Castlevania: Concerto of Midnight Sun, First Impressions
On June 6, 2002 Konami released the latest installment of the famed Castlevania series, dubbed Castlevania: Concerto of Midnight Sun (Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance in the US) for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance system. This time around you play as Jeste Belmont, Simon Belmont's successor 50 years after the original Castlevania game.
The first thing that one notices about Castlevania CoMS is that Jeste Belmont looks significantly like Alucard from the Playstation's Castlevania Symphony of the Night. I can’t help but think this is intentional; ComS marks the return of the original SotN team to the Castlevania series since SotN's. Jeste and Alucard's similarity reaches all the way to the onion-skinning-style shadowing effect used on the player. Unfortunately the effect isn't nearly as impressive on the Game Boy Advanced as it is on the Playstation.
Despite the mediocre shadowing effect, the game excels graphically. Within the first two minutes the player is introduced to several of the high quality effects used throughout the game. While running through the mansion there are scenes where at least four layers of background can be seen. The effect is not limited to parallax scrolling either; there are unreachable enemies running amok behind windows, moving fog and strange pattern effects to add mood. In another room a giant suit of armor made of several scaling tiles lurches toward Jeste like a possessed Halloween skeleton poster. The graphics, as a whole, are (thankfully) brighter, and thus easier to see on the GBA, than 2001’s Circle of the Moon.
Another one of Castlevania CoMS's impressive features is its attention to detail. Some features, like the large number of ways in which enemies die, are only partially present, while others are entirely lacking from the series' first GBA title. My personal favorite effect has to be the wide variety of ways the candle holders strewn throughout the mansion collapse into a pile of trash when you destroy them.
Musically CoMS strays away from CotM's dark slow feel into more traditional Castlevania fare. Compositions are faster and more melodramatic.
Finally, CoMS's gameplay stays true to the most recent editions of the series, a combination of NES-era platforming with a healthy dose of Metroid-style adventuring. CoMS features an RPG-influenced experience point system like the rest of the recent Castlevanias. In the couple of hours I’ve spent with the game, the differences in magic system from the other Castlevanias became apparent. This time the player combines magic books with the standard Castlevania subweapons (knife, holywater...) to create magical effects like the flaming knife. Although the current system seems slightly harder to experiment with compared to CotM's system, it doesn't at all feel cumbersome.
With the new system come new commands. Gone is the magical effect on/off button, instead replaced with a down+L+R motion. In its place, the L/R buttons function as a dash, each representing a different direction. CoMS button arrangement reflects a more natural setup than its predacessor CotM.
The last additions to gameplay come in the form of new collectables. Aside from the weapons and armor found throughout the castle, CoMS features relics (which give Jeste Castlevania abilities like double jump), magic books which are combined with subweapons for magic effects (as described above), another subset of magic books which unlock certain features of the game such as the ability to view an enemies name and damage received (each has an on/off switch so that the player can use only the features he/she wants), and finally a special "secrets" sub-screen. The secrets sub-screen features an encyclopedia of all of the enemies encountered so far (as well as useful information like their stats, weaknesses, and what items they drop) and a catalogue of, well, furniture.
Throughout Dracula's mansion are various pieces of furniture to be placed inside the mansions special furniture room. As of two hours into the game it is not apparent what collecting furniture does; however I imagine it has something to do with unlocking secrets. If so, the feature adds even more replayability to a series known for its replay value.
From the first two hours of game play, it is already
apparent that the Castlevania: Concerto of Midnight Sun is leaps ahead
of its GBA predecessor. However, it is still limited to the abilities
of the GBA platform, so, if there are places where the game lacks, those
would be in some of it's graphical effects (in comparison to a Playstation
mind you) and it's length. However, fans of the series, fans of Circle
of the Moon and those fans who loved Symphony of the Night and deplored
Circle of the Moon...well, everyone should play this game. Castlevania:
Concerto of Midnight Sun is do out for American release under the title
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance this September from Konami Computer
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