Castlevania: Circle of the Moon impressions

[03.27.01] » Find out about the Game Boy Advance title's experience and skill systems.

   Nintendo's Game Boy Advance has debuted in Japan with an impressive array of launch titles in tow. Intrepid GIA reader Chris Kohler got his hands on a GBA and one of the most popular launch titles, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, and now brings you his full impressions of the game:

   After the ground-breaking Symphony of the Night, the Castlevania series as a whole had begun to decline, with not one but two versions of the disappointing Castlevania 64, and a cancelled Dreamcast incarnation. There did, however, appear one ray of hope a Game Boy Advance launch title called Circle of the Moon, which seemed to be similar to the exploration-based, RPG-tinged Symphony. Of course, there was the one caveat: to call Konami's previous portable Castlevania titles "mediocre" would be a kindness. So would KCE Kobe be able to avoid the pitfalls of the past and craft a portable Dracula worth playing? Fortunately, yes.

   Circle of the Moon opens with a quick scene of Dracula being revived once again, this time by the witch Camilla. No sooner is he revived than three vampire hunters, Maurice Baldwin and his two young proteges Hugh Baldwin and Nathan Graves, arrive on the scene. Dracula splits the three of them up and Nathan, alone, begins his trek through Castlevania.

   Nathan has at his disposal the usual array of vampire killing moves, from his trusty whip to the traditional expendable weapons: holy water, cross, axe, dagger, and stopwatch. Furthermore, most of Symphony's RPG trappings are intact. Nathan has numerical HP, MP, and EXP, and gains levels by defeating monsters. Gaining levels raises these values, as well as statistical values for strength, defense, intelligence, and luck. Stats can also be raised by equipping items and armor (there are slots for Body, Right Arm, and Left Arm). Monsters will drop armor and also useable items, like cure and heal potions.

   Like Alucard in Symphony, Nathan will find special items that increase his array of acrobatic moves; he can jump higher, run faster, etc. Nathan lacks Alucard's magic spells and animal transformations; his gimmick is the DSS, or Dual Setup System. Monsters will occasionally drop cards in two different categories: Action and Attribute. By selecting different combinations of cards in each category, different powers result, from elemental-attribute whips to stat increases. Since the dropping of cards is somewhat random, this system encourages re-exploring the sprawling castle to find rare and helpful cards.

   As in Symphony you can move about the entire castle freely. Things generally progress in a linear manner, but you can find yourself in areas where you were not meant to be from time to time. Thus, to progress in COTM requires a familiarity with the entire castle; and if you're ever "stuck" you know you have many options, from simply raising a few levels to seeking out some potentially helpful hidden treasures in the areas where the helpful auto-map shows you have not yet been.

   I was not disappointed by COTM's graphics but neither was I especially impressed. It generally looks like a smaller version of Symphony in that the style is the same, but the attention to detail isn't there. For example, in contrast to the small yet impressively animated Alucard, Nathan only has three frames of walking animation. But it's easy to forgive this since this level of detail has never been seen on a portable system before. Neither, for that matter, has such music. The title screen's simple graphics take a backseat to the musical opening, a haunting female voice singing "Kyrie Eleison." Most other music is typical Castlevania fare, which is to say "excellent." And yes, for all you music buffs, "Vampire Killer" is the BGM for one section of the castle, but I'll leave it up to you to figure out where.

   You might think that Konami, producing a whopping seven GBA launch games, might have spread themselves too thin. But, lukewarm Famitsu reviews be damned, they've got a real winner on their hands with COTM.

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Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
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