Backlogging It! Review: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA)

Juste Belmont has some big shoes to fill. So how does he fair?

Castlevania went through a bit of a renaissance back in 1997 when Konami released Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the original PlayStation. It took the more adventure/exploration aspects of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and expanded upon them while maintaining all the things about the other Castlevanias that we know and love. Not only was it a success (both critical and commercial), it began a whole new genre that people called “Metroidvania”: Castlevania games that have the vast exploration feel that’s found in classic Metroid games. Since the formula worked so well, Konami decided to just keep running with it. Enter the second Castlevania game for the Game Boy Advance, Harmony of Dissonance.

 

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance - CoverCastlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Genre: Action/Adventure RPG

Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo (KCET)

Publisher: Konami

Platform: Game Boy Advance

Original Release Date: Sept. 16, 2002

ESRB Rating: T for Teen (13 & up)

Reason for Rating: Animated Blood; Mild Violence

 

Taking place 50 years after Castlevania II, you play as Juste Belmont, the grandson of the legendary Simon Belmont. The newly-appointed Vampire Hunter is trying to find his dear friend Lydie, who mysteriously vanished. His training chum, Maxim, returned from his own lil’ journey but is missing part of his memory. He does remember that Lydie was taken to some creepy-looking castle that magically appeared in the woods, and the two waltz on in to rescue her. You can cue the Ackbar meme any time now.

 

 

There ya go.

The Night Looks Quite Nice

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance - zombie!

Classic Castlevania enemies make their appearance… as well as psychedelic backgrounds.

If you’ve played Symphony, then the graphics will look familiar to you. In fact, a good chunk of the environments look like they were recycled from the game. Now, that’s not a knock against Harmony at all, if anything it’s a pleasant surprise. The backgrounds look great! How they managed to get so much detail into the game is mind-boggling. The different areas of the castle are varied and look awesome. Now, some might wonder why there are so many different environments in a castle (how many have you visited that have a crystal cave, a clock tower AND a fully-functional sewer system, hmmm?). My answer is this: Castlevania is a mad house. It’s supposed to be a living nightmare that’s always changing; it’s not supposed to make sense. In fact, it makes more sense in its nonsensical-ness. So suspend your disbelief and get sucked into the madness.

Another thing that looks good are the sprites. Like the rest of the graphics, they’re quite detailed and animated well; moving smoothly across the screen. Many of the classic Castlevania enemies make their appearance as well as enemies from Symphony of the Night: Skeletons, Medusa Heads, Zombies, Fleemen. Really, the team needs to be commended on doing such a fine job graphics-wise.

 

Vampire Hunters Need Groovy Tunes… And This Game Just Misses Slightly

The Castlevania series is known for its awesome music. Though Harmony does have some nice tunes, it’s not as good as it could’ve been. It sounds a bit chip-tuney; almost like something you’d find on the NES. My guess is that they were pushing the limits of the GBA at the time to make the game look good, so something had to take a hit. This isn’t to say that the music’s bad, but some people may be put off by it. It really is a shame; had the audio been up to par with the graphics, the soundtrack would be right up there with the best in the series.

 

It’s Not About How Pretty It Is, It’s How You Play The Game

Because this is part of the “Metroidvania” ilk, it does things a lot differently than its purely action-platforming forefathers. First off, it has RPG elements to it, so you can’t just go from room to room whipping everything into oblivion. You start the game at Level 1 (weakling!) and have to spend time grinding in order to get strong enough to withstand the later parts of the game. But all that power will do you no good if you’re not properly dressed. That’s right: you need armour! Oh, and healing items for when you run low on health, get poisoned, and all those other unpleasantries. You can find armour and other useful items hidden in rooms or on enemies (if you’re lucky – they can be stingy with drops), and there’s even a merchant who just so happened to set up shop IN the castle. Business must be poor; I can’t imagine a Medusa Head going to the merchant to buy shampoo for her hair. First of all, where would she keep her purse? I know, I know, get sucked into the madness.

Of course, one does not simply walk into Castlevania. Besides getting strong and wearing protection, you must have sharp wits, float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. With a whip. And stylish clothes. Fortunately, our boy Juste knows how to do those things… and more! You can use the sub-weapons that have appeared in past games: the dagger, axe, holy water, cross, holy book and sacred fist. You can even use magic. Fancy that, eh?

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance - Magic

Combining Magic Books with sub weapons make for some interesting results!

Speaking of the magic system, let’s explain that a bit. You can find 5 magic tomes hidden in the castle, each corresponding to an element (well, except the last one… it has summons!). When you use a sub-weapon while a spell book is equipped, you’ll be able to unleash a powerful magic attack that will make quick work out of your foes. These spells can drain quite a bit of magic, but your MP bar refills automatically if you don’t use magic for a bit.

In addition to magic, you can collect relics that can give you additional abilities (for example, being able to slide into tight spots or be able to double jump). You can turn them on or off whenever you want, though I’m not sure why you would want to do that.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance - Warping

These warps are more trouble than they’re worth.

You’re gonna need all the help you can get because you have to explore not one, but two castles! At the same time! Yea, you’ll be jumping back and forth between the two castles a lot in order to find all the things you’ll need to finish the game. You can travel between the castles through warp portals that are tucked away in several different rooms. The castles are identical, except for slight differences in backgrounds, and the enemies are harder in some areas. I won’t lie: I was lost quite a few times during my lil’ adventure, stumbling into areas I had no business being in at low levels and nearly getting killed (or eating dirt, on some occasions).

I’m not too keen on the idea that jumping into a warp in Castle A will send me to the same room in Castle B; I much prefer just warping around from room to room within the same castle. Symphony of the Night had that system: all the warps in the Castle A were linked together and the warps in Castle B were linked together. There was only one warp that linked the two castles together and it was reasonably easy enough to get to. I think that Harmony would’ve benefited from having a similar warp system.

As for the overall difficulty, despite the couple of times I died, it’s actually an easy game to get through. Once your level was the same as the enemies, you can just mow them down. The game is quite short, too; I finished it in about 8 hours with 200% completion (100% per castle). There aren’t many hidden rooms to speak of, so unless you’re really a completest, there isn’t any real reason to go through the castle in its entirety. Given the amount of games in my backlog, that’s great to get through the game quickly, but I would’ve like to have a wee bit more meat to the bone.

Play It Again, Juste

Once you’ve finish the game, you’ve got a couple of options available. First of all, you’ll unlock Boss Rush mode, where you go through the bosses in the game as fast as you can.

You can also give yourself a challenge by play through the game again on a Harder Difficulty level, or with Magic disabled. You can even go through the game as your buddy Maxim! He plays a lot differently than Juste, so it’s a nice change.

There are 3 different endings in the game, so you can you go and try to get the ones you missed (yes, it’s possible to see all the endings using the same save file), as well as a mini-quest to find a bunch of collectible objects that Juste can use to decorate one of the rooms in the castle. Why he would want to do that is beyond me. It’s not like this is gonna be his summer home when this is all over. I know, I know, get sucked into the madness.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance - Juste's Room

Because if there’s one thing that will increase the ambience of a room as you dine, it’s a Tanooki statue and a Lucky Cat.

 

 Not Perfect Harmony, But Close Enough

Overall, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is good for a quick CV fix. It’s a pretty GBA game with solid controls, but the music, while good, might irk some, and the game is on the short and easy side. Despite these flaws, it is worth checking out.

 

Final  Score: 7/10

 

We are in Harmony:

  • + Game looks great
  • + Multiple endings
  • + Extra game modes and the ability to play Maxim after the initial playthrough is fun
  • + Solid controls and combat system

 

But then there was Dissonance:

  • Game’s quite short
  • Overall difficulty is easy
  • Music takes a hit quality-wise
  • Can be confusing to navigate through the castle

Get Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca today!:

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[col class=”span3″]Amazon.ca

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Castlevania Mania Month Continues!

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Have you ever played Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance? What do you think of it? Share your thoughts in the Comments Section!