In the beginning, there was Symphony of the Night for PlayStation. Konami mixed the action elements of Castlevania with a RPG system of equipment and exploration. It was simple, but the result was absolutely astounding, and Konami released an extremely well received Castlavania title. Then, after several years of fans clamoring for a sequel, Konami finally released Castlevania: Circle of the Moon on the Game Boy Advance as a launch title. Though it was an excellent game, it was still somewhat different from Symphony of the Night, and so, Konami started developing the next game in the series that would be the true successor to Symphony of the Night. That game is Castlevania: White Night Concerto.
The game starts off 50 years after Simon Belmont defeats Dracula for the first time. You take the role of Juste Belmont, the great grandson of Simon, who has journeyed to Dracula's castle together with Maxim, his childhood friend, to save Lydie, another childhood friend who appears to have been kidnapped by an "unknown foe." Of course, since only one person is playing the game, Maxim is conveniently injured so that only Juste is able to enter the castle to look for Lydie, and Maxim is left catch up with him later. What's left of the story is pretty predictable, but if you're playing a Castlevania game for its story, you're playing it for the wrong reason anyway.
The gameplay is more of the same: Juste uses his whip and a choice of several different sub-weapons while exploring Dracula's castle and gaining different items, equipment, and relics. This time around, items aren't such a hassle to find, and Juste can even buy them, much like Alucard could in Symphony of the Night. Also, unlike previous installments of Castlevania, where one sub-weapon was infinitely more useful than all others, in White Night Concerto, each sub-weapon can be combined with the five magical spell books Juste finds throughout his journey to make different attacks. No spell effect is unnecessary; each spell effect has it own use, so you'll be tinkering a lot with the magic system while you play. Unfortunately, when you fuse sub-weapons and spell books, you really don't need to use the sub-weapon by itself anymore, and your hearts are left unused for most of the game.
Konami had promised a larger adventure overall this time around, and I'll have to admit: It is certainly larger. Through the course of the game, Juste will discover he's been traveling though not just one castle, but actually two. This doubles the size of the adventure; however, the game is extremely easy. Not once did I die in my playing of the game, and I beat it in less than ten hours. There are a small number of secret rooms to find, you can fill your monster encyclopedia with information about the monsters you've destroyed, and also decorate a small room inside the castle, but these extra features feel somewhat tacked on. Fortunately, extra modes are opened up once you beat the game, including a hard mode, and a no magic mode, so it somewhat remedies my complaints about the difficulty.
The control is set up the same as it is in Circle of the Moon. However, instead of setting the action button as R this time around, the shoulder buttons are used to dash. Pressing any of the shoulder buttons will command Juste to dash in that direction. So, if you're running right and press the L button, Juste will dash backwards, or to the left. This takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you do get used to it, it becomes second nature. The absence of an action button makes certain moves difficult to execute, mainly the super jump that are required to get to high platforms, but this is a very minor gripe I have with the control scheme.
Graphically, White Night Concerto is absolutely astounding. Juste animates very well, and the bigger bosses animate very fluidly, themselves. This makes the game have a more natural feel, as Circle of the Moon's characters and enemies appeared rather stiff. Overall, the graphics are much brighter, so you won't have to struggle with the dim screen like you did with Circle of the Moon.
Though the graphics are extremely good, it comes with a price. The music in this game is very disappointing. In fact, it got so bad at one point that I actually turned off the sound for my Game Boy Advanced and started listening to my Flame of Recca soundtrack. The music is of quite a poor quality; we're talking NES quality here! The game is definitely not up to the aural standards of Circle of the Moon. The sound effects, however, are pretty good, and sound just as good as the ones in Circle of the Moon.
Overall, the good outweigh the bad for this game. Even though the music is bad, it's the only major fault for this game. Everything else is nearly perfect. If you have a GBA and like the Castlevania series, absolutely, positively, get this game. You owe it to yourself to buy another great game in the Castlevania series, and this time, you won't have to squint to beat Dracula. Plus, the extra features will keep you replaying the game. Another excellent job, Konami!