"I can't copy-paste on Dreamcast so no excerpt for you. Just click the review out of pity spawned by the fact that I am, in fact, typing this review on a Dreamcast."
There was a certain thrill to slaughtering your enemies that went beyond the battles themselves in both of the worthwhile exploration-based Castlevanias prior to this one. You knew that upon their death, every single one of your foes might just cough up a rare item for you to nab; it could be as a simple as an armor plate from one of Circle's skeleton knights , but it might also be as unique as the blood-sucking blade Muramasa from a sword-demon's ghost in Symphony. I'd be hard pressed to call it the games' lifeblood, but it kept me interested in smashing through the endless waves of Dracula's minions, knowing that it might just be this next fire-demon who leaves behind that +30NRD chainmail that I'd been so desperately pining for.
While you'll still find everything from an ice-enchanted sword to an attack-parrying breastplate amidst the remains of your fallen foes, Aria of Sorrow takes that geeky appeal to a whole new level with its ingenious soul-harvesting system. The less-than-stoic Soma is able to absorb his enemies' varied talents, and even though they "drop" rather infrequently, you'll eventually come to possess a dizzying array of the game's 80-plus (!) special powers. Many souls, such as the Lightning Doll's, grant you sweet attacks like a fingertip-discharged blast of electricity; others, like the hilariously mistranslated Lubicant's, play with your stats, in that case raising your strength as you take more and more damage. Defensive-minded nonsense is kept to a minimum, fortunately.
And while the demonic minions you'll be maiming with these skills would have been a joy to battle entirely independent of Aria's rewarding gimmick, it's thanks to this gimmick that you'll have a renewed interest in dueling even the least of its hellish opposition. Dodge the spiked discus of an emerald-armored knight; if you're lucky, you'll end up being able to use that tool as your own! Flying skeleton monsters will chuck spears at you from above; you'll be able to do the same once you swat a few of them out of the sky! Not every monster's powerup is quite as obvious, though. There's almost a sense of mystery in going up against foes such as the lance-wielding fallen angel Erinys or the ever-moving, ever-infuriating Medusa Heads--just what kind of ability might I gain from killing these guys?
No matter; even the craziest of your newfound powers can probabbly be employed against some of Aria's cool bosses, and yes, you can suck their souls as well. A couple of the earlier fights are merely decent, granted, but once you make a little headway into the game they just get better and better. One particularly clever foe was the Headhunter, who initially appears to be just a sword-packin' lady clad in Victorian-era ballroom garb. Many stabbings ensue, and eventually, you'll get the chance to take any of your aquired blades and slice her noggin clean off! You win, right?
Wrong. You must not have noticed the jar-held heads of a floating warlock and an agile lizard displayed on the wall as trophies, and as your bested opponent commandeers one and then the other, she even gets to take on their past forms. There's an almost obscene amount of ways to go about winning; you could sling a fine dish of hot curry (really) at that evil reptile when he tries to whack you with his tounge, for instance, or toss a spiky mine into the air and wait for the fireball-blasting necromancer to slam right into it! The choice is yours.
And surprisingly, all of those choices are kept in balance thanks to the well-implemented MP system. You won't be able to lightning-zap your way through everyone dumb enough to oppose you, yet at the same time the candles placed all about Drac's abode now contain magic-refilling hearts meant to keep you rocking. Yeah, that means the traditional CV subweapons are gone, but you won't miss them at all. The comparative dullness of playing as the unlockable Belmont character is a testament to that.
If there's any problem I have with Aria of Sorrow, it's that a few areas of this latest Castle Dracula itself aren't exactly the greatest. Some parts of it, such as the Floating Garden, look spectacular; it's hard not to be transfixed by the place's moonlit teal sky and the ominously rumbling clouds that much of it lies above. But in a few other places such as the washed-out water caverns, the illusion of variety is dented, and you'll eventually come to realize that it's been more than just this drab cave suffering from a bit of lazy design. Corridors are rather liberally cut-and-pasted, while even centerpiece rooms such as the Clock Tower's gear hopping ones have been reused with minimal variation.
But you didn't notice that when you were actually hopping about the Clock Tower's meticulously detailed machinery, and once you move on to an ornately detailed collosseum the thought leaves your head just as quickly as it had entered. And even then, it's not out of exploring these usually gorgeous locales that you're meant to squeeze most of your fun. Battling Aria of Sorrow's cool enemies and cooler bosses with your diverse array of awesome powers--that's what'll keep you coming back for more, and while the cart alone may go for a pricey $30, the thrill of finally nabbing those particularly obstinate fossil-turrets' soul after slaughtering dozens upon dozens of them is simply priceless. Learning how to spew forth gusts of flame from your hand is just icing on the cake.
Staff review by John L (August 06, 2005)
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