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It didn't exactly come as a surprise when Konami announced yet another Castlevania title for the Gameboy Advance. This time we were to follow a Belmont once again, and it would take place only 50 years after Simon Belmont himself defeated Dracula. Roughly one year after the release of Circle of the Moon, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance hit the shelves. This time around, the game was heavily influenced by the superb PlayStation hit Symphony of the Night, but still lacked some of the most important parts needed to become a really good Castlevania game.
The mechanics of the battle system in Harmony of Dissonance are built up just like every other Castlevania game, save for a few differences. The main character - Juste - uses a whip for regular attacking, as well as the usual sub-weapons. Later on, he also has the ability to cast a bunch of spells by combining spell books with the sub-weapons. Depending on the element of the spell book, and the type of sub-weapon you have for the moment, the spell will change. The efficiency of the spells also changes a lot depending on what type of enemies you encounter. While regular use of sub-weapons drain the amount of hearts you have, using spells drain the MP gauge instead.
So why am I saying this game has taken so much from the good old SotN? Look at the way Juste moves, for example. By using the shoulder buttons, you can dash forwards or backwards in very much the same way as Alucard does in SotN. Also, Juste use Relics in order to see enemy HP, damage inflicted, do double jumps etc. etc. Some of these relics even have the same name as they had in SotN.
The Interface might be the strongest point about the game. While menus and such are just as simple and easy to navigate as always, I really liked the controls for Juste. First of all, there's the dashing back and forth, which makes traveling through the castle go a lot faster. Also, Juste can turn certain spell books on and off through a shortcut, instead of going into the menu each time.
When I think of all the Castlevania games I have played, the good music is one of the first things that come to mind. The whole series has always had this special style, and almost every soundtrack in the series has been very memorable. Harmony of Dissonance might just be the first Castlevania game to break this tradition. It has, by far, the worst piece of crap soundtrack I have ever heard in a Castlevania game. Even now, I can't remember one single tune in the game that I liked even a little. Either the tunes are way too fast, or way too slow. The melodies are weird, and the sounds don't even seem to fit together. The quality of the soundtrack is terrible... it feels as if it was thrown together over a weekend or something. When I think about it now, I wonder if it really was worth listening to all of those tunes just to be able to review the game correctly. I think not.
The translation is just what I expected it to be; nothing special at all. While nothing about it is particularly crappy, it's nothing special either. There were a few weird localization choices at times, but other than that, I have no complaints. Harmony of Dissonance actually had a bit more dialogue than most other Castlevania games ever had.
The second strong point of the game is most likely the graphics. Things are a lot smoother and faster than in Circle of the Moon, and both enemies and other characters are more detailed. I also very much enjoyed the different special effects caused by enemies dying or spells being cast. While good graphics hardly makes up for the rest of this game's huge flaws, it's always much appreciated when the game looks good, and has a decent flow to it.
If you are familiar with Castlevania, you know that the plot isn't what really matters in the game; it's the action and exploring. As mentioned earlier, you are Juste Belmont. Fate has decided that Juste is now the one who's going to hunt down the relics of Dracula, and at the same time rescue his childhood friend Lydie, as well as to solve the mystery behind his best friend, Maxim. While this actually sounds like a more story-filled game than the average Castlevania game, it all comes down to exploring the castle and defeating the final boss anyway.
It's very similar to SotN (once again), as the player has the ability to explore a second castle in order to get 200% of the map. The crappy thing about this is that the castle looks exactly the same as the other one, only with different enemies and new items.
Even if I didn't like this game at all, I think I still have to give the replay value a score above average. When you've finished the game, you can play as a bonus character, and enter boss rush mode (a boring minigame where you're supposed to kill most of the bosses in the game right after each other). There are also two different endings of the game, one of them being the "true" ending. However, you don't have to replay the entire game to get both endings.
Being about as long as your average Castlevania, it'll take about 5-10 hours to complete the game, and a bit more if you want to entirely explore the castle and find everything. The game is also way too easy. When I'm playing Action-RPG's, I expect at least a little bit of challenge. The bosses in this game are like jokes... they die too fast, and most of them just seem to stand around waiting for the player to smash them into bits.
By far, Harmony of Dissonance is the worst Castlevania title ever released. If it hadn't been for Symphony of the Night, it might have gotten a score above average. The games borrows way too much from its glorious predecessor (both in plot and battle system), and is poorly executed. A good interface and nice graphics hardly saved it, as it was a boring experience overall. To those of you who are planning on buying this game: don't. Unless you're a hardcore fan of Castlevania who just has to play all of the games in the series no matter what, there is absolutely no need for anyone to play through this game.
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