Review by EOrizzonte
"Relive the <I>Symphony of the Night</I> experience"
If there was a reason to buy a Game Boy Advance on launch day, it had to be Konami's Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. The last 2-D Castlevania game - the highly acclaimed (and rightly so) Symphony of the Night, had been released in 1997, and everyone so lucky to experience it was eager for a sequel. And indeed, Circle of the Moon was a good game, but its odd DSS system, its unbalanced difficulty, and its lack of longevity were ultimately unsatisfactory. Knowing what Castlevania fans really want, Konami decided to make a Castlevania game that resembles their PSX masterpiece, and it has finally arrived with the title: Castlevania: Concerto of Midnight Sun (Harmony of Dissonance in the West). And while it must be acknowledged that this is as close as Symphony as the GBA can go as of now, even this new game is ultimately slightly disappointing.
The main character of HoD is Juste Belmondo (they're a French family - Belmont is a bad English translation), a descendant of the legendary vampire killer Simon Belmondo. He and his friend Maxim enter a castle, looking for a girl named Lydie. After encountering Death a couple of times, Juste will realize this is actually Count Dracula's castle. During his quest, Juste will quarrel several times with Maxim, until he finds out Maxim has fallen victim to Dracula's curse. This is as much of the story as I could understand from the Japanese version, but English-speaking players will get a fully understandable version of the game (but with a much less inspiring title and, of course, a character named Belmont).
Harmony of Dissonance shows good technical improvement upon Circle of the Moon. Graphics are much clearer and more colorful, so you won't have any more problems making out enemies from the background. Speaking of backgrounds, they're very detailed, and sometimes even animated (check out the moving clouds in one of the higher corridors), and a pleasure to look at. Sprites show much more definition than before, and better animation too. Juste looks a lot like Symphony of the Night's Alucard, with red clothes and long, white hair, and the bosses are huge and memorable. Various nice touches have been inserted here and there, along with some good special FX. Music is also very good, in spite of what many people say. Circle of the Moon's opening, hair-raising ''Kyrie Eleyson'' is gone, but BGM is undoubtedly good throughout the whole game, and it won't fail to please fans as well as Castlevania newbies. This game is absolutely well-crafted (a Konami trademark), and will bring back fond memories of Symphony to everyone's who's played the PSX game.
Incredibly enough though, the strong resemblance to Symphony of the Night is Harmony of Dissonance's biggest flaw. The two games are similar - too similar to each other: the main character, the level-up system, the inventory, the save rooms, many items, many locations, and even many bosses have been totally recycled from the PSX Castlevania. Also, the game is easy, much more than its GBA predecessor, which had brought the difficulty level back to the old days. It's very unlikely that you'll die if you're careful - there are no traps so mean you can't avoid them, no monster so strong or clever to trash you if you're not powerful enough, and you'll probably beat just any boss upon your first encounter (I did). Healing items are very scarce, but you'll need them for the final battle, which happens to be the only true challenge in the whole game. It took me just some more than seven hours to beat the game, and I only died twice or thrice. So, the sheer, enormous size of the castle, which could account for weeks of play, is wasted by a ridiculous difficulty level, and therefore the joy of playing this otherwise compelling game is over too soon.
However, there are some new additions that make this game different from other Castlevania's. For one thing, there's a new spell system, called Spell Fusion. Hidden within the castle are 5 magical books, each with unique powers. When one of these books is equipped, the secondary weapon you currently have in your possession will perform a special magical attack every time you use it, and it will deplete your MP instead of your Heart reserve. Magical attacks vary from fire dragons and bouncing shots to powerful summon creatures, and their help is invaluable in certain situations (of course, the power of some of these attacks is such that you'll be able to crush even the most powerful boss monster in a few hits). Although a novelty, the Spell Fusion system looks and feels quite too simplistic after the DSS system seen in Circle of the Moon or the Street Fighter II-like spells of Symphony of the Night, and although it's much easier to master, it's unlikely to leave you speechless - graphics apart. Another new addition is the introduction of collectibles, which you'll find scattered everywhere in the castle. Collect all of them and you'll unlock certain secrets. Nothing revolutionary, of course, but it adds some fun to the quest. And finally, after you've beaten the game, a new challenge will be selectable from the title screen. I'm not going to tell you what it is, since it's no more than a rushed addition, probably imported from Metal Gear Solid 2.
After reading what I've written so far, you may think Konami has failed. Not so, actually. Harmony of Dissonance is a good game - as enjoyable as Circle of the Moon indeed, with a lot to see and do, graphics and music you'd never expect from a portable system, and a gameplay so addictive you won't be able to put it down 'til the end. But the problem is, the end will come way too soon. There are two castles to explore, and many secrets to unfold, but the difficulty level is too low to put up much of a challenge. This, and the complete lack of originality, prevent this game from being a true classic. Konami have created a portable Symphony of the Night, but in doing so, they've forgotten a game has to be original to be remembered as an excellent game. And this is no original game - it's everything a Castlevania fan could possibly dream of, but it fails to recreate the commotion Symphony caused back in 1997. So make no mistake, and buy this game only if a)you've never played Castlevania before, or b)you're a hardcore Castlevania fan. Everyone else consider this is a costly game, and I'm sure none of you likes to spend forty bucks on a game that's over within three or four days. Nice one, Konami, but you can't go on rehashing the same ol' stuff over and over again.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/04/02, Updated 09/04/02
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