"After playing the disappointing Castlevania Double Pack, the "Castlevania" name now brings back memories of emasculated bishounen dunderheads, forgettable filler music, long empty hallways, and tiresome backtracking. Quite frankly, this cartridge makes me sad."
Castlevania -- the name conjures images of whip-swinging action, endless enemies, blue-skinned countesses, pirate ships floating in moonlit bays, burning villages, and a diabolical vampire who's been resurrected more times than Spider-Man's elderly Aunt May. Castlevania -- the name is synonymous with excitement!
At least, it used to be.
After playing the disappointing Castlevania Double Pack, the "Castlevania" name now brings back memories of emasculated bishounen dunderheads, forgettable filler music, long empty hallways, and tiresome backtracking. Quite frankly, this cartridge makes me sad. Instead of providing a double shot of Transylvanian tequila, both games -- Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow -- leave me thirsting for the past. Neither game satisfies on its own and, since each highlights the other's weaknesses, they're even worse when mixed.
Harmony of Dissonance starts off slowly. Aria of Sorrow seems exciting at first, but runs out of gas halfway through. Harmony is too empty. Aria is too short. Harmony's music is under-produced. Aria's colors are too dark, especially if you're playing on an actual Gameboy Advance. And, if you've experienced Symphony of the Night, they both feel uninspired.
"Aaaargh! Death has returned!"
...for the record, those are Juste Belmont's words, not mine.
As in SOTN, the hero in Harmony of Dissonance is taunted several times by the specter of Death. In this case, Death is searching for Juste's damsel in distress -- a girl named Lydie. You're probably guessing that Juste fights Death at some point. You're right. Although it's a repeat Castlevania encounter, the battle was interesting; Death had some surprising new abilities that I didn't expect.
Unfortunately, the hero himself does not have any surprising new abilities. Throughout the entire game, Juste Belmont's only weapon is the trusty whip, and his (few) other abilities -- such as the rocket jump -- are lifted straight from the legendary SOTN. Compared to SOTN's array of unique weapons or Circle of the Moon's card-based skill system, Juste is underpowered.
But I'll be fair -- I wouldn't dare attack the original Castlevania or Dracula X for only including a whip. I'll also be honest -- those two games more than compensated with actual action. Harmony is too laid-back. Like NES Metroid, it's an "exploratory" game. Unlike NES Metroid, a lot of Harmony's spacious rooms are loosely populated or completely devoid of enemies. Running through long empty hallways does not excite me. Backtracking through those same empty hallways excites me even less. My greatest fear while playing -- my motivation for locating the Save Rooms strewn throughout Dracula's Castle -- was that the GBA's batteries would die.
KONAMI, WHAT HAPPENED?
Adding to the travesty, Harmony's music is technically and aesthetically inferior to past adventures. On the plus side, Harmony does showcase some nice stylish graphics, such as the disturbingly detailed "Scarecrow" enemy... which is a naked man impaled on a bloody spear, bouncing around the screen on his macabre pogo stick.
The Double Pack's other title, Aria of Sorrow, doesn't have such cool visual moments. Compared to its older brother, Aria's scenery is drab and its enemies creatively uninspired. The best you'll see is a full moon hovering overhead, which is nothing compared to Harmony's roiling thunderclouds in the Sky Walkway.
Aria does feature lots of enemies and tons of new abilities. Whereas Harmony's rooms might contain three or four easily-slaughtered skeletons, many of Aria's overly-dark environments are populated by re-spawning ghosts or skeletons. New hero Soma Cruz (who looks even more girly than Juste) wields DOZENS of ways to obliterate his uninspired opposition. Soma gains these powers by STEALING MONSTERS' SOULS and MAKING THEM HIS SLAVES.
Unfortunately, there's still too much back-tracking. Revisiting visually uninspired, poorly designed areas -- even if those areas are heavily populated -- isn't fun. Furthermore, even though you'll meet a lot of enemies, they're not particularly challenging. Dracula's minions move in basic, easily-slaughtered patterns... instead of offering any real resistance, they're just going through the motions. The game is difficult because creatures take off 40 points of health, not because of any actual intelligence of design.
That's what the Double Pack lacks: intelligence. Intelligence and creativity. Both games assume that players want mindless, repetitive treks through stale variants of Dracula's castle. WRONG! I want stimulation. The Double Pack lacks the creative spark of genius that fueled Castlevania, Dracula X, Bloodlines, and Symphony of the Night.
However, the problem with the Castlevania Double Pack is NOT that it abandons the "classic" formula. Nor is it a problem that the Double Pack tries (and fails) to imitate a great game like SOTN. The problem is that Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow both come across as half-assed efforts, especially when compared to each other.
Still, I have to admit that Double Pack producer IGA has balls. With Harmony of Dissonance, he tried to replicate Symphony of the Night's perfection... and he tried to do it on a much weaker system. After failing miserably, IGA had the balls to go out there and try again! If IGA led a band, I bet he'd release a hard rock cover of "Imagine". Then he'd follow it up with a jazzy rendition of "Enter Sandman". I'm sure some people would praise him as a visionary.
Staff review by Zigfried (July 04, 2006)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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