Castlevania Circle of Moon provided a strong start for this hallowed series on the Game Boy Advance. Harmony of Dissonance took up the torch well and continued its predecessor’s association of RPG elements into the gameplay. The game begins by slowly panning up an image of a mysterious castle as an outline of the plot crawls upwards as well. It has been fifty years since Simon Belmont defeated Dracula in the events of Castlevania 2 for NES. Juste Belmont is the current heir to the vampire hunter legacy. One day his friend Maxim returns wounded from an expedition. Maxim claims that their special lady friend Lydie has been kidnapped. Juste follows his friend to a previously undiscovered castle, the place where Lydie is supposedly held. Maxim groans in pain, all that walking to get there must have taken its toll on him, and tells Juste that he will be right behind him. Right. We’ve all heard that one before. Juste crosses the bridge, jumps over a pile of metal, which upon waking turns out to be a large monster, and is chased towards the castle by said monster. The drawbridge retracts just as Juste crosses it, and the monster’s poor braking skills cannot save it from a plunge to its demise. Now the only choice Juste has is to enter the castle and begin his quest to find Lydie.
The game progression of Harmony of Dissonance is extremely similar to Circle of the Moon. Juste wanders through the castle, eventually finding either a road block that he needs a special skill to pass or a boss battle. Throughout his travels, he will encounter other characters that will provide some plot exposition. The story is simple with few and fairly predictable twists and turns. As in Circle of the Moon, the story is not the driving force of the game, and those expecting a detailed plot with amazing depth and character development should look elsewhere. As usual, however, the gameplay makes the experience a very enjoyable one.
The controls in Harmony of Dissonance are very solid. The B button swings the vampire killer whip and the A button jumps. Holding the B button switches the whip into a free form mode. Pressing different directions on the control pad will cause the whip to lash out in that direction while Juste is frozen in place. While an interesting ability, this reviewer did not use it hardly at all. The shoulder buttons provide dashing options. The shoulder button that corresponds to the direction Juste is facing causes him to dash forward and the other one causes him to dash backwards. Such control makes it easy for Juste to dash toward an enemy for a hit and then dash away avoiding a counterattack. Holding Up and attacking will unleash whatever subweapon you have in your possession. The one hiccup in the control scheme is attacking while in the air. Juste moves awkwardly when he jumps and swings the whip. Fortunately, the dashing options help if you accidentally jump in too close to the enemy.
As in Circle of the Moon, Juste has four primary stat categories: strength, defense, intelligence, and luck. Leveling up and equipping various items will improve these stats. Juste can equip four items on his person and one item to enhance the whip. Enemies drop most of the armor available to Juste, but some special pieces are lying about various points of the game. All whip enhancements are found in various rooms. There is a merchant in several locations throughout Dracula’s castle who will sell you items in exchange for the money you collect along the way. There are also numerous items in the game that will heal your wounds, restore your magic power, and cure maladies.
Returning once more are the many special abilities you can earn that will help you pass the road blocks in Dracula’s castle. These abilities include the ability to slide, double jump, and high jump. My favorite continues to be the infinite high jump, despite the fact that the control mechanism for that maneuver is a touch more cumbersome in this game. The special abilities make their appearances in the form of relics. A subset of these are considered Dracula’s relics. Collecting all of Dracula’s relics reveals an alternate finish to the game.
The main gameplay aspects that distinguish Harmony of Dissonance are the whip enhancements and spell books scattered throughout the map. Juste can expand the capabilities of his whip by equipping certain items to it. He can add elemental powers such as fire and ice, the ability to break through walls, or an enhancement that allows the whip to shoot projectiles, as well as others. The spell books revolve around the classic Castlevania subweapons such as the dagger, axe, and holy water. The subweapons on their own use hearts that are collected from enemies and candles. Juste, however, can find five spell books throughout Dracula’s castle. Equipping the different spell books creates unique and powerful effects for each subweapon. Casting spells consumes magic power from a separate meter. The whip enhancements and spell books provide Juste with a variety of ways to dispatch the numerous enemies lurking in Dracula’s castle.
The graphics for Harmony of Dissonance are fairly solid. The avatar for Juste is a little bigger and more detailed than Nathan Graves was in Circle of the Moon. Other than that change, the enemies, bosses, and environments show a similar style to this game’s predecessor. This reviewer, however, enjoyed the visual aspects of Circle of the Moon and they carry over to Harmony of Dissonance. Alas, the sound did not make as strong a showing in this game. Each area of the castle had a particular theme, but only one of those areas were memorable in this reviewer’s mind.
Overall Harmony of Dissonance was a worthy successor to Circle of the Moon. This game expanded on the gameplay of its predecessor by having a lot more mini-boss battles and a more extensive map. While the map proper is smaller than Circle of the Moon’s, Juste much traverse twice the distance because he learns that the castle is split into two separate dimensions. Thus, for every mini-boss battle on one “level” of the map, there is a corresponding one, albeit a different enemy, on the other. The game does offer some replay value with codes that change some aspects of the gameplay. Also, there is a Boss Rush mode where you are timed against the bosses of the game. My one major complaint about the game involves the collectibles issue. Scattered throughout the game are pieces of furniture and other room decorations. Eventually, you find an empty room in the castle in which the game automatically places the collectibles you have obtained. Now this idea absolutely screamed cool side quest. While the collectibles aren’t too challenging to find, the game does tell you how many there are in the castle. This reviewer anxiously anticipated the special item or bit of unlockable content that would be revealed upon retrieving all the collectibles. Unfortunately, there was nothing. Just the pretty room where everything was set up. Such a reward did not redeem the quest. The game suffers little from this oversight. It just bummed this reviewer out. However, if you enjoyed Circle of the Moon, then take up the vampire killer whip once more and listen for the Harmony of Dissonance.