Review by Falion
"An all-around excellent addition to the Castlevania series"
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (or White Night Concerto as it is known in Japan) for the Gameboy Advance is a game that had a lot to live up to. When Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (or CotM), which was the first GBA Castlevania title, came out over a year ago, it was very well received by casual gamers and critics alike. CotM featured an open-ended castle environment much like its Playstation predecessor, Symphony of the Night, as well as interesting enemies and a deep ''magic'' system. So it goes without saying that when Konami announced a new GBA Castlevania title, fans expected it to improve upon CotM in every way possible. And Harmony of Dissonance comes frustratingly close to doing so. Now on with the technical portion of the review.
It is not very fair to grade this game based on its story, but as the story gets the job done well, and doesn't leave dissatisfaction, I decided to give it a 10 anyways. You play as Juste Belmont (who bears a striking resemblance to Alucard from SotN), who is Simon Belmont's grandson. Juste and his friend/rival Maxim are looking for their childhood friend Lydie, who is somewhere in a mysterious castle. Over the course of the game you will encounter certain NPCs who will provide you with information, as well as hidden merchants who will sell you items. Overall, the story does absolutely everything it needs to do.
A major complaint that many gamers had about CotM was that the graphics were too dark, and very hard to see without a very good light source. Well, Konami listened, and made the graphics in HoD much more vibrant than those in CotM. This is not to say that any of the gothic eeriness of the castle is lost. Actually, it is quite the opposite. HoD features some incredible backgrounds, full of spooky statues and blood-soaked instruments of torture. And you can see EVERYTHING without having to squint your eyes!
The characters and enemies are quite impressive as well. Juste has very fluid animations, whether he's running or casting a spell. The enemies have fluid animation as well, and there is a wide variety of twisted creatures that you must face. Graphically, the most impressive part of the game are the bosses, which are large, grotesque, and menacing looking. The Castlevania series is known for having impressive bosses, and HoD does not disappoint.
Konami definitely set a new graphical standard for GBA games, and only a year after their first effort.
Sound: 7 (Music: 4, Sound Effects: 10)
Well, I guess it's finally time to move on to one of the few disappointing aspects of HoD, which is the music. The developers at Konami claimed that in order to allow room for incredible graphics, the quality of the music would have to be sacrificed. This is almost immediately evident, as even the music that is playing when you choose a file to load will make you cringe. While in composition, some of the music can be quite good, and even catchy, the quality sounds like it should be found in an NES game. I wish that Konami could have found a way to improve upon both the graphics and music of CotM (which had excellent music quality).
Fortunately, all is not bad in the sound department. The sound effects are all very well done. Some of the crisp, clean sound effects in HoD include Juste's whip, his jumping ''grunt,'' and various voice samples from NPCs. It surprised me how much excellent sound effects can add to a game, and HoD features some of the best.
Ahhh, back to perfection. For Castlevania veterans, the gameplay in HoD will make you nostalgic for the classic NES Castlevania games, as well as SotN (which is my personal favorite Castlevania game). You whip enemies and candles, jump over chasms, collect items and magic, and explore a huge, nonlinear castle, Metroid style. HoD takes the very best gameplay elements from its predecessors and mixes them all together into one incredible game. The only thing that I missed was the ability to choose from different weapons, but then again, the whip is so effective, you won't need anything else. Once you start playing this game, you will not want to put it down.
I was slightly disappointed in the challenge that HoD provided. The game goes along at a great pace until you fight one of the game's many bosses. The bosses are, bluntly put, simple. Simple as in easier than 90% of the REGULAR enemies. Luckily, the bosses are incredible looking, or they would have been one hell of a let down. Other than the bosses, HoD finds a decent balance in challenge. The challenge is slightly boosted with the addition of some hidden modes after completion of the game.
This game came SO close to everything that I wanted in a Castlevania title, but unfortunately the music and challenge kept it from being possibly the most incredible game in the series yet. Don't take that as an insult at all, however. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is an incredible title, and easily one of the best games of the year.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/23/02, Updated 09/23/02
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