Review by Tarrun

"Still My Favorite GBA Castlevania."

After the success of Symphony of The Night, Konami began working on a new Castlevania game like their Playstation hit, except this time on the Game Boy Advance. How would it stand up against a game that's on a system infinitely more powerful, would it satisfy the relentless calling for another Symphony of The Night? Thankfully, Castlevania: Circle of The Moon is one of the best Game Boy Advance games out there, and it does a great job of taking everything awesome about Symphony of The Night and presenting it in a different way. Many elements are taken directly from the Playstation hit, and combines it with more classic Castlevania action, putting you in the shoes of the whip-wielding hero Nathan Graves.

The plot is very reminiscent of Symphony of The Night, which yields both positives and negatives. On one hand, the plot is interesting to follow, but it becomes increasingly boring after listening to it a few times. Maybe not in Circle of The Moon, but the whole “Friend become evil” plot was used way too many times.

In the late 1800s, the threat of another Dracula resurrection is becoming more and more imminent; so team of vampire hunters are sent to Castle Dracula, but they arrive a too late to stop Camilla, a demon, from fulfilling the ritual. The three hunters, Nathan Graves, Hugh Baldwin, and Morris Baldwin, Hugh's father and mentor to both, get to the throne room and confront Dracula, who is in no mood to toy with the three. The Count blasts a hole in the floor, sending Nathan and Hugh plummeting down to the catacombs beneath Castle Dracula, leaving Morris to be sacrificed to increase Dracula's strength. Hugh sets off to rescue his father and tells Nathan to escape the castle while he still can, but Nathan's not one to hide when things get intense, and begins the exploration of the catacombs, hoping to find an exit so he can defeat Dracula and save his master.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of forethought, the Castlevania timeline has become a bit scrambled, so Konami decided to do some cleaning up; changing some of the dates and removing titles. Circle of The Moon was one of the games that didn't make the cut…

The graphics in Circle of The Moon are actually pretty good, it's just a shame you won't be able to see them; there's almost no lighting throughout the game. All to often you'll find yourself craning your neck over a lamp to see what's going on. Don't take that so extremely though, you just need a decent light to see the dark, gothic-themed visuals. I'm sure if the game was on a disk like Symphony of The Night was we wouldn't have this problem, but cartridges just can't hold that much space, so the graphics suffer. Besides the lighting, the character sprites are actually pretty interesting to look at, as are some of the rooms, even if it does repeat a little bit too much.

Unlike the graphics, though, the music has still managed to remain intact, but instead took a different route and used more classic tunes instead of all new stuff like in Symphony of The Night. The load screen is the same as it was in Dracula X, a introduction and boss themes are from Castlevania 64, as well as various songs such as The Sinking Old Sanctuary and Vampire Killer; plus several original songs that are excellent.

One of the only problems with Symphony of The Night was the challenge, or lack of one. The game was just way too easy, and everyone was wondering whether the Castlevania series was destined to stay that way. Well, the fans complained, and Konami listened; the difficulty is classic Castlevania, tough enough to keep even the most loyal fan busy. Boss battles are especially challenging; each one requires devotion, a decent strategy, and being at a high level. That's right, you're going to have to do some leveling up if you plan on ever beating Circle of The Moon, but you'll never have to go very far to find some enemies that award a decent amount of experience. The separate areas of Castle Dracula are littered with enemies that are always more powerful than you are; often you'll find that yourself with dangerously low hit points as you continue to fight a barrage of enemies with no save point in sight. Don't misunderstand, there are usually two or three save points in each area, but most of them are deep in the lion's den, in areas with heavy enemy presence everywhere you turn. Also, these save points aren't right next to a boss battle; they're close, but you still usually have to fight through a group of enemies before fighting was is sure to be a tough boss. So after you beat the boss, you'll still have to head back through enemy territory before being able to save. If you like a lot of action and revel in a long, difficult battle, then you won't have a thing to complain about Circle of The Moon.

Besides the difficulty, Circle of The Moon borrows a lot from Symphony of The Night; the map is similar, damage is shown through numbers as you attack enemies, and items, armor, and weapons are littered throughout the castle. The items range from health, magic, and heart upgrades, potions, and items that grant Nathan new abilities like being able to run, wall climb, and break through huge barriers. Unlike Alucard, though, Nathan acts more like a Belmont; he attacks with the Vampire Killer and can swing the whip in a circular motion to deflect projectiles, as well as use the five classic sub-weapons: the axe, cross, holy water, knife, and stopwatch. The castle is a lot more open this time around as well, which allows for more jumping puzzles, especially in the machine tower.

Thankfully, there aren't as many items to find in game, which means that you won't have thousands of items that you'll never use like in Symphony of The Night. Instead, you have the DSS cards; dropped by various enemies for a total of twenty cards. Each card by itself is useless, although combining them can yield different abilities and attributes. Some cards change the whip, making a flame whip, one that can turn enemies into stone, and even a whip that releases fireballs like in Belmont's Revenge and Castlevania: The Adventure. Other cards are used to summon creatures to fight by your side, increase the amount of invulnerability time, defense, or damage, while others allow Nathan to walk faster, fight with swords, and even using different crash moves depending on what sub-weapon you have like in Dracula X. It's a lot easier to manage than the inventory in Symphony of The Night, showing that Konami took the flaws of one game and fixed them in another.

In short, Castlevania: Circle of The Moon is one hell of a game; it's reason alone to buy a Game Boy Advance; it takes everything great from Symphony of The Night and combines it with a more classic Castlevania feel to it. And after playing through the game once, you can play in different modes, where some attributes are increased and others are decreased. This is a must have for any Castlevania fan, Circle of The Moon is as much fun as Symphony of The Night was, and in some ways, it's better.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/25/03, Updated 08/07/04

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