Following the success enjoyed by Konami’s first Game Boy Advance incarnation of the Castlevania series with Circle of the Moon, Konami went ahead and created another title in the legendary series for the Game Boy Advance. Titled Harmony of Dissonance, whose goal was to improve on everything that Circle of the Moon had, and ultimately the game succeeds, though falling short in several areas. Harmony of Dissonance is a worthy sequel in the Castlevania series, and is even more reminiscent of the classic Symphony of the Night title for the Sony PlayStation than Circle of the Moon.
Plot has never been a major focus in the Castlevania games; the story serves as more of an atmospheric enhancement. Juste Belmont is the main character, and though a member of the Belmont clan, he has a striking resemblance to Alucard, hero of Symphony of the Night. Juste enters Dracula’s castle on a rescue mission with a comrade, and though there are some developments, the plot never really takes off from there. As mentioned, it’s more of an atmospheric enhancement; the plot is there so that you can play yet another version of the classic side-scroller.
Harmony of Dissonance features a vastly improved graphical upgrade over Circle of the Moon. Sprites are much more detailed; on-screen enemies and allies are much larger and backgrounds are much more vibrant than its predecessor. The most noticeable upgrade is the ability to actually see the game; Circle of the Moon was criticized for being much too dark, and Harmony of Dissonance remedies this situation completely (though the release of the Game Boy Advance SP has somewhat cured that situation anyways) by increasing the contrast. Enemies are well animated, and there is nary an instance of slowdown. Harmony of Dissonance is a noticeable step up from Circle of the Moon, and more closely resembles its PS1 grandfather, Symphony of the Night.
Aurally, Harmony of Dissonance bitterly disappoints. Gone are the catchy, well-written melodies from Circle of the Moon; where this sequel steps ahead graphically, it takes two steps back aurally. Sound effects remain largely the same, with whip and bone cracks sounding awfully familiar; it’s the soundtrack that suffers in this game. Circle of the Moon featured a wonderful score, with catchy melodies and great MIDI. The MIDI in Harmony of Dissonance seems to be comprised of bleeps and blips, something I’d expect from a five year old Game Boy title, not a recent GBA Advance release. This really detracts from the Castlevania experience of wonderful 2-D gameplay coupled with a classic gothic soundtrack. Sadly, gamers will be greeted with repetitious bleeps and blips that are supposed to resemble “music”.
Gameplay in Harmony of Dissonance remains largely the same as the previous two titles. There are two “dimensions” in the castle (just like the upside down castle in Symphony of the Night) to extend playing time, but the game can be completed in under eight hours. Gone is the DSS system from Circle of the Moon; rather, a much simpler magic system is utilized, and the emphasis is on collecting furniture pieces to furnish a secret room in the castle. While odd, it is also interesting and somehow addictive. Harmony of Dissonance is in the vein of relentless exploration like most other Castlevania games; continually finding new areas and secret locations throughout the labyrinth-like castle. This is side-scrolling action at its finest; chopping down skeleton soldiers and equipping new whips has never been so much fun.
Though the audio is severely lacking, Harmony of Dissonance proves to be another extremely enjoyable romp through Dracula’s castle. It’s nearly a complete package, and any gamer that enjoyed Symphony of the Night or Circle of the Moon would enjoy this title. The best part is, this time around, you can actually see what’s going on the screen, and there’s no need to squint!