Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sink Your Teeth into Castlevania, Part III: Aria of Sorrow

Even the grittiest, most weathered of Castlevania fans has at some point asked him- or herself, “How many whip-toting vampire killers can I play as before I lose interest in the series I love?” Also, “If a bug crawls up my nose, could it bite my brain?” Though it might seem like Konami is willing to churn out the same product over and over again with a different set of clothes, it looks like they were wondering the same thing: Yes, you need to protect your nostrils while you sleep if you value your plump, delicious brain. Also, playing as a whip wielding character 100 times over might wear thin after a while, just like Family Guy’s irreverent brand of “humor.”

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – the last game in the GBA “Metroidvania” trilogy – inserts a metal pole in the spokes of the established Castlevania cannon, taking place three decades in the future and focusing on swords and blunt weaponry instead of the immortal Vampire Killer whip. Like 1994’s Castlevania: Bloodlines and several other key games in the franchise, Aria takes a decidedly different path than its whip crazy comrades and provides yet another excellent action-adventure romp though Dracula’s horrible home.

If you’ve been taking my advice, you’re already whipping your way through Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance. Good for you, but know that your greatest transportable triumphs await you in the final CV title for the GameBoy Advance.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the most recent Castlevania on GBA and is very similar to the PlayStation classic Symphony of the Night. The year is 2035. Effeminate high school student Soma Cruz and his childhood friend are knocked unconscious during a solar eclipse and awaken in Dracula’s castle, and it is up to Soma to get them out. Along the way, the player comes face to face with the largest, most screwed up CV cast the ol’ GameBoy Advance has to offer; anyone with a background in classic gaming will immediately recognize that Yoko is a descendant of Castlevania III’s slick sorceress Sypha Belnades and Mr. Arikado is the poorly-disguised hero of a few other CV games. Just say “Arikado” out loud. Now, pretend you’re a native of Japan and do it again. Get the picture?

As I mentioned before, the biggest shock to fans of previous Castlevania titles is that the main character does not wield the Vampire Killer whip. This time around – just like Symphony – the player can equip many different types of weaponry, ranging from small daggers and a mammoth sword that takes up half the screen to a thoroughly un-Castlevania pistol. Castlevania purists will be glad to hear that when one finishes Aria of Sorrow, he or she is given the chance to play through again as the whip-weilding Julius Belmont, or they can start the game over with all the weapons and items acquired in the previous file.

My bones, your bones, OH CRAP bones!

Aria of Sorrow’s plot borders on clever and is the best of the GBA trilogy. There are multiple endings to this game, similar to Harmony of Dissonance. The only problem is that they are obtained in seemingly random ways, just like Silent Hill 2. I suggest looking online for the methods.

The graphics are even better than Harmony, with super detailed backgrounds and big, scary monsters. However, your character remains small in comparison with everything else. Oh well; I guess you can’t have it all. Also, Konami has learned not to mess with a good thing, as evidenced by the familiar controls. The only change is that the R button does special attacks and the L button activates special abilities. And much to the distain of old-schoolers, the soundtrack has returned to the high quality music found in Circle of the Moon, though most of the tracks aren’t very memorable. In addition, the sound effects are a slightly better than the previous titles.

There’s doubt about it: Aria of Sorrow is the best of the GBA Castlevania trilogy and it stands up to the test of time. While we’re waiting for Lords of Shadow to blow our minds and the Nintendo 3DS to bite what’s left of our brains with a fantastic new Castlevania title, do yourself a favor and take a gander at the GBA Castlevania legacy. Remember: Whether you do it on an NES, GBA or a PS3, beating the heck out of Dracula simply never gets old.

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