with a vengeance, Konami brings the world of Castlevania back to the Game
Boy Advance with Harmony of Dissonance. It has been 50 years since legendary
monster-killer Simon Belmont vanquished Dracula. It seems destined that the Belmonts
will never have peace as Simon's descendant, Juste Belmont, is called to hunt
down Dracula's relics. After Juste's friend Maxim returns battered and bruised
from a long journey, his failing memory can only recall that their childhood friend,
Lydia, had been kidnapped. With only the location of a castle in mind, they both
set out to save their old friend. Join Juste in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance,
one of the best platformers to date.
Castlevania has always had a strong lineage. Ever since the days of the NES, players
have been hunting down Dracula and his band of demons. Over the years, the series
has seen some improvements and tweaks to enhance the original style, whether it
was by adding outdoor levels with night and daytime, magical powers, dashes, etc.
While there was a brief and disappointing stint in 3D, Konami wisely chose to
return the series back to its 2D roots with the North American release of Symphony
of the Night.
While not much has changed
since that outing, the game's core design has been balanced so well that it borders
on perfection. In this outing, players will control Juste who, like Simon and
the others before him, is a capable vampire-killer with an affinity for whips
and is an expert with axes, holy water, boomerang crosses, and whatever else he
can get to magically pop out of candles. Along with dashes that allow to quickly
avert danger both in front and behind him, Juste can also learn other abilities
like the always-handy double jump and the slide. Along with this arsenal, various
articles of clothing and armor will be found during the journey that can be worn
to upgrade his statistics, along with whip enhancements that can add extra damage
with fire, lightening, and so on. Spell books are also laying about the castle
and the magic within will work alongside sub-weapons to bring forth thunderous
winds, ice blasts, and other monster-killing goodies.
relics that must be hunted down are particularly useful to Juste as they will
unlock extra features, whether they are physical such as the slide and double
jump, or informative, such as enemy damage, their names, types, and so on. All
of these items play an integral role in Juste's journey of survival through the
castle as it's packed with bloody-thirsty monstrosities. Old favorites like zombies,
bats, and bone-throwing skeletons make their return, but new oddities like the
ape skeleton that throws exploding kegs as well as some revamped crossbone-throwing
skeletons sporting some hot pink adornments; if Dracula thought that dragging
out hypercolor-style neon tones would throw players off their game, he was right.
the way, Juste will have several encounters with Maxim who will slowly degrade
into insanity, and the fallen enemies will make way to level-ups that will build
to the final encounter. The story is told in a timely manner with appearances
by Death to help break up the spots where Maxim goes missing and the castle layout
is well done to allow for a balanced portion of save points - where health can
replenish, but that requires the player to save - along with caches of power-ups
to combat the increasingly deadlier enemies. I found one puzzle particularly weird
as it had no real explanation of what was needed or why, though that was the only
time I had a problem. Everything is laid out so that progression is at a consistent
pace, and the castle map helps with documenting unexplored areas and save points.
One small thing that got to me was that the items aren't random, so it's possible
to find a candle that gives 100 gold and just keep re-entering the room and getting
the gold at the same time; this certainly isn't a problem, but at some points
I really could've used a potion or a cure instead of a mini heart or bag of cash.
Tack on the fact that the spells are extremely powerful and the game's difficulty
isn't much of a challenge - thank Konami for unlockable goodies - and you have
the few downsides of what is an excellent title.
are really the only problems I had with Harmony of Dissonance. I found
this to be the culmination of years of refinement, with a result that acts as
the perfect example of how a platformer should be. While some may be tired of
the series as its additions have been minor, and veterans might scoff at the difficulty,
the monster-killing still remains a thoroughly enjoyable experience and one that
is well worth partaking in.
Konami really did a great job handling the GBA; they even alleviated
some of the eye-strain of the original GBA release by making it lighter. The castle
has a solid range of environments and the backdrops will even sport various perceptual
depths; in particular, seeing dragons flying past windows set high on the castle
walls really added a great sense of vitality to the world as it helped to convey
that there was more going on than just Juste on one floor walking towards a zombie.
Special effects abound, all of which look great and range from the filtering flame
of the holy water to the rain storms from the thunder spells. Such visual treats
will help to dispatch some ingenious - as well as some less-than-ingenious --
enemies from Dracula's realm.
Enjoyable enough, the audio side of Harmony of Dissonance is
solid, but fails to live up to its visual counterpart. While the music fit in
with the theme, it wasn't varied nor of such a caliber that it warrants much attention.
The quality was also scratchy, even for a GBA title. It really doesn't help that
the past soundtracks have been so well done that they're cause for reminiscence
among some gamers.
The basic controls for the series have changed very little over the years.
There's the original basic whip attack and the secondary weapon, both of which
are still performed using the same method found in the earliest title of the series.
The dashing moves are handled well with the shoulder buttons; however, there were
times when the character would dash when he was suppose to simply jump down from
a platform. Using relics, items, and spells are all handled with ease via a menu,
and performing spells is as easy as using a secondary weapon. Aside from the occasional
accidental dash, everything's implemented well.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance's relative lack of difficulty
is offset somewhat by the additional goodies, but a lengthier adventure would
have been welcomed. Even combined with its other downfalls, it comes off as one
of the best GBA titles to date and reaffirms the fact that old favorites are still
as fresh and exciting as new franchises. This is another notch in Konami's belt
of quality titles and will surely find itself welcomed by many gamers.