reviews\ May 11, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow - GBA - Review

23 months.  That's how long it has been since the Game Boy Advance was released.  In those 23 months, only one developer has released three brand-new sequels to one of the most beloved video game series.  The developer is Konami, and the game is none other than Castlevania.

Beginning with Circle of the Moon, Konami's onslaught of Castlevania games ruled the Game Boy Advance.  While the Mario Advance games were just as fun, Circle of the Moon, and its 2002 sequel, Harmony of Dissonance, only featured new content (nothing rehashed!).

Spring is here once again, and you know what that means – another new Castlevania game has arrived on store shelves.  Titled Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, the latest chapter in this GBA trilogy is just as unique and clever as the previous games in the series.

Taking a cue from Devil May Cry (and several other games, if you want to get really technical), Aria of Sorrow introduces a new soul-collecting ability.  The soul of virtually every monster can be obtained by killing them, though not as quickly or as frequently as in DMC.  Gathering souls is important because it is in the only way to learn the game's 100+ abilities.  There are other abilities that are learned by gaining experience, but the main attack abilities – Ghost (highly damaging blasts that chase enemies), Disc Armor (a powerful spinning disc attack), Winged Skeleton (spear-throwing attack), etc., are all obtained by collecting the souls of fallen foes.

Some souls increase your character's attributes.  For example, Headhunter raises all of your attributes (attack, defense, strength, etc.) except for luck.  Skeleton Knight increases your attack and strength by 4 points.  Dead Warrior adds an attack-deflecting ability to your list of moves.  There are also more than a few souls that act as shields, increasing your defense even further.  The list goes on and on!

Collecting these souls is half the fun of the game.  Actually, it's 1/4 the fun.  There's so much to enjoy here that no one single part can account for 50% of the joy you'll receive while playing it.

The clever boss battles will bring you back to the days of gaming when boss battles were actually important.  They actually meant something to the overall experience, and finishing them felt like an accomplishment.  This game is no different.  I was going to give a brief description of one of the bosses, but then I realized it would spoil the surprise of defeating it.  Let's just say it has a very unique weakness...

Architecturally, Aria of Sorrow is absolutely amazing.  There is such an unbelievable amount of depth in this game.  You'll think you've seen it all, and then you look closely at the map and realize that there are still more areas to explore.  Early on the in the game you'll come to four different areas that are restricted by water.  Two of them are underground areas, and whenever Soma (the main character) is surrounded by H20, he immediately floats to the top.  The other two areas are above Soma, and at the time are too high for him to reach.  These areas cannot be accessed until every other unlocked area has been fully explored.  If you come back to the said areas and still cannot pass, then obviously you haven't explored the other areas as well as you thought.

The key here is two important souls: Undine and Skula.  Undine allows you to walk on water, while Skula allows you to walk under water.  Undine is obtained pretty quickly, but you'll have your work cut out for you if you expect to find Skula.  Without these souls, the game cannot be beaten.

It must be said that all three of the GBA Castlevania games include extremely intricate, easy-to-read maps.  These maps are so detailed that you will never, ever feel lost or confused in the game.  The challenge is high enough, and there are enough hidden areas and items that the game is still tough to beat.  Items do not show up on the map, and most of the hidden areas do not either!

I'm going to give it to you straight: people who don't buy this game are fools.  I chose to rent Circle of the Moon as opposed to buying it, and that was a huge mistake.  Now that I've played through Aria of Sorrow, I can't wait to play through the other Castlevania games again.  I'm even tempted to track down some used copies of the Castlevania games released on the NES!

These Castlevania games are in a league of their own.  Aria of Sorrow is more enjoyable than you could even imagine.  It is instantly addictive and instantly time-consuming; hours will melt away faster than a sweaty handful of M&Ms.  No one "needs" a reason to buy a GBA, and there are already tons of must-have games available.  But if there's one thing I think every gamer has finally learned, it's that you never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 9.5
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the ultimate non-RPG.  It has level building, tons of abilities (souls) to collect, great music and an impressive selection of weapons (swords, hammers, etc.).  Despite having these RPG-like features, Aria of Sorrow is not at all an RPG!  What it is, is an amazing, exciting, must-have game that'll keep you entertained for many, many years.

Graphics: 9 
Soma is has a basic in-game design, but the enemies are very detailed.  From giant, flame-covered skulls to tiny ghosts and flame-throwing lions that have a scorpion-like tail, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is even better looking than its predecessors.

Sound: 8.7
The Castlevania series is known for having epic soundtracks, and Aria of Sorrow is no exception.  I feel like I've been saying that a lot in this review.  "Castlevania is known for having [enter great feature here], and the latest game in the series is no exception."  But it's true.  Until the day comes when Konami stops making top-notch Castlevania games, we won't be able to stop repeating the same praise-filled comments.

Difficulty: Hard

Concept: 9 
I know it's another sequel, and the basic gameplay elements are not at all unfamiliar, but the new soul collecting feature, the new weapons, the new abilities and the new world that was designed are all worthy of endless praise.  Conceptually, Aria of Sorrow is better than some of the entirely unique games out there.

Multiplayer: N/A
I'm not rating this game's multiplayer mode since it's not really a multiplayer mode at all: you can trade souls with a friend (assuming you both have a GBA and two copies of the game), but you can't engage in any multiplayer battles or anything like that.

Overall: 9.5
A life without Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow will only lead to a life of sorrow and dissonance.  Is that what you want?  Do you want dissonance!?  Then stop acting like a bird!  Pull your head out of the ground and buy this game today.


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