Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Item Randomizer
Review by Mike Finkelstein
It does seem like every game at this point is going to have a randomizer made for it eventually. It's not just NES and SNES games (although those do tend to get a lot of focus as they're classic games that have been around forever and are prime for reinvention) but later consoles' games as well. The Castlevania series in general has a long list of games and many of them can easily be enriched with even a simple randomizer.
That's where the item randomizer for Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow comes in. Aria is a solid game that really refined the Metroidvania play style for the series (I would argue that it's one of the best examples of Metroidvania in the whole Castlevania series); having a randomizer to enhance the game and add replayability is an absolute plus.
The item randomizer, as the name implies, randomizes the items. Every item stashed around the game, plus everything in the shops, is shuffled around so you could wwander into an early area and find an end-game sword, for example, or just wander through sections of the castle and find things useful to your current quest progression but not what you'd normally expect. It's a nice twist on its own and adds a little fun to the proceedings. But that's not the big kicker of the randomizer.
The real kicker for this randomizer is that it also shuffles around all the souls. It's not just the souls that are on the enemies (although it is fun getting death sickles off of a starting zombie, for example) but also all the progression souls hidden around the game. That means that, depending on the souls you find from the canisters around the game, your path through the game could vary considerably from seed to seed (let alone from the original game).
Randomizing the souls also changes how the end-game works. If you've played Aria of Sorrow then you know that the big twist of the story is that protagonist Soma Cruz is astucally the reincarnated soul of Dracula. Another fellow, Graham Jones, is at Castle Dracula to claim it's power for himself, but as Soma you battle him in a quest to seal the magic away and ensure Dracula's evil never spreads across the land again.
If you go for the best ending of the game (which is also the canonical ending), Soma has to equip three souls -- Giant Bat (for the bat transformation), Flame Dragon (to throw fireballs), and Succubus (to feed on your victims) -- when he defeats Graham's second phase. Do this and you unlock the end-game where you battle into the Chaos Realm and take on the evil magic of the castle itself, permanently sealing it forever. The randomizer has the same bnasic way to unlock the end-game -- equip three souls -- but those souls are randomized from the pool of all the souls in the game.
That's a lot of souls, so the rando is designed to ensure you can complete the game in a reasonable amount of time (and, so long as you play in the normal mode, and not Chaos Mode, without the need for glitches). First, to figure out what souls you need, the game has three Ancient Books hidden around the castle. These were in the original game and were hints as the the three souls you needed to defeat Graham properly. These still exist, but they've had their text changed to indicate which of the souls you'll now need for the randomized seed.
Additionally, the required souls to complete the game will all be available in canisters or off of bosses so you'll always be able to get them. If you know the path through the castle, know where items are hidden in the original game, you'll have no problem making your way to the end-game here. Simply search all the usual nooks and crannies, defeat the bosses, and soon enough you'll have all the required souls you need to finish out the game. It's pretty slick.
The logic of the randomizer is build so you never have to worry about being blocked. Every seed at this point is completable. And just by shuffling up the items and souls, this randomizer gives Aria of Sorrow a fresh coat of paint, adding a lot of life back into this classic title. It's really quite a treat, and it makes the game fresh and fun once again.
About the only thing holding this rando back from true greatness is that a lot of additional features you now expect from randomizers aren't really available here. There's no cosmetic sprite swaps (so you can't play as a reskinned Soma who looks like, say, Alucard or Julius), which is one of the most basic features of any rando. There's also no kind of enemy randomizing (not even across shared zones of difficulty) and no implementation of a map randomizer. The latter feature would be more difficult to implement (although I swear there's another rando out there that attempts it, or a fork of this one that I can no longer find) but would add much needed life to the game after a while.
Those are minor complaints of course for features that are lacking from the game we tend to expect. Development on the rando has stopped at this point so it's doubtful any further features will be added, but that doesn't change the fact that the base package is pretty solid. For aa rando that shuffles up the main game and presents a new quest each time, the Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Item Randomizer is a real treat.