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In total, over 20 Castlevania games has been released now, for all kinds of consoles. However, ever since the famous Symphony of the Night hit the shelves, the fans of the series have been longing for a game that would live up to its greatness. Still today, the majority of the fans would agree that such a game has yet to be seen. And still, four new Castlevania games has been released since SotN. The first of these four was Circle of the Moon, Konami's first Castlevania game for the Gameboy Advance. While this game had potential, it was far from another Symphony.
In CotM, you control the young Nathan, who is in search for Dracula in his gigantic castle. If you are familiar with the Castlevania series since earlier, you can easily figure out that's all there is to the plot. Find Dracula, and then finish him off. The End. Even if this seems tiring after so many games, you don't really play Castlevania games for the story. The main focus is still on exploring and slashing through hordes of enemies, as it always has been. CotM does offer something a bit different in its battle system though.
To just regularly attack with the whip or using sub-weapons (the usual ax, dagger, cross etc.) is hardly going to get you through this game, as it does provide quite a bit of challenge in some areas. To make your whip stronger, you have to make use of the DSS (Dual Setup System). The DSS consists of two differnt rows of magic cards; Action cards and Attribute cards. To come up with new spells and such, the player has to combine one Action card with an Attribute card (this is performed simply by highlighting one card from each row). If the combination is correct (some cards won't work together), you will be able to cast a certain spell in battle. However, to change spells, Nathan has to change the combination of cards once again. If this is confusing, I'll just give you a brief example of how it works. Let's say I have the Uranus Action card, and I combine it with the Salamander Attribute card. This way, I'll be able to summon Salamander in battle, a very powerful summon. Below the cards, there is an explanation of how to perform the spell. There are all kinds of spells though, not necessarily summons. The most common ones are those which enchant your whip and make it stronger. While this battle system is quite entertaining at times, few of the spells are useful enough. Most of them are too weak, and drain your MP way too fast.
Other than the DSS, Nathan can acquire 8 different abillities during the game. I won't spoil which these are, but I'm sure that most Castlevania fans will recognize most of them when playing the game. These are - just like in the other games - passive skills, and are usually needed to move forward through the puzzles in the game. The few menus in the game are very simple and easy to navigate through. While the controls for Nathan may seem a bit slow and annoying until you have the abillity to run, you'll get used to them quickly.
In total, there aren't more than maybe four or five conversations through the entire game, so there isn't really that much to say about the localization. Sure, those lines are well translated without any grammatical or spelling errors, but they're nothing special either.
The Castlevania games have always had great soundtracks, each one including the classic theme 'Vampire Killer', a tune every gamer on earth must have heard at least once. Circle of the Moon does indeed have a solid soundtrack, composed by Sota Tojima (and some parts by Hiroshi Mitsuoka). While the GBA might not have the best speakers on earth, the sound quality is still pretty nice. All of the tunes has the classic Castlevania style.
While the visuals seem okay at some places, they could case quite a lot of trouble at times. The game is often way too dark, and I had quite a hard time navigating myself through some places because of this. The character models and enemies are nice though, but they could've spent some more time on the backgrounds and level design.
Just like all other Castlevania games, Circle of the Moon is very short. It will barely last for 10 hours if you want to complete the map. Fortunately though, it is one of the hardest Castlevania games yet. Although, since most of the earlier Castlevania games have been ridiculously easy, that's not really saying much. Some of the bosses might give you quite a hard time until you figure out their weakness... but other than that, you really shouldn't have any serious problems. As for reaply value, I haven't even touched the game since I finished it. There is nothing to return to, and I have never felt like replaying it just for fun either. You'll most likely get enough of it on the first run.
A common flaw in the Castlevania games is their extreme lack of originality, and Circle of the Moon is certainly not an exception. Even though the game is so similar to the others, there's still something special about exploring Dracula's castle over and over. It's a fun experience to acquire all those abillities, explore the map entirely, get all the spells etc.. Even if most parts of Circle of the Moon were quite decent, it felt as if the game didn't really give us players anything to remember from it. It might be fun to borrow it and play through it over a weekend.. but after that, it'll instantly be forgotten.
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