Castlevania: Circle of the Moon - Retroview

Regulation Size, General Issues
By: Michael Beckett

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 6
   Originality 3
   Story & Plot 4
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Moderate to Hard
   Completion Time 8-10 Hours  

Graphics are actually a lot darker than this, which can be a serious problem at times.
Graphics are actually a lot darker than this, which can be a serious problem at times.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

   The point of Castlevania never really changes. Get through the castle, find the dork with the cape and kill him, possibly rescuing a friend/lover/family member in the process. While Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is nothing terribly original in that or many other respects, it is a satisfying experience and worth a look. The graphics are decent for a handheld, simple though they are, the control is good and solid, and the exploration aspect of the game is very enjoyable. Gameplay in general is challenging and fun, which makes up a great deal for the plot which appears to be made out of the Limburger they had left over from Symphony of the Night.

   Combat is 2D and in real-time, very similar in design and execution to Symphony of the Night. Jump, snap the trademark whip, and collect this year's deviation from the Castlevania formula. Circle of the Moon uses something called DSS, or Dual Setup System cards, to perform magic. There are two forms of cards, Action and Attribute, represented by Roman gods and elemental monsters. Each card alone has no effect, but when combined they can do anything from summon familiars and giant monsters to changing the length and elemental effect of your whip, to even changing your whip into a completely different weapon. The DSS system is quite interesting, but the method of obtaining them - running around killing monsters and praying they drop a card - is a bit obnoxious.

   Control is very good everywhere. The constant use of the shoulder buttons for skills and magic was a bit of a problem, making my hands ache during long sessions, but nothing serious. In general, interface is well done and problem free, as an action game should be.

   Music by Sotaro Tojima and Hiroshi Mitsuoka is solid, and quite atmospheric. The sound in general is better quality than most games on the GBA, with a bare minimum of scratchiness. I understand Konami has recently released a soundtrack, which is good news. The rest of the sounds are all right, with nothing really standing out as good or bad.

So how many 'Whip It' jokes do we have to hear before someone dies?
So how many 'Whip It' jokes do we have to hear before someone dies?

   Creatively speaking, Circle of the Moon is nothing new. The DSS system is fairly unique, but the rest of the combat system is vintage Metroid. Visuals are good, but dark and gothic is hardly anything new. Sound and plot both get an 'eh' for being largely unmemorable

   The story is made from Campbell Canned Condensed Plot. Characters and setting alike are pulled from stock without much originality or creativity. The conflict between Nathan and Hugh had potential, but character interaction happens so infrequently that there was never a chance to expand their characters. The rest of the characters in the plot are uninteresting and sometimes pointless - Camilla, for instance, is just there to add another boss fight. Her motivation is so unbelievable as to be ridiculous. Dracula and Morris are cardboard cutouts, Patient Villain and Defiant Captive, respectively. Castlevania in general has never had a particularly deep plot, but Konami seems to be using the handheld medium as an excuse to chop plot even further. The game seems to be well translated, with only one or two glaring errors (Shinning Armor, for instance).

   Surprisingly, there is ample reason to replay Circle of the Moon. Different secret modes unlock after each successive play through Circle of the Moon, such as Mage mode, which starts you off with every DSS card but crappy Attack and Defense stats, or Shooter mode, which gives you massive amounts of Hearts and a powerful homing Knife, but below average stats. These modes, combined with an Arena and the sheer number of DSS card combinations gives Circle of the Moon a powerful replay value.

   The dark and gothic feel of Circle of the Moon is interesting but not unique. The whole vampire castle look has been done nearly to death, but at least Circle of the Moon does it well. The castle is very creepy and well laid-out, and character and monster design seems well done. The graphics themselves are significantly less detailed than I would have liked, but I understand that there's only so much you can do on so small a screen. The only other problem I have with Circle of the Moon is its contrast level, a problem which seems to plague the Castlevania series on the GBA. It's a bit too dark in Circle of the Moon, to the point where it's all but impossible to play without direct sunlight.

Circle of the Moon uses the same sub-weapon system used by every other Castlevania. Sigh.
Circle of the Moon uses the same sub-weapon system used by every other Castlevania. Sigh.

   Circle of the Moon can be quite difficult at times, owing largely to the wide spread of the Save Points and the lack of any real healing magic or items until late, late in the game. Time to complete is very short, only eight to ten hours, though the additional modes can triple or quadruple that time.

   Castlevania is not a series known for its innovation. For the most part, Konami finds a formula that works and sticks with that formula. Thus, Circle of the Moon feels a bit rehashed and already seems a bit elderly. While its combat system is good and its control is tight, the game suffers from a lack of originality, both in concept and execution. I give Konami credit for giving gamers what they asked for - a Castlevania game in the same vein as Symphony of the Night - and give the game my recommendation for those gamers who love 2D side-scrollers, real-time combat and adherence to a formula.

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