Review by VelnR

"WHAT?!?! Dracula resurrected again? Never fear, I have my trusted whip."

Circle of the Moon was the first Castlevania game for the GBA. You play as Nathan Graves, a Vampire Killer in training, separated from his master by the evil (or possibly just misunderstood) Dracula and left alone in the bowels of old Drac's castle, with only his trusty whip to guide him.

The game play is pretty standard to most Castlevanias. You have the normal items to use (crosses, daggers, stopwatch, etc.) and various other game play commonalities. Circle of the Moon introduces a unique ability system that uses two sets of cards collected from defeated enemies, which are randomly dropped. When combined, these cards produce a variety of effects to help you defeat some villainous villains deep in Count Batty's castle. These abilities are well designed and quite useful, ranging from stat boosting, to damage dealing, to good old fashioned healing. The only downside is the rate of drop these cards have from enemies. You can spend a full 45 minutes of minion slaying just to acquire a single one of them., and since I tend to be a completionist with Castlevanias that was time consuming. Also the equipment, and leveling system from Symphony of the Night returns with only very minor tweaks. Equipment drops semi-frequently from enemies, and of course there is "rare" equipment that require repetitive slaying to acquire.

One thing that really bothered me about Circle of the Moon was some of the flying monsters. They had a tendency to rise up just as fast as you do when you jump at them, which keeps them just out of your reach the entire time. All the while, they are firing various sorts of projectiles at you, almost mockingly. Luckily, there are only a few areas plagued by these flying monstrosities, so you won't have to deal with them too much, unless you want something from them(AKA those cards I mentioned above).

The controls are well done, if a bit cramped feeling (played it on an SP). Although I guess thats really not Konami's fault... My only beef was having to tap the direction button to run, which meant I was tapping about twice every three seconds, which is rather noisy, and when your playing the game while your wife is trying to sleep, thats not a good thing.

The graphics are rather nice, the character designs are detailed, and Nathan's movement flows smoothly. A few of the monsters seem to be reused from Symphony of the Night, but for the good. Special effects are appropriate to what they are representing. The backgrounds in the various areas give a variety of feelings, all appropriately fitting the area they are in, and little animation effect add to that level of ambiance. Circle of the Moon really set a bar for other GBA games to follow, especially since it was a launch title. For a hand held system to look that nice, at the time it was amazing. Overall, I was pleased.

Typical of all Castlevania games, the sound and music are very ambient. Dark, moody background music, and creepy sound effects do well to support the story and theme. This series probably more than any other has always had a standard of excellent music, and this one is no exception. Could have used a little more variety in the sound track of this one, but hey, can't have everything.
The story is what you would expect of a Castlevania, dark, broody, and chalk full of evil. You've got the same story in almost every Castlevania, each with its own unique spin on it. This one is no different. One of the twists in this one is the fact that the main character isn't a Belmont. But, you've still got all the other common plot lines, (Dracula's resurrecting, gotta save the world from his darkness, etc. etc.). All of the games are stand-alone, so if you are a new comer to the series you aren't missing anything by picking this one up and jumping right in. Although, you should go back and play the others as well...

The learning curve in Circle of the Moon, is a little odd, The boss battles early on are horrendously tough, the middle boss battles are even tougher, but the close-to-the-end boss battles are too easy. It was a little frustrating getting killed on a certain boss 15 or so times before I figured out his pattern, but the challenge was there, and it was definitely worth it. The levels design was fluid, like other Castlevanias, you criss-cross back and forth across the map, getting to new areas as you unlock more and more abilities. Also, the added goal of getting a complete map, gives all the traveling a purposeful meaning.

Lastly, there are lots of extra modes to be unlocked, which adds greatly to the replay value of the game. There are several little "character builds" that Konami put in the game to play though as after finishing it the first time, all of which add a different flavor to the game, because you have to approach the various bosses differently than you did before. And since it only takes about 8 hours to complete, you may want to play through it a few times just so you can get everything.

All in all, Circle of the Moon is another magnificent addition to the already fantastic Castlevania series. Not quite as good as Aria of Sorrow or Symphony of the Night, but whether you are a first time player, or a Castlevania dark lord, its a game that everyone should own even if you don't have a GBA... So go buy it... Now.
Game play 9/10
Graphics 9/10
Learning Curve 7/10
Replay Value 8/10
Sound 10/10
Overall Score 9/10

-Card combo ability system
-Good level Design
-Plenty of extra modes
-A few extremely frustrating monsters
-The cards drop too rarely

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/18/06

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