Review by Bkstunt_31
What we get when IGA gets jealous of 'Circle of the Moon'.
With two huge successes behind it (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Circle of the Moon), Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was bound to come out. It had to, the 'Metroidvania' model was fast becoming a fan-favorite! For this game though, Iga (of Symphony of the Night fame), jealous that someone else had designed a metroidvania game without him (Circle of the Moon), took full control of Harmony of Dissonance. So, what can you expect of this game? Well, after spending HUNDREDS of hours with it (I wish I was joking) here's what you can expect:
You take on the role of Juste Belmont, the grandchild of Simon Belmont and heir of the famous Vampire Killer. Juste has trained his whole life to carry on his family's legacy with his best friends Maxim Kischine (a childhood rival) and Lydie Erlanger.
One day Maxim approaches Juste to inform him that Lydie has been kidnapped and taken to a nearby castle. Maxim is (conveniently) amnesiac, but is battered and bruised as if he had been in a fight recently. He manages to bring Juste to the castle that he believes Lydie was brought to and, after taking some time to rest, promises Juste that he will help search the castle for signs of Lydie. And with that you will start Harmony of Dissonance.
The story as a whole is definitely original, despite what you'll think about the bout of "amnesia" in the beginning (hey, at least the HERO doesn't have amnesia). As you'd imagine, Maxim plays a very big role in the game and you'll run into him multiple times as you (and he) searches the castle. However, this isn't your typical "go kill Dracula" game (I can't share too much more than that). The way they handle the story was well done, and I enjoyed the MANY, MANY references to the less popular Castlevania games like Castlevania 2 and the Game Boy Castlevania games (even though some of the more DIRECT references were taken out of the US version for some reason, like we don't know our Castlevania history!). Overall, this game is more story-centric than Circle of the Moon was, and is enjoyable as a whole, but feels like it could have been better in the end, leaving me to wonder what some well-placed flashbacks could have done for the game.
Game play: 6/10
The game play is similar to the previous Metroidvania game "Circle of the Moon" in that you will control Juste as he explores the Castle room by room. Of course, multiple areas of the castle will be blocked off until you acquire certain items and abilities which will let you explore them. Juste, like most Belmonts, carries the Vampire Killer whip and will only use that to attack. However, he also has multiple sub-weapons (like the series standards knife, axe, and cross) to attack with. Juste is also magically inclined, and is able to find and use magic spell books. He does this by combining them with sub-weapons to produce a variety of magical spells. As far as exploring the castle goes, it's just as addictive as ever with a wide variety of armor, whip upgrades, and accessories to find and collect. Juste is also quite the interior designer as you'll be collecting pieces of FURNITURE (yes, furniture) as you explore the castle. My best guess is that IGA had a bigger variety of items to collect/use in Symphony of the Night (what with Alucard being able to use more than just a whip), so he's filling in the gap with furniture.
While the game play's style of exploration combined with action is addicting and fun, the BIGGEST FLAW in this game is the utter lack of difficulty. I literally wrote a strategy guide to this game (insert shameless plug here), and I can vouch that MULTIPLE BOSSES consist of one to two moves and that's IT! These enemies are supposed to be the CHALLENGE of the game, and you have a save point before facing them, but you can literally walk into the fight and just stand there while avoiding their single attack! This sucks all the challenge out of the game, making it insanely easy! To be fair, later on in the game things get more challenging with stronger enemies and bosses, but as a whole the game is depressingly easy.
Probably the first thing that Castlevania fans will notice is how BRIGHT and COLORFUL this game is, especially compared to other games in the series. The castle itself is separated into several section, including areas such as the "Castle Treasury", "Luminous Caverns", and the "Clock Tower" just to name a few. Each of these areas has some sort of theme that ties them together, but the layered backgrounds are INCREDIBLE. From the clouds tripping you out in the "Sky Walkway" to the vast number of details in the "Skeleton Cave", Harmony of Dissonance knocked the castle's design and detail out of the park! I imagine that the major reason behind how BRIGHT the game is was the lack of a back-light on the original Game Boy Advance (and I've heard about how some people complained how Circle of the Moon was "too dark".). That may very well be the reason why Juste has a shadow whenever he dashes as well (or it may be because IGA just likes to do that, as seen in Symphony of the Night).
Character animations and control could have used some of the designs brilliance. The animations themselves are decent, but controlling Juste feels... wrong somehow. His jump feels much too floaty, and he is rather slow overall (especially compared to Nathan Graves from the last Castlevania game). There could have been a little more flair to his attacks as well. For example, as you play you'll find different stones which you can add to your whip to give them elemental properties (like FIRE and THUNDER), however using them is just like using your normal whip... would it kill you to turn my whip into a fire whip, developers? Heck, even Circle of the Moon did that! As a whole though, the graphics are really good with obvious room for improvement if you look for it.
The game itself has 30 sound tracks, mainly composing of character THEMES and back-ground music. Just like how the game is divided into areas, so is the music, with a certain track accompanying each area and looped over and over. Several of these tracks are fantastic pieces of audio work. Several tracks caught my attention, including Juste's Theme ("Successor of Fate"), the name-entry screen, "Chapel of Dissonance", and "Offense and Defense". Now, I've seen on the boards where people complain about the QUALITY of the soundtracks, but that may just be a result on the hardware they were played on (the original GBA). What's there is GOOD, though, I can tell you that. The only problem is how often the music is replayed given how the game play (and story) turn out (which I'm not about to spoil for you). Suffice to say that some greater variety would have been appreciated.
The game also has great sound-effects, including very short Japanese audio clips from some of the characters in the game (which are humorous to hear). All in all, the audio made a good showing.
Harmony of Dissonance makes strides forwards with its re-playability for the series. Whereas the last game (Circle of the Moon) gave you new MODES to play through (which was really just tweaking your statistics and throwing you into a new game), Harmony of Dissonance adds in new CHARACTERS to play as, which is awesome. They also throw in a sound menu as well as the awesome "boss-rush" menu which lets you fight the games bosses one after another in a test of skill (it even has different difficulties). These new modes have their own downfalls however, stripping out the fun of collecting and equipping items entirely (you can't even access the MENU when you play as the different character). They do however add in an answer to my major complaint about the game being too easy with a HARDGAME mode.
What kills me the most about all these modes is that many of them (I didn't even list all of them) give you NO IDEA that they are even in the game. The game literally doesn't even TELL YOU that those secret modes are there. How would anyone ever know? Thankfully this game is a decade old, otherwise we'd undoubtedly still be figuring it out...
The biggest flaw in the game is the fact that it's just TOO easy, plain and simple, but this major strike isn't enough to deny how much FUN the game is. Good audio and visuals complement the addictive game play that the "Metroidvania's" are known for, making Harmony of Dissonance a MUST PLAY game for any fan of the series. Oh, and everyone else will enjoy it too! Have fun and keep playing!
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (US, 09/16/02)
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