A great value for anyone who missed Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.
Originally written on January 28, 2006.
For one reason or another both Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow disappeared from store shelves between May of 2003 and December 2005. This was especially odd considering the renewed interest in the franchise provided by the release of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS and the 3D entries in the franchise on the Playstation 2. Konami must have realized this as they have taken both HoD and AoS and put them on to one cartridge in the Castlevania Double Pack.
Now I was a big fan of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and had been hearing great things about these further games in the series. I played a bit of Harmony of Dissonance and I have to say that it is a pretty solid game but is really somewhat inferior to Circle of the Moon. Your main character, Juste Belmont, has this incredibly annoying ghost effect following him wherever he goes. The game plays fine but it just seems inferior when compared to Aria of Sorrow.
I spent most of my time with the Castlevania Double Pack on Aria of Sorrow and I was not disappointed. Your main character is named Soma Cruz, a college student who is visiting a shrine in Tokyo when he is trapped in Dracula’s castle during a solar eclipse. It seems that Dracula’s castle appears during each eclipse and both Soma and his friend Mina Hakuba are now trapped in the castle. Soma sets off to fight through the castle so he and Mina can return home. This all takes place in the year 2035. The story is pretty weird and cheesy but it does have a cool twist as the game goes on and it does set up a fun game.
Now, Castlevania has always been similar to Metroid in some ways as you explore a large area and obtain new items and powers that enable you to reach new areas you couldn’t access before. However, Aria of Sorrow introduces a great magic system and is the main reason this Castlevania is probably the best of those on the GBA. Soma has the ability to obtain the souls of his enemies and use their abilities. He can equip three different types of souls at any one time and there are tons of souls in the game. There are many types of enemies in the game and each type has a soul you can obtain. However, you won’t get the soul each time you kill that type of enemy. The odds of getting a soul are actually pretty slim but this does balance the game in some respects as some of the souls are really powerful and it makes sense to limit your access to them. However, each time you use the souls needed to attack it drains a magic meter found under you life bar. This refills over time but it limits your use of some of the more powerful souls.
Another great aspect of the gameplay is the massive variety of weapons. Soma does not use a whip as he is not a Belmont but he has a bunch of weapons at his disposal. He primarily uses swords but also has access to axes, spears and even a handgun. This adds some variety to how you play the game as some of the stronger weapons may have a powerful attack but take a long time to use (swinging a heavy axe or sword) whereas some of the weak weapons may attack really quickly. Some of the weapons are extremely powerful but these often require some searching to acquire. There is also a shop in this game, which allows you to purchase weapons, armour, accessories and healing items. Money is obtained by defeating enemies and smashing torches and vases in the castle.
The graphics in Aria of Sorrow are some of the best on the Gameboy Advance. Everything animates very smoothly including the giant bosses you’ll often encounter. The slow-down found in Circle of the Moon is gone which is a major asset. All of the weapons look great and Soma animates very smoothly. The ghost- effect found in Harmony of Dissonance is much less annoying in this game. Also, the environments look really good overall and really add to the experience.
The music in Aria of Sorrow is pretty good but it is not quite as catchy as that found in Circle of the Moon. The sound effects for the weapons and enemies are great, however, so it all balances out in the end. The music in Harmony of Dissonance isn’t as good as that in Aria of Sorrow but the other sound effects are done quite well.
Overall, Castlevania Double Pack is worth buying simply if you missed Aria of Sorrow and are looking for a great action-adventure. Harmony of Dissonance isn’t really a bad game so it makes a nice extra if you still want to play more Castlevania. Aria of Sorrow includes an alternate game mode upon beating the game, which adds to the somewhat short 7-8 hours (or so) the main game provides. One problem I had with game was regarding Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the DS. With the original Aria of Sorrow cartridge you apparently could unlock a special item in Dawn of Sorrow if you completed the game. This either isn’t true of the Double Pack cartridge or you need to get the alternate ending in Aria of Sorrow. If anyone has information regarding that please PM me.