Friday, July 23, 2004

Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance

Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance
Action - Game Boy Advance
Backup Memory - 3 save slots
1 Player

After the huge success of Symphony of the Night, the Castlevania series was changed forever. Fusing RPG elements and fluid animation with the tried and true whip-action formula, many people rediscovered the series for the first time. When the GBA debuted many years later, another Konami team tried its hand at a portable CV game resulting in "Circle of the Moon", which got all around excellent reviews. But now the SotN team reassembled to make this 2nd GBA offering. How does it rate?

Symphony of the Night influences are everywhere. While the heart of the game is slaughtering monsters with your whip, exploration becomes a prime element. You get to roam a large castle, and as you acquire more powers/items, you're able to see and open up more of it. Backtracking becomes second nature. And as you kill enemies, you acquire experience points that allow you to level up.

There are some things that make Harmony of Dissonance unique. For starters, this is probably the first game in the GBA library that looked really good. The sprite artwork and vibrant colors are striking. There's a lot of graphical effects such as parallax scrolling and transparencies that show off the GBA's graphical power quite nicely. In the area of gameplay, a new magic system is implemented. You are able to acquire different elementals, which when combined with your secondary weapon (axes, daggers, etc), can perform a unique type of magic. You are able to switch between the different elements on the fly, so it's easy to experiment. You are also given a dash button, which comes in very handy for avoiding enemy attacks. Another nice aspect is that HoD provides some puzzles that break up the monotony. Unfortunately, the puzzles aren't enough to save a sinking ship.

Monotony reigns supreme here. The game is never a challenge because there's so many things that prevent you from dying. From the least of the skeletons to Dracula himself, the enemies are all slow-moving and stupid. There are no one-hit deaths. And if by chance, you manage to get hurt, there are tons of save/healing spots scattered throughout the castle. Enemies will also drop potions which restore your life. All the while, you're leveling up every 5 minutes whether you want to or not, just by walking from place to place and clearing the way. As a result, you're able to kill enemies in fewer hits, and able to withstand much more damage. The balance is entirely screwed up, which makes the game an absolute bore. No risk means no tension.

This irritation extends to what Castlevania has become as a whole. Since all areas are interconnected like Metroid, there are no bottomless pits. If you fall in a pit, you'll simply end up in the room below. Although that makes for tidy level design, it simply removes the platforming aspect from the series. There's little consequence for poorly executed jumps. Another issue is that the series was always action focused. With this RPG fusion, you must now go through weapon/armor equipping screens every time you acquire equipment. This happens often. It interrupts the flow of the game by forcing you to pause in order to navigate through windows. It's this mess of conflicting elements that make it hard to enjoy.

Overall, I thought the game was a long drawn-out chore. While it wasn't 100% awful, the good could not make up for the subpar foundations it was built on. I didn't even get into talking about the awful music either. I imagine your mileage will vary depending on how much you like "Metroid" type of mazes and backtracking. I don't think I have a preference either way on Metroidvania or a linear map. But when fused with a RPG system where your character constantly gets stronger, the backtracking makes an already easy game, much, much easier. True, the game offers several reasons to replay such as a Boss Rush mode, and the ability to play as a 2nd character. But what good are these replay options when you never ever want to touch the game again?

This game exemplifies what's wrong with gaming today.