Castlevania – Harmony of Dissonance (GBA) Review

Castlevania HoD

After completing Circle of the Moon it wasn’t too long before I made a start on its sequel, Harmony of Dissonance, dropping in and out of the game as I played other things. HoD is technically better than Circle in pretty much every way, with the exception of the background music… and possibly having too much content? Let’s have a deeper look and see if I can make my mind up!

Background:

Castlevania HoD 4

A Minotaur Level 2? Well, at least they’re honest about reusing certain bosses, anyway…

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2002, coming in June for Japan, September in America, and October in Europe. It was later re-released as part of a double pack for the handheld with its sequel, Aria of Sorrow, and on the Wii U’s virtual console.

As per usual with the Castlevania series, the story jump forward and backwards all over the place, in this case Harmony of Dissonance takes place 50 years after Simon Belmont’s time, a.k.a. after Castlevania II…

Gameplay:

Castlevania HoD 1

That’s not confusing at all!

Much like the previous entry in the series (and a good half of them overall!) this game is an 2D action RPG in the sub-genre that has become known as “Metroidvania”. You control Juste Belmont as he travels around a large castle, filling in the map as you go, having to backtrack to old areas when you gain new abilities in order to access new parts of the castle. You mainly use the whip to destroy enemies, but you can also use sub-weapons like the traditional axe, holy water, dagger and Cross, though now you can blend them with five spell books you can find: Fire, Ice, Wind, Bolt and Summon, in order to do special attacks (replacing the DSS system from Circle of the Moon, with far less rare drops to farm…)

A key part of the game is dashing, funnily enough. Right from the off you have the ability to dash forward or backwards, which become key when facing a lot of the enemies in the game. Eventually you get abilities like a super high jump, the ability to do a power charged whip that can destroy walls, etc. Most of these are only for getting to new places, rather than make any difference to your fighting. As a call back to Symphony of the Night (which I still haven’t played…) there are two castles in the game, though instead of the same castle but upside down, they’re literally the same castle but with slightly different backgrounds and different enemies in them. Destroying a wall or unlocking a door in one castle causes the same effect to happen in the other castle, so there are some fun bits, but a lack of many teleporters means backtracking can take a seriously long time, especially if you’re aiming for “200%” map completion.

Castlevania HoD 3

Forward dashing to get through an area you’ve already done 100 times… a HoD classic, sadly!

There are also the RPG elements as well, killing enemies gets you experience points which can cause you to level up, level up increases your health, hit points, etc. You can collect money during your adventure and buy items at a shop that appears in several parts of the castle, or you can find the various armour and other items that can increase your stats by killing enemies or just exploring, as well as find exclusive items (and parts of Dracula…) that permanently increase your Health, Hearts (used when using sub weapons, in case you didn’t know!) and Magic, or grant you immunity to certain status effects like poison and so on. Speaking of finding things, spread through the two castles is a bunch of furniture that Juste can collect in order to decorate a barren room he finds in the castle… why he’d do this I have no idea, but he does! Beating the final boss with a specific item equipped will get you a good ending, getting the best ending requires you to collect all the furniture first, again, for some reason. There is also a bad ending where everyone other than Juste dies…

There are two unlockable modes (well, three if you including being able to listen to the soundtrack): Boss Rush Mode, where, as you’d imagine, you have to go through all the bosses in the game on after the other, which itself has a secret that if you put in the Konami code before starting, you play the Mode as original Simon Belmont, complete with NES sprite! The other mode is Maxim Mode, where you play through the game as Juste’s friend Maxim, who only has a sword and large shrunkens as weapons, but he does have a triple jump…

Overall the game seems a lot easier than Circle of the Moon, it has to be said. I think I died maybe two or three times total, and most bosses I beat with at least half a health bar remaining. It made having to backtrack across the castle less stressful, but it was still somewhat disappointing…

Graphics and Sound:

Castlevania HoD 5

The two large rooms with lifts in them were at least a unique feature of the castle!

The graphics are crisper and brighter than Circle of the Moon, but otherwise look pretty similar. Juste and especially Maxim are extremely un-detailed, something made all the more obvious when you fight the latter. I assume it’s because they have so many different movements that it was easier to work with simpler sprites, compared to the enemies that often only have a few frames of animation. It was probably far less noticeable on a small GBA screen, I’ll grant you…

The soundtrack is the most disappointing in that it’s extremely flat, dull and unmemorable, which for a Castlevania game is a real tragedy. I was happy to see that reviews of the time called the game out for the same reason. It wasn’t just me!

Story:

Castlevania HoD 2

Just look at Maxim’s kneeling sprite, and then look at his dialogue picture… Hmmm…

Juste Belmont is the grandson of the famous hero Simon Belmont, and has been drawn to a strange castle by his friend Maxim, who claims their childhood friend Lydie has been kidnapped and taken inside the structure. Throughout the story we find out that Maxim had collected several parts of Dracula in order to gain more strength thanks in part to jealousy towards Juste, and these parts have caused him to splinter into a good and bad half, which in turn caused a second castle to overlap the original where his evil half dwells.

Eventually, assuming the good ending is canon, Juste rescues both of his friends and defeats a partially resurrected Dracula for good measure… and is pleased by his well decorated room, moments before its buried under the castle ruins, I guess?

Thoughts Now:

Castlevania HoD 6

Erm… jeez, I think Dracula’s resurrection has gone a bit wrong…

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is a really fun game, but has some flaws. It’s far easier than its predecessor and has a really poor soundtrack, for two. I can’t hate on the game, I did have a good time, but by the end I was feeling a bit ran down, especially backtracking across two near-identical castles. I think I’ll have a bit of a longer break before I complete the GBA Castlevania trilogy, even if the next one is apparently the best of the bunch…

3 Star Game New

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