Castlevania - Aria of Sorrow

Ranking The Castlevania Advance Collection Games

Having a developer like Konami finally catch onto the Switch bug is a gift that we shall forever cherish. The ability to replay titles such as those contained within the Castlevania Advance Collection is fantastic, and things are poised to get even better with the re-release of the first two Suikoden titles in 2023. Were they to pair these with a return for the original Vandal Hearts and perhaps a certain Symphony of the Night, then we could all enjoy what has to be the richest vein of the developers’ content ever seen. Alas, we are getting slightly off topic here, so let’s get down to business: Which of the three games offered in this trio is best, and indeed what is the order in which we would consider them ranked?

Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance

3. Harmony of Dissonance

With the first two games in our rankings, which you’ve no doubt checked by now to see if you agree, Konami were clearly trying to tap into some of their prior success. You see, one of the major compliments that Symphony of the Night received was that of movement being excellent. In that game, Alucard flowed and swept his way through the castle in a way that no protagonist had done so before. This, combined with the secondary castle, formed a good part of the positive reception that the game received in the media. 

Unfortunately, the package as a whole didn’t quite stack up. We’ll go into more depth below, but with Circle of the Moon the developers targeted secrets and power ups to great effect, and they’ve surely targeted smooth movement and epic scale here in Harmony of Dissonance, but the failure to combine these together, and indeed to tie them into a smooth progression curve, means that it never quite feels right. Power up locations don’t flow well and the delineation between spell elements isn’t truly meaningful. In the end, it was too much of an overcorrection, too far in the movement and scope direction to truly capture that sweet spot of Metroidvania class, and as a result this is surely the least compelling of the three titles on offer in the collection.

Castlevania Circle of the Moon

2. Circle of the Moon

Of the three games referenced here today, it’s probably easiest to see why the developers made Circle of the Moon the way that they did. Off the back of the immense success found with Symphony of the Night, the company wanted to return to the whip-wielding roots of the series, but with a few lessons learnt in tow. In this regard, we must say that they succeeded in more than a few ways. The game houses a castle filled with secrets, power ups and difficult encounters, all of which lend itself to a proper Castlevania feel.

Almost a precursor to the system found in Aria of Sorrow, this game focuses on the DDS system, which allows the player to combine various cards to create spells, with each combination giving a different result. These range from simple power ups to projectiles, and their usage forms the basis by which the protagonist powers up throughout. It’s not what we would call a complex system, but it’s a step above the rather nonsensical elemental system of Harmony of Despair, and it’ll surely compel you to keep searching for more and more options.

Unfortunately Circle of the Moon gets one thing very wrong, which is the exploration and traversal of its environment. A truly epic Metroidvania experience should tease the player with out of reach zones and breakable walls, but it should do so in a measured and balanced way. Here the player is rebuffed by countless tiny gaps, platforms too high to reach and immovable blocks at every turn, with the early game in particular being peppered with dead ends. Rather than resting in the players mind as one or two points requiring a return, the sheer amount will get lost in the noise, ultimately leading to huge amounts of backtracking being required, especially for completionists. When all of this is combined with the rather unwieldy movement of the protagonist, and his natural restriction to the use of a whip, it ends up feeling altogether far too awkward. More rewarding in its systems than our first entry for sure, but nowhere near the peak of the trio…


Castlevania Aria of Sorrow

1. Aria of Sorrow

Given that we’ve already committed a great deal of writing to this particular game, it’s likely no surprise that it ranks as our favourite of the three. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that it’s in contention for the best Castlevania game full stop, and would likely rank pretty highly on our all time list for any game, such is its quality. We should say however, that it’s fairly easy to understand exactly why this is the case, and just what kind of white rabbit the company was chasing at the time.

The key to the quality found here, and indeed Symphony of the Night, is the tying of natural progression to the player’s hunger for ability and item unlocks, both of which need to be present in order to keep the player going. Circle of the Moon for example, reveals countless high jump, wall break and even iron maiden break requirements, but it does so at the expense of natural progression, often halting the player and requiring a great deal of backtracking. Aria of Sorrow however, allows the player to whisk along at a good pace, occasionally showing a hint of an inaccessible zone, but never at the expense of progress and forward momentum. Rather than annoying the player by retreading old ground, it inspires a spirit of curiosity. Paired with the massive collect-a-thon that the game presents,, it makes for truly compulsive play.

It’s this final point that really catapults Aria of Sorrow toward greatness. Being able to collect a soul from almost every enemy, along with abilities and equipment from around the castle, makes the whole thing feel like a true Castlevania should. Your mind is constantly wondering what might be found next, to the point where its eventual story completion, true ending included, isn’t enough, and you’ll likely continue until every soul slot is filled. That it has no second castle becomes completely insignificant, because it manages to pack enough nooks, crevices and secrets into one. This may very well be the best Castlevania game ever made, that much will forever be up for debate, but at the very least it’s clearly the best in this collection.

Castlevania Aria of Sorrow

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