Title :Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Platforms :Game Boy Advance
Publisher :Konami
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :8.8
Review by :Ken Gagne

What was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event wasn't enough for rabid gamers, who find the curse of Dracula their blessing. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is a Game Boy Advance game by Konami that returns players to the deadly realm of the dark lord's castle. Juste Belmont, descendant of the original vampire killer Simon, must plumb the keep's depths to rescue his childhood friend, Lydia. But is Dracula the true evil at work here? 

Players explore the castle as Juste in this 2D adventure title. The path of the hero is not set, allowing free exploration to wherever Juste can access. There are locked doors, unscalable walls, and fearsome guardians, but the castle in its entirety is the only stage to overcome. 

Our whip wielder begins with a limited repertoire of jump and strike, with the shoulder buttons executing rather useless dash maneuvers. Juste can find equipment that will grant new skills, such as sliding, higher jumps, and whip accessories, used to smite enemies and further access the castle. 

Veterans of the Castlevania series will recognize sub-weapons such as the axe and holy water. New in this game are spell books which augment with these tools to create powerful new effects. These combinations are less plentiful and imaginative than the spells found in Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, but do give Juste a necessary offensive boost while also adding the strategy of carrying only one sub-weapon at a time. 

The graphics are noticeably improved since Castlevania's last handheld outing. The dark screen of the Game Boy Advance has been accommodated with brighter graphics, making the game easier to see. The camera is also closer to the action, resulting in larger sprites and faster action. 

In addition to the contrast and palette, the difficulty has also been upped. Juste can grow in strength as he defeats enemies, but the denizens of Dracula's castle are no weaklings. A few blows landed just so can send the young Belmont to an early grave. One's saving grace is the new quick save option, which backs up one's progress, but not position in the castle, reverting to the most recently used save point. 

Accompanying this journey is music that's more harmonious than dissonant, but which still cannot compare to the soundtrack of its ancestor, Symphony of the Night. In contrast to the improved graphics, the music has taken a small step backward, reminding gamers of the handheld nature of this title. Sound effects ring out more effectively as Juste brings down enemies with a variety of spells and weaponry. 

Though "harmony of dissonance" may be an oxymoron, there are no jarring qualities to this Castlevania. There is little to make it stand out, either, and it falls in the shadow of its predecessor, Circle of the Moon. Regardless, Harmony is a shining example of 2D gameplay that refuses to be hindered by the compact nature of the Game Boy, proving that Castlevania just can't be whipped.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 30-Sep-02