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Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance) review

"Castlevania's final stop before moving to the DS"

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance) image

Dracula is dead, laid to rest in the year 1999 at the hands of Julius Belmont. Yet somehow his magnificent castle has manifested in ghostly fashion over Japan, and you must explore its convoluted corridors and wonderfully dark scenery once again. But before you breathe an exasperated sigh, know that Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow isn't a mere rehash of previous two Castlevania portables, Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance. Rather than only whipping foes and collecting items, you'll also engage in a sort of thievery...

This time around, you play one capable youngster named Soma Cruz. Never mind the awkward white lab coat you don or that you've never been properly trained in combat; you're one BMF, because you possess a talent for stealing your opponents' souls. Every bat you slay, skeleton you topple and mythological creature you fell offers a slim chance of shedding its soul, which you can then "equip" via in-game menu.

These souls are not just trinkets or war trophies, either. A large portion of them provide you with one of Castlevania's defining features: sub-weapons. You can obtain classics like the axe or dagger, but those pale in comparison to some of the wild new weaponry Aria dispenses. For instance, you can throw katanas, lob mighty bladed discs, fire beams immense enough to make DBZ characters breath heavily, or even spill steaming curry on your opponents.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow screenshotCastlevania: Aria of Sorrow screenshot

Sub-weapons aren't the only kind of souls on offer. Some souls boast a continuous effect that lasts as long as you hold down the 'R' trigger. For instance, there's a soul that provides a boost in your strength stat, and another important one that slows your falling speed. The only trade-off is that such souls diminish your MP while in use, so the advantages they provide are mostly temporary. My personal favorites, though, are souls that bestow passive abilities. Stat boosters dominate this category, but there are others that grant immunity to various status ailments or even increase your prowess as certain conditions are met. One, for instance, grants you a sizable bonus in various stats whenever you're poisoned.

My only complaint with Aria's soul system is that it can lead to a hefty amount of tedious farming. Some foes resist giving up the very essence of their existence, and prefer to force you to kill them again and again and again and again and again.... Granted, that's not such a problem when you're dealing with one-shot wimps, but multi-hit monsters prove to be the biggest issue. The worst of all of them is the Iron Golem, who sports an impressive amount of HP and tends to only take one point of damage per hit. Let's just say you might have to get comfy on the couch, maybe even keep a bag of snacks and drinks handy, before undertaking that one.

Honestly, I'm struggling to find gaping flaws here. The game sports tight control response, an impressive array of weapons (some of which are ridiculously powerful, like the sword Claihm Solis), awesome environments and a whole slew of wicked boss battles. Unfortunately, these are all par for the Castlevania course, and especially the "Metroidvania" games. By this point, you'd think that Konami would have developed such a finely tuned title that Aria would be orgasmic, but it isn't. In other words, the game's only real sin is that it's 'great' and not 'amazing'.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow screenshotCastlevania: Aria of Sorrow screenshot

Aria's visuals are also nothing remarkable, albeit well developed in their own right. They carry the same dark tones that Circle of the Moon did, combined with the soft, somewhat bright coloration that came with Harmony of Dissonance. While it's a nice combination of styles, the fusion sometimes clashes, especially in the game's bestiary. On one hand, you have creatures like Nightmares and Poison Worms, which look downright menacing and befitting of a Gothic-style game. On the the other hand, you have gremlin-like Ukobacks and possessed cloaks called Killer Mantles, which are more lighthearted and cartoony. The clashing styles is more apparent here than before, or even after, and it's quite jarring.

Even the campaign's boss encounters are technically well designed, but they aren't amazing or memorable. Hell, the first four bosses are eventually relegated to standard enemies. Those four aside, you'll still find decent fights against monstrous entities, like Balore. This creature loves to crush his opponents under his meaty, boulder-sized fists that can shave off a fair amount of your HP with each blow. Of course, if humanoid giants aren't your thing, then you might enjoy a rematch with Legion (aka Granfalloon), complete with a destructible shell and laser-shooting tentacles. Death also returns, and this time with a trick he learned from Darth Maul. Destroy his scythe and he'll unsheathe a new one, decked out with dual blades. Sadly, though, this iteration of Death is not at all difficult, and perishes easily when you exercise a little caution.

I feel like I should be gushing by this point, but I'm finding it difficult to do so. Yeah, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a technically well crafted game. It's terrific new feature adds a dimension that has been missing from Metroidvania titles. However, every cool function or design choice comes with some tiny drawback. Soul collecting is cool, but farming is chore-like. Visuals are decent, but two styles vie for your attention. The setting and characters are refreshing because the story takes place closer to modern day than any installment, but it's missing that Gothic aesthetic and all the atmosphere that made the franchise great in the first place. All the same, I may knock Aria a bit for not getting its concepts exactly right, but that doesn't stop me from replaying it occasionally and losing hours in its network of hallways, all while trying to nab every soul.

Project Horror 2018
Project Horror saw one (1) horror review submitted every day through the month of October. This review was part of that effort.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 18, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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overdrive posted October 18, 2018:

I really agree with this review. I liked the game a lot, but after playing through SotN a dozen or so times and beating CotM and HoD, when I started this one, I struggled to maintain interest and stopped playing somewhere around Death. Konami really had a good formula initially, but when you consider that the three GBA games were just pale imitations of SotN on a less powerful handheld system, it just got to the point where I got tired of doing the same thing in a different game.
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Masters posted October 18, 2018:

This is a great review that makes me look back fondly on the game. I had that double pack that included Harmony with Aria -- what a deal. Anyway, the write-up successfully upholds its thesis throughout of 'great, but not amazing.'

My only gripe, is that I'd consider omitting this line:

"Honestly, I'm struggling to find gaping flaws here..."

It kind of derailed what was a very smooth ride until that point. Just a thought.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 19, 2018:

Thank you, both. I will look at revising that line. I was a little hasty at that point, so maybe with some added love I can smooth it over.

I think the only two post-Symphony games that were outstanding were Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia. The GBA games all felt like they were missing something. Portrait of Ruin suffered from a combination of environmental rehash and super moves that were easy to spam. Mirror of Fate was probably the worst of the "Metroidvanias," mostly because it was a fairly rote affair and its "God of War meets Symphony" concept didn't work.
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honestgamer posted October 19, 2018:

And yet Mirror of Fate was likely the one game that got the developer its gig remaking Metroid II, which seems to have been well received by critics (unlike Mirror of Fate, which was indeed uninspiring in general).
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Masters posted October 19, 2018:

I remember Circle of the Moon being kind of hard for this time of game, but boring, at the same time -- a difficult combination to pull off.

My favourite of the GBA titles was Harmony of Dissonance. At least it felt... different. It had a certain aesthetic. Aria of Sorrow did nothing for me for some reason. I'd have to go back and revisit.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 20, 2018:

I kinda liked Circle, but I thought it was too farmy. If you needed new armor, healing items or the special cards the game offered, then you had to kill enemies for ages until they dropped something. I think I've gone through the thing three times now, and I gave up on trying to get all of the armor and cards the first couple of times through.

Aria and Dawn had the same basic idea with souls, but most of the souls were easier to nab, plus it was easier to forgo obtaining most of the souls. A lot of them were unnecessary.

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