It’s the odd one out. The red-headed stepchild so to speak. Harmony of Dissonance came along at a very curious time. Konami wanted to redefine Castlevania as a series. It dropped 悪魔城ドラキュラ (Demon Castle Dracula) as its Japanese title in favour of the western 'Castlevania' and designed a new logo stanza to go along with it.
It also meant hammering down what people liked about it. Which could be summed up as Symphony of the Night. In terms of audiovisuals, Harmony tries it best to be the true portable Symphony. Something its predecessor Circle of the Moon didn’t quite nail, despite it being very good regardless.
So did Harmony of Dissonance get it right? Well, no. It’s a good copy though. Even if it does go overboard with some of the spices.
First of all the game fixes the one glaring issue of Circle of the Moon: this game is most certainly developed with that dark unlit Game Boy Advance screen at top of mind. Everything is bright as can be, with colours approaching saturation levels best described as garish.
It’s fine on a GBA screen, but writ large on a backlit television, it’s too much of a good thing. Castlevania Advance Collection doesn’t have screen filters, which is better than enforcing them, but honestly, this could’ve done with a GBA screen emulation of some sort. A trip to your TV's colour settings might actually be a good idea.
It makes up for it in animation. Clearly in an attempt to mimic Symphony of the Night this game’s enemies move, attack, and die in multiple glorious frames with sumptuous graphical effects to accentuate their demise. Sure, they’re compressed, even cut short at times, but unless you’re playing both games back to back it feels like the real deal.
The same cannot be said for the audio.
In an effort to boost graphics, less cartridge capacity was left for the audio and boy is it noticeable. To me the 8-bit bleeps sound almost nostalgic as they remind me of a Commodore 64, but I can’t imagine anyone being ecstatic about it. The compositions themselves are fine, but the sound banks used for instrumentation can be dreadful. The boss theme especially sounds like something badly copied from a Neo Geo Pocket title.
It’s a real let-down, especially after Circle of the Moon’s stellar greatest hits soundtrack. No recognition is available here to help as the soundtrack is mostly new work.
With the presentation being a hit and a miss, the game’s structure suffers a similar split. In a bid to stay true to Symphony of the Night, the game serves up a environmental twist similar to its predecessor. Sadly, the way it has been implemented means that for a more for half of the game, its structure is akin to a large corridor. Need to go back to an earlier area? Better start backtracking.
Normally this problem is countered by warp rooms but Harmony is exceptionally stingy with them and once the option is unlocked, hides one of its crucial features from the player: you can both press up or down in such a room to activate different warps. Sure the game tells you eventually if you manage to find the relevant hint card, but by that time the damage has been done.
It renders one of its most impressive features down to an annoying design decision. The game still remains fun but its shine has dulled a bit.
In terms of handling and gameplay this is Symphony of the Night reborn. Juste handles like Alucard with a whip, having that slightly floaty feel to his jumps and weapon attacks having a slow but determined reach.
The main gimmick this time around is combining the well known of the series with elemental spell books, allowing for different attacks and features. It’s a nice system in theory, but again the game hides its shortcuts to quickly switching between spell books as well as turning them on and off in-game.
The difficulty had also been toned a bit from Circle of the Moon. Nothing is too difficult and sneaking in an extra level or two of grinding while spamming some spell book combos will take care of most bosses. A double edged sword once more as it makes the game accessible but also robs it of its teeth.
And that’s the bottom line really. This is indeed a game true to its name. A harmony of familiar and unfamiliar elements. Good and bad. Give and take. Here’s a game bot trying to reinvent itself but trying to find a proper footing after the first one misjudged its target platform. The result is overcompensation, and at the same time an enticing prospect for the future of the series as its next instalment would prove.