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Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

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Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is an action-adventure game developed and published by Konami for the Game Boy Advance. It is part of Konami's Castlevania video game series, and the third installment of the series on the Game Boy Advance. The game was released in North America on May 6, 2003 and released in Japan on May 8, 2003. Although Aria of Sorrow sold poorly in Japan, selling only 27,000 units nearly one month after its release, it was commercially successful in the United States, with more than 158,000 units sold three months following its release.

Aria of Sorrow is set in the year 2035, where Dracula has long been sealed away from a battle in 1999. His powers are to be passed on to his reincarnation. The plot follows the adventures of Soma Cruz, a high school student who is granted powers as a result of Dracula's death, and his battle against those who wish to acquire Dracula's powers.

Aria of Sorrow takes many elements from other Castlevania games, including Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance , which was in production at the same time as Aria of Sorrow. The game incorporates the combination of elements from platform games and console role-playing games that were initially utilized in the best-selling Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Aria of Sorrow introduces several new features to the series, such as the "Tactical Soul" system and a futuristic storyline, a contrast to the medieval setting of many other Castlevania games. Aria of Sorrow received praise from several video game publications, with many considering it one of the best games in the Castlevania series since Symphony of the Night.

Konami released a sequel to Aria of Sorrow, titled Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, on August 25, 2005 in Japan. It incorporates many elements from its predecessor, including the "Tactical Soul" system featured in Aria of Sorrow. Aria of Sorrow was also re-released as part of Konami's "Konami the Best" line on November 3, 2005 in Japan, and in a dual pack with Harmony of Dissonance, titled the Castlevania Double Pack, in North America on January 11, 2006.

Gameplay

Aria of Sorrow features a 2D side-scrolling style of gameplay where the player controls the onscreen character from a third-person perspective to interact with people, objects, and enemies. Like previous games in the series and most role-playing games, characters level up each time they earn a set number of experience points from defeating enemies; each "level" gained increases the character's statistics, thus improving their performance in battle. Statistic examples include hit points, the amount of damage a character can receive; magic points, which determine the number of times a character can use magical attacks; strength, the power of a character's physical attacks; and intelligence, the power of a character's magical spells. Upon encountering an enemy, the player can use a variety of weapons to attack and defeat the enemy. Despite the game being set in 2035, the available weapons are largely medieval, including swords, axes, and spears; though a handgun is available. These weapons differ in their damage output, the range of the weapon, and the speed of the attack. Items and other accessories can be found by defeating enemies or by purchasing items from the game's shop.

Similar to previous games in the series, Aria of Sorrow is set within Dracula's castle, which is further subdivided into several areas that the player traverses. These areas feature different components, such as different enemies, varying terrain characteristics, and a unique piece of theme music. Similar to most platform games, progression between areas is limited by the abilities the player currently has. While the method in which the player progresses through the game is initially linear, the player's options become more diverse as the number of character abilities increases.

Tactical Soul

Aria of Sorrow introduces a new ability system, Tactical Soul system, to the Castlevania series. It involves absorbing the souls of enemies in order to gain additional abilities. Except for human enemies and the game's final opponent, all souls can be absorbed by the player. The rate at which enemies' souls are obtained varies between enemies. Players can trade souls between two Aria of Sorrow cartridges using two Game Boy Advance consoles and a link cable.

Souls provide a variety of effects, and are separated into four categories: Bullet, Guardian, Enchant, and Ability souls. The player can only have one type of Bullet, Guardian, and Enchant soul equipped at any given time. Bullet souls are Soma Cruz's replacement for Sub Weapons in this game, and enable the player to consume a set amount of magic points to use an ability, often some form of projectile. Guardian souls provide continuous effects, including transforming into mythical creatures and summoning familiars. Guardian souls continually drain magic points so long as they are activated. Enchant souls are continuously active so long as they are equipped, and provide increases in statistics or other innate abilities—such as the ability to walk on water. Ability souls give the player innate abilities, which are often required to traverse certain areas of the castle. Because the souls are always active, they do not need to be equipped or consume magic points.

Additional modes

Aria of Sorrow includes additional modes of play that display elements not seen in the game's primary scenario. The New Game+ option allows a player that has completed the game to replay the game with all equipment and souls the player had acquired in a previous file. Additionally, the player can opt to start the game in Hard Mode, offering the same gameplay at a higher difficulty level. Two other modes offer alternatives to the standard gameplay. Boss Rush mode involves the player facing all of the game's bosses in quick succession, and is unlocked after the player completes the game once. Julius Mode is an additional mode of play unlocked with the same method. The player takes control of Julius Belmont, the member of the Belmont clan featured in the game.

Development

Aria of Sorrow was placed in production alongside Harmony of Dissonance, resulting in both games sharing similar programming engines and gameplay elements. Nevertheless, Igarashi claimed he wished to try a "different route" for the series with Aria of Sorrow via placing the game in a futuristic setting. Ayami Kojima, who had previously collaborated with Igarashi on the designs for the characters of Symphony of the Night and Harmony of Dissonance, was brought into the project. Following the "different route" motif, the character designs were made more contemporary, using modern clothing over the more medieval look of the previous Castlevania installments.

One of Igarashi's prominent concerns during development was addressing the criticism expressed concerning Harmony of Dissonance. Igarashi noted that the music in Harmony of Dissonance had not been well received and Michiru Yamane, who had previously worked on the acclaimed music for Symphony of the Night, was hired in order to compose for Aria of Sorrow. The development team worked on the game's audio cycles, as well as delegating more cartridge space and processor cycles for the sound. Maintaining the visual quality of Harmony of Dissonance was a chief objective during development, as many reviewers had felt that Harmony of Dissonance had excelled in graphics at the cost of the audio. Furthermore, certain elements that were missing in Harmony of Dissonance, such as hidden rooms, were incorporated into Aria of Sorrow.

Reception

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 88%
Metacritic 91 of 100
Review scores
Publication Score
1UP.com B+
Allgame 4.5 of 5
Eurogamer 9 of 10
Famitsu 36 of 40
GameSpot 8.6 of 1
GameSpy 4.5 of 5
IGN 9.3 of 10
RPGFan 90 of 100
RPGamer 4.5 of 5

Aria of Sorrow has received favorable reviews from several video game publications, with many comparing it to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, widely considered the best game in the Castlevania series. Famitsu, considered to be one of the most respected video game news magazines in Japan, gave Aria of Sorrow a 36/40, the highest score any game in the Castlevania series has received from Famitsu. It was rated by Nintendo Power as the 22nd best game made on a Nintendo System in their Top 200 Games list. In Japan, the game sold only 27,000 units one month after its release, considered to be a poor showing for a major video game franchise. Conversely, the game was significantly more successful in the United States, with more than 158,000 units in sales three months after its release.

As the third installment of the Castlevania series on the Game Boy Advance, many reviewers made note of the game's differences as versus its predecessors,Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance , with many considering it the definitive Castlevania game for the Game Boy Advance. GameSpy noted that Aria of Sorrow "managed to get just about everything right" as versus its predecessors, and lauded it as "the best portable Castlevania game yet created." RPGFan claimed that Aria of Sorrow "[showcased] the true art of game development: to adapt and change as necessary yet remain consistent." RPGamer considered Aria of Sorrow one of the best games ever released for the Game Boy Advance. GameSpot nominated the game for the prize of best Game Boy Advance game of 2003, with the prize ultimately going to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.

The gameplay, specifically the Tactical Soul system, was a frequent subject of acclaim amongst reviewers. RPGFan called the Tactical Soul system "addictively [sic] fun", and GameSpot lauded the simplicity and depth of the gameplay. RPGamer considered the gameplay "one hundred percent solid," lauding the game's controls and interaction with enemies, as well as the Tactical Soul system. RPGFan asserted that the game had "a chance to be the most revered installment of the series, hardly caught in the shadow of Symphony of the Night like its predecessors." The game's length and difficulty were brought into question by several reviewers. GameSpot noted that a single play through the game would only last ten hours, and that the player grew "practically unstoppable" over the course of the game. RPGamer echoed this assessment, deriding the fact that the game "never [offered] much of a challenge", but noted that the "simplistic fun" of the gameplay rectified this.

The game's graphics and audio were widely praised by reviewers. RPGFan extolled the game's environments as "gorgeous and well layered," and noted while the game did not achieve the level of graphical quality set by Symphony of the Night, it "made a damn good attempt at it.". GameSpy called the graphics "crisp, clear and colorful," with "good animation on easily viewable sprites." GameSpy additionally noted that the game's audio, a particularly lambasted feature of Harmony of Dissonance, was "fitting and well-composed." Prior to the game's release,IGN commented that the music was "pretty darn good." GameSpot, although labeling the music as "mostly forgettable," noted that it was far better than the audio of Harmony of Dissonance, and celebrated the individual audio used for enemies.

In terms of storyline and characters, RPGamer welcomed the characters' depth, and the emphasis placed into the personalities and development of supporting characters, asserting that previous Castlevania games ignored the development of the supporting characters in exchange for concentrating on the protagonist. IGN called the game's ending "incredibly unfulfilling and disappointing," but lauded the change from the conventional plot of a Castlevania game, in which a member of the Belmont clan defeats Dracula with the aid of a host of supporting characters. GameSpy criticized the presence of a "weak female who needs protection" and an "effeminate-looking man who does all the slaying" as stereotypical Castlevania elements, but noted that the "powerful and compelling scenario" the game had was the best in the series since Symphony of the Night.

Sequel and re-release

Due to the success of Aria of Sorrow, the production of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, a rare sequel in the Castlevania series, was announced on January 6, 2005. In an interview, Koji Igarashi noted that he felt that the Tactical Soul system used in Aria of Sorrow, as well as the storyline with Soma Cruz, were a waste to use in only one game, and contributed to his desire to make a sequel. As such, the Tactical Soul system was reintroduced in Dawn of Sorrow, as well as several new developments, such as an anime character design, as Ayami Kojima was not part of the production staff for Dawn of Sorrow.

Aria of Sorrow was additionally re-released in both Japan and in the United States. On November 3, 2005, Aria of Sorrow was re-released as part of Konami's "Konami the Best" line in Japan. Aria of Sorrow was re-released along with Harmony of Dissonance, in the Castlevania: Double Pack, in North America on January 11, 2006.


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