Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the third Metroidvania game on the GBA. It appeared Koji Igarashi and his team were going to keep on going in this direction, as the formula is a proven success. Aria of Sorrow was also released in 2003, which was probably the best time to own a GBA, thanks to games like Advance Wars 2, Fire Emblem and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga among others.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is, depending on how you look at it, the most bizarre or most creative the Metroidvania era. It completely ditches the “Belmont v. Dracula” story, in favor of something different. Even with strange new plotlines and characters, Aria of Sorrow features new gameplay features and has some of the best music out of all the handheld Castlevanias.
Aria of Sorrow’s plot and characters are unique
Aria of Sorrow takes place in the not-so-distant future of 2035. Instead of it being a period piece set in the European countryside, it is in modern Japan. Dracula’s castle also does not occur because of dark magic or it is the result mad cult leader or priest, it appears in Japan during a unique solar eclipse.
Setting itself even farther apart from other entries is the actual lack of the Count himself! Instead, it’s his “spirit” or “energy” that curses the Land of the Rising Sun.
To add to the weirdness, players don’t take control of a vampire hunter at all. Instead, they play as Soma Cruz, an exchange student living in Japan. Cruz also has secret powers and a dark one hidden inside.
This may sound like a premise for a bad early 2000s anime, but it does flesh itself out into an engaging story with rich characters. The story has Cruz trying to defeat the evil in the land while trying to figure out what is going on himself. It’s a great set up, and the storyline practically begs players to explore the castle.
The main villain is an American cult leader named Graham Jones, who wants to control Dracula’s evil. Helping Soma Cruz along the way is Japanese government agent Genya Arikado aka Alucard under a different identity; Yoko Belnades, a local religious figure and a possible descendant of Syhpa from Dracula’s Curse; Hammer, a former U.S. soldier who is a weapons dealer; and Soma’s childhood friend Mina Habuku, who is acts as travel guide. There is even a missing Belmont, who goes by the name “J.”
Aria of Sorrow is another great Metroidvania for the GBA
Despite the changes to the classic plot and ideas from other Castlevania games, Aria of Sorrow contains fresh gameplay ideas. Aria of Sorrow brings back the array of weapons in Symphony of the Night. Cruz’s sword and hand-to-hand combat skills are up to part with Alucard. This is also one of the few games in the series where the main character can wield firearms. Combat is still as engaging and fun as ever.
The newest feature in Aria of Sorrow is Tactical Soul System. How the system works is, after defeating an enemy or boss Cruz can absorb its soul to gain all kinds of abilities. The souls of the enemies will contain attack enhancements, helpful uses, and even brand new attacks. Some souls allow for summons and using the attacks the enemies use. It’s yet another new process, but it allows for even more creativity. Players can have near endless customization with the souls and weapons.
The graphics of the game take a more dark approach, which fits the tone of the game. It even looks more colorful and crisp than other GBA Castlevanias. Aria of Sorrow has one flaw and is shockingly enough its level design. The backgrounds and themes of the stages are classic Castlevania, but it’s a tad repetitive. Considering this is a massive exploration-based game, it makes Aria of Sorrow a bit of a slog.
To cap off the game, there is the soundtrack. Castlevania is a franchise with a consistently good soundtrack in each game, and Aria of Sorrow is no different. It’s a bit more atmospheric than most Castlevania soundtracks. There are some touches of native Japanese music too. Which makes sense, since that’s where the game takes place.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is easily one of the most original of the franchise. Its new premise and unique look on the classic Castlevania story is worth looking into. If it’s a bit too odd than players should still give it a shot, thanks to some imaginative gameplay. Aria of Sorrow’s levels may be a bit samey, but pushing that aside, fans and newcomers can enjoy a gripping Castlevania experience.