Release Date: March 6, 2003
Buy 'CASTLEVANIA: Aria of Sorrow': Game Boy Advance
For the first time in the Castlevania series, Aria of Sorrow’s story takes place in the future. The year is 2035, and people have gathered from all around to view the first full solar eclipse of the twenty-first century. Soma Cruz (AoS’s protagonist) is a foreign exchange student studying abroad in Japan. As he ascends the steps of the Hakuba Shrine to view the eclipse with classmate and childhood friend Mina Hakuba (the sole daughter of the shrine’s caretaker), he begins to feel faint and then passes out. Upon awakening, he begins to realize that both he and Mina have somehow been transported to Dracula’s castle which, they both learn, is actually inside the solar eclipse.
The game play will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played the previous GBA Castlevanias. For the uninitiated, you can freely guide Soma all around Dracula’s castle at anytime (although you may require a power-up or two in order to have full access), doing battle with all manner of enemies. Soma can equip a wide array of swords, spears, hammers, etc. each having their own pros and cons (for example, hammers are powerful and spears have a long reach, but both are slower than many of the swords).
New to the series is the Soul Set system. Each time Soma defeats an enemy, he may leave behind a soul that Soma can use to enhance his own abilities. For example, if Soma harvests the soul of a Skeleton, he’ll be able to attack enemies by throwing bones at them.
Souls come in three flavors: red, blue, and yellow. Red souls, activated by pressing up plus attack, are projectile based attacks, like the Skeleton soul mentioned above. Blue souls, activated with the R button, can grant special abilities (like floating to the ground slower in order to access previously unreachable areas), offensive abilities (one soul transforms you into a demon that rushes across the screen, obliterating any enemies in your path), or defensive (a shield that repels enemy bullets). Yellow souls either enhance your stats (such as strength or intelligence) or grant you special abilities like walking on water.
Aria of Sorrows doesn’t disappoint in the visuals department. Soma himself is very fluidly animated, right down to his coat ruffling around as he moves. The backgrounds are rich with detail as well. When on the roof of the castle, you’ll notice bats flying around, with ominous clouds swirling in the distance. My only minor problem is that they recycle a few of the enemy models from previous games, but all in all, the graphics don’t disappoint.
Thankfully, Konami listened to all of the complaints about Harmony of Dissonance’s horrible cacophony of a soundtrack. Gone are the garbled, 8-bit era sounds of old, replaced by music that’s much easier on the ears. You won’t find yourself humming any of this stuff, but it certainly fits the mood of the game. The sound effects ensure that you’ll hear every clang and every blood curdling scream from some of the livelier residents of Drac’s castle.
For Castlevania veterans, the controls will be instantly familiar. For the rest, they’re fairly straightforward: jump and attack are covered by the face buttons, and you can activate your guardian souls and back dash with the R and L shoulder buttons, respectively.
The game itself is about ten hours long, give or take. However, there are multiple endings to be unlocked and a certain secret character from everyone’s favorite family of whip-toting vampire hunters.
Overall, Aria of Sorrows manages to keep the series both familiar and fresh. We can only hope that Konami will keep churning out more hits like it.