Castlevania Advanced Collection review

The Castlevania Advanced Collection was announced during a recent Nintendo Direct, and this brings together some of the best titles in the series, with a focus on the titles from Gameboy Advanced. In particular, Aria of Sorrow (2003) is found on this collection, which is almost worth the price of entry in itself.

Castlevania has been getting a retro revival over the past few years, and this Castlevania Advanced Collection follows on from the 2019 Castlevania Anniversary Collection. This most recent collection has a particular focus on the entries from Gameboy Advance, plus there’s a SNES version of Dracula X, which is a nice little addition.

This package includes:

Circle of the Moon (2001)
Harmony of Dissonance (2002)
Aria of Sorrow (2003)
Dracula X

Circle of the Moon (2001)

Circle of the Moon was originally released at launch for the Gameboy Advance all the way back in 2001, and rather than Simon Belmont the main protagonist of this game is called Nathan Graves. This was produced by the same Konami team that worked on the Nintendo 64 Castlevania titles. One of the main features of Circle of the Moon is the Dual Set-Up System (DSS), where 2 cards can be combined for improvements to weapons, stats, and summons. To gather these cards you have to track them down from various enemies in the game, as they are random drops, so it’s a very early iteration of randomised loot, which we see in many games these days like Borderlands and Destiny.

It’s a decent title, although the movement speed of the main character is a little slower than you’d want. These days, Metroidvanias are full of speed, fluid movement and tend to be fast, so going back to this title was a little jarring. The graphics are great for an early Gameboy Advanced title and also the soundtrack is excellent too. The bosses are pretty tricky at times, but overall this is a solid Castlevania entry.

Harmony of Dissonance (2002)

Harmony of Dissonance is up next, and this one is much closer to look and feel of Symphony of the Night, which is widely regarded as the best Castlevania title. The main protagonist here is Juste Belmont, who’s part of the first family of Castlevania, The Belmonts. In regards to the story, Juste’s romantic interest has been stolen in Dracula’s castle and it is down to you to save the day.

The game is much brighter and more vibrant than the previous entry, perhaps a little too much on a modern Nintendo Switch screen. This could be because of the graphical restrictions of the Gameboy Advance, as back then you had a very small and low-res screen. In terms of gameplay, things have moved on from Circle of the Moon with the complex enemies. There are a couple of castles to explore, however, they do feel a little similar – although that’s looking through the lens of today, which is perhaps a little unfair. The controls and character movement this time around is much better, this feels faster and more fluid, which is a massive improvement. It’s an average Castlevania adventure, with a few things like graphics, audio, and environments letting it down slightly.

Aria of Sorrow (2003)

Aria of Sorrow is the main event of the Castlevania Advanced Collection, and this is where Game Director Koji Igarashi managed to recreate a lot of the magic found in Symphony of the Night. The game is set in 2035 Japan and the main protagonist Soma Cruz. The story is pretty unbelievable, in that you find yourself inside a Solar Eclipse (whatever that means) in Dracula’s Castle. Soma controls much better in this game, plus Soma has an array of melee weapons like knives and blades, which is a nice change up for the Castlevania franchise.

Aria of Sorrow features a Tactical Soul System, where Soma can absorb the souls of the enemies when they are defeated. This is similar to the DSS system from Circle of the Moon, but is much more effective. Soma also has a health and a magic meter combined into one this time, which self-regens, but this is topped up by you picking up health items like hearts. The music is fantastic in this game, and although similar to Symphony of the Night, they never quite reach those lofty heights. It’s definitely the best game on the Advanced Collection though by a long way, with the animations and the game feeling much more like a modern Metroidvania.

Dracula X

The final game is Dracula X, and the less said about this one the better. This was release on the SNES in 1995 and was based on a PC Engine game featuring Richter Belmont. However, this port is much worse than the original. Due to the nature and time of the release of the port, much of the branching levels, enemies, and other playable characters have been removed, leaving a rather sad and bare-bones experience. It’s here in the collection, but that doesn’t mean you should play it.

Extras

Also included in the package, put together by M2, is a gallery of artwork and all the packaging too (except Dracula X on the SNES). You can select different regional variations of the games including European, North American, and Japanese. The audio has also been improved with an option for High-Quality Sound, which fixes the distortion found in the originals, but that was mainly due to the hardware limitations and the improvements are minor. The rewind, pause and save functions are useful, but almost come as standard on these collections nowadays.

Summary

Overall, Aria of Sorrow is probably worth the price tag here. The previous games like Circle and Harmony feel like iterations that lead up to Aria of Sorrow. All the games are very tough, and not very forgiving when compared to the games of today. You have to have cat-like reactions, and take care with your energy, as one false move and it’s Game Over. This is a great package for fans of the Castlevania series, and it’s good to see the evolution of these games within this package itself. For anyone wanting to go back and see where Metroidvanias came from, this is a great place to start.