Review by Platyphyllis
"Harmony of Dissonance doesn't offer much in terms of innovation but it's still an enjoyable, refined, and fun game"
The first Gameboy Advance entry in the Castlevania series Circle of the Moon did very well in proving that the new RPG/Action Platformer hybrid could work well on handhelds just as well as it did on the Playstation which introduced that with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. As a result, the second GBA entry Harmony of Dissonance was highly anticipated. People were looking forward to all the new features like the supposed better graphics and new gameplay features. The game definitely had a lot to live up to and did it succeed and meet everyone's expectations? In some ways it did, but in other ways it didn't. Regardless, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is a solid title that is definitely enjoyable, despite all its flaws.
Harmony of Dissonance has you taking control of Juste Belmont, next in the Belmont lineage. He is the grandson of Simon Belmont (the protagonist of the first Castlevania) and it's up to him to slay Dracula this time around. He arrives at Dracula's Castle with his friend Maxim to rescue their friend Lydie who was apparently kidnapped and they split up to cover more ground and find her more quickly. Thus, Juste is left to fight off the castle's dangerous inhabitants (consisting of golems, bats, ghosts, etc.) to find Lydie. The plot is pretty thin but if you've played any of the older Castlevania games then you'll know by now that the story has never been the games' shining quality and they just serve as an excuse for you to jump into Dracula's castle and have some fun and this game's story does that job well enough.
Castlevania has always been at its best when you're actually playing it and this game is no different. With his whip in hand, Juste will be destroying many of the monsters who have taken root in Dracula's castle in no time. Like the recent games in the series, the protagonist can also equip a large amount of gear like steel plates, bracelets, leggings, gloves, whip tips (to maximize damage) and more so that even when you're fighting the game's difficult enemies and bosses, Juste can withstand a few hits. There are also a number of useful sub-weapons that Juste can use such as the cross, daggers, axes, and holy water. A new sub-weapon is also available (which hasn't been seen in previous Castlevania games) which is a weird-looking but effective flurry of punches. So far it seems like your typical Castlevania gameplay system but the team at Konami decided to mix things up by including spells. There are a number of spell books in the castle that you can find, each of them belonging to a specific element. If you combine these spellbooks with a specific sub-weapon then you can cast a powerful spell which does massive amounts of damage. This definitely adds more depth to the game and it's always fun seeing this feature in use.
Unfortunately, just like any other game, nothing is perfect and that definitely shows in Harmony of Dissonance. One of the things that I found really peculiar with this game was how incredibly easy the bosses were. There are lots of bosses to fight in this game but the thing is that it's so easy to defeat them. Sometimes I would just stand in one spot, keep whipping them, they'd keep flinching backwards, get stuck in a corner, and I'd keep hitting them until they're dead. In the few occasions where there is a tougher-than-usual boss, the spellbooks simply make things a bit too easy and you can win by spamming spells and mana recovery items. There's also the one big thing that's been plaguing Symphony of the Night-style Castlevania games for a long time and that's unnecessary backtracking. Now, even though I don't like a lot of backtracking, I've never really minded it that much but in this game it's definitely an issue because Dracula's castle is like a maze. Sometimes I'd get stuck for a long time not knowing what to do and I'd be wandering around for several minutes before I consulted a walkthrough and found that the solution to all my problems was lying right in front of my face. That pretty much proves how complex the layout of this game's castle is and it can be easy to get lost and not know what to do because of the fact that you have to backtrack a lot to find necessary keys and relics. Even then, this game is still very solid on the gameplay front and anyone who's already used to the Castlevania formula will find it as fun as ever.
The developers had stated that they planned to make Harmony of Dissonance a great improvement over its predecessor (Circle of the Moon) graphically and judging by how the game looks overall for a 2002 GBA game, I'd say they succeeded. The environments are very creepy and well designed which makes the game really atmospheric. You'll see statues crying in the background (and a really nice touch was that with this one particular statue, the tears actually turned into monsters), a dim sky and clouds quickly passing by in the outdoor areas, and lots of blood splattered along the walls and ceilings. The monsters and the protagonist are well animated too. Juste's sprite animations don't look too bad and some of the monster designs are very imaginative (I actually got scared of Juste getting killed when I saw how big the Large Ghost was even though in reality it just took two hits to destroy). There are always a few minor problems with the graphics (why is there a weird blue outline on Juste all the time?) but nothing major ever gets in the way of how this game looks.
Unfortunately, the game suffers a lot on the audio front. The game's compositions actually sound nice if you listen to it clearly but the big problem lies in the sound quality. The music sounds like it was made for the Gameboy Color and all the possible greatness of the music goes down the moment you hear how it sounds. It just sounds very beepy and you can barely distinguish some of the beats. The Gameboy Advance can do a lot better than what you hear in this game so it's just odd how they didn't spend more time in this aspect of the game. Other than the music, the sounds are all right. The sound effects are all very solid and lots of nice little touches were made like enemies screaming when they die and Juste making his battle grunts when performing certain attacks.
In terms of length, this game isn't anything special. Even though I got stuck at certain points and wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes, the game only really lasted me around 5 hours on the first playthrough (that is without getting all the extras). There are a number of nice things to extend the length of the game though. For one thing, even though you beat the game once you probably missed out on some of the items and maybe even a spell book or two so perfectionists will definitely be playing for a longer length of time looking for those. There's also a Boss Rush mode which lets you go against some of the game's bosses one after the other and you also have an option to play through the game again except as a different character (with his storyline completely left out unfortunately). As it stands with all those extras, Harmony of Dissonance lasts quite a while for a handheld game that's played in short bursts. Just don't play this game while expecting an epic 30+ hour masterpiece because you won't get it.
Overall, Harmony of Dissonance is pretty much like your average Castlevania game. It has lots of monsters to destroy, sub-weapons to use, creepy environments to explore, a typical storyline which has you off to destroy Dracula, and most importantly, the game has a lot of fun. The only thing that it does differ in slightly is that the sound quality makes the game's actual music unpleasant to hear but it makes up for it greatly in the graphical department. Harmony of Dissonance is a solid Castlevania game and an excellent Action Platformer on its own right. I'd definitely recommend this to all the fans of the series.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/17/08
Game Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (US, 09/16/02)
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