Before I start, I’ve got to mention that I’m a huge Castlevania fan. As such, this review may be a little biased and feature comparisons to previous Castlevania games on this system. I will, however, try to be as unbiased as possible.
Every character sprite in this game seems to have been paid equal attention to. On the small screen, it can be hard to see, but the amount of detail each sprite has is phenomenal. Circle of the Moon did the same but everything was graphically less impressive than this game. In the last installment, Harmony of Dissonance, they didn’t pay much attention to enemy detail. Any sprite that wasn’t Juste’s lacked any kind of detail. This was especially noticeable when you unlocked the playable Maxim. In Aria of Sorrow, this has been alleviated.
Likewise, in lieu of the new GBA SP’s lit screen, they opted to take out the stupid soul shadows and outlines on the bats. To me, this was an exceptionally annoying feature of Harmony of Dissonance. The whole idea of the bats is to get you when you’re not expecting it. If you see a big blue and white outline, of course you’re going to see them. Graphically, the game makes use of the GBA’s 7 layers more often than past games in the series. The team even included a Mode-7 sky and some sprite-scaling on some enemies. All the stops were pulled out for this one.
Circle of the Moon holds its position as the master of GBA music. While not quite as good as that game, Aria of Sorrow does come close. It blows Harmony of Dissonance away in the music department. Perhaps they’ll not be able to match CotM’s music so long as they keep up the godly work on the graphics. Personally, I find this the best combination of the two so far.
The sound effects in this game are also great. Screams, grunts, slashes, yelps and swoops all sound amazing when played in stereo. Even playing them on the SP’s stock speaker, the sound effects are great.
What can you do with great graphics and near perfect sound without great gameplay? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Fortunately, Aria of Sorrow’s gameplay is no slouch either. In a surprising turn of events, Konami fast-forwarded time a bit for this game’s premise. While the story takes place in 2035, you won’t find much reference to modern technology. In fact, the only reference you may find to modern day is how Soma talks. He tends to speak with more slang than previous Castlevania characters have.
The story of this game is quite possibly one of the best this series has yet to see. The only exception may be Symphony of the Night. Then again, if this game had speech, I’m sure the story would have been told better. As it stands, the opening story is told by Soma and from his point of view. After that, you’ll interact with a bunch of non-player characters that clue you in on what’s happening. You will run into a slew of strange characters during your escape from Castle Dracula. At first, it feels a little like Clue, but there’s no guessing involved at the end.
This game’s biggest flaw has got to be its difficulty. There is none. Just run through the castle, fight enemies, level up, read the story, fight a boss, repeat. The bosses are too easy. In fact, I only found one boss difficult at all. Even then, if you’re the appropriate level, he’s a pushover, too. The hardest part about this game is remembering where you need to go next. Probably the most influential aspect to the game’s difficulty is the soul system. If you have a lot of luck early on, you’ll snag a bunch of souls which enhance your power, skills, and abilities. Of course, after you beat the game, you can play without souls but you’ve already gone through the game and know where to go and what’s going to happen next so, it’s not that big of a draw unless you really want a challenge. Likewise, there’s a code to disable weapons and equipment. Sadly, it’s just a one or the other thing.
After you beat the game, there are some extras other than playing without weapons or souls. More specifically, you can play as one of the Belmonts. The developers also decided to include the Boss Rush Mode from Harmony of Dissonance. These two extras should keep you happy for awhile.
When all is said and done, difficulty aside, this appears to be the best Castlevania game on the system to date. It’s not any one thing about it that makes it great. Rather, it’s the sum of its parts (graphics, music, gameplay and, extras) that make up this total package. Just know that if you’re a true fan of Castlevania challenges, you’ll need to go through the game at least once to get to the real challenge.
-Originally Posted by Bloodspoor