Review by Kain Stryder
"Evil Never Dies..."
During the launch of the Gameboy Advance, Nintendo had announced that there'd be several games available once the system was in stores and Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon was one of them. The newest Castlevania game to hit the block, many fans had yearned for another Castlevania that could match or perhaps be even better than Symphony Of The Night, which is hailed as the best Castlevania of all time. Since the two Castlevanias to the Nintendo 64 didn't do too well for Konami, let alone the series, with the release of the Gameboy Advance, fans rushed to grab Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon, hearing and hoping it had almost all the features Symphony Of The Night did and even some new ones, hoping this would make up for the 3D Castlevanias that left everyone wanting another RPG Castlevania.
And when they got this game, they were in for a surprise, as they got what they wished for, plus a new hero, who, this time, wasn't a Belmont or Alucard. So, this is Konami's first return to the portable system since the long forgotten days of Castlevania: The Adventure and Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, two games that were both below average to average at best, but is the game what everyone expected and had hoped for? Was it worth owning a Gameboy Advance over? Was this new hero enough to take on Dracula and banish him? Well, we'll see...
Story: It's the year 1830 and in an old Austrian Castle, a Demon named Carmilla is currently performing a ritual to bring Dracula back to life before his 100 years of containment has passed. Sensing something isn't right in nature, Morris Baldwin, a Vampire Hunter who had banished Dracula years ago, his son, Hugh Baldwin, a Vampire Hunter in training and Nathan Graves, another Vampire Hunter in training, but the one who was given the Vampire Killer and who's parents helped Morris fight Dracula, rush to the castle to find out what's going on. Learning they are too late to stop Dracula from being resurrected, Dracula imprisons Morris and banishes Nathan and Hugh to the depths of the castle, into the Catacombs.
Still sore that Nathan got the Vampire Killer, Hugh decides to not team up with Nathan and to search for his father instead. Having no choice himself, Nathan sets out alone into the Catacombs, hoping to make his way back up into Castlevania and to stop Dracula from regaining his full power. It is here that the game begins...and boy, what a game and story it is. Set 33 years after Symphony Of The Night, there is NO tie ins to that game at all, except for the time period and whatnot, but the game still holds true to the Castlevania series and with a story as good as this, there's a few surprises in store for Nathan as he explores the castle...and even for you, the player.
Controls: While it took the Castlevania games a GOOD while to get some sturdy and good controls for handling the Belmonts, Richter and Alucard became the first true easy moving characters that moved and performed with such ease, you'd wish Simon and the others could do this. Unlike how Alucard could move, Nathan controls a bit differently and at first, you'll have to adjust to this. He can not do half the things Alucard did and he's slower than him, but once he acquires the right Equipment, he'll be a force to be reckoned with. While he's not as flexible as Richter, he can still hold a candle to him, with the insane amount of moves he can pull off, which I'll speak of later.
Using Nathan to whip at the enemies or perform Sub-Weapon attacks or even the newest feature to the Castlevania games, the DSS or Dual Set-up System, which allows you with the push of a button, to perform one of over 80 different magic attacks that can help you in an almost infinite of ways. With a wide arsenal of attacks at his disposal, some solid controls and movement that's easy to get use to for a Castlevania game and a few borrowed moves from Simon, Richter and Alucard, Nathan will not get you aggravated at all when you control him and that is a huge plus for a Castlevania game. Over all the controls are just great and I for once have no complaints to anything here and that says alot, since most of the Castlevania games for quite sometime had such average controls it wasn't even funny. Great job, Konami.
Graphics: Since Symphony Of The Night broke so much ground, to say that any future Castlevania game isn't modeled after it is to say Squaresoft didn't break the RPG boundary with Final Fantasy to set the standards for most RPGs today. Just like most Castlevania games, Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon does NOT disappoint with graphics at all...that is, if you can see them. Unfortunately, with the Gameboy Advance, unless you are sitting under a direct light source, you're going to be in the dark in the game constantly, literally. Unless you are playing this on a Gameboy Advance SP or a Gameboy Advance Player on your GameCube, most of the graphics will go unseen by you and that's not exactly a good thing.
Perhaps Konami was aiming for a more dark and gloomy Castlevania this time, but I don't try to protect them here. The graphics ARE great for what's literally the 7th game produced for the Gameboy Advance, but due to the Gameboy Advance's no backlight, you won't see the full effect the graphics have. You'll see most of it, but not all. But, enough talk about that. How do the graphics look, you ask? Absolutely great. Once again, the castle is huge and there are many, many areas to explore, with all your favorite and familiar areas from Symphony Of The Night that have returned and a few new things here and there. Everything is greatly detailed, to the backgrounds and characters to even the tiniest little thing that's not even important, everything feels and looks so large and big, it's a wonder how Nathan doesn't get lost in Castlevania.
As for the enemies themselves and Nathan. Well, the enemies DEFINITELY look VERY well done. Just like their Symphony Of The Night counterparts, the enemies can either be small or so damn large, they're literally 2 screens big. Every enemy is insanely detailed with numerous colors and animation that to just see each enemy and what they do is cool and you never know what to expect. Although there are a few enemies that are ''reused'', such as have color swaps and they're just ''stronger'' versions of the others, it's ok, since there's not a whole lot of enemies like this. As for Nathan himself, he definitely looks good. He himself has a ton of color and animation to him, not to mention ALL his attacks that he can use. Although he only has one Weapon in the whole game, he can use Swords and many other things through the DSS and they are VERY well done. All his animations are.
So, over all, if you're hoping this game's graphics match Symphony Of The Night's, they do, but Symphony Of The Night's are better, but these are still damn good. With some nice new areas to the castle to explore and see, totally redone graphics to the familiar areas and so much enemies to see and kill, with numerous animations for everything, the graphics definitely add up for one hell of an experience that makes you return once again to banish Dracula, all while looking good while you do it. Nothing here disappoints in the least, so get ready to be blown away.
Sound/Music: Well, Castlevania games have always been noted and known for their music and Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon doesn't disappoint here, either. Having to fill in some big shoes from Symphony Of The Night's spectacular soundtrack, Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon didn't exactly fill those shoes, but it did it's best and they ended up walking away in them. Sporting some new and old themes, this definitely adds to the over all game and with the new songs, they don't let you down at all and are quite catchy. Unfortunately, the theme song, Vampire Killer, that Castlevania games are known for is absent in this game, but the other songs more than make up for it. Even with the Gameboy Advance's one speaker, the music comes through crisp and clear and very catchy, showing Konami definitely focused alot in this area.
As far as sounds go, Nathan sports a voice in this, though none of it is actual words, just grunts and stuff, but it's still cool. Same goes for the other characters and the other sounds fit great, from the crack of your whip to the explosion of a Skeleton, everything is perfect, heck, even the sound of falling water in the Underground Waterway. Over all, the music is awesome for a first year Gameboy Advance game and even for a Castlevania game, with new and old songs from all the Castlevania games here and there, with sound effects and everything that fit the game perfectly, so as you play this, expect to be keeping your Sound on. Konami, keep it up.
Game Play: Ah, the best part of this game by far. Just like Symphony Of The Night, the fans got their wish of another castle exploration type game, just how Metroid played out. Once again, you must search through Dracula's entire castle, revisiting areas here and there to recollect things or explore further later on, due to you not having a piece of Equipment that allowed you to continue. With the RPG elements of gaining levels and powering up, just like Symphony Of The Night had, as you explore the castle, you'll get stronger and you'll definitely need to be stronger, if you ever hope to make it out alive. With the level up system, it, like Symphony Of The Night, adds a great deal of fun and gameplay to the game, but it also makes the game a bit too easy. If you become powerful enough, you can breeze by most areas, but thing is, that won't really happen alot in this game and you'll notice it.
But, besides the leveling up system which has become one of the sole reasons Castlevania has become such a great series, there's the new feature, the DSS. Basically, it's a magic system that, while fighting enemies, they may drop Cards, which allow you to mix and match two different Cards and pull off an ability, that lasts for as long as you have Magic in your meter. For example, you could make your whip flame based and for each attack, your whip will be covered in flames or you could have a your whip turn into a Thorn Whip. Even better, tired of your whip? Why not use one of the various Swords that the DSS offers. Heck, sick of Swords? Throw it down and go at enemies with Martial Arts or even a gun. The DSS has a ton of many, many different abilities that can help Nathan, from a boost in attack or defense, to you gaining double the Hearts for every Heart you pick up. Just so many things you can do and experiment with while taking on Dracula's Army.
Even though you are sort of forced to explore each area in a certain order, later on, you can decide where you want to go, but you may end up at a dead end and will have to come back later, when you are able to continue on. Not to mention, since Nathan's main Weapon is the Vampire Killer, he can still Equip things, such as Armor and Gloves, plus you can get a supply of Potions and whatnot from the enemies. Though, unfortunately, the Master Librarian is nowhere to be found in this game, as well as the Merchant, so there's no stores in the castle. Everything you will find will either be laying around or come from the enemies, so search well and stock up when you can.
As for the replay value of the game, oh ho, there is TONS. If you ever wanted a challenge, you got one. Featuring 4 different modes of play once you beat the game, you can go through as different ''classes''. You start as a VampireKiller in the game, but once you beat the game, you can play again as a Magician, where you start with ALL the DSS cards and your Magic and Intelligence goes up higher per level, but your Attack and Defense are low. With other modes such as the Shooter, which is a game where all your stats are subpar and you mostly use Sub-Weapons to play, as your amount of maximum Hearts increases greatly, plus the Fighter class of being nothing but Attack and Defense with NO DSS at all, with Intelligence and Magic being low and then there's the Thief class, where your stats are all average, but your Luck is so high, getting enemies to drop things is a breeze. Unfortunately, you must play the game a total of 4 times before you can unlock the Thief class and you may get bored with playing the game that many times, but the challenge is always there for you to play.
Over all, Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon does nothing to disappoint you in the area of gameplay and offers exactly what Symphony Of The Night did, but no second castle to explore, but with the INSANE amount of replay value and challenges after beating the game numerous times, this is definitely a keeper and with all new additions to the Castlevania series, Nathan proves his worth and it's just another game for you to play, master and have fun with, all while kicking some Undead ass.
Over All: So, there you have it. One of the first generation Gameboy Advance games is released and it's a Castlevania game that is perhaps one of the best ones ever, matching the quality of Symphony Of The Night. With a whole new challenge at your hands, new moves, a DSS system and tons of replay value, for how much this game runs for today, you'll definitely be getting your money's worth for every penny you spend on it. With a solid, fresh story that strays from the Belmonts yet again, but still holds true to the series, great controls for a Castlevania game, graphics that are amazing for a handheld, even if they may be hard to see, music and sound that is definitely high quality, with a ton of old and new tracks, plus sound effects and everything that fits well and gameplay that will keep you busy for a good LONG time, plus the replay value that'll always have you coming back to play as Nathan again and again, Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon is something you should NOT pass up given the chance.
Well, now if I had to suggest to you to rent or buy it, buy it by all means necessary. Seriously, it runs for probably $15-20 at MOST nowadays and you'll be spending your money wisely on it. Even if you're not a fan of the series, if you enjoy exploration games and RPGs, this is a game for you and hell, if you are a Castlevania fan, this is DEFINITELY a game you should be playing, if you already haven't. If you are unsure though, borrow it from a friend or rent it, but I doubt you'll hate it, but if you do, perhaps it just wasn't your cup of tea. Konami, great job on another Castlevania game and I hope to see many, many more Castlevanias in the future. Remember, Dracula and evil never dies...
Final Rate: 10/10.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/14/03, Updated 10/15/03
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