Preview: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance)
  Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Konami's macabre series makes its second outing on the Game Boy Advance with Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, whose expressive 2-D art and sweeping quest look to extend the franchise's rich, omni-platform legacy.

Konami's next action-RPG romp beckons.

More detailed pixel artistry highly reminiscent in quality of Symphony of the Night.

I can't bear to watch...

Juste knew he left his car keys somewhere in the castle.

Juste works up a cantrip whilst fiery slopes highlight a crimson skyline.

The entrance hall provides a colorful relief as things heat up for our hero.

Slipping from the swinging pendulums results in a major HP gouge.

Making short work of another skeleton creature with the help of a little magic.

Platform: Game Boy Advance
Rated Teen (13+): Animated blood; mild violence

   You have to love Konami for keeping with tradition. In a time when the mainstream is flooded with game worlds rendered in articulate, palpable, glorious 3-D, the venerable Castlevania series has not strayed far from its hand-drawn, 2-D origins. Though its creators did overreach with a few technological experiments gone awry--Frankenstein's Creature himself would run screaming after experiencing Castlevania's polygonal Nintendo 64 iterations--Konami's long-running series has basked in the success of its illustrious, bloodcurdling pedigree at every opportunity and on just about every platform imaginable since 1986.

   Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance's story really begins in 1997. In that year, Konami released a new game in celebration of the series' 11th birthday. Stepped in the mythology of every Castlevania that preceded it, Symphony of the Night courted long-time fans and agnostics alike into undertaking a new kind of quest into the black heart of Transylvania. Whereas most Castlevania games had felt more like reincarnations whose developers preferred not to tamper drastically with a tried-and-true gameplay schema (notwithstanding the ephemeral Simon's Quest of NES fame), Symphony of the Night presented a daring non-linear level progression with renewed focus on exploration, a tragically conflicted protagonist in Alucard, himself a product of human-vampire miscegenation, and an added number of RPG hallmarks including experience-point driven character development and a farrago of equipable weapons, armor and items. The game also demonstrated a rising concern with narrative, featuring its own dramatis personae of sorts, including the aforementioned hero, Richter Belmont, Maria Renard, the Grim Reaper (Death) and the infamous Count Dracula himself. With its laughably overwrought voice acting and relatively lax challenge, the game wasn't perfect on paper, but in practice it was a bona fide tour de force--a work of rare quality with a fun factor that most productions only aspire to. It was greater than the sum of its parts and marked a new direction for Castlevania's eventual future.

   Last year's Circle of the Moon marked the birth of Symphony's first spiritual successor, and now Harmony of Dissonance is poised to capitalize on the successes and oversights of both games inasmuch as the powerful, albeit memory-limited Game Boy Advance allows. The story is set in 1740 between the expeditions of famed Belmont vampire hunters Simon and Richter. It stars Juste Belmont, a descendant of the magician Sypha Belnades, who was a playable character in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.. Juste's objective is to enter Castlevania and rescue his friends Liddy Erlanger and Maxim Quicin, and producer Koji Igarashi has indicated that this is the first time series arch villain Dracula is not tied to the gothic chicanery at foot.

   In visual and gameplay aspects, Harmony of Dissonance is already boasting significant improvements over Circle of the Moon. The game features colorful pixel art in many cases on par with the luscious, hand-drawn mosaics of the PSX's Symphony of the Night. The screen display is much brighter than Circle of the Moon's, and character animations are more fluid and articulated. Some of the game's more impressive foes exhibit numerous joint movements, and at times Juste glides across the screen with a cool shadow effect reminiscent of Alucard's travels. The whip-wielding Juste can also fling his weapon in any direction manually after the initial lash, much like his kinsman Simon could do in Super Castlevania IV. The ability to equip various weaponry, armor and miscellaneous items/accessories to improve stats is implemented once again. The game also features a quicksave feature and a larger map than its GBA predecessor.

   For the game's magic system, Juste can combine one of five spellcasting books with traditional undead-vanquishing devices such as the ax, holy water, cross, gem, thunder gauntlet, and bible to bolster attacking power or produce a number of devastating special assaults. In another throwback to Symphony of the Night, it is also necessary for Juste to locate relics that he will need to unlock specific areas of the castle. To acquire the most important relics it is often required that the player defeat the major boss of a given area. The accumulation of money is also reintroduced, and there will be a place where equipment and special items can be purchased.

   Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is set for a June 19, 2002 release in Japan. In less than a month our Japanese friends will know whether the action RPG brings Castlevania to new bat-infested heights or just plays second fiddle to 1997's Symphony.

by Michael Henninger

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