Castlevania has evolved a great deal since the first Game Boy Advance incarnation. Following the precedent set by the revered Symphony of the Night, Konami’s GBA launch title Circle of the Moon won a great deal of praise. Seeking to further that success, Konami released Harmony of Dissonance in which the graphics were even closer to the quality present in its PSX predecessor and the gameplay even more refined. Aria of Sorrow is the culmination of all this hard work and improves on every aspect of the previous two GBA Castlevania adventures. This addition proves to be the best game of the GBA releases of this series to date.
Players once again find themselves thrust into Dracula’s castle. But rather than being set in the gothic past, Aria of Sorrow takes place in the year 2035. Fortunately, however, there are few futuristic aspects in the game, and it retains the classic gothic aura. Gamers control the young Soma Cruz, a man who does not know how or why he is in Dracula’s castle. Soma is determined to find out the reason and escape safely. Soma eventually discovers the truth about what is really going on in Dracula’s castle. Aria of Sorrow will satisfy its players with a climactic conclusion thanks to some clever plot devices, characters, and a surprising twist.
Aria of Sorrow will astound gamers with its lush 2-D graphics. Truly proving what the Game Boy Advance is capable of, Aria of Sorrow features some of the lushest and most vibrant backgrounds in a side scrolling title since the venerable Symphony of the Night for the PlayStation. Aria of Sorrow is filled with a variety of wickedly-detailed gothic backgrounds, from enormous marble cathedrals to the cold stone walls of Dracula’s castle. Animation is also top-notch, with Soma moving fluidly whether he be running, walking, attacking, or casting a spell. Enemy design is classic Castlevania style, with everything from the hounds of hell to the merciless undead soldiers that defend Dracula’s castle. Special attacks and spells fill the screen with a variety of colors, and torches provide subtle yet appreciable lighting down the dim corridors of Dracula’s castle.
Unlike its predecessor (Harmony of Dissonance), Aria of Sorrow does not sacrifice sound quality for graphical enhancements. The MIDI quality is top-notch, and the music ranges from a variety of styles with jazz, rock, and classical influences. The music suits its respective environments brilliantly: charging down a stone corridor while fending off hoards of zombies is accentuated by a fast-paced rock beat and catchy synthesizer melody while pioneering through the ghastly cathedral will yield a pipe organ resounding with a chilling piece. Sound effects are equally as impressive with a variety of sword clashes and clangs, the crisp cracking of an undead skeleton zombie’s bones, or the dying shriek of a witch. Soma has several battle cries as well, which are unfortunately in Japanese. However, they are audible and clear, something rarely found on a Game Boy title.
Aria of Sorrow may feature a wonderful soundtrack and beautiful graphics, but the one reason it is so addicting is the classic gameplay. Soma will jump and hack his way through Dracula’s maze-like castle with the assistance of a variety of weapons, from swords to hammers to lances. There are a large variety of weapons to choose from, each having different strengths and weaknesses. Each of the previous Game Boy installments also featured a magic or special attack system of some sort and Aria of Sorrow is no different. It introduces the Soul Set system, which is the most refined and fun of the three. Basically, Soma can absorb the souls of his defeated enemies. These souls can then be equipped and give Soma various abilities that will increase his power or allow him to visit parts of the castle that were previously out of reach.
The only issue comes when gamers are forced to backtrack through Dracula’s castle to progress further in the game. At this point, traveling can become a chore, for Dracula’s castle is no two-bedroom apartment. Rather, it is extremely large, and a near-complete tour will take gamers ten to twelve hours. Thankfully, though, the warp points have returned, and this time gamers can choose to which warp room they want to go, thereby saving some time. However, there are always some areas that are far from any warp rooms, and traveling by foot is the only way. At this point Soma will be leveled high enough that previous rooms and areas will be littered with enemies that can be dispatched with a single blow. This can become monotonous, but thankfully the rewards are great; more areas to explore, more items, enemies, and bosses. Aria of Sorrow also features a link-up system where gamers can trade souls in order to complete their collections.
Aria of Sorrow features several endings and tons of secret items and weapons that will keep you coming back for more. It is a polished version of the classic Castlevania series that both borrows old ideas and designs and implements new features and nuances. Any Castlevania gamer is going to want this one, and casual fans will want to check this out too. Aria of Sorrow is one hell of a good time!