Review by Psycho Penguin
"Coming Soon: Sphere of the Sun!"
Warning: This review has a spoiler of Symphony of the Night (PSX) in the replay value section. You have been warned.
The Castlevania series has long been heradled as one as the most influential and innovative video game series of all time. You will rarely ever find a person that does not have anything good to say about the series. It is definitely one of those series that is loved by many and hated by few. In case you are not familar with my stance on the Castlevania series, I will explain it really quickly. I don't like the Castlevania series as much as hardcore fans of the series do, but I do enjoy most of the games in the series. For the most part, each game in the series has provided me with hours of fun, and great graphics and music, to boot.
Case in point? Symphony of the Night. Released for the Sony Playstation in 1997, it quickly became one of my favorite titles for the console, if not one of my favorite titles of all time. It was simply an incredible game. Combining Super Metroid adventure elements with the classic platforming action of the classic Castlevania series, plus adding role playing game stallwarts like experience points, hit points, and gold, added up to a winning formula for Konami, and it still remains one of my all time favorite games to this day.
When I first heard that Konami was releasing a Castlevania game for the forthcoming Game Boy Advance console, I was a little skeptical, to say the least. Sure, I was excited to be playing a new Castlevania game. However, I was scared as to where they would take the series. I was worried that they were going to make Circle of the Moon a totally new game, like Symphony of the Night was really a new game from the previous game in the series. However, I was totally relieved when I heard that the game was going to be a lot like Symphony of the Night.
When I heard that Circle of the Moon was basically going to be a portable version of Symphony of the Night, only an entirely new game, I was estcatic to say the least. I had pretty much outplayed the game, and was ready for a new Castlevania game, and the fact I could take this one on the road was just an added benefit to an already hyped game. Adding to the hype was the fact that the game was introducing new elements, like a DSS Card Combo system, and summons. I was simply blown away by this news, and waited patiently for the latest game in the series to be released on the American audience.
When the game finally came out, I (not so shockingly) purchased Circle of the Moon when I got my Game Boy Advance. Was I disappointed by the game? Not in the least! Circle of the Moon, while not being quite as good as its Playstation predecessor, is the single handed greatest portable game of all time. There is nothing I don't like about this game. It combined the greatest elements of Symphony of the Night, and added new gameplay ideas and innovations. It's not quite as high in the replay value or fun factor departments, but simply put, Circle of the Moon is a blast to play.
I already briefly mentioned some of the new ideas that Konami implemented in this game, so I will take this time to expand my descriptions. The main feature added was a DSS Card Combo system. What is this? Basically, you get a chance to collect 20 DSS Cards, 10 action and 10 attribute. You can combine 1 action card and 1 attribute card to get a special DSS Power, which can range to additional strength, to a whip with fire coming out of it. How do you get these Cards? Basically, each card can be found by getting them from enemies. However, some of the tougher cards to get are guarded in special places, and it will take a while to get all the cards. You need a good amount of luck (statistically) to get all of the cards in the game. Collecting all the DSS cards in the game is definitely one of the more enjoyable aspects.
Using the DSS cards, you could also perform one of several summons. Different DSS Card combos allowed you to perform certain summons. The good thing about the Summons is that they really didn't take a long time to perform. They basically got on screen, did what they had to do, and left, so you could go right back to what they were doing. I did have a basic problem with the summons, which I will expand upon once I get to the control section. I really thought the use of summons was a good idea by Konami, and it definitely added a bit of fun to an already outstanding game.
Another innovation provided in this game was a Battle Arena. Basically, after working your way through enough of the game, you get to partake in a special competition. Spanning 17 rooms, the Battle Arena is definitely the toughest part of the game, besides the final boss. Each room hosts a certain amount of enemies, which you have to defeat before entering the next room. Every few rooms, you have the option to escape the Battle Arena or continue. You will end up in a different area on the world map depending on where you decided to leave. If you decide to go through the battle arena, you can get the second (?) most powerful armor in the game, but you need to defeat a tough boss-like enemy. Sure, it may sound a little easy, but there's a catch: you can't use DSS cards while in the Battle Arena. Healing needs to be done using items. Now does it sound so easy? =)
The rest of the game plays a lot like Symphony of the Night. You are a vampire hunter, and you have to go around, collecting items and defeating enemies. You only get one whip throughout the game, so you don't need to worry about changing whips, as your strength instead increases on level up. You can also use DSS combos to basically get different types of whips, like a flame whip, or a thorn whip. You do get to choose from many different kinds of armor throughout the game. You also get to equip two accessories. Each accessory has a different use, and one accessory that is useful in a certain spot in the game may not neccessarily be useful in another situation. Another thing is, you don't get gold. You basically find everything you need, and you can get items and armor by killing enemies. Some enemies drop armor, while others drop items. Finding out what enemies drop what can get to be pretty fun, and is a lot better than just buying items.
You get a castle map, which expands as you go through the castle. The castle is pretty large, and you will notice that certain areas are blocked to you at first. Once you defeat a boss, you get an item that usually helps you get to the next section. For instance, after defeating the first boss, you get an item that allows you to perform double jumps. You can then use this item which allows you to get to the next section in the game. It may sound like your basic action/adventure gameplay, but I felt Konami did a really nice job in this aspect. It may not be perfect, but it's perfectly solid. I really enjoyed it. You can also use warp points, scattered throughout the castle, to get from one point to another more quickly. It can get tedious to go across the castle after the while, especially when you are forced to kill weak enemies. That's one of the only problems with the game.
Leveling up is pretty self explanatory. You get HP, MP, and Hearts to start off the game. As you level up, your stats in those areas increase, as does your Strength, Defense, Luck, and Intelligence. Strength and Defense are basic, Luck increases the chances of you getting special items from enemies, and Intelligence determines how quickly your MP fills back up automatically. Every enemy has hit points, and killing them nets you experience points. Once you get enough experience points, you get a level up. You can also get HP Max, MP Max, and Hearts Max items which act as a level up in those areas.
Control wise, Circle of the Moon is top notch. The Game Boy Advance has 2 buttons, but the way this game uses those buttons is very wise. You can move using the directional pad, of course. Pressing left or right twice allows you to run, once you get the item that allows you to do so. Using down, you can croutch. If you push down and then B (the attack button), you can do a croutch attack, which allows you to kill enemies which are low to the ground. Pushing down and then A (the jump button) allows you to slide, which allows you to get to lower places, and can also be useful in killing enemies. To use a sub weapon, you can just press up and B. To activate DSS combos, you can press the L button. Pushing it allows you to activate the combo, or deactivate it. Pressing R allows you to use special items you get throughout the game, like the Roc Wing. The only complaint I have with the controls is summoning. It's very hard to perform the combo that allows you to summon, especially when you really need it. However, once you get used to it, it gets a little easier.
Graphically, Circle of the Moon is the best looking portable game I have ever played, and was a great way to launch the Game Boy Advance by showing how powerful the system can be when in the hands of the right developers. This was a sterling effort by Konami. The backgrounds in the game are amazingly detailed, and very colorful. Each section has its own unique background which separates each section and gives them a feeling of their own, which may be expected but is sometimes taken for granted. Character designs are solid, enemy designs are very nice, and overall everything looks solid. Sure, everything's a tad small, but what do you expect on the Game Boy Advance.
But Steve, aren't the graphics just a tad dark? Yeah, that's the complaint everyone seems to have about this. Quite frankly, I wasn't really turned off by this too much, and the worm light actually made it worse. As long as you are sitting in a well lighted room, and have the Game Boy Advance titled at the right angle, you can play just fine. Sure, it may be uncomfortable, but you can probably find a way to be comfortable and still be able to see the game just fine.
Music in this game is just fantastic, as the legacy of excellent Castlevania music continues in style. Every section has its own theme, which really fit each section perfectly. I especially enjoyed the melodramatic tune that played in the Audience Room. I really enjoyed the music in the game. Sound effects were just as solid. The basic sound effects were in the sounds that you made as you walked around (try walking over water, it sounds really nice), and the sounds the enemies made as they were dying. All the sound effects were really good. I especially liked killing bosses and hearing the screams as they died. Very nicely done.
The storyline to this game is really the basic Castlevania stuff, but it's a little different. It's 1830, and Morris Baldwin is sending his son, Hugh Baldwin, and his apprentice, Nathan Graves, into Dracula's Castle to try to stop Dracula. Once they were a few feet away from entering Dracula's room, the floor collapsed and Hugh and Nathan were left alone in a catacomb. Hugh said see ya and Nathan was left all alone, Morris being trapped by Dracula, and Hugh soon becoming a bitter rival. I especially enjoyed the plot twists in the storyline, and overall it was very nicely written, although it could have benefitted a tad from more background story. Still perfectly solid, however.
Replay value in this game could be better, but is still solid. The main problem with the replay value in this game is the fact that there's only one castle, as opposed to two as in its predeccessor, and once you defeat the game, there is only a few things to do. However, those things are very fun, very challenging, and take a while, so the replay value is definitely there. One of the main things I enjoyed doing once I beat the game was getting to 100 percent. I was almost there, but it was fun trying to open up every other secret room, and it took a lot of exploring before I was able to do so. Collecting all the cards, killing one of every enemy, getting to Level 99, and collecting one of every item, armor, etc. were just other activities to do once you completed the game, so replay value is definitely there.
Portable games have been notorious for being pretty short, and well, pretty easy. Not the case with Circle of the Moon. It's more challenging than its Playstation counterpart. It takes around 20 to 25 hours to beat for the average game player, and some of the bosses in the game are quite challenging. (That two headed dragon is still giving me nightmares. One of the toughest bosses I've ever faced in any game). I know it is a shock to realize that a portable game is long and challenging, but this one is.
Not only is it long and challenging, but it is also fun, and the best portable game I have ever played. This one is a real classic, and belongs in every gamer's collection. It's worth buying a Game Boy Advance just to play this game. if the XBox has this kind of launch game, there will be no stopping it. Circle of the Moon is a rare achievement in gaming history: a launch game that delivers classic gameplay, unstoppable graphics, and a fun factor that can't be beat. Nintendo is well on its way to another classic portable system, and Circle of the Moon will help it on its way. This is a must play, must buy, must beat game.
-This is one of the most classic games I have ever played.
-The game combines Super Metroid adventure elements with classic Castlevania platforming action.
-Adding role playing game elements just makes it better.
-This game may be more innovative than Symphony of the Night, because of the DSS Card Combo system.
-The graphics are wonderful, especially for a launch game, and especially for a portable game.
-Music and sound effects in the game, simply put, rock.
-BEST. PORTABLE. GAME. EVER.
Not So Good Points
-Okay, so maybe the game can be a little dark and hard to play sometimes.
-The controls, when it comes to summoning, could have used a bit of fine tuning.
-Going around the castle can get to be tedious after a while, although the warp points help.
-The storyline isn't exactly screaming Pullitzer Prize.
I Rate This Game, Psycho Penguin Style!
Storyline - 5.3/10
Graphics - 9.7/10
Music - 9.6/10
Sound Effects - 9.2/10
Control - 9.6/10
Gameplay - 9.9/10
Replay Value - Above Average
Challenge - Average
Rent or Buy? - BUY!
Overall - 9.7/10
The Last Line
Konami's done it again. This is a true classic and belongs in any gamer's collection. It is simply the best portable game I have ever played, and destroys most console games on the market. And it's a value, because it's on the Game Boy Advance, so it costs less than the average new game. What are you waiting for? Buy it now!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/01/01, Updated 11/01/01
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