Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Being a vampire slayer bites. It’s a full time job; there are no holidays from annihilating the undead. You don’t get paid for your services, your only reward being the satisfaction of a job well done. Constantly swinging a whip or sword will result in sore shoulders and premature arthritis. Not even the leading washing detergent on the market can completely remove the blood and guts stains from the countless foes you’ll murder. Daily contact with the living dead can’t be good for your health. There is no insurance policy against vampire attacks. The smelly garlic cloves and wooden stakes tend to scare away any potential dates. The whole ‘save humanity’ gig tends to get old once you’ve killed enough undead minions. And all the while, the threat of Dracula’s reign of terror fuels you even more to endure these hardships in hopes of attaining some greater end. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
I’m feeling a little green today.
Juste Belmont knows this profession well. It’s been fifty years since Simon Belmont vanquished Dracula and saved humanity from utter doom. As the current heir of the Belmont family, it’s up to Juste to continue the traditions that have shaped his ancestors’ destinies for a millennium. One night, his old friend Maxim appeared at his doorstep, barely clinging to life. This battered hero told Juste a tale of adventure and danger, mentioning that sinister forces had abducted his childhood friend, Lydie. Once Maxim regained his strength, he led the young Belmont to the scene of the crime. A dark castle loomed ominously in the thick fog, practically beckoning the two men hither. With the blood of countless vampire slayers running through his veins, Juste must embark on a quest to not only save his friend, but to wipe out evil once and for all.
Oooh, must have been something I ate.
However, don’t mistake this quest for a typical save-the-princess kind of game. Juste will infiltrate the castle, exploring every inch of its shadowy halls and gothic rooms. He’ll have to go spelunking in murky caves, wander through desolate ruins, and come face to face with the kind of evil that legends are made of. It’s up to him to find the well-hidden secrets strewn throughout the building. At least, as far as he can get on his own. While the hero’s heart is in the right place, he’s really nothing more than a young vampire slayer with a glorified whip and an attitude. He’ll have to have to find an assortment of relics that are hidden within the castle, each one granting him an ability that will allow him to gain access to yet another part of the mysterious place. It’ll usually involve gaining an additional jump or some other handy little trick. All the while, he’ll have to endure the onslaught of the dark lord’s evil minions that inhabit nearly every room. There’ll be flaming skulls of death, cloud-spewing mechanical monstrosities, possessed knights, and plenty of other nasty surprises waiting to get a piece of him. Thankfully, Juste’s mad vampire slaying skills will be more than enough to take down anything that foolishly tries to get in his way.
Bomber Armour eh? We’ll soon see about that.
That’s the problem, though- he’s too strong to make this game very engaging. Maybe it’s the fact that the enemies have poorly designed attack patterns, or maybe it’s that Juste’s high-level stats and powered up weapons are so ridiculously powerful. Whatever the reason, Harmony of Dissonance is a breeze to finish completely. In an attempt to prevent your growing boredom, the game comes with new spins on old favorites, using elemental spellbooks to revamp classic sub-weapons like Holy Water, Axes, and Crosses. You can wipe out your enemies with a tornado of Holy Books, drench them in a torrent of Holy Water, and incinerate them in a blast of blazing flames. Harmony of Dissonance also offers another twist that Castlevania fans will pick up on from the start. In a nod to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this game features dual maps that have different enemies, require exploration and double the length of what seems like a pretty brief game. However, not even these features can save it from its lack of difficulty and less than stellar gameplay.
But if there’s one saving grace for this game, it’s the graphics. Juste’s adventure is portrayed in a psychedelic clash of colors and shapes, each room offering a bright spectacle as opposed to the normally dank and gloomy levels of the previous installments in the game series. Some areas will be filled with crimson skies, violet clouds and mossy brick walls, while others will be nothing more than desolate hallways overlooking woodland vistas. All of the enemies are detailed and animated well, from the glinting armor on the Axe Armors to the hissing Lizard Men to the pale flesh of the countless demons that you’ll be slaying. Meanwhile, Juste looks like a Devil May Cry reject, complete with flowing white hair and stylish red trenchcoat. There’s this neon blue aura that envelopes his body, just in case we somehow lose track of him in the onslaught of enemy scum. While the soundtrack might not be anything to write home about, the sound effects are right on cue, down to the whistle of Juste’s mystical whip.
I’ll bet you that move makes a ‘swish’ noise.
Is Harmony of Dissonance a bad game? No, not necessarily. Could it have been better? Absolutely. This game had the potential to be something truly great, like its other Castlevania brethren on the GBA. It has the massive map and explorative elements of the other current installments in the series, and it has a few new takes on old items to put on the facade of something new and fresh. Yet there’s something missing here. Maybe it’s the stale gameplay, or the lack of difficulty. Or maybe it’s the possibility that the minds behind this game wanted to show off the GBA’s capabilities, thus sacrificing the usually high gameplay standards in favor of something a bit more flashy and appealing to the eyes. In the end, Harmony of Dissonance falters where others have persevered, the weak link in the trio that make up the Castlevania GBA series.