Julius Belmont

           Aria of Sorrow is an interesting addition to the Castlevania series for many reasons, but there is one particular detail I find especially fascinating. To truly understand it will take some digression, so I hope you all can bear with my droning on.
        To start with, you play as Soma Cruz, an ordinary Japanese high schooler. Just from hearing ‘Japanese’ and ‘high school’ you already know this does not take place in the same setting as the rest of the Castlevania series. Instead of playing as a Belmont battling Dracula in centuries past, Soma has been pulled into the vampire’s vacant castle in the far future.
        However, the game shows little sign of this future and location aside from the characters we are presented with, and the gameplay and enemies are much what we would expect from Castlevania. In fact, with Soma taking weapons from the enemies he faces, it somewhat resembles Symphony of the Night. However, the game’s unique twist on the formula is soon revealed.
        Soma, after defeating an enemy, may obtain their soul, granting him their power. A skeleton soul allows him to throw bones, for instance. Some give attacks, while others grant him useful bonuses or essential abilities to progress, like double jumping. Exactly how he has such an ability is a question that Soma does want to know, as he never wanted such power, but he certainly isn’t in a position to complain.
        However, he eventually comes to the castle’s throne room, where a priest by the name of Graham has absorbed the dormant power of Dracula and intends to rule as his replacement, believing himself to be the reincarnation of the dark lord. Because Soma absorbed the powers of ‘his’ servants, Graham sees Soma as a threat, despite the boy’s protests, and their battle ensues.
        Compared to facing Dracula in most other games it may seem a but lackluster. He uses some of Dracula’s attacks, copying him down to the monstrous transformation when he starts to lose, but he comes off as exactly what he acts like- A Dracula wannabe. Of course, the difficulty was tremendously migrated by my choice of weapon, the holy blade Claimh Solias, which not only does excellent damage, but has a much larger reach than most weapons in the game. The weapon makes most any encounter easier.
        Regardless of how he is defeated, the reason for the comparative ease is soon clear. He is not the final boss, and defeating him in the right conditions has the story move on to its true conclusion. The castle’s dark energy, stolen by Graham, finds its way to Soma after the priest’s death, and he is on the verge of being transformed into Dracula. In truth, he was the vampire’s reincarnation, which is why he could take the souls of he monsters he faced.
        His will held Dracula’s in check, but it was only a matter of time until he was consumed by it. Soma races to the source of the castle’s dark power to destroy it, and thus remove Dracula’s influence. However, on the way there he runs into J.
        J is a character who appears throughout the game as an amnesiac with some connection to the castle, and he eventually recalls that he is Julius Belmont, the one who slew Dracula the final time and resulted in the events of this game. Where before he was an ally, now he can see the darkness growing in Soma, not to mention his new villainous red eyes, and decides it is his duty to slay him.
        Here is a truly unique battle to behold, dear readers! Not a battle against a monster or demon, but against a human trained to battle such entities, and now his whip is aimed at you. While there have been similar battles in previous games, such Alucard fighting Richard Belmont in Symphony of the Night, the key difference here is that in every other example that I am aware of, the enemy is either being manipulated or possessed, such as Richard, or, in the case of the Doppelgangers that appear in a few games, they’re essentially mimicries of yourself.
        Here, on the other hand, is a vampire hunter who slew Dracula himself, facing you of your own free will. There is no spell to break, and it is not an enemy made by black magic. It is, in effect, a reversal of roles for the series. Usually you are the one hunting monsters, and in a sense Soma was fulfilling that role until now, but here he is the monster to be slain.
        As for the battle itself, in comparison to Graham, Julius is a much more agile and painful adversary. Where the priest relied on Dracula’s ability to fire out magic and teleport, leaving himself open, Julius is constantly on the move, whipping at you, and regardless of how much health you have or what equipment you are using, he will certainly kill you in a few swings. Dodging is paramount.
        Of course, you’ll have to hit him back, but there I ran into an issue. Perhaps other players had easier times of it, but my vaunted weapon, regrettably, failed me the same way it previously saved me. It is a holy weapon, and thus does paltry damage to Julius, even if it is easy to hit him. With his speed and ferocity, I simply could not defeat him with that blade.
I needed something that would do more damage. I found my answer in Kaladbolg, described as a ‘sword of darkness’, so surely that would do more damage. And I was right, the dark weapon did indeed do twice as much damage, at the cost of range. I had to get closer to actually strike with it, but it was a necessary payoff.
        And that brings another factor. In order to fight off this vampire hunter, essentially, Soma has to use the forces of darkness to survive, relying on the very powers Julius opposes. Much like his power to take souls, Soma uses this gift- but only to survive, and only so he can truly be rid of it. This is shown after the fight itself, wherein Soma has Julius beaten, and could slay him, but the thought of doing so doesn’t even cross his mind. He may be gifted with evil powers, but he works to be free of them, since all it does is being him more and more danger.
        Now, Julius is not the final boss either, that title goes to Chaos, the source of Dracula’s power. But while it is a hectic and disorienting fight, striking from all angles, it is, I thought, much more manageable than facing Julius. In effect, he is the game’s greatest challenge, with very good reason. As a vampire hunter, he has to be, by default, more dangerous than anything Dracula’s abode can conjure up, especially when the player character is, himself, Dracula’s reincarnation.

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