|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 31 Jul 2008|
Of all the
portable Castlevania games for GBA and DS, I never got around to this one for some reason. The game seemed to disappear from store shelves and then got expensive, and eventually I forgot about it until its sequel, Dawn of Sorrow, was released. If this was a simple comparison of Aria to Dawn, it would be a short review. Basically, everything that Aria does, Dawn does a lot better. However, that’s not exactly fair to Aria of Sorrow. It isn’t chopped liver here. It’s actually a really solid and fun game, and arguably the best one on the GBA. Aria introduces one of the better systems in recent Castlevania games, the soul system. This system allows you to collect the soul of any enemy you encounter, and you can then equip these souls for various special moves that allow you to use magic, unlock new abilities, or reach previously unreachable areas. Each enemy has a probability of collecting their soul, so you may sometimes kill an enemy a couple dozen times to get the soul, but somehow the “gotta catch em all” collectability of the system never seems to get boring and irritating. Instead of pointless level grinding, the soul system and random/rare item drops gives you incentive to go through areas over again or challenge certain difficult enemies. Another great feature in Aria is that the graphics are beautiful. It’s a very pretty game, and probably one of the best looking games on the portable. It looks a lot like Harmony of Dissonance (which was also a very pretty game), but this improves in small ways on that game’s engine. The protaganist, Soma, is well animated, and the enemy character design is varied and interesting. There are humorous enemies, giant, fearsome enemies, and complex, grotesque enemies. The souls also showcase a lot of different and pretty animations. Really great design overall, and that doesn’t even touch on the castle design this time around, which is also very good. I mean, it’s really the same old stuff, but it is well designed, and there are memorable areas like the Garden, the dangerous and towering Arena, underground water passages, and the catacombs. It also feels like a smaller and more compact castle, which allows
you to move around it rather quickly. In fact, the entire game is rather brief, my time clocking in a little over 7 hours with 100% castle completion and the best ending. The big things that separates this from Harmony of Dissonance, its predecessor, is the music and the challenge. The music, first and foremost, is a monumental improvement. Whatever barriers there were that limited the sound quality of HoD, it is gone now, and in its place is a great musical score. There’s a nice selection of ambient tunes, rock songs, epic boss songs, and arranged songs from older games. Then there is the challenge. I found this game to be much more challenging and fun than Harmony. I lost against nearly every boss the first time through and had to learn their patterns, and I also found myself getting roughed up by the common enemies from area to area. Definitely a better challenge, and in general, this is just a really fun game to play. The story is a bit strange and doesn’t always make a ton of sense, but it is interesting at least. And like I said, Dawn of Sorrow is a bit more polished in nearly every aspect, but that shouldn’t take away from what is one of the premier games for the Game Boy Advance. If you haven’t played this one, do yourself a favor and give it a try. This one’s a classic.