20 years after its launch, Symphony of the Night remains to be fondly remembered as one of the best recreation within the Castlevania sequence. To some followers, it’d even be the best recreation of all time. And its tight controls, CD soundtrack, and impeccably-designed labyrinthine fort nonetheless maintain up extremely nicely right now.- Advertisement -
However, Symphony of the Night was solely the primary recreation within the sequence to undertake the RPG mechanics and Metroidvania-style degree design that the sequence is now identified for. In some ways, the three handheld titles that instantly adopted Symphony of the Night arguably surpassed its greatness.
The trilogy of Castlevania video games that appeared on the Game Boy Advance – Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow – represents some of the profitable eras within the franchise’s 30-year historical past.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Handheld gaming within the ‘90s was very completely different from what it’s like right now. Cell telephones may possibly play Snake, and the transportable market was dominated by the Nintendo Game Boy.
There are tons of nice video games on that system, however even again then, its inexperienced and black show and miniscule processing energy have been exhibiting their age. The introduction of a coloration mannequin in 1998 (and naturally the huge recognition of Pokemon) helped revive curiosity within the handheld via the late ‘90s, however by the brand new millennium, it was time for Nintendo to launch a real successor to the long-lived Game Boy.
The new transportable was referred to as the Game Boy Advance, a 32-bit marvel able to among the best-looking 2D graphics round, and even some stable 3D graphics with just a little little bit of programming magic. Seeing the huge curiosity within the new handheld, Konami invested closely in its launch line-up. Circle of the Moon was simply one of the best title out there when the GBA hit the market in June 2001.
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Even although sequence producer Koji Igarashi had nothing to do with Circle of the Moon’s improvement, the sport borrowed closely from one of the best of Symphony of the Night.
The map is very large and it simply takes greater than a dozen hours to finish in your first playthrough, and there are tons of various armor and equipment to equip. The enemies are assorted, and the sport is commonly much more difficult than its predecessor. Admittedly among the problem does come from overwhelmingly darkish graphics, which make it tough to maintain observe of protagonist Nathan Graves towards the black and grey backgrounds. Such are the downfalls of launch titles.
Unlike Symphony of the Night, which had quite a lot of swords, spears and different weapons, you solely wield a trusty whip all through the journey, however that’s the place the true genius of Circle of the Moon comes into play. The recreation options DSS, or Dual Set-Up System, a gameplay mechanic during which you mix magical playing cards with a purpose to acquire completely different talents. These can provide Nathan Graves a flaming whip, a robust hammer assault, or perhaps a therapeutic skill, although all of those strategies additionally come on the expense of mana factors. DSS is the uncommon gameplay system that really provides gamers the liberty to play via a recreation nonetheless they want with none penalties.
Igarashi disliked DSS, nonetheless, as he didn’t really feel it match the sequence’ model. Nothing fairly prefer it has been seen in a Castlevania title since, however Igarashi introduced a number of different thrilling concepts with him when he returned to the sequence for its second GBA installment.
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Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
When Igarashi was put in control of the second GBA Castlevania recreation, he appeared intent on making one thing as shut as potential to Symphony of the Night 2. Harmony of Dissonance stars Juste Belmont, the grandson of Simon Belmont. With lengthy, wispy white hair, a flowing cloak, and the power to sprint ahead, Juste bears greater than a passing resemblance to Symphony’s Alucard. And similar to Symphony of the Night, Harmony of Dissonance options two castles to discover, however on this case, altering one thing in a single fort can have a direct impact on the opposite.
Because of those similarities to Symphony of the Night and a brand new system that mixes subweapons and spells for screen-clearing magical assaults, Harmony of Dissonance appears like a a lot sooner recreation than Circle of the Moon. It’s additionally significantly better wanting. The brilliant Gothic graphics and towering bosses that fill the complete display have enshrined Harmony of Dissonance ceaselessly as some of the graphically spectacular GBA video games.
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But in different methods, Harmony of Dissonance falters. For one, it’s extremely simple. This isn’t only a recreation the place dying is uncommon. It’s absolutely potential to make it via your first playthrough with out dying as soon as. It’s additionally noticeably shorter than Circle of the Moon (due partly to the low problem). There can be a second “Maxim mode” that means that you can play as a personality named Maxim, however with just one weapon (a boomerang), the mode feels extra like an afterthought than an actual, fleshed-out second playthrough.
And then there’s probably the most extensively panned facet of Harmony of Dissonance: the music. While Circle of the Moon sounded simply tremendous, it, after all, couldn’t fairly attain the CD-quality sound of Symphony of the Night. With Harmony of Dissonance, Konami mainly gave up even making an attempt to make an honest soundtrack so they might put the entire GBA’s energy into the sport’s insane graphics. To put it merely, Harmony of Dissonance feels like an NES recreation and never a really nice one at that.
The soundtrack and low problem have damage Harmony of Dissonance’s fame with sequence followers in recent times, but it surely’s actually not a nasty recreation. There’s a cause it was critically acclaimed upon launch, and it’s nonetheless one of many higher video games on the GBA, it’s simply not the best possible that the Castlevania sequence has to supply.
Luckily, Konami let Igarashi take yet one more crack at making a Castlevania recreation on the GBA.
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Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
It’s uncommon for a sequel to repair practically the entire points current in its predecessors and nonetheless add thrilling new concepts of its personal, but that’s precisely what Aria of Sorrow managed to perform. Annoyed with the crucial response to Harmony of Dissonance’s music, Igarashi vowed to create a greater soundtrack for Aria of Sorrow, leading to one of many extra inventive and catchier soundtracks within the Castlevania sequence. And one way or the other there’s no actual drop in graphical constancy, both.
Aria of Sorrow is an unforgettable journey via one other brilliant, but creepy model of Dracula’s fort. DSS and spellbooks are utterly deserted for the ultimate title within the GBA trilogy. In their stead is the truthful superior Tactical Soul system. With this technique, protagonist Soma Cruz can steal the souls of virtually each enemy within the recreation and put them in 4 slots: bullet, guardian, enchant, and skill. By the top of the sport, you will have a fully-customized and practically unstoppable demon-slaying machine that performs precisely the way you need.
But maybe one of the best factor about Aria of Sorrow is the story. Castlevania video games aren’t actually identified for inventive tales past “Another Belmont kills Dracula,” but it surely’s nicely value taking note of the cutscenes on this recreation.
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The entire recreation takes place in 2035, lengthy after the supposed last battle with Dracula in 1999 that we might by no means truly get to see in a Castlevania title (however remains to be closely referenced in Aria of Sorrow). This implies that there are even a couple of nods to present/future know-how, like the power to make use of a handgun.
You don’t truly play as a Belmont on this one, or anybody associated to the Belmonts. In reality, you play as Dracula’s reincarnation, Soma Cruz, who’s preventing towards the evil influences of the darkish lord – simply the best twist in the complete franchise.
In reality, so beloved is Aria of Sorrow that Igarashi instantly adopted it up with a direct sequel, Dawn of Sorrow, on the DS. That led into a brand new handheld of trilogy of Castlevania video games (rounded out by Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia), which can be glorious, although total that trilogy by no means fairly reaches the heights of what Konami did on the GBA within the 12 months instantly following Symphony of the Night. In some ways, these video games have been damage by being on a extra highly effective system, as they targeted extra on gimmicks like utilizing the touchscreen for spells or swapping two characters all through the sport.
Putting the speedy sequels to Symphony of the Night on a considerably underpowered system than the PSX pressured the builders at Konami to craft really modern video games that targeted on gameplay over graphics and gimmicks, and this creativity is in the end what makes the GBA trilogy the highpoint of the complete Castlevania sequence.
Chris Freiberg is a contract contributor. Read extra of his work right here.