Review by LordShibas
"Not quite Symphony of the Night, but still a great game"
After hearing such great things about the GBA and DS Castlevania games, I finally picked up Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, and played it all the way through. While it was a far cry from Symphony of the Night, it's a great game in it's own right, and an excellent option for portable gaming. This is the first of the GBA Castlevanias I have played, but I plan to play them all at some point in time.
It's pretty standard Castlevania for the most part. Dracula is resurrected and your character with a whip, has to kill him. You play as Nathan Graves, who plays much like any other character in a Castlevania game. One new thing is that by holding down the attack button, you can make you Nathan swing his whip around himself really fast, making kind of a temporary shield, which can easily ward off flying enemies, but will hit for little damage on most regular enemies.
It's a fairly lengthy quest for a portable game, and the gameplay will suck you right in and have you slaying Dracula's minions in no time. You start off the game with a standard whip, but you will soon acquire sub-weapons, which are the same as in previous Castlevanias, like Holy Water, Crosses, etc . You will also be able to pick up cards, which will allow you to enhance abilities, create defense spells, summon, and boost your stats. The card system is pretty simple, and is easy to pick up right away. I've been turned off by card systems in games before due to them being too complex, but COTM has a nice balance of simplicity and diversity with the card system which never overwhelms you, or feels too shallow.
With that being said, gameplay is much like Symphony of the Night. You have a map to uncover, and you prance around the castle, looking for bosses and special abilities to access more and more of the castle. The gameplay never really changes, and you end up following this path throughout the entire game. Once you acquire new abilities, you can backtrack through the castle and get to previously un-accessible areas of the castle for health power ups, heart power ups, and magic power ups.
For some reason, I never really found my magic to be depleted to an insufficient degree. Your magic refresh rate seems to hold up pretty well, unless you are using a healing card combo, which will make it go down much faster, but you're just standing there anyway, so it doesn't really matter.
You will get lots of drops from enemies along the way too. Some are useful, but most you will never use, and you will find a stockpiled amount of items in your inventory. Drops depend on your character's luck, but I never really noticed a difference with a luck boosting item.
Here is a more broken down analysis.
The graphics in COTM are okay in some parts, but lacking in others. Your enemies seem to look good for the most part, and bosses especially look good, and some take up most of the screen. However, your character's animations are poor, and sometimes the game just doesn't seem like it's being pushed to the limits. So I found the graphics to be mediocre, and I thought they could have been better in general.
The first thing I noticed about this game was the classic Castlevania type music in the background, which sounded pretty good. It's amazing that they were able to cram so much music into this game. Almost every area has it's own music, which is a nice touch. The standard whip and sub weapon sounds all make a return, and sound as good as usual. It's a text based story, and I can't comment on the voices, since there are none.
The story from beginning to end is about 20-30 lines of text, and it never really made me care. Fortunately, this is Castlevania, and the story takes back seat to the excellent gameplay. I mean, how many times can they make a story with Dracula returning? It's old now, and the developers know it, so they did not bore us with a long story, which is nice.
Gameplay is the area where Castlevania excels, and it leaves most similar games in the dust. The gameplay is rock solid, and despite my characters whip animations being a little slow, (kind of got spoiled by Alucard's fast sword in SOTN) I thought it was perfect. Using your combination of whip, sub-weapons, and cards becomes second nature very quickly. The combat system is so deep in this game, you could spend months trying to get all of the weapons, cards, and drops that the game offers, or you can walk through the whole game with a whip and a sub-weapon, which is much harder, but nets you the same results for the most part. During my time with COTM, I never did find the summon card, so I went through most of the game with the whip and sub-weapons, which I still found to be quite satisfying. Dracula was kind of tough at the end though.
I also found this game to have one of the toughest iterations of Dracula that I have ever seen in the Castlevania series. It will take you a little while to get used to his patterns, and figure out the best time to strike him. It's kind of a good thing though, since I have been let down by Dracula encounters many times in Castlevania games.
I was able to get through the game in 12 hours, with 93% of the castle un-covered. There were still many things I could do, but I chose to fight Dracula and end the game. The replay value on this game is quite high, and offers new and challenging things around every corner of the castle.
Some things I did not like about the game. Like I said before, the graphics seem to be a little sketchy, and could have been done with more detail and animation. Another annoying thing is the lack of an item dealer. It would have been nice to sell the 56 leather armors I acquired on my journey, and turn that wasted space into some more potions, which could have actually benefited me on my journey. Since there is nothing to do with the extra stuff you pick up, 90% of the drops in the game become worthless, and provide nothing worthwhile.
I also would have liked to see the drop rate increased a little in the player's favor as well. I had a Magic Robe on for the majority of the game, which does a pretty significant boost on Luck, and I got maybe 7-8 card drops the entire game. I'm sure I missed a lot of good weapons and items as well.
The story really didn't impress me at all in this game. A whole 3 characters in the game, not including enemies, leaves little room for anything interesting. They try to do a plot twist with Nathan and his brother Hugh, but it just feels forced, and seems like it was a cheap way to throw another boss fight at the player, without having to design a boss character.
So, who should play Castlevania: Circle of the Moon? If you like the Castlevania series at all, I would say you can't go wrong with it. It will keep you busy for quite some time. Action game fans will also find a lot to like about this game. Honestly, anyone who appreciates good games should be able to find something they like about this game, and enjoy it to some degree. However, those looking for another Symphony of the Night may not be all that impressed with it, but at least you will be playing another game in the wonderful Castlevania series.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/26/07, Updated 06/03/09
Game Release: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (US, 06/10/01)
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