-by Dylan DiBona
As stated in my Super Castlevania IV Review, I’ve been dipping my toes into the world of Castlevania in preparation for the upcoming Netflix show. Now most fans use two terms to differentiate between two types of Castlevania games:
Classicvania: A linear action-oriented platformer with high difficulty. [Castlevania– Dracula X]
Metroidvania: A platformer more open to exploration. Borrows elements from Metroid while elaborating with RPG-like elements. [Symphony of the Night- onward]
So far I had only played Castlevania I, II, and Super Castlevania IV. Those would all fall under the “Classicvania” term. When I first picked up Aria of Sorrow (often considered the 2nd best in the series), I wasn’t sure what type of game I was buying. So how was my first experience with pure Metroidvania?
Immediately noticeable is Aria of Sorrows emphasis on narrative. This time you don’t play as a Belmont, but as Soma Cruz, a foreign exchange student who is studying in Japan. On the night of the first solar eclipse in a very long time, Soma decides to go to Hakuba Shrine to watch the event with his friend Mona. During the eclipse, Soma, Mona and small cast of other characters are dragged into a mysterious castle. This happens to be none other than Dracula’s lair, which was sealed inside the eclipse in 1999. Soma is told by a man named Arikado that his powers have awakened, and so Soma explores the castle in attempts to leave with Mona. I’ll get back to the narrative soon.
A smile lit onto my face in my first few minutes of playing Aria of Sorrow. As an avid-RPG lover, I was excited to see things like HP pop up when I hit enemies. Soma also had a handful of stats to manage (the usual Strength, Defense, Luck, etc.) By finding new weapons and armor, these stats would either go up or down. Sometimes you may find yourself sacrificing a stat like Luck to give a big boost to Defense. Everything played like a more modern and looser version of it’s predecessors; no more sticky stairs or small jumps. By exploring the castle you can find new powers which will allow you to do things like hover, double jump, slide and more. These powers give you access to new areas of the castle. It’s not a new concept, but it’s fun to wander around and see what doors your new abilities can open up.
Another welcome addition was the concept of “Souls”. Sometimes when you defeat a monster, you’ll obtain their soul and be able to use their attacks. In my experience I found it to be random on when you can take a soul, which would make it annoying to go after them all. And quite possibly the biggest positive change- the difficulty wasn’t ridiculous. Because of stats and a multitude of attacks, tough enemies and bosses can become much more manageable with a correct set of gear.
All in all, I vastly preferred my time with Metroidvania gameplay instead of Classicvania gameplay.
I think I should note that I’m familiar with the 2D Metroid titles, so this style of game isn’t new to me, but the RPG aspects are.
From the logo itself, it was apparent to me that the color palette in the game would be fitting and unique. For the series, it was pretty unique with bright blues, greens and of course red. I’m a sucker for good sprite work and this game had some nice stuff to show off.
The music was catchy too, with two tunes in specific sticking around in my head. Like I said in my SCIV review, I’ve always loved the Gothic vibes of the series, and this entry didn’t disappoint; the monster designs are probably the best I’ve seen for Castlevania. I kind of wish they gave Soma some eyes on his sprite, but other than that the presentation was solid.
Okay so I don’t like being a stickler for stuff like this, but the story in this game is pretty horrible. You meet about six people in the castle, have an initial conversation with them and then keep exploring. Sometimes you’ll see them again, but the game and Soma insists that these people are your “friends” (in one case enemy), when in reality we haven’t spent anywhere near enough time with them to justify that claim. Soma would say something like “Graham is a scoundrel!” and I’d have to try and remember who Graham even was.
I didn’t receive the true ending, which you unlock by finding three hidden collectibles and using a specific soul set on the final boss. I looked up the ending online, and it seems interesting, but certainly not good. I felt nothing at all for these characters, the most being the main antagonist who was just some confused weirdo. Every aspect of this game, except the story was great.
Castlevania Aria of Sorrow is a appreciable game.
I am excited to dive into the other GBA and DS titles since I hear it was a golden age for the series. I may play one more game, but one thing I know I’m definitely doing is reading Bram Stokers Dracula. Yes, Castlevania has gotten me very much into Gothic lore.
Any big fans of Castlevania here? What do you think about this game? Which style of game do you prefer? Let me know down below and I’ll try my best to reply. As always, thanks for reading.
Confused on my review score? Click here for an explanation!