Hello all! Last week took us to the far reaches of space, where we fought for the other side for a change.
This week, we revisit the Castlevania franchise with a look at my favorite game in the series, apart from Symphony of the Night, of course.
SPOILERS THIS TIME.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow came out for the Game Boy Advance back in 2003. It's kind of an anomaly for a Castlevania game, as it was, at the time, the only game in the series to take place in the future, in this case, the year 2035. As Soma Cruz, a transfer student studying in Japan, you must stop the resurrection of Dracula. Sort of. We'll get to that.
The 2035 setting kind of made me wary at first, being a big 'Vania fan and all. I was afraid they were actually taking a futuristic approach to the series, and this sort of thing never works out well. I imagined a game with...I don't know, lasers, maybe some kind of energy whip weapon, robot enemies, etc.
What I got was a classic Castlevania, one that you might not even notice takes place in the future if you didn't read the opening text. Soma's puffy coat and "Arikado's" modern clothes give it away, too. But the game plays and looks like classic Castlevania-it's side scrolling, features the same unique art style as most of the series, and virtually every weapon is a sword, axe, lance, etc. (There's a handgun, but seriously.)
The setting, too, is Dracula's castle, yet again, and we wouldn't have it any other way. However, this time the castle is sans Dracula because...well, he's supposedly gone. Like, forever this time. Never to be resurrected again.
See, Soma, his childhood friend Mina Hakuba, the witch Yoko Belnades, the amnesiac J-who's later revealed to be Julius Belmont, current wielder of the Vampire Killer-and Arikado, who's actually Alucard from Symphony-this whole gang is storming Dracula's Castle for the sole purpose of killing Graham Jones. Graham believes he is the next incarnation of Dracula, and will receive his powers this very night.
In Aria's backstory, we learn that Julius Belmont sealed ol' Drac away in an eclipse (because apparently you can do that) in the year 1999. Therefore, Dracula is gone for all eternity.
Also, Death. As usual.
Soma possesses the power of "Dominance" which means he can absorb the powers of enemies he defeats. What this means for you is, you get to collect powers in a "gotta catch 'em all" style. It's great, because there's a large variety of powers and weapons available to you, leading to several combat options available. It's important to the plot as well, because, as it turns out, Graham isn't the reincarnation of Dracula.
You've basically been playing as Dracula throughout the entire game. It was an incredible twist for a Castlevania game, one that I admittedly didn't see coming, because, well, let's face it: we, as 'Vania fans, have been storming Dracula's Castle and slaying Dracula for years. We're used to-no, we're conditioned into believing that we're the good-guy vampire slayer and we're gonna kill Dracula at the end. A Belmont kills Dracula...Dracula gets resurrected...another Belmont kills him.
Now, in Aria, Julius Belmont is a supporting character, which should've been a red flag, admittedly. But here, in this game, suddenly there is no Dracula to kill. Because you're Dracula.
Which, I know, Dracula is gone for all time. But hear me out, as I've been thinking about this for a long time.
First, in Castlevania, Dracula is killed repeatedly and resurrected years or even decades later. Now, in Aria, Dracula has been sealed away in an eclipse since 1999. And yet, here we have the next incarnation of Dracula.
I submit to the Castlevania fans reading this that Dracula is never really gone. The idea is to think of Dracula as a presence, or a force, that never really dies. How else do you explain his constant, unending revival?
The reason I push this theory is, Aria turned out to be a deeper game than I remembered. Dracula being "sealed away forever" and yet being reincarnated in Soma...think about it. It's saying evil never really "goes away." And the fact that this evil is inside Soma, dormant until it comes forward towards the end of the game, is a kind of on-the-nose way of saying there's always that part of us most of us keep locked away. You know. Darkness.
It's pretty grim. But on the other hand, Aria ends on a high note (if you got the best ending)
Soma succeeds in the end, destroying the manifestation of Chaos as a method of suppressing his own powers. The thing about Aria is, the supporting cast is presented with more force than any other Castlevania game. They assist Soma heavily, even Julius, who at one point tries to kill him. Soma makes them promise to kill him if he becomes Dracula.
In other words, Soma keeps the darkness at bay with the help and support of his friends. It's a theme that I can get behind. Makes me feel like if you've got a couple of good friends, there's nothing you can't do. My friends matter a great deal to me, so maybe that's why Aria speaks to me so deeply.
I really enjoyed my replay of Aria; looking at it in a way I hadn't previously made me realize this might just be the best in the series. Soma's one of the most complex characters the series has spawned, there's a supporting cast for once...it's altogether less lonely than Castlevania games before and after. That's a good thing, I think.
Thanks so much for reading! Shoot me some comments, suggest games for me to write about, and Tweet me if that's your thing. You can check out my in-depth game analysis series, Re: Gaming, here and on Kotaku Tay and Current Digital. And,if you like what I'm doing, you can support both of these article series on Patreon.
Next week, we talk about a military shooter called Call of Du-OBJECTION!