Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow - Reader Re-Retroview  

A Prelude to Dawn
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

4-6 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The year is 2035 in Japan, and crowds are anticipating the first solar eclipse of the century. An exchange student named Soma Cruz and his friend Mina Hakuba visit the Hakuba Shrine to witness the eclipse, although the stairs leading there seem longer than usual, and both friends are mysteriously whisked away to Dracula's castle. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the third Castlevania title for the Gameboy Advance, continuing the Symphony of the Night-established formula of a large castle to explore and RPG elements. While not without its flaws, Aria proves to be the best of the Gameboy Advance Castlevanias.

   Like its predecessors, Aria features side-scrolling two-dimensional gameplay, with Soma able to attack with various types of weapons, jump, and use many special abilities. In this installment, Soma occasionally gains new soul abilities by killing monsters, three of which he can equip at a time, providing him with offensive skills, innate skills, skills needed to advance castle exploration, and the like. Most special abilities consume MP, with Aria also dumping the Heart weapon system of its predecessors, though Soma can obtain Hearts that recover MP. He can also level up after gaining enough experience from killing enemies and gain money to purchase consumable items and new weapons and armor. The battle system serves the game well, with only a few minor flaws such as the randomized nature of soul acquisition from enemies, but otherwise, combat leaves little, if any, room for improvement.

   Interaction doesn't leave a whole lot of room for improvement, either, with low character management and easy castle exploration, though Aria unfortunately drops the quicksave feature present in Harmony of Dissonance. Fortunately, though, since Aria allows players to keep plenty of healing items, this isn't a game-breaking issue, and in the end, the interface is well more than adequate.

Mr. Flaming Skullhead Ghost Rider makes a cameo

   Aria of Sorrow, naturally, borrows many elements from previous Castlevania RPGs, such as a large castle to explore and leveling up, although it does have some new elements such as the monster soul system that help it feel fresh.

   As usual, however, the story is the low point of the game, with little character development, conflict, and a sense of mystery and excitement, although there are maybe a few decent twists. Still, the plot is hardly a driving factor throughout Aria of Sorrow.

   The music is pretty good, though, with its quality being much better than in Harmony of Dissonance, with some Japanese voice clips as well, though the music quality could have certainly been better. The visuals are nice as well, with some decent character art, sprites, monsters, and scenery, despite some pixelated effects at times, but don't leave a lot of room for improvement.

   Finally, the game is fairly short, taking somewhere from four to six hours to complete, with some extra modes accessible after finishing the game, and different endings, as well. Overall, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a worthy addition to the series, with solid gameplay and presentation, albeit a weak story. However, Castlevania fans and those who don't tend to play games for their stories may likely have a fun time with it.

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