Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 07/26/04

A dark future awaits...

I remember when I was a young gamer, spending time on my Sega Genesis. I didn’t have that many games back then, so I had to make due with the handful of games that I managed my folks to buy for my birthdays. And among that small list of games, there was one that really stood out for me: Castlevania Bloodlines. So when the new generation of Castlevania games came to the GBA, I jumped at the chance to play all three my favorite portable gaming system. The first game on this new list was Aria of Sorrow, a game that had just been released this past year. Thankfully, my first exposure to the latest in this series has left me satisfied and craving for more.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Instead of placing the latest crusade of evil in the past, this game takes place in an era yet to come. The game designers decided to place Aria of Sorrow in the not too distant future of 2035. Everyone in Japan has gathered for the first eclipse of the new century. Soma Cruz, a stylish foreign exchange student, gets a little too excited with all of the partying going around him. During the eclipse, Soma and his lady friend black out in front of the shrine they’re staying at. I’m betting they both were drunk from too much sake, but there is conveniently no reason for their sudden collapse. In any case, the two students wake up in front of an enormous and menacing castle. In a blatant attempt to show off his machismo, Soma volunteers to search the ominous place for an exit, carrying only a pocketknife to fend off whatever may await him. Soma may be a little slow on the uptake, but he’s a still Castlevania’s latest hero.

While everything about this game is futuristic, from the clothes to the weapons, it still maintains all of the attributes found in the previous GBA games. Soma volunteered to search the massive castle, but he didn’t know just how huge the place really was. This castle is chock full of well-placed ledges, maze–like corridors, and seemingly inaccessible areas. It’s up to Soma to traverse the inner recesses of this evil place, but he won’t get round much on his own. Thus comes in the all-too familiar gimmick that the GBA Castlevanias. Soma Cruz is a new-age kind of hero. He doesn’t bother with any of that old DSS magic card stuff, opting instead to steal the very souls of the enemies he’s defeated. Way to go, Soma! You’re almost as bad as the dark lord himself! If Soma collects all of these different souls, they can grant him all sorts of capabilities. Some of these souls let him shoot fireballs and turn into bats, while others serve more practical purposes, like letting him breath underwater or performing a cool little moonwalk maneuver. You can mix and match the dozens upon dozens of souls for some unique attack combinations.

You can spend plenty of time practicing your technique against the hordes of supernatural beings that inhabit the castle. Wait, did I just say hordes? I meant the small groups of enemies strewn throughout the rooms of the castle. This game is easy, far easier than its Circle of the Moon counterpart. The enemies here are lacking, the only exception being a few concentrated abundances here and there. And since the controlling Soma is a piece of cake, you won’t have any trouble dodging whatever evil can throw at you. Of course, the wide variety of weapons to choose from makes this adventure a casual affair. Soma starts off with a pathetic little knife, but he’ll find everything from swords to positron rifles. And like in the previous installments, our hero can level up by defeating the enemies over and over again. After spending countless times reentering and killing all the clusters of respawned enemies, Soma will be so powerful that not even Dracula could touch him without melting. When you combine the multiple overpowered weapons, the easy-made leveling system, and the soul-stealing gimmick, this game has little in terms of difficulty.

Thankfully, Aria of Sorrow does have one major improvement over its predecessors. Unlike the super-dark castles of old, this modern castle of Japan is brightly lit, making the game so much easier to see and comprehend. It’s set in the year 2035, so electricity finally lights the dank hallways of this hive of evil. You can see Soma’s Dante-esqe hair and cape flowing behind him as he makes his way throw the castle. You can see your surroundings and enemies with crystal clear clarity and detail, form the spinning cogs in the Clock Tower to the glowing candles in the save rooms. You can even see Soma’s blood spray out when his body hits something sharp. Even though he’s a faceless hero, this new vampire hunter seems smoother and more vibrant than his predecessors. And the It’s that attention to detail that makes this game so visually appealing.

What makes the presentation even better is the attention of the audio quality. All of the attacks and sound effects burst forth from your GBA’s speakers with excellent quality. The music here is dramatic and ever changing, unlike repetitive tunes of the previous games. Also, Soma can speak fluent Japanese. While his voice really amounts to digital squabbling, at least the game designers put more effort into making the hero just a little bit more real. All of the characters in this game have unique and distinct voices, even if you can’t understand what the hell they’re saying. It’s this combination of sight and sound that makes Aria of Sorrow a much more entertaining experience.

And so ends the latest installment of the Castlevania series. What’s in the future for Dracula and the heroes that are always trying to vanquish him? I certainly don’t know. Ill I know is that I’m waiting for another chance to become that legendary vampire hunter, another chance to explore the massive castles and face the supernatural villains beyond the dreams of human understanding and comprehension. But until that chance comes around one more time, Aria of Sorrow fulfills my needs for a great gaming experience.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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