Sunday, May 19, 2024

Castlevania - Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance, 2002)


Second of the GBA trilogy and generally agreed upon to be the weakest of the Big Six portable 'Vanias from this era. They're all good, but this one is a step down. At least it's canon, unlike Circle of the Moon. They also brightened this one up to the point of being neon since CotM was so difficult to see on GBA hardware. It's basically the flipside of CotM in pretty much every regard. You can also tell from the main character design that they were really trying to emulate Symphony of the Night. It also marks Koji Igarashi returning to directing after skipping CotM.

This takes place after the first two games in the series and has Juste Belmont as the next one after Simon. Don't get used to him though, he's as short-lived as Sonia. Maybe he time-traveled into the future and couldn't figure out how to get back.

Very nice title screen. Lets you know right off the bat that you're getting the castle and all the traditional vintage 'Vania that goes with it.

The objective in this one is to rescue Lydie, a friend of the protagonist who was kidnapped and brought to Dracula's Castle. Our hero, Juste Belmont, really looks like a villain (or at least a vampire). But not as much as...

...his best friend Maxim, who will definitely turn evil. Look at that face! They're giving it away in his first dialogue box.

Juste leaves the injured Maxim outside the castle and continues without him at his behest. A giant suit of armor chases you down, and it's invulnerable, and it looks like they brought back the Symphony of the Night afterimages.

As much as I like afterimages, I'm not into them here. It's an Alucard thing and it's weird having a Belmont sporting afterimages. Maybe he's got Dracula DNA from Alucard and Sonia doin' it. Then again it's pretty clear that they were trying to make this guy a second Alucard to be more like SOTN. They should have just had this guy be a rogue vampire instead of a Belmont.

Reach the castle and the drawbridge closes, causing the giant knight to fall into a pit and explode.

We get the un-sexiest silhouette ever in the first hallway. There are zombies that endlessly spawn, much like Symphony and Circle both started with infinitely-spawning foes in the first hallway, so you can sit here holding your whip out and level-grind for hours if you want (and have a rubber band).

Yep, they brought back levels, stats, equipment, everything. All six of the big portable 'Vanias follow this same format. I think it's pretty cool that they saw the success of Symphony of the Night and just decided to make six more of it. This may be the weakest of the six, but the four after this are all excellent.

Well, not everything. They didn't bring back Symphony's weapon variety. Here it's just the whip for the whole game.

You can, however, equip elemental stones to change the element of your strikes, but it doesn't seem to do that much. Later in the game you can add a ball at the end of the whip to do more damage, so that helps.

There's something really appealing about an empty equipment screen and base-level stats. It's a new beginning and you just want to get equipment and get those stats up.

We get a fun Super Metroid reference after a few minutes, nice.

That's because you're totally gonna turn evil any minute now!

There are some big, impressive sprites in this game, like screen-tall knights.

Before long I get the ability to slide, which functions as both a dash and an attack. It cleaves right through weaker enemies, so I pretty much just dash everywhere from here on out.

Tons of Mega Man X heart tank equivalents are scattered all around the map, often at convenient locations where you're probably running low on health (they also heal you to full).

The portal rooms from Symphony return. Only now there are two different types. The second type can also warp you between the two castles. We haven't gotten there just yet though.

Some nice visuals in this game. It's got that going for it over Circle of the Moon.

At one point I push a giant skull down a hill and use it as a battering ram!

I run into Maxim again, and sure enough, he's evil now.

Well, to be exact, he has a split personality, and one of the two personalities is evil. He runs off, but I'm sure I'll have to beat him up at some point.

This game likes to put platforms in boss rooms that most of the boss attacks pass harmlessly under. Not sure why these platforms are here but I appreciate it.

This confers the double jump ability, which is a huge game-changer.

See? Every time, platform conveniently placed where all the boss attacks miss you and their weak point is lined up with your character.

Maxim is back to his normal personality and apologizes for being a douche. Unfortunately, now he remembers that it was HE who kidnapped Lydie and stashed her somewhere in the castle.

This would be a good time to mention the viciousness of the status effects. Poison in particular is way OP in this game and wreaks havoc on your HP. Luckily the Healing Mail (which has auto-regen) can be obtained fairly early in the game and helps a lot with exploration.

Another boss fight, as I find that this game has a TON of boss fights. This time I don't even use the cheating platform.

The Clock Tower shows up as always, and has a hilarious moment where... fight an invincible giant suit of armor until it stumbles backwards and gets crushed in these gears.

Not sure if this is another reference to Crocomire from Super Metroid but it was essentially an identical fight.

Speaking of references to things, next boss is a giant green slime that shrinks as you beat it up, like the one in Secret of Mana.

Death shows up and dumps a bunch of exposition. It turns out that the second castle was manifested from Maxim's dark side, or something.

Annnnd at this point I had no idea what to do next. Death warped away and the portal shut behind him, so I left and explored the castle more for a while.

My God! The Sahagin are here!

"Our time has come!" they screech as Juste runs for his life.

...straight into a SUPER SAHAGIN.

"YOUUUU" he says.

This gets me the first of six pieces of Dracula, which becomes the main objective for the second half of the game. Find all of these and the final boss unlocks.

Another boss fight, Minotaur. This thing is wildly OP and the platform doesn't save you this time. I found that the key to victory was to get the knife powerup and spam-fire it from the platform. It pushes the boss back. A lot of your attacks in this game can push foes back, even bosses. It's nice to have knockback work in my favor for once in a Castlevania game.

Finally, after wandering around for a while, I check a guide and figure out what to do next. Turns out I had to follow Death through the portal, even though it very much looks like the portal is closed. Well, press Up here and you go through it. Even more obscure is that pressing Down here will warp you to other warp rooms. That's super easy to miss and there are quite a few "why doesn't this game let you warp around?" posts online. They definitely could have made all of this clearer.

Speaking of unclear, there are two castle maps, plus a third map that has both castles on it. Castle A is in blue, Castle B is in green...but also some of Castle A is in green...and areas that you've been through in both castles are in teal. Alrighty.

The two castles are also basically identical, just with different enemy placement and so forth. The second one is like a "second quest" more than anything else, except you warp back and forth between them. It's confusing and it's a much worse version of the Reverse Castle in Symphony. Much like everything in this game is just a below-par version of Symphony.

Speaking of Symphony, here's Legion. An incredibly creepy boss, but I always liked knocking off the pieces of it.

First major thing to do in Castle B is get this powerup that lets you smash through barriers. It involves going around and smacking a giant contraption to lower this platform.

Maxim shows up and he's all evil again! I guess it's finally time for a battle.

He turns into a shapeshifting monster that looks like the cover of a Disturbed album.

He recovers his senses after the fight, and Juste forgives him.

Ya know, Juste has a very malevolent presence. Really doesn't seem like he should be the protagonist. He's like Tommy Wiseau on the cover of The Room.

This one was particularly cool to get because I sequence-broke to it by damage-boosting off of an enemy to double-jump upward.

The bosses start to get really challenging here towards the end of the game. Tons of HP and hit much harder.

I find Lydie, only to have her be kidnapped AGAIN by...

...Death, who Dracula sends out for the important jobs.

I think it might be possible to miss rescuing Lydie entirely, since the game has multiple endings and a trophy for finishing the game with her rescued.

A weird merchant starts showing up in different places. He sells a lot of stuff I can't afford...and High Potions, which are all you really need to beat the game. Get a bunch of those and you're basically unkillable. Heals can be fired off from the menu screen.

There's a sort of meta-game tied to getting the platinum for Castlevania Advance Collection. It involves finding all of the furniture collectibles to turn Juste's room into a swingin' bachelor pad. Not sure why he has a room in Dracula's Castle, and I missed a lot of these collectibles. Gives me a reason to revisit it later at least.

I mentioned screen-height enemies. Well, here's one. This thing is a beast, and like all late-game bosses you have to stick and move.

Death shows up and we finally get to brawl, which means I'm pretty much at the end.

It's a good fight, but now I've got the Chain Whip (and like 15 High Potions) so he doesn't have a chance.

His second form is bizarre, and you can ride around on his back like those Launch Octopus minibosses in Mega Man X.

I find the last missing piece of Dracula, and it's off to the final boss.

The center room on the map is where he's lurking, just like in Symphony of the Night.

First up, a rematch with Maxim. If you didn't assemble all of Dracula's parts, this fight is the final battle, and it's much tougher.

As it is, he moves way too fast to dodge, has a bunch of doppleganger images, and the distorted background doesn't help either. So I pretty much just facetanked this fight and attacked away until he dropped first.

If you wear the bracelet he gave you earlier, and the stat-less one you started the game with, he snaps out of it and turns good again at this point. This gets you the best ending.

Course we're not done yet. Dracula hasn't fully re-formed but he's working on it. After a really basic first form, he transforms into...

What the hell.

He's got an EYE KAMEHAMEHA that is basically an insta-kill, but other than that, an easy last few fights. Because I got the Dracula pieces, rescued Lydie, and wore the friendship bracelets for the final battle, I get the best ending:

The castle disappears, and our heroes escape. Turns out Maxim's evil side was only because he was being prosessed by Dracula, and meant well-a, so he's fine now.

Lydie wakes up. I'm not sure if she's necessarily mad about this biting thing. I don't know what she's into.

This age-ambiguous, not-sure-if-girlfriend-figure-or-daughter-figure character then proceeds to go full "hey, boys, I want you both" at our heroes, and the game mercifully cuts to credits. Yeah, I gotta go.

For finishing the game, you get a Boss Rush Mode, and can play as Simon Belmont (in the form of the very first game) by entering the Konami code while the game is loading. This is a super cool bonus...for a few minutes. While Simon hits very hard, he's practically immobile compared to Juste.

Finishing the game also gets you Maxim Mode. Starting a new game with "Maxim" as your name lets you play as him for the full normal game, not unlike the extra modes in Symphony. And like that game, Maxim can't level up or equip anything and the game becomes essentially a standard 'Vania title with the goal being to go through and defeat the bosses. Maxim moves pretty quick and can triple jump, so that's a fun mode. Would like it more if I liked Maxim AT ALL compared to Richter or Maria. But once again, this game is a lesser counterpart of Symphony.

So thoughts on this one? It's got issues. The music, first and foremost, is terrible in this game. Not a single track was worth linking, and most of the music sounded like it belonged in an NES game. Now NES chiptune tracks can be great, but none of these tracks were great. They tended to be short and repetitive, and combine that with the NES-like sound and it was puzzling. There's a lack of secret areas to find, the two castles are confusingly identical, and there's no DSS system like the previous game which takes away some replay value.

As for things I like... I like the levels, equipment, and general RPG-like aspects of these games a lot. And the Metroid elements like the map and artifact collection. The "big six" as I call them combine the snappy 'Vania gameplay with new mechanics, to stunning effect. It's been long-debated which is the best and if any are better than Symphony, which spawned them. TBH, Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow might be. Those are tales for another day, though. This game is good because it's one of the above, but nothing about it stands out on its own from that pack. It's definitely the weakest of the bunch. I'm glad that weapon variety returns in Aria, but it was also nice to have a couple of whip-centric games with this and Circle.

Other Castlevania Posts

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