Review by Jacen Solo

"Not as good as previous Castlevanias but good nonetheless"

The latest installment in the popular Castlevania series is finally upon us.Although formerly thought to actually on the next generation consoles,Konami surprised everybody when they announced the sequel to Circle of the Moon to was be released on the GBA.Although the GBA is basically a souped up SNES,many didn’t doubt the game wouldn’t be a great.Circle of the Moon proved it and Harmony of Dissonace only cemented Konami’s hold on the 2D sidescrolling genre.

Gameplay:To some,Castlevania is the end-all-be-all sidescroller.Not that they could be blamed for think that though.Ever since its revival seen in the Playstation’s Symphony of the Night,the Castlevania series has continued to set new standards while still retaining the gameplay that made it so fun to play in the first place.Harmony continues this trend starting with the new emphasis on using mana instead of hearts.New to the Castlevania series is the ability to get numerous spell books.These books when equipped with various alternate weapons unleashes new elemental attacks on the enemies.No longer is the emphasis on collecting hearts to power the sub weapons.Since the spells use mana,using them is easier since you don’t need to worry about running out(mana recharges constantly).This in turn encourages the gamer to use the special attacks more liberally.Although the spellbooks are useful,it’s not as flexible as the DSS card system from Circle of the Moon.Since you’re restricted to carrying only 1 sub-weapon at a time,you can only use spells that are for said weapon.This could lead to many frustrating moments of not having the right tool for the job.

Still,it’s not a big deal most of the time since most of the spells are rather versatile.And you’ll need every single drop of versatility that you can get as the enemies in this incarnation are more stronger and vicious.Well,the normal enemies anyway.Surprisingly,the bosses in this game are push-overs compared to those found in Circle of The Moon or even Symphony of the Night.Maybe,it’s because of the overpowered spells(yes,it’s true.some of the later spells are too strong for their own good) but the bosses in this game don’t seem to have that killer instinct that made the past games so hard.While new players will certainly welcome the relief,for Castlevania veterans weaned on tough bosses,the game will certainly be more easier than other recent titles.Konami seemingly realizes this mistake(or maybe it was intentional) and as such acted accordingly.There’re more bosses to battle with now and most of them are unique.Some favourites from previous games do return though so veterans will be happy to at least see some old familiar faces hanging around Dracula’s castle.

Remarkably,although the series’ focus is much more on exploration now,most of the items are in plain view.Gone are the numerous secret rooms that plagued past Castlevania games.It’s actually one of the bad points.Anybody who’s played Symphony of the Night will tell you that there’s nothing like discovering a hidden room filled with goodies.Sadly,those who never experienced a similar rush won’t get their fill in this incarnation.No more endless hours of hitting suspicious looking walls just to find a rare sword,in this Castlevania what you see is what you get.There’s not much hidden…well not until you beat the game of course.After you do,some new modes become unlocked and one of the secrets even have you playing as a familiar face.

Another gripe I have with the game(or with most Castlevania games in general)is the lack of different main weapons.Juste,like the other Belmonts,only has a whip to rely on.Sure,you can upgrade its attack with various stones to imbue it with elemental attacks,but more weapon types would have helped.Seeing as how the game takes a lot of pages out of Symphony of the Night’s book,maybe adding in the variety of weapons Alucard used should’ve been an idea copied as well.

Rating:7/10

Graphics:Don’t go into this expecting much.After all,this is on the GBA.While Juste and the enemies could use more frames of animation(I’ll touch on that in a bit),the overall graphical quality is quite good.The screen’s no longer dark like it was in Circle of The Moon.No more searching for the right angle just to illuminate your quest,the contrast is brighter now and as long as there’s normal lighting available you should have no problem in even making out the most minute of details.Don’t be fooled into thinking the game’s colors are too bright though.Konami just used lighter tones to make everything more visible.So for those afraid that Dracula’s decrepit castle may not look the part,put those worries at ease.

Ok,back to the animation.Like Circle of the Moon’s lead character,Juste animates rather poorly.Although it’s not as bad as Nathan’s(hero of Circle of the Moon)choppy run,it’s still bad enough to warrant mention.Also another related problem is Juste’s shadow trails.Sure,it was impressive to watch with Alucard but Juste’s shadows don’t even animate half as well as Alucard’s.It makes the effect look amateurish and detracts from the overall smoothness of the frame rate.

Textures for the most part are adequate.They convey even the tiniest of details across very well,In fact.most of the rooms have different texture styles and they’re very imaginative.I love the backgrounds in this game more than any Castlevania title.Some of the backgrounds(the cavern made of skeletons comes to mind)are downright amazing and strangely enough…actually creepy.The game uses a scrolling system similar to the mode 7 style that made the SNES a visual powerhouse at the time(hell,it may be the Mode 7 technique since the GBA is basically a portable SNES).Whatever it is,the backgrounds all scroll smoothly everything.Most impressive considering the GBA is a portable system.

I do have a problem regarding some of the enemies’ textures though.Since some bosses are BIG,their sprites tend to go blurry and pixilated when they move quickly.Again,this is not really affecting the quality of the gameplay but it still needs to be mentioned.

Graphics rating:7/10

Sound:It’s all going pretty well but as the saying goes-Everything must come to an end.And so Harmony’s bad points arrive.All those expecting aural pleasures from this game are going to be majorly disappointed.The music in the game is grating and even then its stretching the truth a bit.One big part of making Castlevania such a blast to play is its incredible tunes.Usually,Konami does great here.But somehow,this time they completely dropped the ball.Gone are the haunting tunes that abound in Circle of the Moon.They’re all replaced by crappy songs and an even crappier rendition of the Vampire Hunter theme.Given the graphical facelift this game had from Circle of the Moon,I suspect the lack of time and resources to be the cause for the lackluster music.While that may be true,it still doesn’t exempt Konami of giving a series renowned for its incredible melodies some below average songs.

The sound clips for the game don’t sound too bad given the GBA’s unimpressive sound capabilities.You can make out enemies from their distinct sounds though so it’s not too bad by any standards.Juste’s grunts sound like their supposed to and most of the bosses sound different from the normal enemies.This is the best it’s going to get for the series I think.Well,if the series continues on the GBA anyway.I should think Konami had tapped every single ounce of power from the GBA by now.

Sound rating:4/10

Controls:New to the series(well to the Belmont clan anyway)is the Dash ability.First seen used by Alucard in the Symphony,it’s basically a short speed boost forward or backward.I actually like this better than running.It makes avoiding attacks easier since all it needs is a tap on the L or R shoulder buttons to activate.It may not cover long distances as fast as running but it more than made up for it with its evasive capabilities.Those of you who pass on using the dash will be in for a tougher ride though.It’s not impossible to finish without using the dash,but most of the enemies now thrust forward when they attack so avoiding their attacks while countering is more challenging if you don’t dash.

Controlling Juste is a breeze.Just like its predecessor,this incarnation of the Castlevania line of games features tight controls.Everything,from jumping to sliding,is executed with no lag between the button presses and the execution onscreen.

Control rating:8/10

Summary:The newest installment of the popular series doesn’t really live up to the high standards set by Circle of the Moon or Symphony of the Night.That doesn’t mean it’s bad though.It’s just not as refined as the mentioned games.Although the addition of the Spell Books are great,I couldn’t help but think they are too powerful for their own good.A big part of Castlevania games of the past was the Heart Consumption and with this new installment,that piece of management if gone.It makes the series feel more like Megaman since the screen is always filled with effects.But,that also may not be a bad point for users who’ve been craving for more flash in the series.Yet despite all the shortcomings,Harmony is still worthy of a purchase because eventhough some areas may have deteriorated,the one that counts the most-Gameplay,is very much intact.

PROS:
-Great gameplay mechanics
-Brighter textures/colors
-Lots of bosses
-Huge castles to explore

CONS:
-Music not up to usual standards
-Animation still not fluid enough
-Weak bosses

Total score:7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/15/03, Updated 02/15/03


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