Review by Black_Crusher
Hey, it's Samus.. I mean Soma! (it's a GUY right?)
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is an absolutely fantastic game. It's the last game that I've won lately so I figure this worthy title is the next review on my list, so here goes!
This time, a Castlevania game takes place in the future. This aspect actually originally turned me off to the game. I'd be looking through GBA games at the store and when I picked this one up and read the back, I think "Castlevania + Future Setting = crappy spinoff / Belmont with a Bazooka"?? Well, fortunatley this is NOT the case at all!
For starters, your name is Soma Cruz, not a Belmont from the famous line of vampire hunters that have ruled most other Castlevania games. And, in this game you use a wide variety of weapons- thankfully no bazookas are in sight here, folks. One night you and your friend (a girlfriend... hmmmm?) go and visit a mysterious shrine to go see the lunar eclipse. Your protagonist doesn't notice the gigantic black bat flying nearby however. Anyway, something strange happens and the next thing you know, you're standing outside a huge castle!
I don't know, I wasn't too impressed with the story to be honest, but there are some small cut scenes that advance the story along. But afterall, you didn't buy the game for its story, now did ya?
These graphics are awesome! When Soma runs around, the animation is extremely fluid and clear. His trenchcoat even blows in the wind while you stand there doing nothing. Each weapon that he uses has it's own graphic, including some neat-o effects during midswing like flames from a fire sword, or a purple "toxic" splash. Enemies are well detailed, and although there are some palette swaping victims here, it's not really noticable. The different areas also have their own look and feel to them, from a vast underground waterway to the ominous skies far above the castle itself. Oh, and Soma looks like a girl, so get over it LOL.
The music is so awesome for this game! I really can't remember a bad piece in the game, to be honest. Most of it is either extremely upbeat or low-key and moody. Each area also boasts its own theme music, so you can tell right away where you are just from the music that plays. The sound effects are nice as well, as everything sounds as you'd think it would.
Yeah, I know, it's another 10. Still, Castlevania sports some spiffy controls as well. Soma handles great, and THANK GOD that you no longer suffer from the ailment known as: Belmont Jumpitis. What's this, you ask? Well, you see back in the 80's, the heroes of Castlevania games all used to jump the same way. If you jumped, you would fly through the air and lose total control of your guy. Now, mix this in with about a million enemies coming at you and you'll have some tough issues ahead. It was more realistic I guess, but this is a game! So Soma can now change direction in mid-air and it helps immensely.
A great aspect of this game is that it plays out a lot like Super Metroid. What this means is that you are let loose in a gigantic evil castle filled with many large connecting areas to explore. But the beauty is in the backtrack. You'll get to a certain point during your travels where you cannot continue, yet you'll see that you CAN go over to the other side, so how do you do it? In order to proceed, you'll need to search for different power-ups. Is there a crawlspace you can't get past? Then search for the crouch-slide technique and come back later! I love these kind of games. You can also collect money which you can use to buy items and weapons from a guy who acts as your very own store right outside the castle gates.
Unlike earlier Castlevanias that use whips, Soma uses many different weapons. Swords are the main selection here, as there are a whole lot of them scattered about the castle grounds. You may also pick up some sort of magic spear, lance, or even a gun! To make it more balanced, the gun is not nearly as powerful as you'd think it you'd be though, which is good because it fires the length of the screen. I guess the one problem I had with this game's variety of weapons is that when I found some of them I already had a much more powerful weapon that I bought at the store. More on this later.
This game also boasts a lot of RPG-like elements too. Soma has Life, Mana, Experience Points, and Levels. He also has some other generic RPG stats like Power and Intelligence. Defeat enough monsters and you'll increase in level and become more powerful so you can beat on meaner bad guys, rinse and repeat. This would become extremely tedious, but the designers were genius in their thinking and they made it worthwhile because of..
The soul system! Now, whenever you kill a monster, there is a chance that it will release a "soul" that does this little air show before merging with Soma. Souls vary in their powers greatly, and although some are kind of useless, there are a ton of really good ones to use. Now you may think that getting souls is an easy task, but trust me, some of those monsters don't want to let their souls go and it may take dozens to tries before you can finally score its soul.
There are 3 different types of souls in which you can equip. Some act as a secondary weapon that you can use at the cost of your mana. These might include throwing daggers or axes. Some others are always active and don't cost any mana to use. One I can think of off the top of my head is the Peeping Eye soul that lets you see false walls you can break through to go in secret areas. Others still let Soma sprout a gigantic skull and arm out of his back and pound on enemies behind you, or let you turn into a gigantic demon that rushes across the screen, killing all in its wake. And let's not forget the soul that lets you turn into a bat, letting you fly anywhere and explore some of the trickier areas of the castle.
*CHALLENGE / REPLAYABILITY: 7/9
It's not terribly challenging, and the main reason I can think of is that the shopkeeper can sell you some of the most powerful weapons pretty early on in the game, and at a cost that's not very expensive too. I mean really now, I had an Ascalon sword (which is pretty strong, obviously) and was killing almost everything in one hit through most of the game. Of course, the most powerful weapons are not sold in any store, as it should be. Still, I'd find a secret area with an interesting weapon only to realize that my store-bought weapon whooped it many times over.
For replayability, the castle IS very large and you may not find all the secret areas and rooms on your first playthrough so that may be incentive enough. However, if you're like me you'll play again just to try and get all the monsters' souls, a Herculean feat in itself! Fortunately, the game is not overly long so you can try again and again if you wish. You even have the option of playing as a different character after you win it so that's a nice bonus there.
*FINAL SCORE: 9
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is probably the best GBA game that I own, and one of my all-time favorites. It's extremely non-linear gameplay with vast areas to explore make it worth the time invested to play it. In addition to that, you can pretty much customize Soma however you want, given the huge variety of monster's souls to collect. It's getting to be a hard game to come by though, so try to get it as soon as you can.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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