Available on: GBA
Fed up with Castlevania games he wasn't involved with and which turned out to be not to his liking, Koji Igarashi took the lead in the development of Konami's second Game Boy Advance title. His aim was to create a true successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and a game that felt like Castlevania altogether, from gameplay to atmosphere and character design. He wanted the story to be one that could be easily fitted into the Castlevania timeline even without the application of age-old concepts. The result was Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, another much debated Castlevania title, which in my opinion was a good effort by Konami. Not much of an audiovisual treat, but a fairly captivating 'Vania experience.
Symphony of the harmony of the innocence of the darkness... let's just play it.
Juste Belmont is an incredibly talented vampire hunter with the Belmont and Belnades blood flowing within him, making him adept in both physical and magical skill. Fifty years ago, Juste's grandfather Simon destroyed Dracula by gathering his remains and resurrecting him, only to put an end to the curse that ailed him and to the scourge of Dracula forever. Juste's best friend Maxim has been gone for two years, on a training expedition. He returns badly wounded, suffering from a severe case of amnesia, and with bad news; Juste and Maxim's childhood friend Lydie Erlanger has been kidnapped. Maxim leads Juste to the scene, where a dark castle has appeared out of thin air. While investigating the dark corridors of the castle, Juste finds it to be Dracula's abode, but no signs of the prince of darkness are present. What evil is at work?
|"What is a man? A miserable mile of blue |
The gameplay's pure Symphony of the Night, with a few unique features. The stand-alone game Circle of the Moon came pretty close to the PlayStation classic in terms of gameplay, but Harmony of Dissonance brings back relics, the spellbook and item shop, among other things, and of course, the classic Castlevania atmosphere. Alucard's natural speed and dodging skill are brought back, and Nathan's neat slide kick from the previous game is brought back as an upgrade. The game is ugly, it sounds even worse, it's overtly Japanese in its anime style, but for the most part, it's a very controllable and playable Metroidvania experience.
Harmony of Dissonance does look better, or at least more dimensional and dynamic than Circle of the Moon, and the sheer size of the map takes up quite a lot of capacity from the Game Boy Advance, so the graphics aren't fit to be excessively criticized. However, I just can't get used to the thick, blue outline that surrounds Juste. He looks like a remnant of an ambitious NES project that never came to be. The character design's quite bland, but in turn the level design is quite OK, and surreal effects rule the show. The differences between the alternative realities - yeah, Konami got a bit stuck on the Silent Hill schtick - are notable.
There's no way around the fact that the music sucks. Some die-hards defend the soundtrack with their lives on the line, but I think they're just begging to differ for the sake of being contrarians. There's absolutely no vintage Castlevania music in the game, and this time that is definitely not the only problem with the soundtrack. Soshiro Hokkai makes Michiru Yamane look like a genius. The music is repetitive and twitchy, like it's written and even sequenced for an old, standard Game Boy game. I can't help but to join the majority: as much as I wanted to like the music in this game, I must say that the game has the worst soundtrack in Castlevania history, it's right down there with Yamane's Lament of Innocence soundtrack. Koji Igarashi has later said they intentionally sacrificed music for the graphics. WHY? First of all, the game doesn't look that special and secondly, music is a crucial part of Castlevania! I thought this guy wanted to bring back the genuine article, and not destroy an important element of it! Once again there are notably bad sound effects as well. The death scream from the previous game is still there to haunt - although deaths aren't quite as prominent as they were last time around - and the feminine, Japanese scream Juste lets out whenever he gets poisoned or cursed is just revolting.
|Quite a lot of size for a pathetic wretch!|
Spellbooks are actually worth something this time. No more complex combos: the spells are based on your current secondary weapon alone. For example, if you have a boomerang equipped, try equipping the Fire Book as well. You can then unleash a potentially deadly, fiery boomerang attack, as long as your MP meter and hearts can take it. Sadly, the book doesn't switch off automatically. You always need to return to the menu and switch it off manually, if you're out of MP and feel the need to use the standard boomerang.
|I've got to admit, he's one capable Belmont.|
So, the worst issue about Harmony of Dissonance is that it turns out perhaps the most aimless game of all Metroidvanias. The worst thing about the map is that unlike the previous games, it declares corners done by the slightest touch. For example, if you have not yet acquired the ability to slide and make it to a room that has an important item on its other side - which you can't reach without the slide - you just leave and come back for it later, right? The room's still marked in dark grey, right? It's easy to spot, right? No. If you made it to the room itself, it shows on the map as an already visited spot, which of course prompts any old Metroid player to stay away from it for the rest of the game. You can't memorize all of these places. The most practical thing for you to do would be to draw a copy of the map on paper and mark the spots you couldn't reach before, but that's just tedious extra work for someone who just wants to play a game.
|The number. Look at the number. Shall we |
leave it here? No, still two more castles to
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is not perfect, but despite its dull moments it's definitely a solid gaming experience, in my mind it's the real Castlevania game that Konami had been bombarded for by many fans for quite a while back in the day. I have to admit that I didn't have the time to beat the game, since a friend's pressuring me to take on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, beat and review it before the first DLC comes out - it's his game. But, I will return to Harmony of Dissonance to take care of the few ends I left loose soon enough - it's good enough for me to care. The next handheld game Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow still stands as one of the proudest moments of the Game Boy Advance - all but an honorary mention since it has already been reviewed a long time ago. A shame, really. I would've loved to review it again after experiencing these predecessors to it. Perhaps I will, some day.
Graphics : 7.7
Sound : 5.5
Playability : 8.0
Challenge : 8.2
Overall : 7.9