Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Updated Preview

The Japanese version of Harmony of Dissonance has finally released, and we've got new impressions and screenshots of this latest vampire-hunting adventure.

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Once again, you'll have to invade Dracula's castle to find a missing person.
Once again, you'll have to invade Dracula's castle to find a missing person.

We've had a chance to spend more time with the import version of Konami's next Castlevania game, Harmony of Dissonance, which, unsurprisingly, picks up where Symphony of the Night and Circle of the Moon left off. Harmony of Dissonance is structured similarly to the two previous Castlevania games, with a single large castle--divided into various subsections--that you will revisit over the course of the game while trying to look for items or new areas that were previously inaccessible. However, Dissonance does have some unique attributes. The gameplay is focused on the use of different spell books, and the new control scheme allows for a lot of maneuverability. In addition, you'll see more than a few references to previous games in the Castlevania series.

Harmony of Dissonance's story isn't entirely original, considering that the past few Castlevania games have usually involved a member of the Belmont clan, or some other individual, invading Dracula's castle to find some lost individual. The game begins with Juste Belmont, the latest character in the Belmont family tree (who also happens to be a descendant of Sypha Belnades from Castlevania III), conversing with a friend named Maxim, who has brought Juste to Dracula's castle to find Lydie, another friend who has mysteriously vanished. Since this game was developed by the same team responsible for Symphony of the Night, you can expect a few twists and turns in the plot, but none that are probably quite as dramatic as what happens in the classic PlayStation game.

Juste will have access to a variety of whips, some of which enable him to reach new areas.
Juste will have access to a variety of whips, some of which enable him to reach new areas.

Like Alucard and Nathan, Juste can equip a variety of items, pieces of armor, and even weapons. There are sunglasses, rings, amulets, gloves, chest plates, helmets, and several different types of whips that perform specific functions. The default whip lets you manually flail it around, but you'll find whips that automatically twirl (like Nathan's whip in Circle of the Moon), as well as others that are capable of destroying weak walls within the castle. Some whips, like the ball and chain, simply give Juste more strength. In addition, you'll find that the inventory system is a little more lax in terms of the items you can equip. Instead of being restricted to each portion of the body, you'll have three slots that can be used to equip any item, so you can feasibly equip three different types of rings or amulets. However, this is not recommended, since Juste's attack and defense statistics would drop dramatically.

Interestingly, you'll also find various types of items--such as plates, candles, chandeliers, and tables--that you can't equip. Instead, you can use them to decorate an area in the castle known as Juste's room. This room doesn't seem to serve any particular purpose in Harmony of Dissonance other than to enhance the collecting and exploration aspects, which are already a large portion of the game.

Bloodlines

The spell fusion system adds quite a bit of variety to the gameplay.
The spell fusion system adds quite a bit of variety to the gameplay.

As previously mentioned, something that sets Harmony of Dissonance apart from other Castlevania games is the spell fusion system, which essentially gives Juste the ability to combine the basic assortment of Castlevania weapons (the cross, the dagger, the ax, the holy book, the holy water, and the fist) with elemental spell books. For example, if you're using the holy water and you have the fire spell book equipped, then Juste can create a small fireball that will bounce back and forth across the screen. However, if you're using the holy water with the electric spell book, then a bolt of lighting will come cascading down and scroll across the room. Some spell and weapon combinations are suited specifically for certain types of situations, particularly boss battles. If you're dealing with a boss who likes to remain stationary, then you would probably do well to use the cross and lightning combination, which produces a special attack similar to Richter's holy cross crash from The Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night.

There are some miniboss battles in Harmony of Dissonance, and you can't defeat them simply by using weapons. In some cases, you'll have to look around the environment for devices and contraptions that can aid you in defeating a particular foe and moving on to the next area. Such an occurrence happens early on in the game when you're confronted by an enormous metallic beast that happens to be standing in a room with rotating gears and an enormous hammer that resides on the ceiling. In general, you'll be able to figure out the puzzles in Harmony of Dissonance within a few minutes, but there are some later on in the game (involving crates, no less) that may leave you scratching your head for a few moments.

Simon, is that you?
Simon, is that you?

Like the spell books, relics will be hidden in various locations around the castle, though the more important ones can be found in the room conveniently next to the area where a boss has been defeated. These relics let Juste perform a double jump, as well as a super vertical jump that will come in handy for exploring portions of the castle that were previously unreachable earlier in the game. There is another set of relics that protect Juste from specific types of attacks, and they also tie into the storyline--we don't want to spoil anything, but fans of the older Castlevania games should instantly recognize them.

Harmony of Dissoance is a massive game. The castle seems to be as big as the one found in Circle of the Moon, and there are two variations of it--one dilapidated, the other not. In terms of extra features, Harmony of Dissonance offers quite a few options in comparison with other Castlevania games, but you'll have to beat the game to access them. The music in the game leaves much to be desired, especially since none of the classic Castlevania tunes are available until you beat Dissonance, but most people will probably be able to look past that because of the game's crisp and colorful visuals, which are much better than those found in Circle of the Moon. There are even some cool lighting effects when Juste steps in and out of sunlight shining through windows. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is scheduled for release in September.

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