Review by RageBot
"The black sheep of Castlevania."
This is one of the earliest Metroidvania games, and it suffers from a very bad rap. Unfortunately, unlike some black sheep, this time it is justified. This game is riddled with flaws, and I'm going to point fingers at all of the problems that made this game into one of the worst Castlevania titles in all time, in my opinion at least.
Let us begin with the introduction. The game is set 50 years in time after the original. You control Juste Belmont, who is Simon's son or possibly grandson. The first flaw is sitting there right at the beginning: Juste has absolutely no intention of destroying Dracula. His only wish is to rescue his lover, Lydie, from Dracula's castle. One of the reasons is because Dracula is not yet raised from the dead, but he IS revived later in the game, and Juste still destroys him just to save Lydie. What kind of a Belmont are you? It is your duty to destroy the undead with your trusty whip!
There are some new twists in the game. There are two castles, real one and dark one. The idea is heavily inspired from Symphony of the Night's reverse castle. I am not impressed. There is something better in this version however: You can move between the castles through seven different portals, instead of just the one portal in SoTN.
This game brings you back to the classic subweapons, with a twist. You can collect magic tomes throughout your journey in the castle. The tomes are used to grant your subweapons elemental affinities. The elemental attacks now cost MP, but not hearts, while regular, non-elemental subweapons cost hearts as usual. The result of the combination is unknown, so you'd best play with what you have and test the tomes out. I can tell you that all of Richter's item crashes can be accessed through one tome or another. In addition, an eighth subweapon has been added: The sacred fist.
Aside from the subweapons, Juste is also equipped, obviously enough, with the Vampire Killer. Like the subweapons and the tomes, you can find equipable upgrades for the whip. Such upgrades allow it to gain elemental affinities, break distinguished barricades, shoot fireballs or spin constantly, as if it was Circle of the Moon and Nathan would equip it. The problem is, with the exception of two upgrades, there is no visual change to the whip. I would appreciate if I could know wether I am currently using a flame whip or an ice whip, without checking it out in the menu, thank you.
When adding the appeal and gameplay to the mix, the game turns from bad to worse. This is possibly the easiest Castlevania game of them all. It takes one whipping to kill almost every enemy, and even the bosses deal very little damage and you deal them a lot of damage. Speaking of the bosses, they are very uninspiring as well. Most of them are rehashments of Castlevania 3 bosses, such as the Cyclop and Skeleton Knight. The rest are in every game, such as Minotaur, Golem and the ever-present Phantom Bat.
The ones that enter neither of those categories are the worst of them all, they are larger versions of common enemies and they are pathetic. Some of them don't even attack except for moving around, a move that could have been deadly in the early Castlevanias where each hit drained a quarter of your health, but is just pathetic in this game. Other bosses can be knocked back after a few of your attacks, or otherwise have attacks that are way too easy to avoid. All you need is the smallest bit of patience, and even that is unnecessary sometimes.
The graphics are even worse. Sure, there are some areas that are classic and you can't have a Castlevania game without them, such as the entrance with the blood red rug, the chapel with humongous stained glass windows, and the ever difficult (Yes, even in this game) experience of climbing up the clock tower, dodging spikes and Medusa Heads. And then there are some generic areas, such as a cave, a skeletal hideout and a sewage pipe. All of those areas seem dull, and also feature dull soundtracks.
And speaking of soundtracks, this is the worst point of them all. The music of this game is DREADFUL through and through. Most of the tracks are not worth mentioning, they are dull and uncreative. Obviously Michiru Yamane has had no part in composing the music of this game. Any tracks that are decent enough, such as the entrance theme and chapel theme, are ruined by a horrible sound quality. Even a version of the everlasting theme, Vampire Killer, is unenjoyable because the sound hurts my ears.
It's fun whipping things up as usual, but only play it if you're a hardcore Castlevania fan and wish to play every game that there is. Otherwise, you'll only waste your time and think ill will of this amazing franchise.
Final grade: 6.5/10
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 08/11/11, Updated 09/12/11
Game Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (US, 09/16/02)
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