Castlevania: Circle of the Moon - Review

A Minor Castlevania Falls Flat

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 2
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 3
   Originality 3
   Plot 1
   Localization 2
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 2
   Difficulty Very Hard
   Time to Complete

15-30 hours


Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

   When news first broke that the Game Boy Advance was going to receive a Castlevania game, I was excited. The previous Konami wonder, Symphony of the Night, was just about the best side-scrolling game I ever played. And what platform would be better to house the follow-up to that legendary game than the GBA? As (unfortunately) time would tell however, Konami went ahead and demonstrated to all other potential game companies what not to do with their games. Featuring an arbitrarily high difficulty level, impossible-to-see visuals, grating music, and a general lack of enthusiasm concerning the plot, I must confess that Castlevania: Circle of the Moon could have been the coolest addition to the Castlevania family... but it turned out to be the worst game in the series.

   The battle system is pretty much the same as all of the previous Castlevania incarnations; nearly identical to SotN. What has changed considerably though is the general level of difficulty. Yes, we have monsters that have projectile attacks that can follow you across the screen and go through walls and floors to seek you out. Yes, we have bosses the size of two screens and have attacks that take up the same amount of space. Yes, we even have some enemies that are impervious to attack unless you have the quick reflexes gained from countless years of playing Nintendo games in your youth. What the main problem with the difficulty, and consequently the battle system as well, is the simple fact that items--healing or otherwise--are impossible to find.

   Good luck trying to get rid of something as simple as poison, as such items are only randomly dropped by the enemies that usually gave you the status effect in the first place. In other words, healing items of all varieties are going to be your most valuable resource the entire game; you're going to have to think real hard if you want to risk using one during that boss battle or while exploring the zombie-infested corridors. And if you do decide to risk not using a healing item, you're often rewarded with death and the need to journey through the same area again. This sort of arbitrary level of difficultly is more than enough to send quite a few videogame novices back to their place of purchase, and annoy the hell out of everyone else.

You won't need eyes where you're going.
You won't need eyes where you're going.  

   I could comment about CotM's new "Duel Set-up System", but I feel wholly unqualified. You see, the designers decided that before anyone could use this token new gameplay mechanic, they first had to kill a very large random number of enemies. Every hour or so on average, an enemy may (or may not) drop a card. There are two types of such cards: Action and Attribute. You must not only randomly acquire cards, but you must also get at least one card of each type. Once an Action/Attribute pair is selected and activated, an effect is produced. While the effects are actually pretty varied (everything from whips of fire/ice, etc. to doubling the amount of hearts collected), they remain a mystery until you happen across their function. At the end of the game, I had 8 combinations of cards that apparently did nothing, and I was still missing 5 Action and 2 Attribute cards after 30 extra hours of playing. Needless to say, having no new gameplay mechanic would be preferable to having one that only the extremely bored or those with already bad vision could appreciate.

   Playing games on the GBA is often a challenge in of itself; with a screen that is anywhere from four to ten times smaller than what most of us play games on anyway, any sort of visual problems inherit in a particular game become extremely important. CotM is just this sort of game. In short: It's too dark for a GBA game. Half of the time you play will be spent just trying to recognize where you are at and if something is trying to kill you; the other half of the time will be spent admiring your own reflection in the poorly lit LCD screen. Just about the only marginally successful way of viewing this game that I have experienced is by buying the mini-light adapter and playing the game with all the other lights in the room off. To be honest, that seems like a bit too much work just to try and have fun with a GBA game. Now, you could always play the game in direct sunlight as well, but if you're going through the trouble of playing the game outside just to see it, you might as well drop the GBA and call some friends for basketball or something and actually get some good out of being outside.

Unfortunately, Mercury is not the god of good games.
Unfortunately, Mercury is not the god of good games.  

   When going from the hardware of the PS1 to the GBA, it's understandable to take a hit in the music department. After all, one does lose Redbook Audio and other such audio tricks. But as the Nintendo era proved, hardware limitations are no excuse for poor music especially when doing a follow-up to SotN. The vast majority of my gaming time was spent with the volume off, simply due to the poorly written and ultimately grating music. It sounds uninspired and repetitive, with only one or two remixes of classic Castlevania tunes justifying its existence. What's so ironic however is that the sound effects are just the opposite: they are superb and deeply varied. From the tolling of church bells to the fluttering of bats to the snap of the whip, the sound effects are abundant and satisfying. Be that as it may, I would take good music and bad sound effects over the reverse any day, and my preference between the two is reflected in the Music/Sound score.

Historically, the Castlevania series has had plot lines of just about the level you would expect from a major franchise: simplistic and repetitive. Let's face it, there are only so many new ways you can banish the prince of darkness once again. And while SotN cannot boast of an improvement in the overall plot formula more than CotM could, at least SotN, and all the other Castlevania games for that matter, had interesting characters. Instead of the Belmonts or the ever-cool Alucard, we have three vanilla characters with no back-story and not an original characteristic or even a good line between them. When the bosses become more interesting than the heroes, then you've got a problem. And when you start trying to intentionally kill the main's time to take a break.

Never mind the flaming sword, where's an antidote?
Never mind the flaming sword, where's an antidote?  

Quite frankly, there was no motivation whatsoever to finish this game with so much going against it. Without good visuals, music, or plot, you're basically getting blisters from a squeaky and dimly lit game of Pong. The only reason I finished the game at all was to be able to warn others not to buy it. And that is my verdict on this game: don't buy it. Even if you were some kind of obsessed Castlevania fan, I wouldn't recommend it as it can only disappoint you. I don't say this about very many videogames but I can honestly say that playing Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was a complete waste of my time. It is worse than that: it physically hurt me. I shudder to even think about what those 30 hours of "gaming" did to my already waning vision.

Consider yourself informed.

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