Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
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Given the success of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, what with its combination of role-playing game and castle exploration mechanics, it was only natural that Konami would produce another “Metroidvania” title with similar mechanics on the GameBoy Advance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, which was also a critical success. Then came the second Metroidvania title on Nintendo’s portable system, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, which proves to be another solid title in the Konami franchise.

Protagonist Juste Belmont primarily attacks with his whip, whose termination the player can customize in the game menus with tips allowing for elemental assault, although one attachment allows players to shatter delicate stone walls. One should note that there are two massive “sides” to the castle Juste explores, and shattering a delicate barrier on one side will open up a more solid barrier present on the other side of the fortress. Other methods of attack Juste acquires include heart-consuming subweapons that he finds occasionally from broken candles and torches, not to mention magic of various elements the player can use jointly with the subweapons to unleash powerful magic, useful for beating bosses.

Juste may also come across items that permanently increase hit points or heart points, and he may occasionally level up as he slaughters enemies. Overall, the battle system works nicely, although masochists might lament the forgiving difficulty level of combat compared to other Metroidvania titles. The only real significant flaw in the mechanics is that the player can hold only one subweapon at a time instead of being able to swap among them, with most players likely to pick a favorite and stick with it for most of the game, especially in conjunction with magic.

The controls help the game far more than hurt, with easy castle navigation and menus, although there are a few moments when players might find themselves lost and need to carefully explore untouched corners of both sides of the castle and have specific items equipped at times, which is probably the chief source of difficulty in Harmony, even more so than combat. Still, the game interfaces well with the player in the end.

Story has typically been a low point of Castlevania titles, and Harmony is unfortunately no exception, though it breaks somewhat from the typical “go through the castle and kill Dracula” setup of other games in the franchise. Even so, there isn’t much background to the characters aside from Juste being a descendant of Simon Belmont, and all in all, the narrative is probably the game’s nadir.

The music is decent at times, with a style similar to other games in the franchise, although its quality is somewhat worse than in Circle of the Moon. The sound effects and voice clips for the game’s characters, however, sound decent.

The visuals are also nice, close to perfect, although the sprites have a bit of pixilation, and not all players will appreciate Ayami Kojima’s sexless character designs, particularly for Juste.

Finally, the game is short like other Metroidvanias, somewhere from five to ten hours, with extras such as a boss rush mode potentially boosting playing time. In conclusion, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance proves to be another solid title in the legendary Konami series, what with its solid gameplay mechanics, enjoyable castle exploration, and nice graphics. Admittedly, players who believe that easy games automatically suck might find themselves turned off by the forgiving difficulty level, although mainstream gamers might possibly find the third Metroidvania to be a decent diving board into the franchise.

The Good:
+Solid game mechanics and control.
+Quicksave allows saving progress most anywhere.
+Good music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Forgiving difficulty may turn off some.
-Light on story.
-Music quality could have been better.

The Bottom Line:
Another solid Metroidvania title.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 5-10 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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