Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Review
Konami’s Second Symphony
In 1997, Konami mixed together the gameplay of Metroid, the trappings of their popular Castlevania setting, and a few RPG elements to create Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Now they have revived this odd blend in Castlevania: Circle of the Moon.
Like most games in the series, the majority of Circle of the Moon is spent running around fighting undead monsters using a whip, in the standard action game fashion. Experience, armor, and accessories are then added to the mix, giving the game a more RPG like feel, and giving less action-oriented players the ability to character build before bosses.
As with every game in the series, Circle of the Moon‘s story can be summed up in two sentences: Dracula has come back from the dead. Go kill him. With less story to move things along than even the simplest modern action game, Circle of the Moon harkens back to some early 8-bit games, giving the players a vast maze full of secrets to explore at their own pace.
While wandering aimlessly through a maze may sound repetitive, it should be noted that the game features a good variety of locations, from sewers full of undead monsters to rooftops covered with undead monsters. Unfortunately, while for the most part the game’s graphics are quite good and very detailed, some areas of the game are so dark that one needs to play in direct sunlight in order to make out such important details as incoming projectiles.
Although the graphics are muddled at times, Circle of the Moon‘s music is crisp and clear at all times. The songs themselves come largely from earlier games in the series, lending a fair share of nostalgia.
Between the classic gameplay, the classic music, and the traditional story, one might wonder what sets Circle of the Moon apart from its predessessors. The answer to this is the DSS system. Throughout the game, there are twenty well hidden cards to find. Ten of these represent Roman gods, the other ten traditional monsters from Greco-Roman myth. At any time, one god card and one monster card can be equipped, with each of the one hundred possible combinations yielding a different spell or bonus. These range from such mundane effects as a slight increase in strength, to impressive pyrotechnic damage spells, and even such bizzare effects as becoming a skeleton.
As fun as it is to explore and collect cards, in a rush Circle of the Moon can be completed in just five short hours. Even the most thorough player isn’t likely to spend more than fifteen hours hunting down every secret. Fortunately, this short play time is balanced out with a fair share of replay value. After completing the game once, it’s possible to start over again and again as different types of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, forcing players to use new strategies.
The combination of old-school gameplay and fresh ideas makes Castlevania: Circle of the Moon a nice breath of fresh air in a year where everyone else is simply rereleasing old classics. It may be rather difficult, and it may be a tad short, but all in all, it’s a very satisfying experience.