Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow (known in Japan as Castlevania: Akatsuki no Minuet, the sub-title loosely translated to "Minuet of Dawn") is a 2D horror-fantasy platformer-adventure game developed by KCE Tokyo and published by Konami for the Game Boy Advance on May 6, 2003.
It is the spiritual sequel to Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and the fourth Castlevania platformer to have the gameplay style of free-roaming backtrack-focused exploration with RPG-style attribute, inventory, and experience systems. It is the first game in the series to take place in the 21st century, the first to not take place in Europe, and the first to completely abandon the traditional sub-weapon system for a unique "Tactical Soul" system, where the player character can absorb (at random) the souls of fallen enemies to use in both combat and utility.
The story takes place in the year 2035, 36 years after the final defeat of Count Dracula. The main protagonist is Soma Cruz, a seemingly-normal 18-year-old student who visits Japan as a transfer student. While visiting the Hakuba shrine to witness a solar eclipse with his childhood friend Mina Hakuba, both Soma and Mina are drawn into a mysterious castle inside the eclipse, where they learn from Genya Arikado, a member of a mysterious Japanese organization, that they are in Dracula's castle. Players control Soma as he explores the castle, unlocking new abilities using a mysterious power while unearthing a prophecy about the reincarnation of Dracula.
In 2006, the game was bundled together with Harmony of Dissonance in one cartridge as Castlevania: Double Pack. The game was later digitally re-released for the Wii U (as a Virtual Console title) in North America on October 23, 2014, in Europe on March 19, 2015, and in Japan on August 26, 2015. It was also included in the 2021 compilation Castlevania Advance Collection for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
The game also received a sequel in 2005 for the Nintendo DS, dubbed Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, which abandons the dark, gothic, painting-like art style for an anime-inspired look.
Aria of Sorrow, much like all of its predecessors, is a 2D sidescrolling action platformer. The game incorporates a number of elements from console RPG games, such as the experience and levelling up systems. Soma, the main character, will gain experience points whenever he defeats an enemy. Once enough experience has been gained he will level up, increasing all of his stats, and improving his performance in combat. In addition, the game borrows inventory and loot systems from RPGs that allow Soma to collect upgrades for armor and weapons. Equippable items, along with hearts and money, are dropped by enemies, and can be found when destroying breakable light sources.
Being a post-Symphony of the Night Castlevania title, the game is non-linear in nature. Soma will explore the many quadrants of Dracula's castle, discovering new powers, secret passage, and solving puzzles to advance. He will need to search thoroughly, backtrack, and experiment in order to progress through the castle, and reach new areas. Each area houses different scenery, tougher enemies, and new puzzles and challenges for Soma to tackle.
Unique to Aria of Sorrow is the tactical soul system, which allows Soma to absorb the souls of his enemies, granting him an expanded repertoire of special abilities. These souls are divided into four categories: Bullet, Guardian, Enchant, and Ability souls. Soma can equip one of each at any given point in the game. Bullet souls are generally offensive in nature, and will usually create a projectile attack. Guardian souls have an effect over time, and include summons and transformations. Enchant souls are continuously active when equipped, and will increase Soma's statistics, or grant him a number of abilities. Finally, the ability souls will give Soma additional skills, usually required for progress through the castle. Both bullet and guardian souls require magic points to use, while Enchant and ability souls do not.