Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance - Review

How to Fail Without Really Trying

By: Michael Beckett

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 2
   Originality 3
   Plot 2
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

8-12 Hours


Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

   Castlevania is a series which has had its ups and downs. It seems that for every good Castlevania Konami releases, there is a corresponding bad one. And so, as Symphony of the Night had Castlevania Adventures, Circle of the Moon has Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. Harmony of Dissonance works on the basic formula made by Symphony of the Night and continued by Circle of the Moon, a formula which was in turn built upon the successes of the Metroid series.

   The basic layout is that of a 2-D platform game, with the levels separated via locked doors or other obstacles, and a basic plotline and other RPG conventions grafted on. Attacks, defense and magic are all handled in real time, so the entire game is action-based. Unfortunately, the designers who worked on Harmony of Dissonance saw fit to reduce the general depth of the combat system by replacing the DSS card system of Circle of the Moon with a book-and-sub-weapon combo system and adding in two dash buttons at the top.

   The result is a much less interesting and satisfying game. Control and interface in HoD is much as it has been in past Castlevania games, with a few exceptions. The L and R buttons have been used as dash keys, allowing a quick shift to the left or right. Unfortunately, the corresponding loss of normal walk speed has left the main character somewhat sluggish, and forces repeated use of the dash to cover any ground at speed. Menus are simple and easy to navigate, but nothing worth faxing the pope about.

You receive a full healing after every boss fight. A little too easy.
You receive a full healing after every boss fight. A little too easy.  

   In the past, Castlevania's music has always been a treat. In Circle of the Moon in particular, the themes were well written and well executed, the sound quality top notch. In HoD, I'm uncertain whether it was the inclusion of limited voice acting or just plain sloppiness on the part of the programmers, but the sound quality is just horrible. Scratchy, grainy tunes without melody or feeling play out during the levels and boss fights, encouraging no emotion whatsoever. The voice acting itself is something of a bright spot, and what little of it there is is fairly good. The fact that it was not translated for some reason only makes matters worse, however.

   Harmony of Dissonance, I'm told, plays a great deal like Symphony of the Night. Having never played SotN, I can only assume. However, having played Circle of the Moon, I notice a great deal of similarities between CotM and HoD; similar castle layout, similar gameplay, similar goal(rescue the person, kill Dracula).I notice that, on the whole, HoD seems nothing so much as a game put together quickly and haphazardly, in order to satiate public demand. Its quality has suffered a great deal.

   Storyline has never been Castlevania's strong point. Circle of the Moon's plot was there largely to explain why this kid was in this castle fighting this vampire. Still, even Hugh and Nathan were fuller characters than Juste, Maxim and Lydie. Two-dimensional characters and a lack of development - or even involvement - are what characterize HoD's plot. In a genre that really runs on characters and scenarios, HoD's rehashed and overdone story just flat out doesn't fly here.

This is how you'll beat most of the bosses in HoD.
This is how you'll beat most of the bosses in HoD.  

   Harmony of Dissonance's translation is about average. There are a few laughable sections ("No mercy for you!") but on the whole the translation is well executed. It just doesn't go far enough. The voice acting was ignored by the translators for whatever reason, which makes it largely unintelligible to anyone who doesn't speak the language. It's really a pity, as what I could understand of it wasn't bad.

If there is anything to recommend HoD, it is its replay value. Two massive castles to explore, a large number of optional relics, a bestiary and a room to decorate, plus three endings, an extra character, a hard mode and a 'Boss Rush Mode' which allows you to test your speed at defeating bosses all in a row means that if you enjoy HoD, you'll be playing and replaying it for weeks on end.

A lot of people who have played Harmony of Dissonance have praised its graphical style, saying the contrast needed to be this low. To me, HoD looks washed out and greyish. The character sprites are decent, or Juste's is at least, the others sort of blend into the backgrounds, and the enemy sprites are well done, but I preferred CotM's darker look. It seemed to fit the setting more. HoD does make more use of the Game Boy Advance's graphical abilities, and there are a lot of subtle touches here and there that shows that Konami is getting the hang of the GBA.

(Insert bad chili joke here.)
(Insert bad chili joke here.)  

Harmony of Dissonance is not a hard game, flat out. The difficulty of Circle of the Moon was largely due to the fact that healing was so difficult to come by, whereas HoD has a number of stores that sell potions, high potions and armor. Bosses and enemies follow predictable patterns that can easily be countered, usually simply by dashing away from your foe. HoD is also not a very long game; only about six to eight hours for one play through. It is, however, considerably longer if you decide to complete all the side quests - the bestiary and the room collection - eventually coming out at something like twelve hours.

In the end, RPGs are about enjoyment, about having fun. If you're looking for a quick game that you can run through again and again, Harmony of Dissonance is your man. However, if what you're looking for in a role playing game is the chance to play a role, or to have an engrossing story told to you, best to look elsewhere. HoD is not without its strong points, but in the end, it falls far short of living up to its formidable predecessors.

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