Review by CombatWaitress
"Like running a Castlevania themed marathon"
When Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was released in 2002, many were curious. Did it manage to surpass its predecessor, Circle of the Moon? In many ways it did, and managed to come close to touching Symphony of the Night...
SotN had weapons. Loads of them. The problem was, the game was absolutely bogged down with them. Too often players will find that they will ever only use a handful out of 100+ available weapons. Often you'll find just variations of the same sword- only the name and the amount of damage would change. While the game also boasted a familiar and spell system, they were awkwardly implemented. The player ever only needed one familiar, and often both systems seemed tacked on just to make everything seem larger. Circle of the Moon also suffered. While it had an impressive range of attacks via the DSS Card System, you had no way to know what monsters dropped which cards. There was no bestiary; it was impossible in-game to keep track of monsters. Worse, you had to grind for cards. So much of the game was wandering around, wondering if you're wasting your time constantly killing the same monster over and over.
Harmony of Dissonance shrugs off the 'bigger is better' mantra in favor of a tight system strongly resembling an updated take on Akumajo Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. The player is armed with the classic Vampire Killer whip. Like in Super Castlevania IV, you can brandish the whip to block enemy projectiles. Unlike the bloated systems from SotN and CotM, Harmony of Dissonance utilizes the Spell Book system. Over the course of exploring the castle, you'll garner several elemental-themed spellbooks. Merely switch to which one you want and combine them with your currently equipped subweapon for the desired spell. For example, combining the Axe Subweapon with the Fire Spellbook will give you the Twin Hydras summon, which swarms all on-screen enemies. The whip has several tips that are either elemental based or will improve brute force. Hence, the gameplay eliminated the tedium of grinding and allows players to jump into the game.
Like Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance is a so-called "Metroidvania." The Castle itself is vast, but things will take an unexpected turn half-way through the game. Expect to see some familiar sights have their "skins" peeled away to reveal the bloodied, rotting "true" form of Castlevania.
If there's one thing you'll immediately notice about Harmony, the graphics will leap out and grab your eyeballs. The skies light up with beautiful effects. Lightning with flash across the skies, clouds will shimmer and dance, ashen mountains will be illuminated against murky skies, psychedelic rooms will be lit with weird effects...
The detail of the castle itself is like that seen in Symphony of the Night. Rather than opt for Circle's sometime barren and repetitive approach, the castle's rooms abound with gorgeous detail. Large stone carvings decorate the Castle's interior, paintings line the walls, and gears spin out of control in the clock tower. The attention to detail is startling.
The enemy and character sprites are well-animated. While the main character's sprite is animated a little better than Nathan, it's still behind the beauty of Alucard's sprite. Enemy graphics are about what one would expect, but the detail of the bosses are astounding. Monsters are multi-jointed; rather than moving jerkily on screen, their limbs have fluid motion.
Character designs and illustrations were done by seasoned Gothic horror artist, Ayami Kojima. She had previously worked on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and did a few redesigns for Castlevania Chronicles. Unlike the sleek, morose blonde Alucard and the savage redhead Simon Belmont, Juste Belmont appears as an almost angelic figure. Clad in a red coat and cross-emblazoned breastplate, Juste appears as a striking figure. The cover and in-game artwork are both beautiful; you may find this game worth getting just to gaze at the cover art alone!
No complaints here. Unlike past titles, which were usually just "Dracula has been revived, you must fight him" Harmony of Dissonance goes for a different approach. The main character, Juste Belmont, joins his comrade Maxim Kischine in finding the kidnapped Lydie Erlanger. Maxim had been away for some time after Juste was made a full-fledged Vampire Hunter, yet unexpectedly returned badly wounded. He said that he witnessed Lydie get captured and tried to fight off her tormentor, but had lost much of his memory. The two friends set out to recover the lost maiden, and come upon a seemingly abandoned castle. It becomes apparent that the castle has many supernatural qualities- minions of the long-dead Dracula swarm the friends after they split up. In addition to the still-missing Lydie, things begin to take a turn for the bizarre when Juste starts running into doppelgangers...
The music quality is lower than usual due to space being made for the graphics. While some who want only the best in sound quality may complain, those who grew up with the older Castlevania games will be satisfied with the retro sound. The compositions themselves are progressive. Expect unorthodox melodies to leap and mix with each other- music within music. While some tunes will have a definite "experimental" sound to them, others, like Successor of Fate will be the tested-and-true gothic compositions fans have craved post-Symphony of the Night.
So is there anything wrong with the game? Not much! The main game itself may not have much replayability after you beat it. You can go back and find a few very well-hidden rooms, but don't expect breakable walls like Circle of the Moon. However, unlike Circle and Symphony this game takes a nod from Metal Gear Solid and introduces the Boss Rush mode. You can fight against three sequences of bosses and see if you can match or beat your time. In a definite improvement over Symphony of the Night, the Sound Test is available on the main screen itself; you no longer need to seek out a character just to play it. Also available to play is Maxim, and putting in a certain code will also unlock a secret character.
If you enjoyed Symphony of the Night and Circle of the Moon, then you'll definitely want to pick up this title!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/13/09
Game Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (US, 09/16/02)
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