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SummaryExcellent game, but a bit short and lack challenge.
The GoodCastlevania : Harmony of Dissonance is the 2nd game of the series to have been released on the Game Boy Advance. The 1st, Circle of the Moon, was successful, but the game had bad graphics and very little sprites, and the game felt overall inconsistent. Harmony of Dissonance fixes all that was wrong with Circle of the Moon and go back close to what Symphony of the Night was.
You take the role of Juste Belmont (yeah! is has been a while since a Castlevania actually had a Belmont as the main character), which is the grandson of Simon from the original Castlevania, and Castlevania II - Simon's Quest. Your goal is to rescue your childhood friend Lydie that has been captured in a Castle. As with all modern Castelvania titles, it has RPGs elements where you should upgrade your main character in order to be able to go to new areas and explore the Castle.
The really unique feature to Harmony of Dissonance is to be able to combine your subweapons with spellbooks to make spells. For example if you use ice book with holy water you will be able to use a spell, but if you combine it with axe you will cast another ice spell, and so on. This feature is absolutely amazing, and make it really fun to play the game, as there is a grand total of 6 subweapons x 5 elements = 30 spells to cast ! Note that you also can (should in case of mana shortage) use raw subweapon, without a spell on them. This game also have another unique feature I'm not going to say as it would be a spoiler.
Now people will say this is nothing compared to the 100 DSS possible combinations in Circle of the Moon, but this is not true, as a good half of them had absolutely no effect (the combination was not used), a good part of the combinations which were used were not useful during gameplay. In the end you'd end up using the same half-dozen of DSS all the time and never use the others. Here you can really use all your spells and access to most of them are easy, the only exception being the last element book which allows you to use summons, but is hard to find.
The game has very good graphics for GBA standards, the animation of the main character is very fluid (in contrast with Circle of the Moon). Many transparency effects, etc... Some people will complain about the blue outline around the main character but the game was designed to be played with an original GBA or a GBASP, which had washed out colors. If you play it on a DS, it will look a bit weird but it's not such an issue. Remember that there was huge complains about the dark graphics of Circle of the Moon which were made even darker with the washed out Game Boy screen and made the game playable only in optimal lighting conditions (thanks god it is now playable in all conditions with a DS).
The BadThe only bad point about this game is the lack of challenge. The game is hard at the beginning of the as you start underleveled, but after some point it becomes way easier than other Castlevania games for some reason. Most bosses are a cakewalk, too. A reason for this is probably the spells which are so powerful.
Another not-so-good point is the music. Not that it's bad, but as the title says, it's dissonant (I guess intentionally). In addition to being dissonant, the music in this game is made exclusively of 8-bit style chip tunes. It ended good for a few songs, but most of them are average, and this particular style of music of music might not being to everyone's taste. But at least it uses mostly original compositions (as opposed to Circle of the Moon which used almost exclusively remixes of previous CV games), and it really have an unique style of music. But as the Castlevania series is *really* reputed for its music, they could have come up with something way better, even while limiting them to dissonant chip tunes.
Finally I have some complain that, while the controls are way better than in Circle of the Moon, there is still a problem when you whip while jumping, you can't control your jump anymore (like in the NES games), while when you jump without whipping you can. This has tricked me a few times to jump into enemies.
While the game features dialogues and minimal character development, the storyline is incredibly simple and will not give any emotions to the player, despite the fact Konami tried to develop personalities of their characters.
The final thing I have to say, is not a bad point of the game but just... This game features a "decoration" room where you can gather furniture. I mean WTF ? What is the point ? This is one of the most nonsense I have ever seen in a videogame.
The Bottom LineCastlevania : Harmony of Dissonance is a good game, and fun to play. It fixes all that was wrong in Circle of the Moon, and has definitely aged better (considering it was released only one year later, it feels much smoother), but unfortunately it is also easier and shorter, so don't expect a huge challenge with this game. Eventually, Konami has released their third and final GBA Castlevania : Aria of Sorrow, which will be way better than both, but that's another story.
So I recommend this game if you like Castlevania games of course, but also if you're new to the series and want to play one game that is not too hard for a start. Also the magical spells makes a good reason to play this instead of some other random Castlevania game.