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Old 08-19-2010, 08:28 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

After releasing the critically acclaimed, super-popular game, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Konami had to do something to continue the success, the result being an early GBA game, that took the RPG elements of Symphony of the Night, but the difficulty level and protagonist's whip from the earlier Castlevania games. In my opinion, this is among the best in the series.

Gameplay: 4
Uses the same RPG format of Symphony of the Night, kill, gain ExP, level up. The same Metroid-style backtracking after learning new abilities, and the same idea that the first big enemies you face like minibosses, become common enemies by the end of the game.
The hero, Nathan Graves, uses a whip, just one whip. No swords, no axes, no spears, no tonfa, just a whip. The weapon is the only piece of equipment that you are never given the ability to change, instead strength is increased by armbands.
Nathan also jumps like Simon Belmont, once you leave the ground, you are already committed to your landing point.

The magic system is new, it is called the Dual Set-up System {DSS for short}. It relies on cards, there are ten cards you get in the first row, and ten in the second row.

You select one from the first row, and one from the second to set whatever ability, power up, or alternate weapon it is. You use the right shoulder button to activate the power, and your magic drains. The alternate weapons are things like swords and the rose whip, Nathan's fists, and even a pistol, but because of the time the game is set, the pistol is unbelievably slow, but stronger than just about anything.
Another ability that can be gained by the cards is transforming into a skeleton. The most noteworthy of all the DSS abilities is allowing Nathan to do the item crash associated with subweapons, in similar fashion to Symphony of the Night.

The cards are not required to progress, but they make the bosses a lot more manageable. Because the cards are not required, they can be a pain to acquire, with most of them being random drops from certain enemy types. The chances of an enemy dropping their card-type is very low, but this chance increases as your luck increases.

There are also objects that function similar to the "Holy Relics" in Symphony of the Night, they give you the ability to super-jump, move freely in water, and similar things.

You also can acquire the standard set of subweapons {dagger, axe, holy water, stopwatch, cross [works like a boomerang]}, that run on hearts, and each requires a different number of hearts.

The whip is as slow and awkward as in early Castlevania games, though this is a good thing. If you hold the attack button, you will twirl the whip, doing minor damage to all who walk into your path, this is kept up as long as you hold the button, and it is mostly good for defending against fireballs, or taking out those damn bats that fly at you out of seemingly nowhere.

Story: 4

Rather standard Castlevania story. Set around 1830 in an Austrian castle, Dracula is revived by Carmilla. Morris Baldwin, Hugh Baldwin, and Nathan Graves show up and attempt to re-seal Dracula, but before they can do so, Dracula grabs Morris, and uses exploding bats to destroy the floor below Hugh and Nathan. When they hit ground, Hugh runs off to find Morris, and Nathan is left alone to search for Morris. Now is when the game decides to explain that Morris sealed Dracula away before, Hugh is the son of Morris, and Nathan is a student of Morris. Hugh hates Nathan, because Nathan inherited the legendary whip, and Hugh believes it is his birthright, as it was his father's.
Nathan runs through the castle, and is occasionally attacked by Hugh, because Hugh is even more angry at Nathan than usual. Eventually Nathan runs into Carmilla, who he beats, while she is in her true form. Hugh attacks again, and is once again defeated by the far stronger Nathan. Nathan eventually finds Dracula, who is about to kill Morris, and Dracula explains that he messed with Hugh's soul to make him so much more hateful towards Nathan, as apparently Dracula is afraid of Nathan's power. Nathan defeats Dracula, and Morris is freed, but then Hugh comes along, takes Morris away and explains that Dracula is in some alternate dimension where he can unleash his full power, and so Hugh and Morris run off, and leave Nathan to deal with Super Final Form Dracula. Not surprisingly, Dracula is defeated, the castle begins to crumble, and Nathan barely escapes.

It may not be anything special, but I though the story was fine.

Graphics: 4
Looks good, especially for an early GBA game. Though there are too many recycled, recolored sprites for my liking.
The majority of the animations look nice, but nothing all that earth shattering, but they more than suffice. It's rather dark, so it is sometimes hard to see what is going on, when you are playing on a screen without a backlight, but it is tolerable.
The cool aura effect used in Symphony of the Night is gone, but this is no problem because it wouldn't seem right on the average vampire hunter.






Sound: 4
It sounds nice, the sound effects are allright, Nathan's battle grunt can get annoying after a while, but it's not major. The music is good, with remixes of music from throughout the Castlevania series.

Replay Value: 4
It's worth a few runs through, because of the progression of modes you unlock, each of them giving Nathan various strengths and weaknesses, there is also a battle tower, which has the toughest enemies in game, and is the only way to get the two best DSS cards, the best armor, and it is challenging, it is a good way to test your skills, and gives you incentive to do a little bit of level grinding. The progression of modes you unlock is:
Normal --> Magician {high magic, start with all DSS cards} --> Fighter {no DSS cards, high strength and defense} --> Shooter {subweapons heart cost half, you can hold more hearts, you can access a special homing dagger subweapons} --> Thief {all of your stats besides luck are drastically reduced, the goal is to survive on dropped healing items, and armor, as you have higher luck, enemies drop better stuff}
To unlock a mode, you must play through the one before it, so you must beat normal to unlock magician, beat magician to unlock fighter, and so on.

Challenge: 5
Whereas Symphony of the Night was extremely easy, the difficulty level here is similar to that of older Castlevania games, and for the same reasons. The whip is somewhat slow and awkward, you can't change direction mid jump. The bosses are also designed to be difficult for the player who devotes no time to grinding, and simply kills enemies directly in the way, so you should spend a bit of time grinding {not a whole lot, just a bit} and trying to collect some more DSS cards. The Super Final Form Dracula is extremely difficult, and this is rather jarring, seeing as normal form Dracula just warps around and shoots projectiles at you, in standard Castlevania fashion.

Overall: 4.2
A good game, worth checking out for fans of both Pre-Symphony and Post-Symphony Castlevania, as it blends what made each of them enjoyable.


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Though the lack of videos is rather uncharacteristic for me, my computer is lagging, and firefox will likely crash if I go to youtube and even start a video, so I can get the link. If you want to hear the music or see a video of the gameplay, go find it yourself, I'm sure you know how.
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