Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Preview

Get the latest details on Konami's next Castlevania game for the Game Boy Advance.

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It wasn't really surprising to see Castlevania: Circle of the Moon receive so much praise when it was released alongside the Game Boy Advance in both Japan and North America. After all, it was the closest Konami ever came to delivering a spiritual sequel to the popular PlayStation Castlevania game Symphony of the Night. Indeed, Circle of the Moon even introduced an intriguing new special power system that let you combine various tarot cards to produce various defensive or offensive spells. But there were those who thought that Circle of the Moon was good, but didn't quite match Symphony of the Night because of its stiff controls, poor animation, and relatively bland background graphics.

Some of the levels in Harmony of Dissonance look similar to those in Symphony of the Night.
Some of the levels in Harmony of Dissonance look similar to those in Symphony of the Night.

Recognizing the popularity of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Konami has been hard at work on the next game in the Castlevania series, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. The game is being developed by the original Symphony of the Night team, which is headed by producer Koji Igarashi. When we sat down to play Harmony of Dissonance, Igarashi explained that he thought that Circle of the Moon was good, but he felt that the gameplay wasn't quite up to par with that of Symphony of the Night. In fact, Igarashi went so far as to say that Circle of the Moon was 70 percent graphics and sound and only 30 percent gameplay. He wants Castlevania fans to see Harmony of Dissonance as being 70 percent gameplay and 30 percent graphics and sound.

It's an interesting statement to make, considering the substantial leap in visual quality from Circle of the Moon to Harmony of Dissonance. If you're a fan of Symphony of the Night, then you'll probably notice that the sprite of the main character, Juste Belmont, looks quite similar to that of Alucard's sprite in Symphony of the Night. They even appear to share the same running animation, though admittedly, Juste's running animation isn't quite as smooth.

The graphics in Harmony are significantly improved over those in Circle of the Moon.
The graphics in Harmony are significantly improved over those in Circle of the Moon.

The graphical improvements aren't restricted to the main character--the enemies and especially the backgrounds look better than those in Circle of the Moon. One of the first enemies you'll encounter is an enormous (as in filling up half the Game Boy Advance screen) mechanical creature outside the castle walls. Igarashi was quick to point out the individual joint movement on the creature and other large boss-type characters, which provides the enemies with a slightly more realistic look. While you'll still see some repetition, the backgrounds have much more variety than they did in Circle of the Moon, and some actually look as though they were stripped right from Symphony of the Night. Overall, the game looks great, and its use of vibrant colors makes it relatively easy to see under normal lighting conditions, and thankfully so, considering how difficult it could be to see Circle of the Moon if your Game Boy Advance didn't have direct light. It looks as though the Symphony of the Night team has done an excellent job of pushing the Game Boy Advance hardware, and they seem to have reached a point where Harmony of Dissonance not only plays like a true sequel to Symphony of the Night, but also looks like one.

Juste Do It

Juste will have access to all the traditional Castlevania weapons as well as special spell books.
Juste will have access to all the traditional Castlevania weapons as well as special spell books.

Due to the limitations of the Game Boy Advance hardware, something had to be sacrificed in the development of Harmony of Dissonance, and unfortunately, it's the sound. The Castlevania series has always been known for its music--even Circle of the Moon ripped tracks directly from Dracula X: The Rondo of Blood for the Turbo-Duo and Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Genesis. There are no direct rips in Harmony, so instead, you'll get to hear NES-quality and in some cases Game Boy-quality music. Igarashi acknowledged that the sound may not be as good as that in Circle of the Moon, but that's because the development team was trying to focus on the gameplay first and worry about everything else after that. Though Igasrashi couldn't offer any specifics, you can probably expect to hear some of the classic Castlevania tracks, such as "Vampire Killer" and "Bloody Tears," at some point in the game.

The sacrifices made for the sound appear to be worth it, as Harmony of Dissonance plays incredibly well. As Juste Belmont, you'll be able to wield a whip that's similar to the one Simon wielded in Super Castlevania IV in that you can actually swing it around manually. Igarashi demonstrated one of the possible uses of this level of control by employing a fish-line attack where Juste sits comfortably on top of a platform while enemies below damage themselves by running into the whip. Of course, Juste will also be able to use the typical assortment of secondary weapons including the cross (boomerang), the ax, the dagger, the gem, the holy water, the thunder ring, and the bible.

Relics give Juste special abilities that he will need to gain access to new areas in the castle.
Relics give Juste special abilities that he will need to gain access to new areas in the castle.

Since Juste is a descendant of Sypha Belnades--a magic user saved in Castlevania III by Trevor Belmont--he's able to use magic. In Harmony of Dissonance, Juste can combine any one of the traditional Castlevania items with one of five elemental spell books to enhance his regular attack or produce a special attack that's capable of taking out multiple enemies at once. There are quite a few possible combinations, and you'll certainly find that some work better in certain situations than others.

Like Symphony of the Night, Harmony will feature a relic system that essentially functions the same way. Juste will come across special items that give him powers that he will need to advance through different sections of the castle. While you'll find many relic items scattered throughout the castle, most of the important ones can only be found by defeating the boss of a particular section. Igarashi explained that he hopes people will take the time to explore the castle, which is significantly larger than the one in Circle of the Moon, in order to find all these relics as they did in Symphony of the Night. There are plenty of other similarities between the two games. Harmony of Dissonance will also have money, which you can use in one area of the castle. In addition, Juste can equip different weapons, armor, and accessories to help boost his statistics.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is certainly an impressive Game Boy Advance game, and the fact that it plays so much more like Symphony of the Night than Circle of the Moon did seems to indicate that it will eventually take a place among the better Castlevania games in the series. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is currently scheduled for release in mid-June.

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