Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night became a favorite among gamers given its mix of side-scrolling platforming, exploration, and some role-playing game elements such as leveling up by killing enemies for experience or finding special items, a combo that players sometimes refer to as “Metroidvania” or “Castleroid.” Given the success of this formula, it was highly unsurprising that they developed another game combining the aforementioned elements, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, which is not the best installment of the long-running series but can be enjoyable.

Circle of the Moon begins with a woman named Camilla reviving Dracula in her castle, with heroes Nathan Graves, Hugh Baldwin, and his father Morris Baldwin coming to confront them, although a pit quickly separates Nathan from his companions. Monsters roam most of the castle, although luckily, Nathan wields the Hunter’s Whip that he can use to attack them, and spin it around for as much as he wants when the player holds down the attack button, useful for attacking small aerial or ground enemies, with successful termination of foes netting Nathan experience and occasional level-ups.

Throughout the castle, Nathan can also find items that increase his maximum HP, MP, and number of Hearts he can carry, with the vampire slayer also able to retrieve subweapons by breaking candles, although keeping the one the player desires can be somewhat tricky at times, since certain subweapons such as the useful cross found only at specific candles in the entire dungeon. Aside from that, Nathan can use magic via cards that enemies may rarely drop, with two kinds: Action Cards and Attribute Cards, one of each the player can combine for a special MP-consuming skill, with some being incredibly useful and literally being the difference between victory and defeat.

Enemies may also drop consumable items, which are mostly hard to find (and there is no system of currency or shopping in the game at all), making Circle of the Moon one of the more difficult titles of its franchise, along with the vagueness on how to execute certain card combinations, let alone find specific cards within the massive dungeon. Bosses can consequentially be difficult, and players might at times find themselves using a guide to make the most of the magic system. Death can also be somewhat punishing, since recovery/save points are somewhat difficult to come across at times (and while the game has an apparent system to “continue” after death, doing so just reloads the previous save, making useless this feature), but in the end, the battle system helps the game more than hurts.

Control is also a boon to the game, with an in-game automap attempting to help the player avoid getting lost, and new items furthering Nathan’s exploration of the giant castle, although it can sometimes be easy to lose oneself, given the lack of any indications on the in-game map as to which areas require specific skills to advance. Another helpful feature alongside the map is teleportation among special rooms that can help players reach specific areas more quickly. As mentioned, however, the save system can be stingy at times, and it might have been nice if the in-game map indicated where save points were instead of leaving players to guess if they haven’t reached certain ones yet. Still, interaction is largely above average.

Story is hardly ever a strong point in the Castlevania franchise, and Circle of the Moon is no exception, what with the scarcity of developing scenes and the clichéd goal of traveling through a giant castle to kill Dracula (along with a clichéd rivalry that arises between Nathan and Hugh), although a protagonist other than a Belmont is a decent change, and while the game is fairly light on plot, it luckily doesn’t hurt the game too much. The translation, however, could have been a little better, given some flagrant punctuation errors.

Despite the GameBoy Advance’s generally shoddy audio, Circle of the Moon mercifully suffers not aurally, with plenty decent music with a variety of styles, as has been the tradition of the franchise, alongside some occasional voice clips consisting mostly of grunting when taking damage, the sound effects being decent as well in spite of the GBA’s inferior audio quality showing in a few places.

The game also looks nice, with anatomically-correct character sprites for Nathan and the other human characters, alongside good character portraits and some nice monster designs in spite of a few palette swaps. There is also some visual slowdown at some points, though fortunately it only affects the game harshly in maybe one boss fight. Ultimately, a nice-looking game.

As with the other Metroidvania/Castleroid titles, the game is fairly short, less than ten hours long, although upon beating the game, the player is able to access other modes with greater challenge, adding significant replayability.

Ultimately, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is a worthy successor to Symphony of the Night, given its nice fusion of side-scrolling exploration and RPG elements, although it does have its flaws such as a light narrative and the difficulty of finding or using certain magic card combinations without help from a guide. Nonetheless, series enthusiasts are certain to have a good time, if they can handle the above-average difficulty.

The Good:
+Solid side-scrolling gameplay and control.
+Great music.
+Nice visuals.

The Bad:
-Finding cards can be difficult without a guide.
-Weak story with some occasional grammar errors in the dialogue.
-Some graphical slowdown.

The Bottom Line:
Not a perfect Metroidvania but enjoyable nonetheless.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 6/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Depends on Cards
Playing Time: Less than 10 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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