When I was a kid, my favorite game was Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Whenever my family and I went out on vacation, I always brought this game. I’m not sure why I loved it so much; there was just something about it that made it so addictive to me. Unfortunately, I no longer have it in my possession; I lent it to a friend who later moved away, and forgot to give it back. I was devastated by this, of course, but I ultimately moved on as I got older and started playing other games.
I honestly hadn’t even thought about the game until a few years ago, when I stumbled upon a let’s play of it by a YouTuber who went by the name of RoahmMythril. Remembering how much of the game I played as a kid, I decided to give it a watch. Obviously, I enjoyed the LP, and it was even full of several surprises that I hadn’t even uncovered as a kid, such as the money making technique of equipping the Mimic soul and standing on some spikes in the Clock Tower, or how to get the Sky Fish soul; as a kid, I always assumed that the Sky Fish was just some background element that was put in for flavor. Mythril also did something I had never done as a kid: collected every soul in the game.
I suppose I should give a brief explanation of the game before I continue. The game centers around Soma Cruz, who finds himself inside Dracula’s castle and discovers that he has the ability to absorb the souls of monsters, which grant him various powers. These range from things like stat boosts to extra attacks. So, whenever Soma kills a monster, they have a chance to grant him their soul. Obviously, this means that, to obtain every soul in the game, you’ll have to do a LOT of grinding, something which I didn’t have the patience to do as a kid.
So, anyways, after finishing that LP, I decided to attempt a 100% soul run myself. But, like I said earlier, I no longer had the cartridge; so, I looked online and got myself an emulator and a ROM of the game. Well...sort of. The site I got the ROM off of actually had two versions of the game: the regular version, but also another one simply titled Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow - Special Edition. I was perplexed by this; I had never heard of a special edition ever being released of this game...or of any game in the series, for that matter. Was this some sort of unreleased second edition? What made it different from the original version? Curious, I decided to download this ROM, just to see what was so special about it.
The game started out normally enough; the only real difference being the “Special Edition” beneath the title on the title screen. The only weird thing that happened was the occasional graphical glitch; but, playing on an emulator, that’s honestly to be expected. Anyways, after a while, I finally managed to obtain the Mimic soul a good deal later in the game; as mentioned before, this was just the soul I needed to make enough money to buy the Soul Eater Ring, an accessory that makes it easier to obtain souls, from the shop. Even with it, though, farming the money I needed was a very long, tedious process, so I pulled up YouTube and listened to some gaming creepypastas while doing it. Believe me when I say: you do NOT know tedium until you’ve had to stand on some spikes until you have the 300,000 gold you need for the Soul Eater Ring.
Anyways, with that out of the way, I finally went to the shop and bought the Soul Eater Ring. Once I equipped it, though, something bizarre happened: Soma’s portrait sprite on the menu had changed. Instead of his normal one, it showed him with much wilder-looking, messier hair, and with a much darker, more evil look in his eyes. This definitely struck me as strange; usually, this sprite was only used later down the line after defeating the primary antagonist, Graham Jones, with a specific combination of souls equipped. Afterwards, Soma realizes that he is the reincarnation of Dracula, who begins to reawaken within him. The disconcerting thing: I hadn’t beaten Graham; hell, I hadn’t even visited the area he was in. That was when I remembered.
Of course! This obviously must have been what that subtitle was referring to. Now I was interested: what else did this edition contain? Was this part of some new, secret ending? Now I knew I had to press on; I knew I had to figure out what else this game had in store. And so I did; I went on to collect every soul I could up to that point (including that annoying Sky Fish soul) before finally going to face Graham. That was when the game took an unexpected turn. As I entered the boss room, I found not Graham...but Yoko Belnades, a supporting character who had previously been stabbed by Graham.
Soma: Yoko? What're you doing here? Where's Graham?
Yoko: We already took care of him. Turns out he was a giant pushover. You, on the other hand...
Soma: What? What about me?
Yoko: Arikado's been watching you closely, Soma. He knows what you've been up to. And he's decided that you need to be stopped.
Soma: Stopped? But Graham's dead now!
Yoko: I'm afraid you'll never find out.
With that, the cutscene ended, and...the boss music played. My jaw dropped and my eyes widened. I was fighting Yoko? Was this for real? It must have been, because it was happening right before my eyes! As for the boss fight itself...remember that fight in Portrait of Ruin where the player fights fake versions of Grant, Sypha, and Trevor? Yoko fought like Sypha did, casting spells that included a cloud of petrification, poison clouds, et cetera. However, her spells were STRONG. Really strong. After a few hits, Soma was down to 1 HP. I thought I had lost the battle...but then it stopped, and a cutscene played.
Yoko: Give up, Soma. There's no way you can defeat a Belnades.
There was a brief pause, before the screen flashed. Soma spoke once again, his portrait sprite now grinning, a maniacal look in his eyes.
Soma: Give up? With all this power waiting for me? You really think I'd give up? Hmph...
Yoko: Oh no...it's happened...
With that, the screen flashed, Soma slowly rising into the air.
Soma: Perhaps it is time you realized what I'm really capable of!
The screen turned completely white again; nothing could be seen, but a dialogue box popped up.
When the screen returned to normal, I saw Soma standing over Yoko, kneeling before him.
Yoko: I...I can't believe it...such...power...Julius...Arikado...I've failed you. Now I can only hope...that I've bought you enough time...
With that, Yoko totally collapsed. Her sprite flickered for a brief moment, before vanishing altogether. I couldn't believe what I had just seen. Yoko was dead.
Soma: Hmph. Now to deal with the Belmont and his friend…
With that, I was back in control. My hands were shaking at this point. That definitely wasn’t in RoahmMythril’s LP. But now I was curious: what was happening? I could probably guess--Castlevania games aren’t exactly known for their clever plot twists or deep stories--but I definitely wanted to see this through to the end, and I certainly wanted that 100% completion. So I pressed on.
My next stop was a certain room in the Floating Gardens area. During the “true ending,” Soma finds Julius here, opening a previously-unopened door and breaking the seal on his whip, the Vampire Killer. Then, Soma would fight Julius, who would use various sub-weapons commonly associated with the Belmonts, such as the axe or holy water. I had never done that battle as a kid, and I was hoping to do it now. Sure, this wasn’t the same ending as the “true ending” where he was fought, but...well, given that I’d fought Yoko, it was only safe to assume I’d fight Julius, too.
When I arrived there, sure enough, Julius was there, as normal...but unlike the regular version, another character was there: Genya Arikado. A cutscene then played.
Julius: Damn! He’s here!
Arikado: Then it’s just as I feared...Yoko wasn’t enough to stop him.
Julius: Arikado, you gotta go, now! I’ll take him on. You make sure the plan pulls through!
Arikado: ...Very well.
Arikado left through the doorway behind him, leaving Julius alone with Soma.
Soma: You Belmonts never learn, do you? Always have to be the hero.
Julius: Just cut the chat. I took you out once, I’ll do it again!
Soma: We’ll see about that. Let’s see just how much of a toll those 36 years have taken on you!
The battle was pretty much exactly the same as it was in the regular version. Julius attacked with the Vampire Killer, used his subweapons, all that. As such, I won’t go into too much detail describing it here; if you want to know how it went, watch the aforementioned LP. It went as normal for a while, but I ultimately pulled through, prompting another cutscene.
Julius: Damn...not here…
Soma: Hmph. Looks like you’re not the hunter you once were.
Julius: Looks like it...seems the Belmont line ends here...Arikado...I now leave the mission to you…
Julius then collapsed, his sprite flickering and vanishing like Yoko’s had done. Julius was dead.
I then entered the door Arikado had entered, leading into the final area, the Chaotic Realm. This area was a mishmash of various areas from throughout the game. Think of something like the Nowhere area from the first Silent Hill. However, it also had a few enemies that were not found anywhere else in the game; still wanting that 100% soul completion, I went out of my way to collect those final souls and then went to a certain room in the Chaotic Realm to receive my reward: the Chaos Ring, which reduced the MP cost of soul abilities to almost nothing. When I entered the room, though, I saw another item inside with the Chaos Ring. I picked it up, the game revealing that it was called “Dracula’s Cloak.”
I opened the equipment menu to equip these two new pieces of equipment, only to discover they had already been equipped. What’s more, the game wouldn’t let me unequip them; whenever I tried, nothing happened. I exited the equipment menu, only to find that Soma’s portrait had changed again. Instead of his usual white hair, it had turned black, and his eyes were red. He was also grinning maniacally, and...dear gods, were those FANGS? I was totally freaking out at this point, realizing that my suspicions were correct. I now had to see how this would end up. As I exited the pause menu, I saw that Soma’s gameplay sprite had changed too; along with his hair turning black, his coat had also turned black, with his clothes underneath changed to crimson.
Determined to see the ending now, I made my way to the final room. In the regular version, the player would encounter the game’s true final boss: a being known as Chaos. But, of course, this wasn’t the case here; instead, it was Arikado waiting for me.
Arikado: So Julius has fallen, too…
Soma: He only suffered the fate that awaits all mortals.
Arikado: Soma, this needs to stop, now! This craze for power has to end! I saw what you’d done; putting extreme harm on yourself, going out of your way just to obtain more power...it’s corrupted you.
Soma: You really think I care? This power is mine to do with as I see fit!
Arikado: ...Then you leave me no other choice.
The screen flashed, and Arikado’s sprite changed. Gone were his suit and black hair. Now his hair was grey, and he now wore a black cloak. As the dialogue box appeared onscreen, I saw that he now had a different name, as well: Alucard.
Alucard: I must stop you here!
Soma: Just like you to oppose me when you know it’s futile, Alucard.
Alucard: So you do recognize me. Then it really is too late to save you.
Soma: Enough talk. Have at you!
And so, the final battle with Alucard began. This was by far the toughest battle in the game. He teleported all over the place, using all sorts of abilities from Symphony of the Night. Sometimes he’d cast Dracula’s signature Hellfire attack. Other times, he’d turn into a poison gas cloud, damaging Soma and inflicting poison on him. Oddly, I don’t remember much of that battle; I guess the combination of shock and excitement over the battle overshadowed it. Nonetheless, I landed the final blow against Alucard, and he collapsed.
Alucard: I...no...all I’ve done…
Soma: It’s over, Alucard. Now I shall break this seal on the castle and regain my full power!
Alucard’s sprite flickered and vanished. There was a brief pause before the dialogue box appeared once more.
Soma: It didn’t work? Wait...of course. I need to take care of two last uninvited guests…
The screen faded to black, then faded back to show Mina and Hammer at the castle entrance as Soma slowly approached them. Hammer was the first to notice.
Hammer: Don’t take another step, Soma! Arikado’s already told us about what’s happened with you.
Soma: Arikado’s dead. You two are next.
Hammer: I knew I shouldn’t have sold you that ring...now I’m gonna do what I should have done a long time ago…
Hammer pointed a rifle at Soma, ready to fire.
The screen flashed, Hammer instantly falling over and vanishing, leaving only Mina.
Soma: Alucard stood no chance against me. What did that fool think he could do with that peashooter of his?
Mina: Soma, please! Stop this! This isn’t like you!
Soma: Foolish girl. Soma is gone…
The screen then went black. A sound effect played, the one that played when Soma slashes an enemy with a sword, followed by the sound of Mina screaming. Then, three final words appeared on the screen.
“I am Dracula.”
The screen then changed to the main title screen. No credits or anything. Of course, that didn’t really register at the time; I was just awestruck by what had happened. Soma had just killed all of his friends. He was completely consumed by his power, allowing Dracula to take over. I dropped my controller and closed the emulator.
It’s definitely gonna be a while before I play Aria of Sorrow again. When I do, though, I’m getting a regular ROM.