This classic GameCola article was originally posted on May 17th, 2012.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the third game in the Castlevania GBA series to have a title which has nothing at all to do with the game itself. A more accurate title might be Castlevania: In the Future!, because this game takes place in the far-off year 2035.
Right off the bat—vampire bat, that is—let me say that I do not like this game.
Maybe it’s a good thing that they only made three Castlevania games for the GBA. The three games are so similar that a fourth game would really be pushing it. Really, all that distinguishes one game from another is the attack system.
Oh, the attack system in this game.
They tried to combine the cool DSS magic system from the first game with the subweapon system from the second game. What they ended up with is a horrible mess that takes the worst from both systems and jams them together. Specifically, they combine these two elements:
- You have a large array of special weapons, all of which are practically useless (in order to prevent one weapon from being better than another).
- The enemies in this game drop the special weapons items at a rate which I like to call the Presidential Election: one every four years.
So basically, you have to kill the same enemy over and over again, for ten or so minutes, in order to get its weapon. Then, you learn that the weapon is completely useless. And you’re expected to do this with every enemy, because each one has a special weapon/ability.
Please note that everyone else who played this game is in love with the special weapons/abilities system, and they act like it is the greatest idea ever. I found that it impeded gameplay, instead of furthering it. But everyone else thought it was great.
This game also tries to differentiate itself from its predecessors by having an actual plotline. Key word: tries. The main problem is that there are too many characters in this game to keep track of, especially because you only see a character once every hour and a half or so. I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, because every time the game revealed a crazy plot twist, like “Graham Jones is actually working for Dracula!”, my response was “Oh no! Wait…who is Graham Jones again?”
That’s not to say that there aren’t positive aspects to this game. It’s bigger than the previous game. They did a good job of revamping the boss battles, even though I don’t think that was entirely necessary. The store system was better, and they tried to cut down on the amount of backtracking you’re forced to do.
It’s just…I could never really get into this game. I always lose my will to play when I reach the large waterfall areas. I know everyone loves this game, and it was re-released twice, and it’s the only GBA Castlevania game that got a sequel, but still. For whatever reason, I don’t like it as much as everyone else does, and I certainly don’t like it as much as the other two GBA Castlevania games.
So I guess, for me, it’s a good thing that the GBA Castlevania series ended here. Not that this series on the Castlevania handheld games is going to end here! We’ve still got three DS games to talk about!
Let’s add some perspective before we start casting stones.
Was it wrong to try to make three more Metroidvania games after the first one got it so right it couldn’t possibly improve on it? Yes. Konami was largely taken aback by the not-warm reception that Castlevania 64 got (which is unjust in its own right, that game kicks ass), so they backtracked with what worked last time – Metroidvania.
So Circle of the Moon and Harmony came in, both trying to capitalize on SOTN’s success without really coming too close to it. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Circle of the Moon? The Card System. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Harmony? Nothing really. Then whats the first thing you think of when you think of SOTN? How awesome it was when that forgettable ghost in the inverted library dropped a kickass weapon, TWICE, and you could literally dice enemies as you walked…
Now it’s dawning on you. SOTN’s success wasn’t about the Metroidvania, it wasn’t about the exploration (although it did that incredibly nicely), it was how cool it was to fight unique enemies so that they dropped unique things to make your gameplay more unique.
Whats the best way to do that without coming off more desperate to repeat SOTN’s success? Simple, Mega Man your enemies’ abilities, from ALL of them and let them open new pathways and endings. When you design a game, 80% of the gameplay comes from how you engage the conflict of the game – the enemies. This system gives players a reason to keep going back to places and engaging enemies. It kills a lot of bats with one VK.
And that’s why gamers ate this game up. The system wasn’t flawed at all. The game wasn’t great, but it was because the GBA was fairly inferior for a Castlevania sized game in the first place. The Soul System or whatever its called really was a great idea and didn’t impede anything. All it was doing was capitalizing on the real reasons people were playing Metroidvania games in the first place.
I never played SOTN myself, but I’ll presume you’re right. I dunno; I don’t like the multiple weapons system, plain and simple. I’m the type of guy who will only use 1-3 of the weapons, rather than trying out all 200.
The only castlevania games I REALLY like are the first four on the NES and SNES. Except for Simon’s quest. That one was waaaaay too cryptic.
I only ended up using about 1-3 of the weapons, and I enjoyed the game. I also didn’t stick around trying to pick up all 200 weapons. If I happened to pick up a new weapon, whoopee, I’d try it out on one or two enemies. If it wasn’t obviously more fun or powerful than the one I was using, I’d forget about it for the rest of the game. Worked out quite nicely.
Well yeah, but that applies to just about every game featuring weapons ever.
That box art might be one of my favorite things Colin’s ever done for GameCola.
Kinda confused about this republishing and if anything new was added to it, though I’m also confused about something else. If you disliked all three of the GBA titles so much, why would you continue on with the DS titles? Whether you have yet or not, I dunno. I couldn’t ever agree that all three GBA titles play exactly the same, but the three DS titles tend to still try to accomplish the same goal so what’s really the point in playing them if you already hate the initial three?
Well, I can only speak to the first part, but we’ve always had a “Classic ‘Cola” feature where we occasionally bring back old articles for the benefit of new readers who haven’t plumbed the depths of the archives. We don’t SAY “Classic ‘Cola” in the title anymore, but that’s what these republished articles are.
On a completely unrelated side note, we desperately need some new articles in the queue, team.
I’m told the republishing was timely, because Wikipedia put the game as its featured article of the day. The truth is that I enjoy the first two GBA titles, but not the third one simply because I’m bad at the weapons system. The DS games were entertaining enough in my mind, but GameCola officially decided that I should not write recaps of them, because they are “too mainstream”.
Well that makes sense. I assumed you didn’t like the previous two when you said this one was exactly the same, then seeing you not really like this one. Kinda shocking to hear the DS games being considered too mainstream though. I don’t think I know anyone I’m not related to who ever played…well any of the handheld Castlevanias. Castlevania hasn’t been too popular a series for a while (reboot series notwithstanding) IMO.