Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the third Castlevania game to appear on the Game Boy Advance. It is also the first Castlevania game to take place in the future, the year 2035. You play as Soma Cruz, a high school exchange student studying in Japan. He joins with his friend Mina Hakuba to see the first solar eclipse of the new century. During the eclipse a dark shape appears… a familiar shaped castle.The graphics are good when compared to other GBA games, but are nothing special when compared to console games. The characters are well drawn, and have believable movements. When you move, your coat moves, as it would if it was a real coat. Each weapon has its own appearance to differ from the others. The backgrounds are detailed and multi-layered allowing you to see things such as the stairwell to the final area when you are in the boss area in the clock tower. When you get to the stairwell you see the clock tower area in its background and so on. The bosses range from small to big, and are detailed just as well as the characters.
The background music stands out really well. Each area and some of the characters have their own song. It is some of the best music on the GBA. The sound effects are where this game really shines; from the splash of water when you fall into it, to the grunts when you get hit. There are also some vocal lines as well from the cast, and the different weapons have sound effects.
This game is a straight up side-scrolling adventure platformer. Yet it includes RPG elements such as gaining experience to increase your level and make you stronger. Many of the different abilities from past Castlevania games have returned. Gone are the sub weapons and various magic systems. In their place is the Soul System, when you kill an enemy you may gain its’ soul. Each soul gives you a different power and uses a magic meter to power up. With the number of monsters in the game, that adds up to a lot of power. Also gone is the whip and in its’ place a wide variety of weapons, from swords to spears to even a hand gun. The castle itself is big and includes many hidden areas.
The control is pretty straight forward using the d-pad to move and duck. The Up on the d-pad is used to activate the soul you have equipped. The B button is used for attacks and the A button for jumping. The L button is used for the special abilities, such as the super jump and back dash. The R button is used for another type of soul power that ranges from healing to boosting your stats. There is a third type soul that when equipped also boosts stats and has other effects, but they are always active and have no need to be assigned to buttons.
Even though Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a single player game it does offer the ability to trade the souls you acquire in the game with different people. All though this is offered, you do not need to trade to gain all the souls in the game. Since it is a hand held game, it does not offer any online capabilities.
The game does offer many different options for replay value. First off, when you complete the game you open up the Boss Rush Mode that also appeared in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. Second, a “New Game Plus” option lets you play through the game again with your weapons, souls, and map. Yet you start at level one again and have no special abilities. Third, a hard difficulty mode is unlocked, the monsters are tougher and items dropped are rarer. Also a few items can only be found in this mode. And fourth, there is an unlockable character, that you can play through the full game with.
The pros of the game include some of the best graphics and sound on a hand held game increasing replayability and classic Castlevania game play. It also offers a moderate play time.
Now the cons. Its graphics and sound do look and sound dated when compared to recent console games. The gathering of souls can take more time then its worth, since you have to kill the monster over and over to get it to give you its soul. And some of the story is easy to predict. The future setting may turn off some Castlevania fanboys, but all in all not much is bad about this game.
In the end, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, is a worthy addition to the Castlevania universe. It has solid game play and control tied to an intriguing story. The developers at Konami took the best of the last two GBA Castlevania games and Castlevania: SOTN and combined them with the soul system, to make a masterpiece of a hand held game. The time spent playing was worth every minute. Yet those use to the flashy graphics and surround sound of console games may not find this game as enjoyable.
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