Castlevania: Circle of the Moon - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Circle of Death
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

8-15 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   In the year 1830 in an antiquated Austrian castle, a woman named Camilla performs a ritual to resurrect her lord, Count Dracula, with a vampire hunter named Morris Baldwin and his apprentices, his son Hugh and Nathan Graves, arriving to put a stop to them. However, Dracula imprisons Morris and sends Hugh and Nathan deep beneath the castle, where both must find their way back up to rescue their master and stop Dracula. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, was the first Castlevania title for the Gameboy Advance, continuing Symphony of the Night's formula of having a large castle to explore alongside RPG elements. Though it has its strong points, a few gameplay and technical flaws prevent Circle of the Moon from being as good as it could have been.

   The player controls Nathan throughout the game, with the vampire hunter able to use his whip to attack enemies and spin it around to continually attack foes, albeit more weakly, in a circular range. Nathan has HP that depletes whenever he takes damage, as well as a Hearts meter that depletes whenever he uses various Heart abilities found throughout the castle, such as throwing a knife or cross boomerang. He also occasionally gains two different kinds of cards that he can combine to perform various MP-consuming magic abilities, such as elemental whip attacks and protective fire that circles him and damages enemies. Nathan also gains experience from killing enemies and can level up occasionally, and can find special items that instantly increase his maximum HP, MP, and Hearts.

Flower power These roses have thorns

   Nathan sometimes gains equipment and items from killing enemies, as well. There is, by the way, no system of currency like in Symphony of the Night, with enemy drops being the only way to obtain equipment and items. Unfortunately, HP-healing items tend to be very difficult to find, which is perhaps the largest flaw in Circle of the Moon's combat system, and that the game is perhaps the most difficult Castlevania to date doesn't help matters (this reviewer actually died *more* against regular enemies than bosses). Occasional slowdown in areas with many enemies and spell projectiles doesn't help, either. At the "Game Over" screen, the game allows players to "Continue" or end the game, although continuing just loads the player's last save file and doesn't preserve his or her progress at the point of death. Overall, the battle system does have some things going for it, but can somewhat lose its appeal when the player is close to death far from save points and is unable to heal.

   The interface, however, is fairly clean, with castle exploration being enjoyable for the most part (as long as the player doesn't lose a lot of progress when far from save points), and character maintenance being minimal at best. Aside from the inconsistent spacing of save points, the game requires the player to use a certain combination of cards first before being able to see what exactly they do, with revealing certain abilities sometimes being difficult without a guide and some skills sometimes being indiscernible throughout the whole game. Otherwise, interaction doesn't leave too much room for improvement.

   Circle of the Moon retains plenty of features from Symphony of the Night to feel like a spiritual successor, such as Heart abilities, leveling, a giant castle to explore, as well as traditional series elements such as the primary use of the whip, although it does have some new features such as the magic card system and a protagonist other than a Belmont (with no references to the family throughout the game at all) to feel unique in its own right.

The original dog from hell Bad Cerberus!

   Story, however, continues to be the series' weakness in Circle of the Moon. While it's nice that the Belmont family is put aside for once, the overall goal of the game involves going through a giant castle to kill Dracula, which has played part in many prior Castlevania games, and features little development, mystery, or sense of excitement. Then again, very few, if any, gamers play the Castlevania franchise for story.

   The music is actually decent for the most part, though, featuring a nice diversity of tracks from different genres that are hardly ever out of place. The quality leaves a little to desire (it is Gameboy Advance music, after all), but the music hardly distracts from the game.

   The visuals are alright as well, with some nice character art and sprites, enemies, environments, and so forth, although they can be somewhat dark at times, and slowdown can occur in areas with endless monsters and spell projectiles, distracting gameplay somewhat. All in all, the graphics aren't bad, although with the occasional slowdown, they can affect gameplay at times.

   Finally, completion time is somewhat short, ranging somewhere from eight to fifteen hours, although there are some things that can boost playing time such as exploring every corner of the castle and an extra mode unlocked after completing the game. Overall, Circle of the Moon is the first Gameboy Advance Castlevania, and it certainly shows. While it does have some things going for it like decent control and music, it has some things going against it like taxing gameplay, a deficit of story, and occasional visual slowdown. Hardcore Castlevania fans may enjoy it, but there are certainly better titles out there, even within the franchise.

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