Castlevania: Circle of the Moon - Reader Retroview  

Circles the Moon, Lands Successfully
by JuMeSyn

10-17 hours


Rating definitions 

   Castlevania: Circle of the Moon represents a very unusual phenomenon. While hardly a typical RPG, it can nevertheless be classified as one; and it was a launch title for the Game Boy Advance! The general rule regarding system launches is that any RPGs extant at that time will be forgotten (at best) once the system reaches maturity. Circle of the Moon represents a notable exception to this rule, however, and must be lauded for it.

   Graphically Circle of the Moon can easily be traced to the dawn of the Game Boy Advance. Its visuals are hardly ugly, but do not possess the many graphical effects developers would soon incorporate into most non-port GBA efforts. The graphics are perfectly respectable however, just unremarkable. They are also marred by the darkness of many screens, which can result in dark-colored enemy attacks being all-but invisible to the player under suboptimal lighting conditions. The GBA SP will render this concern moot fortunately.

Tonight on COPS: apprehending a suspect clearly too hopped up on an illegal substance to realize how dangerous setting oneself on fire can be. Tonight on COPS: apprehending a suspect clearly too hopped up on an illegal substance to realize how dangerous setting oneself on fire can be.

   Audio in Circle of the Moon is quite good. The music, while limited in the number of tracks, is very nice and does not irritate. Much of it is comprised of remixed versions of older Castlevania musical endeavors, and the newer pieces stand up to the old. Sound effects are sturdy and functional also, though many are heard often enough to make them fade from the player’s conscious mind after sufficient play.

   Anyone expecting a meaningful story from a Castlevania game needs a reality check. True to form, Circle of the Moon has a story with Nathan Graves running around Dracula’s castle in order to defeat the vampire. That’s really about it. The story takes minimal time fortunately. Controls are superb, with every action taking place onscreen being a result of the player’s input. Menus are entirely functional, with no extra time needing to be expended upon navigating them. Items can be equipped once found, magic can be used when available, the map is two button presses away.

   Former players of a Castlevania title will be in familiar territory here. Nathan possesses a whip, which he will use to attack just about every opponent in the castle. He also has access to the venerable sub-weapon library of Castlevania lore, with hearts being expended upon sub-weapon use and replenished by attacking torches throughout the castle. The new twist in Circle of the Moon is the magic system. 20 cards exist throughout the game, dropped by one or sometimes two enemies. Ten cards are action, the other ten are attributes. Use of an action card and an attribute card together produces an effect, although what that effect is will not be articulated until the player makes it happen. The effects vary from imbuing Nathan’s whip with fire or ice, to transforming him into a skeleton which will die in one hit from anything but may throw a gigantic bone with incredible destructive power. Most of the cards will not be attained by a casual player, so seeking them out requires a tenacious willingness to kill enemies multiple times.

Why must every floating opponent be slain when humanity has yet to master the art of suspension in the air? Why must every floating opponent be slain when humanity has yet to master the art of suspension in the air?

   Play proceeds in a Metroid-inspired fashion throughout. Dracula’s castle is initially mostly inaccessible, but Nathan will soon acquire moves such as the ability to dash, the double-jump, and the wall-jump. Each time a move is acquired (except for the first one) it will be by confronting a boss and defeating it. Bosses in particular pack a punch, and are quite capable of destroying the player until a workable strategy is arrived at. Regular enemies can be formidable as well. Circle of the Moon is not enormously challenging but should be avoided by RPGamers without fair action-gaming skills, as magic cannot be used to completely surmount a surfeit in this area.

   Many games can be completed once, without any incentive save nostalgia for playing the game again. This is decidedly not the case in Circle of the Moon’s case. Upon completion of the game, the player is given a name to enter which will access Magician mode. Playing through this mode gives the player every magic card at the beginning, but with much lower physical statistics. Beating Magician mode unlocks the key to Fighter mode, which eliminates magic entirely in favor of enhanced physical statistics – this is the closest mode to classic Castlevania. Fighter mode’s completion unlocks Shooter mode, in which physical and magical statistics are lowered in favor of much higher potency by sub-weapons. And Shooter mode’s completion unlocks Thief mode, in which all statistics are lowered except luck, which influences how often enemies drop items. Each play is a different experience under these circumstances, meaning a player will not be truly done with the game until it is completed 5 times.

   The RPG elements in Castlevania: Circle of the Moon do not overshadow its action roots at all. There is experience, items to heal, magic to have any number of effects, true. All of these make a difference in the playing experience. Without a reasonable level of skill in action gaming, this title will probably prove too frustrating for an RPGamer. With a reasonable level of skill in action gaming, it proves a beauteous example of the joy to be found in slaying enemies repeatedly.

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