Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Ever since the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the Sony PlayStation, with its combination of castle exploration alongside a Metroidvania/Castleroid formula of increasing the protagonist’s abilities, not to mention some RPG elements such as leveling, Konami attempted to duplicate its success with several GameBoy Advance installments such as Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance, with the former criticized for being too hard at times and the latter too easy at times. The third GameBoy Advance Castlevania, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow manages in some respects to get back to the Metroidvania/Castleroid roots, and is consequentially enjoyable.

Rather than giving the protagonist Soma Cruz a whip like in the previous two GameBoy Advance Castlevanias, much like Symphony, Aria allows him to choose from a variety of weapons such as daggers and swords, making the fourth Metroidvania feel a bit more like the first. The biggest change over previous Metroidvania titles is the introduction of Souls of three different types that Soma obtains from killing enemies, three of which he can equip at a time and provide various effects such as increasing stats and, towards the end, being able to transform into a bat, with some Soul skills necessary to advance through various parts of the castle.

The battle system works well for the most part, with a fair but still easy difficulty level, along with the continued convenience of rooms that fully restore HP and MP (and hearts gained from occasionally busting torches and candles restore some MP, with the hearts and subweapon systems being absent in Aria). One convenience unfortunately missing from Aria, however, is the save anywhere feature present in Harmony, which can at times add a semblance of artificial difficulty, although in these instances healing items are readily available and even buyable with money gained from smashing torches and occasionally killing enemies.

The game interface is just as solid, with easy control and menus, alongside an automap of the entire castle, though as mentioned, Harmony’s save-anywhere system is absent, and there are some times when the player can get lost, and finding out how to advance through the castle can lead the player to search every visited corner can sometimes be tedious. Otherwise, the game interacts well with the player.

As with other Castlevania titles, Aria is fairly light on story, despite breaking from the norm of going through the castle to kill Dracula, this time focusing on a villain who seeks to inherit the Dark Lord’s powers, although story scenes are nonetheless fairly uncommon, and character development scant, although there is one significant twist regarding a particular character. The translation is fairly adequate with no errors in the dialogue, although there are some errors in item names, such as the “Sherman Ring” (instead of Shaman Ring) and “Ronginus Spear” (instead of Longinus Spear). Overall, the story isn’t a driving factor, but doesn’t hurt the game, either.

While Harmony had some issues with its music presentation, Aria mercifully doesn’t have them, with plenty of nice tracks of different genres, alongside good sound effects some voice clips for a few characters, although they’re still left in Japanese.

The graphics look nice as well, with well-designed scenery and character sprites that look like Ayami Kojima’s portraits, alongside many solid enemy designs, although the sprites as usual are faceless.

Finally, Aria is fairly short, with skilled players able to complete it in a little under five hours, although there are some things to boost playing time such as exploring every corner of Dracula’s castle, different endings, a boss rush mode, challenge modes where the player is unable to use either Souls or items, not to mention a mode where the player can take control of one of the characters introduced in the main game (and revealing his true identity would be a spoiler). Ultimately, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a solid addition to the series, with solid game mechanics, controls, music, and graphics, although like other installments of the franchise, it suffers from deficiencies with regards to its storytelling. Those that can look past that aspect, however, will likely have a fun time.

The Good:
+Solid battle mechanics.
+Fun castle exploration.
+Nice music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Finding out where to go next can be tedious at times.
-Light on story.
-Some localization errors.

The Bottom Line:
Another solid Castlevania game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: Less than 5 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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