the future but you will immediately notice that Dracula’s castle is the same unfriendly place you’ve been used to since Symphony of the Night. Soma must explore large 2D areas collecting items, defeating all types of evil creatures and facing a boss every once in a while. Occasionally, Soma acquires special abilities that allow him to reach areas once inaccessible. The RPG features available since Symphony of the Night are here as well. Your character can gain experience, level-up and equip armors and weapons that he collects (Soma doesn’t have the Vampire Killer whip, he must wield any weapon he finds, ranging from swords to spears).

The most distinguishing feature of this game, however, is the ‘soul system’. Every time you kill any enemy, even bosses, you have a small chance of absorbing his soul. When you equip the soul of an enemy you’ve defeated, you are able to use his skills. Soma can collect an enormous repertoire of souls, which will grant him many special abilities. If you equip the skeleton soul, for instance, you will be able to throw bones; if you activate the zombie soul, you become immune to poison.

This novelty is not flawless, though. In water areas, for example, Soma needs a certain soul to breathe beneath the surface and another one to walk on the surface of the water. When exploring these areas, you need to pause the game and switch between those two abilities every five steps or so. Needless to say, it is a hassle to stop the game that often. Other flaw is that even though you can collect over a hundred powers, many of them are hardly useful. In fact, you will collect many souls, equip them once to see their effect and never use them again. The soul system is a nice feature and works well, but it could be improved.

A specific problem of the US version is that a few enemies and items had their names mistranslated and, consequently, lost their mythological roots. Items originally called Thor’s Hammer or Longinus, for instance, are simply named Tall Hammer or Ronginus in the US version. The demons Rubicante and Scarmiglione, originally named after characters from Dante’s Divine Comedy, were mistranslated as Lubicant and Skull Millione. Seriously, what the heck is a Skull Millione? If the translators didn’t know the meaning of the names, they should have left them as they were in the Japanese version. I know I am nitpicking, since most of the players won’t even notice the errors but, still, the translation is disappointing.

Aria of Sorrow has, in general, great gameplay, agile controls and an excellent replay value (there’s even a second character to unlock). Nevertheless, you should be aware that this game suffers from the same problem of most recent Castlevania titles: it is very easy. If you wish, you can rush through the game nearly unscathed, even without leveling-up or collecting the best equipments. At least, there is a hard mode available after you’ve finished it once.

Gameplay: 9/10; Controls: 8/10; Replay: 10/10

- Audio & Video -

In terms of graphics, Aria of Sorrow is amazing and it is better, even, than the two previous titles of the series (quite a feat, considering that both Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance already had great visuals). Granted, not much has changed, and Castlevania fans will promptly recognize all of the castle halls, chapels, and corridors present in the game. Even though the visuals are similar, this time they are even more defined and clear than before. Also, the characters are large and their animation is smooth (the enemies, in particular, move very swiftly). The audio, too, is great. Both the sound effects and the music are of standard Castlevania quality, and they capture the gloomy feel of the stages.

Graphics: 9.5/10; Sound: 8/10

- Conclusion -

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a very good game that brings interesting innovations to a classic series, both in terms of gameplay and storyline. In addition, this title has a graphic presentation even better than the two previous games. It does have some problems, though, especially the lack of difficulty (and that is why Circle of the Moon remains as my favorite Castlevania on the Game Boy Advance) but, in general, it is a solid title that will surely please enthusiasts of the series.

Best Features - excellent graphics and gameplay; innovative story
Worst Features - it’s too easy; mistranslated enemy/item names

Overall - 9/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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