Absorb Your Soul
Aria of Sorrow, the newest game in the Castlevania series, once again is a perfect fit for the GBA. This game is the third installment on GBA and it’s the best Castlevania for the system as it combines the highlights of both The Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance.
One theme that has held strong in the Castlevania series is the 2D side-scrolling element. The 3D N64 Castlevanias did not work as well as it has in a 2D environment. The Playstation version, Symphony of the Night, strengthened the series making it one of the best game series of all time. The GBA versions are a perfect home for the Castlevania games as the little handheld is able to create colorful and lively sprites while having enough buttons to perform the needed tasks.
This story is the first Castlevania to take place in the future. The player takes control of a teenage boy named Soma. Soma gets trapped in an eclipse with Dracula’s castle is lurking inside it. Drac’s spirit is trying to once again take shape and Soma will try to stop it. Upon entering the castle, the main character learns that he has a “dark power” that allows him to absorb souls. This is what separates Aria of Sorrow from the others and incorporates a new method of leveling up your character. After the player defeats an enemy, there is a chance that he will absorb its soul. Each enemy’s soul can be equipped once absorbed. Soma can then use an attack that the enemy had. For example, a water gun can be sprayed if a merman has been absorbed or a bone can be thrown if a skeleton has been absorbed. There are over 100 souls to collect in the game and that provides added replay value. This new element of taking the enemy’s power has replaced the mini weapons (knife, holy water, cross, etc) of the other games.
Carrying on the traditional Castlevania style of play, new weapons and armor can be collected and equipped. One really cool feature in this game is that it offers many different kinds of weapons including knives, swords, hammers, whips, and several others. Each weapon has different strengths and reach. Swords are longer and attack further than daggers, but daggers attack faster. Different weapons will work better in certain situations. Along with weapons, armor can be collected. One piece of armor and one accessory can be equipped. Armor increases defense while the accessory will change certain levels of the character’s stats. Also, once enough enemies have been killed, your level will increase. In order to beat the game, you will need to be at approximately level 50. The new soul absorbing system and different kinds of weapons make this game very fun and addicting to play. Similar to the other Castlevanias, new maneuvers will be used when you find them. These include such things as the double jump and vertical jump.
The play control is very responsive and tight as can be. Each button on the GBA will be used. Of course “A” and “B” will be used to jump and attack while the usual button combination of “Up” on the D-pad and the attack button will result in your soul attack. The “R” button will be used as your “special” soul-move button. Once these abilities (i.e. float through the air, or perform a monster dash) have been gained, this button will be used to perform these actions. The “L” button will be used to dash backwards after you gain that ability. Select and Start bring up the map and menu screen. The map will be checked often as you will have to look for new places to travel to. Despite only having four buttons, the player can use all of the character’s moves with ease and comfort.
This game has some of the smoothest character animations on GBA. In fact, the smoothness of how everything moves is what makes the gameplay. Because everything flows so nicely and effortlessly, the style of gameplay and the speed of the game plays in perfect balance. Besides fantastic character animations, the backgrounds and special effects are nicely done as well. The way enemies bleed and explode when defeated will never make the player bored as it looks new every time. Gamers will never tire of these effects, as they too are also fluid in animation. In addition to having great visuals, the sound is outstanding as well. The music helps bring the sense of what is happening on screen while the sound effects generate a feel all their own. To feel the full power of the sound, put on some stereo headphones.
Since there are so many souls to collect in the game, Konami has included a “Trade Soul” function. Two copies of the game with a save file that has souls to trade, two GBAs, and a link cable are needed to transfer the data. This gameplay option can be accessed through the menu screen that appears after you boot up the game. Swapping souls is easy because of the easy to navigate menu system. However, souls must be traded. One person cannot simply give another person a soul. Another negative aspect of the soul trade feature is that you cannot trade between save files on the same game pak. The game holds three save files but you cannot trade between them. It would have been better if this were a possibility.
Aria of Sorrow is the best GBA Castlevania yet as it plays out very fluidly. This game series has proven that you do not need to travel in a 3D environment in order to be successful and have fun. Castlevania was born in 2D and plays best in 2D. Even though this game came out in less than a year from the previous Castlevania, in no way does it feel rushed or just thrown together. With this game’s awesome character animations, solid music tracks, simple control scheme, and a clean weapon, armor, and power up system, Aria of Sorrow stands strong. You’ll only wish that this game was longer as it may only take you about 7-8 hours to complete. However, once beaten, unlockables will be available that will let you play as new member of the Belmont clan and challenge bosses. Be careful when playing this game as it will absorb your soul as well.