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SummaryAbsolutely fantastic game. One of my all-time favorites.
The GoodWhere do I start? Okay, a bit of the story...
It's the year 2035. A transfer student by the name of Soma Cruz and his childhood friend Mina Hakuba are, during a solar eclipse, on their way to the Hakuba shrine. Something weird happens; they are drawn into the eclipse, and end up at a mysterious castle, where they meet a man by the name of Genya Arikado (straight-forward, eh?). Genya informs them that the castle they just arrived in is that of Dracula, a vicious vampire who has been the target of several vampire hunters for centuries. Some moments later, a group of monsters appear, and Genya manages to fend them off -- but one of their souls were pulled into Soma, as if by some magnetic force. As explained by Genya, this is the awakening of Soma's "power of dominance", an ability to collect souls in order to gain abilities (essentially permanent power-ups). And that's where our adventure begins. I don't want to spoil anything, so let's move on to gameplay mechanics and the like, shall we? I do want to add that it has some interesting twists, and it's worth playing through to have the whole story unfold in front of you.
This game has the classic "Castlevania adventure"-type gameplay, as pioneered by Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, and mastered by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which apparently will remain the mold for future Castlevania titles). What can I say? I love this type of gameplay. Sidescrolling action-adventure is absolutely awesome, and with the ability to level up, all the customization abilities (souls, equipment, weapons), yeah... It's one of the most complete games I've played. Totally my thing. Have you not played previous Castlevania titles like this, or perhaps not even the Metroid games, then the basic gameplay is as follows: you are limited to a certain area of the castle until you find a new ability to jump higher (and reach high platforms), slide, walk on water, walk under water... or perhaps until you simply find a key. The feeling you get is ever as rewarding, and it motivates you to keep on playing. However, the downside is, of course, that you can hit walls several times throughout your playthrough. I know I did. I know I stopped playing the game for weeks multiple times, before deciding to pick it up again and get past a certain part. (I was unaware of guides, it seems.)
One of the game's biggest features are the souls, which I mentioned earlier (when I talked about customization). The game is more or less centered around this system, and it's, as mentioned earlier, closely tied-in with the story. It adds quite a lot of depth. Here's how it works: When you kill an enemy, you have a chance of obtaining its soul. These souls are equippable. There are 3 different soul types, and you can have one of each equipped at the same time; yellow, blue, and red. The yellow types are sort of passive abilities (always activate, drains no MP), like walking on water, increasing stats, getting stronger when poisoned, etc. The blue type of souls are like skills. They drain a certain amount of MP, and they do things like letting you fly, glide, create a barrier, summon an imp (!) which follows you around and protects you against enemies, etc. The red type is an attack variant. Have you played any of the early Castlevania games? Remember how you had things like axes and crosses, which you consumed hearts to use? Well, it's a bit like that, only these drain MP instead of hearts... and they're permanent, of course. Some souls even let you temporarily transform, which is cool. As I also mentioned, you have armor and weapons, like you do in any RPG. And it works pretty much the same as in all of those games... The types of equipment are divided into Hand, Body, and Accessory; Hand is obviously for weapons, Body is for armor, and Accessory is for... accessories. All do various changes to stats. Some weapons do more damage to certain enemy types, some accessories give you more resistance against magic or elements or so. As you would expect... Nevertheless, there's hundreds of different equipments, hundreds of different souls. There's plenty of depth here... especially considering it's a Castlevania game. :) There's also the Abilities, as they are so simply called. These add zero depth, however. Most only allow you to progress in the game, like the double jump Ability.
The boss battles are also amazing, but can occasionally get frustrating. Although, here's the thing; the game has RPG elements (to the point where it has leveling up, at least), so grinding does wonders. If not that, buy some potions... ;) The music is wonderful, and the soundtrack includes several catchy tunes. It's hard to explain how music sounds, though, so think I'll leave that to you... But in a nutshell, it's typical Castlevania-ish; sort of a midi symphony thing. And it's awesome. Sound effects aren't bad, either. As for the graphics, they are far, far better than those of Circle of the Moon, and they look a bit more realistic (as if that's important) than the graphics in Harmony of Icantspellitsname. They are what they need to be. They fit perfectly. Not cheap, not half-arsed. Just perfect. Like previous Castlevania titles of the same "type", this one also has a comprehensive... lexicon of enemies. You can display weaknesses, you can, obviously, look at the enemies. It lists their levels, etc...the stats you need to know. That is, provided you have battled them once already. As for characters, the game doesn't really include many, but they're all interesting. I really like the game's protagonist, Soma Cruz (even though he's a bit "emo"). Very memorable.
Hm, I guess I've covered most of it already, hm? Oh! You can actually get GUNS in this one. That encourages exploration. Farming lead is awesome, and you know it.
The BadOther than the fact that I probably tried beating the last boss like 20 times before I finally got him, which got really frustrating to say the least (I solved the issue by buying potions. Heh.), I didn't REALLY dislike anything about this game. However, there were a few things I could do without.
One of the lines before the last boss were cheesy as hell. Another thing that I feel I need to address, is that this one lacks one of the neat features of the last installment (Harmony of Icantspellitsname); that one decorable room, which encourages the player to explore more than they already had to find more decorations, like chairs and statues. But that's not a huge problem, exactly.
It's also pretty short. I finished it in about 10 hours, though it felt like longer. Well, it probably WAS longer. I often did die and had to replay parts (especially bosses)... Still, one can surely finish it in one sitting, provided you know what to do. Definitely.
The Bottom LineCastlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a wonderful title, more-than-worthy of the Castlevania name. It's the best of the series, in my opinion, counting games before and after it (that I have played). A real gem. I can't really say a single bad thing about it. It's near-perfection, and my fascination hasn't worn off since I got it like 3-4 years ago (even if I, admittedly, do not play it often).
The fact that I got this and Harmony of Icantspellitsname (Castlevania Double Pack) for about 30 bucks was, to say the least, a real bargain. I had no idea such an epic adventure would await me. And I still have yet to beat Harmony of Dissonance (I could spell it, after all).
This also marks my longest review ever written. That alone should show how much I love this game.
If you get a chance of getting it, do not hesitate! It's a very fun game and might just have the most depth of any Castlevania game to date.