The man with the silver gun

For various personal reasons, I felt a sudden compulsion to pick up and play through Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow today. I can’t believe this game is already 10 years old. When Aria was new, the 10-year-old games were things like Secret of Mana, Doom, and Star Fox. Aria notwithstanding — it was decidedly behind the times in terms of tech at its debut — I feel like games changed a lot more in those first 10 years than in the latter 10.

Also, this whole thing makes me feel really old, as it reminds me that the time from my entering college to moving to San Francisco to start working in the game press at 1UP (1993-2003) was essentially the same as the amount of time between my starting at 1UP and finally starting something different (2003-2013). Good lord.

The nice thing about Aria, though, is that it has a New Game + mode, and I was a little obsessed with the portable Castlevanias several years back. When I picked up my cartridge today, I found a 100% complete save file that allowed me to start a new playthrough with all Soma’s endgame powers and gear intact. Aside from turning the entire adventure into a hilarious cakewalk, it’s also given me the freedom to play a Castlevania game like Mega Man.


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I’ve equipped Soma with the Silver Gun, which is exactly what its name suggestions: A handgun. I’m playing the entire game like it’s a shooter, with Soma packing heat and fighting the hordes of hell with a sidearm. The early going has been laughably easy, but I suspect it’ll get tougher as I go along. The Silver Gun has its share of advantages — its range spans nearly the entire screen, and it’s insanely fast — but also its shortcomings. Each round can only hit a single foe (no piercing damage), and the hit box on bullets is pretty small. It’s terrible for shooting enemies at angles and lacks the natural advantages of melee weapons, especially those with a swiping action.

Be that as it may, I am bowled over by the minute detail Konami’s designers invested in this weapon, which appears late in the game and is so relatively weak by then that few people are ever likely to use it. Not only does Soma have a somewhat unique animation for the two handguns in the game (his arm is drawn differently), the guns demonstrate certain other details that are absolutely 100% unnecessary. When your shots strike a wall, a spark appears where the bullet strikes. And after each round, a tiny, spent shell casing — probably about three pixels by one pixel — ejects from the gun’s chamber, away from Soma, and bounces off the ground before disappearing off the screen. It’s almost too tiny a detail to notice… but someone took the time to program and design this superfluous action, and it adds an uncanny (almost surreal) element to an otherwise fantastic video game.

Meanwhile, in 2013, we… eh, forget it. I’ve spent enough time complaining about how hollow and meaningless Mirror of Fate was. I’d rather use my energy on enjoying a game that isn’t. Even if I have to reach back into the distressingly distant past to do so.

11 thoughts on “The man with the silver gun

  1. Aria of Sorrow was not as flashy as Symphony of the Night was, but it definitely had its share of neat little details. The sole kicking skeleton with a Kamen Rider scarf, the poisonous sword that has a distinctly different slashing animation than every other sword in the game, how you can only get Legion’s soul by destroying its shell of bodies before killing the core…

    Also, as loathed as it is, Harmony of Dissonance had plenty of neat stuff, too. Besides the obvious change to a more monochrome color pallete, Castle B is also much more broken down than Castle A. Doing the pointless furniture sidequest results in a very subtle change in the best ending. A boss room has giant knight statues in the background with one missing, which is the one you’re fighting. While most of the drops are just boring armor stat boosts, one of the enemies late in the game drops boots which let you float in the air. One of the Skeleton Cave variations has CV3 Final Dracula in the background, the Virgin Mary cries blood skeleton tears ala X68000 Castlevania, there’s an enemy that randomly spawns in only a few select areas, some of the bosses are based on Castlevania III bosses…

    • Yeah, visually Dissonance has a lot to offer – at it’s best it can be breathtakingly beautiful. However even in that department (not to mention the gameplay part) it tends to feel overloaded, disconnected, uneven and occasionally ugly (like that seizure-inducing last boss background).

      Aria, however has a more restrained, focused approach to graphic design. The sprites may be smaller, but everything fits nicely together in order to paint a masterful and cohesive picture.

  2. That sounds like a fun way to play through Aria. This reminds me of Albus Mode in Order of Ecclesia, which I enjoyed very much. I liked how all the different elemental effects within that game was constricted to one of the 3 attacks you can use. Albus Mode might be my favorite “extra” mode of any of the Castlevanias.

    • Of all the bonus modes, I think Maxim’s in HOD was by far the most difficult. They did a great job with Richter/Maria but especially the sisters in PoR and of course DoS with its homage to Castlevania 3. But you are right Albus mode was super cool.

  3. I beat it about six months ago, for the first time since 2005 or so, and the other two GBA games, too. I need to pick up the sequels. Aria’s clearly the best of them all (I do really like Harmony of Dissonance, though. It’s got its problems, but it’s nostalgic for me because it was the first one I played, and I was a kid whose parents didn’t let him play Symphony of the Night), but they’re all just so solid.

  4. For me this was the golden era of gaming, GBA gave us 16-bit type gaming (SNES & Genesis maxed out potential wise) and GC/DC/PS2 finally brought to fruition much of what was anticipated in the 3D gaming of N64/Saturn/PSX era. Everything since then has been pretty bland, same a few winners on DS/PSN/XBLA That being said, Aria was the best obviously on the GBA but I have a super soft spot for Portrait of Ruin on DS because of the fact that they A)break the music theme and move on to visual art B)is a sequel to Bloodlines

  5. Always enjoy these random “I picked up this game the other day…” type of posts.

  6. What portmanteau is this game now? If you want to keep it inside Konami, it’s a Contravania. Or, since the guns don’t feel insanely overpowered, a Metal Gearnia.

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