developed & published by Konami/2003.05.06
1 Player/(3 save slots) Cartridge/Gameboy Advance
Castlevania Aria of Sorrow is the third and final installment on the Gameboy Advance, and the first Castlevania to take place in the future. It’s also easily the best Castlevania since Koji Igarashi rocked the world with his 32-bit masterpiece, Symphony of the Night.
Sharpen your fangs
While the premise is sketchy at best (Drac’s castle was sealed into a solar eclipse, and a young high school student named Soma Cruz is magically transported there), the simplistic story does the job and somehow manages to become more than the sum of its parts. This is also the first Castlevania to take place in the future (2035 to be exact).
Unlike Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow is the true spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night, and takes the storyline in a new and exciting direction.
As per the usual, game play is lightning quick, responsive, and satisfying. The designers have added yet another twist to the core game play in the form of Soul collecting. The castle’s dark energy has affected Soma in an unexpected way: he has the power to rule over the monsters populating the evil halls. By defeating a monster, there is a small random chance of capturing their soul!
Unlike previous gameplay gimmicks, the Player gains all sorts of cool tricks vis-a-vis enemy souls (similar to Final Fantasy 7’s “materia” system), and is a welcome modification to the Castlevania sub-weapon staple. Some can be used as special attacks (like the ability to shoot lightning bolts from your fingertips), others as special abilities (such as walking on water, or bat transformation), and some support him by upping his stats (strength +20%, for example). Successful combination of souls is necessary to unlock the castle’s many mysteries.
The only problem I have with the soul collecting is that it can sometimes be a pain to collect them. Some monsters are extremely rare (inhabiting only one screen of the entire map, for example) so tracking them down can be problematic. On top of that, you’ll have to kill dozens of the same enemy type over and over just to get their soul. It’s too time consuming. You can get an item which increases your chances of an enemy dropping its soul, but it’s not as effective as it should be.
Luckily, you and a friend can trade your extra souls using a link cable.
If looks could kill…
Sporting richly animated sprite-based characters and enemies, mostly good and sometimes unbelievable backgrounds brimming with gothic goodness, and enchanting music, this is Castlevania as it was always meant to be! As in Harmony of Dissonance, you’ll see mode 7-esque scaling and rotation to create pseudo-3D effects, which look great on the GBA’s screen. Soma’s sprite looks fantastic, and the boss monsters are sure to impress. This is one of the best looking GBA titles.
Whereas Harmony of Dissonance favored better graphics at the expense of sound quality, Aria of Sorrow restores the balance and somehow manages to excel in both areas. There is even a fair number of voice samples, further blurring the notion that you are playing a portable game.
Replayability and Final Thoughts
Taking a cue from Chrono Trigger is a New Game + option (start from the beginning with all souls and equipment from your first time through). There’s the much appreciated Boss Rush mode. And adding further incentive to replay the game, the option to control the latest Belmont – Julius (no mean feat considering he can’t level up or equip more powerful items). These extra features are great since a first game will probably take the average gamer about 8-10 hours.
The amazing graphics, awesome tunes and challenging boss monsters, coupled with monster-hunting soul-collecting goodness, the best main character since Alucard, and one of the coolest plot-twists since the original Metroid – and you’ve got an instant classic. Simply put, this is one of the best titles available for the Gameboy Advance (or any system for that matter) and a must-have if you own a GBA or DS.
- Outstanding production values
- Extremely tight, responsive controls
- New game play system adds depth to the action
- Feels like a portable sequel to Symphony of the Night
- Collecting enemy souls requires too much grinding
One Sentence Review: One of the finest Castlevania games ever made.
One Word Review: Succulent.
Released as a double pack with Harmony of Dissonance after being under-shipped in its initial run. Konami has released the sequel to Aria of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS which continues the adventures of Soma Cruz, called Dawn of Sorrow.