When Koji Igarashi was developing Harmony of Dissonance, it was meant as a clear response to Circle of the Moon, which he was not fond of. This can be seen in the contrasts, such as how he made his project’s style brighter and more colourful instead of dark and realistic, fast-paced than slow-paced, and rather forgiving than punishing. Yet, they share similarities too. Both have you playing as a vampire hunter, bring in a unique magic system, and present a rival to the protagonist. Is this a case of two sides of the same coin or is there more to the next attempt at a metroidvania on the go?
Unlimited powers and no guidance
Set in 1748, it has been 50 years since Simon Belmont ended Dracula’s curse. After this, the family’s lineage has been regarded as heroes throughout. This includes the newest incarnation known as Juste who not only bears the famous whip called Vampire Killer, but also the magical forces of the Belnades. One day, his companion, Maxim Kischine, returns after two years in training with his body covered in wounds and memories gone.
The only thing he recalls is that their childhood friend, Lydie Erlanger, got kidnapped and where it happened. Upon returning to this place together, they stumble upon an undocumented palace. Could this be the home of the count? This is very likely the case, and despite that the story is yet again not a focus, there is a sweet comradery between Maxim and Juste that does get tested due to an inner demon of sorts. Both come with decent personalities and some progressive development, but this is a mere extra to the straightforward plot of ending Dracula’s reign of chaos.
Harmony of Dissonance is another metroidvania where you will explore a familiar mansion. However, the protagonist of this tale is quite the nimble one! Looking at his combat capabilities first, he can use the classic whip to attack enemies in a horizontal manner and twirl it around with the D-pad when B is held down. The latter is well used again for dealing chip damage or creating a defence against projectiles while the former causes more harm, making both practical.
When it comes to his other powers, he can initially jump and more importantly; dash left and right on the ground with the L and R triggers. This new strength is not just a terrific way for getting through the rooms quickly, but is also a fantastic dodging mechanic since you can move fast back and forward when fighting foes. Yet, you have more up your sleeves than your lash and speedy feet. The sub-weapons return, with axes to throw in an arc, swift knives, boomerangs that can do continuous damage when aimed accurately, holy water that creates fire on the floor, and holy books which circle all over the screen.
All of them are familiar to any fans of the series, with the only new one being the sacred fist that can generate multiple punches. Like before, they need to be found within destroyed candles and you can only hold one at a time, with hearts from fallen adversaries or annihilated lights functioning as ammunition for them. These extra tools are nicely balanced through how much harm they can cause and the number of resources they require to be utilized. Although, you might find yourself never using them in the traditional way due to this entry’s magic system.
Throughout the castle, you might come across elemental books which you can use combined with one of the sub-weapons to cast magical attacks that cost mana. Some examples of what you can create are holy rain for striking anything in sight and a piece of floating ice which follows you while shooting at opponents until it is just a flake. There is a large assortment of spells to try out and you can easily change between the reading materials for diverse effects.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to experiment once you discover a combination that you enjoy, which I would not be surprised if became the mixture of cross and wind. Luckily, the more powerful books are sufficiently hidden, so you must find them by actually searching around. Speaking of, the exploration has gotten an interesting change too. We are thankfully back to multiple items being scattered around, including more upgrades to find in the form of abilities, relics, equipment, as well as extensions to your HP, MP and heart counter.
Gaining abilities will help you with traversal, like double hopping or sliding, while relics provide passive strengths such as letting you see how much damage you deal to individual fiends. When it comes to the equipment, you have one slot for wearing something over your torso, three for smaller garments, and can put on one component on your whip, all affecting your stats and coming in a huge variety.
Juste is thus incredibly versatile, but also overpowered from the start, despite the great assortment of monsters to take down. Floating blobs of curses, lizards charging at you, and skeletons throwing bones, are just a few of the enemies you will encounter. Yet, you will always be able to eliminate them effortlessly, particularly since you will level up from this too. There is even a shop should you be struggling to locate armour, be in the need of antidotes for different status illnesses or wish for more potions to regain HP or MP.
Foes can also drop supportive items, so you will have all the aid you need in one area just from this. Sadly, it is not just your might that is an issue. You have plenty of options on where to go within this ginormous chateau, with only some areas being inaccessible due to requiring an ability or a key. The amount of freedom to explore wherever you want to does sound lovely, but it can become overwhelming to figure out where you should be heading with no subtle hints. Furthermore, while you are always rewarded for your curiosity, the adversaries are structured to be diverse but not to create a good difficulty curve because of this liberty. However, instead of them being tough, all are extremely weak.
The bosses especially are a testament to this. At best some can deal high damage with unique setups, but because of their clear patterns, they are simple to take down. Only one gave me a slightly hard time because I forgot to enter the save room right nearby for regaining health, which should speak volumes. In fact, these sanctuaries are all over the place and with the quick save also being an option, this adventure is truly forgiving. You even get to be healed after these battles, which is nice, but unnecessary.
What will give you a challenge though, is investigating Dragula’s home. Not just because of the abundance of areas to go through, but because you will early on discover that there are two castles to venture through. This, combined with only a couple of warp rooms that either transfer you within the same palace or to the other version, makes it all a bewildering mess. Even the memorable rooms do not help due to the severe case of deja vu between the two dimensions. Being able to write notes on the map screen would have severely helped to negate this issue, specifically for the long treasure hunt towards the end.
Luckily, I never found the journey unfair or dull, just easy and confusing. It is still fun fighting enemies due to how diverse they are and scouring this massive playground is intriguing, with dashing making you move fast from one place to another. The Advance Collection also lets you see which zone holds hidden trinkets, so there is some leniency there. Clocking in about seven hours, including the parts I got stuck, I had a solid time venturing through this old chateau as probably the strongest Belmont ever.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Bewitching castle with a cursed score
This is a gorgeous mansion filled with locations that are both abstract and gothic. Be it the tower with spinning gears, the entrance hall filled with books or the bizarre undergrounds that are something out of a psychedelic drug, all are amazing to look at and make this establishment both alive and magical. The multilayered backgrounds also provide a sense of depth and subtle details, like a ginormous skeleton fish out of nowhere.
Even the alternative world is cleverly designed by being a contrast to the regular one without losing any colour, such as having set pieces destroyed or holding different monsters. Speaking of, the mythological creatures add to the atmosphere by being diverse and mesmerising. Witches, enormous plants, possessed armours, and huge minotaurs to only name a few, offer plenty of reasons to keep you entranced. Especially the bosses are a treat, with a favourite of mine being the one made out of human bodies known as Legion. All fit the style of Castlevania and are wonderfully grotesque when possible.
It should also be noted that everyone’s animations are just as impressive, with Juste being the highlight with his strange magical aura and breathtaking spells. Even the ways the fiends vanish are remarkable, such as turning into a pool of liquid or becoming evaporated. Lastly, visual effects like fog and illusions are outstanding, with each character’s portrait being stunning. It is easy to tell that the artists behind Symphony of the Night joined in on this project.
Continuing onwards to the sound effects; they are overall great too. Swinging your whip is satisfying, the rain pouring down is harsh, and the enemies’ screams are terrifying. Unfortunately, the music is horrible. Initially, one could argue that this has to do with it being reminiscent of a GB’s audio chip and not what the GBA could do. However, this series has had fantastic tracks before, including on the grey brick that rivals scores on modern consoles.
Frankly, the problem here lies in the performances. Each of them is a scrambled mess with no clear tones, good basses or supportive instruments. Instead, each note is as loud as the main ones, to the point that even the captivating Vampire Killer could not be saved from this terrible fate. Yet, despite this being dreadful to listen to, the actual compositions are fine with decent rhythms and buildups. It does not save these melodies from being awful and overly reused, but it makes me wonder what happened in an otherwise glorious package.
Presentation Score: 8/10
A familiar sight
Multiple endings are present and affected by obvious aspects, so getting the best one is not a hassle to acquire, though the lesser ones are still entertaining in their own right. Furthermore, by seeing the credits, you unlock various modes for tackling the campaign; hard difficulty, magicless, and playing as Maxim. All are worth your time by either giving an adequate challenge or offering a unique playstyle. Regrettably, there are a couple of options that are lacklustre.
Boss rush is bland due to the opponent’s nonchalant patterns and getting the opportunity to listen to the soundtrack on its own is a tough sell. Outside of this, the encyclopedia provides amusing reads, checking collectables can be neat, and then there is a strange room you can decorate automatically by finding furniture around. These are bare inclusions, but there is enough here to make revisits valid in general.
Extra Score: 7/10
Harmony of Dissonance is definitely better in its design compared to Circle of the Moon, though it does falter by being an overcorrection of it. Combat is easy and the exploration can become overwhelming, but you are always rewarded for your curiosity and the game is fast-paced to make fights engaging. Alongside solid replay value and a fun magic system, not to mention vibrant visuals to take in, you are in for a good journey. Just have a pen and paper on hold, as well as something else to listen to.