In 1830, a woman named Camilla holds a ceremony to resurrect Dracula. A trio of vampire hunters, the aging Morris Baldwin, his son and apprentice Hugh, and Hugh's fellow apprentice and rival Nathan Graves, go to her castle to stop her, but arrive too late. The reborn Dracula overcomes them all, captures Morris, and casts Hugh and Nathan into the catacombs. Lost within the castle and abandoned by Hugh, Nathan must find his way to Dracula's chamber to defeat him and save his captive master.Arguably the game that introduced the new-schoolCastlevania to the states- while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had been released four years earlier, it was at this point an obscure title that Konami had not supported heavily upon release. Likewise, the more recent Nintendo 64 games had been critically panned.Gameplay consists of exploring the castle in search of artifacts that will allow Nathan to overcome obstacles and push deeper inside, with the ultimate goal of confronting Dracula. Exploration and combat with enemies also yields items that will make Nathan more powerful. The most valuable are a series of tarot-like cards which allow the casting of spells. Although the plot is threadbare and predictable, it is played up for all it's worth, with major bosses that would just otherwise just be random monsters given purpose, if not exactly character.The game caught some flak upon release for allegedly having graphics so dark and poorly-defined that it was nearly impossible to see what was going on on the screen. In fact, this was the fault of the non-backlit Game Boy Advance, for which Circle of the Moon was a launch title. Later improvements of the hardware have dispelled these criticisms, but it explains the uncharacteristically bright and colorful graphics in the later Harmony of Dissonance. Those critics who could play the game, however, had generally positive things to say.
Awesome but Impractical: The Mars + Black Dog combo gives you a gun. Range and damage go through the roof, but it takes forever to fire (and put away) and you need to be on the ground to use it note Try it- you can jump off the highest drop in the game and pull out said gun at the top, and it won't fire until you hit the floor. Perhaps Nathan is not confident with firearms?)
Also, the first Revolver would be invented six years later then the setting of the game, and is likely a single-shot Flintlock pistol.
Special mention goes to the DSS combo of Venus and Griffon, which increases intelligence by 25% while it's in use. The problem? It drains magic at the rate of 4 per second, and you recover mana each second equal to (intelligence / 100). This means that with 400 INT after using it, it would exactly negate your mana regen. In order to use it effectively, you need at least 800 INT with it activated (which you'll almost never have on a standard playthrough, because at that point, you're well into level 50, at least before items are factored in). Although, in one NewGamePlus mode, it becomes something of a GameBreaker.
Not quite; to have 800 INT with the combo active, your base INT would have to be 640. That means you're regaining 6 mana per second without the combo active, as opposed to only 4 per second with the combo active (8 per second, minus 4 per second from the combo itself). It won't actually pay for itself until your base INT is at least 1600; even in the NewGamePlus mode in question, you won't achieve that much INT (without items) until level 31, at which point you could quite feasibly have already beaten the game.
Back That Light Up: Basically, playing this on the original GBA is not recommended. Fortunately, just about any other system that plays GBA, from the SP (even the older frontlit SP is an improvement) to the DS Lite, solves this problem.
Isn't that great nothing, it actually subverts it because the growths for the Warrior is ALSO exponential. Whereas before where the Wizard more or less could care less about MP (in the high 50s-60s, you need not even care that you have a bar at all), the warrior does the opposite where most hits quickly become 1 HP worth of damage. This is so bad that by the time you get to the end of the game, you could TANK Dracula's insane charge multiple times. Considering the sheer defense and HP that you get, the only thing holding you back is the fact that you only have a subweapon and a whip.
Guide Dang It: Some of the magic cards and secrets. Perhaps most egregiously, the Pluto & Uranus cards requires you return to a certain boss room at a much later point in game- when you would have no logical reason to- and defeat a mook that appears to be part of the scenery. And then hope said mook actually drops the card before it melts away. The Unicorn and Black Dog cards are rare drops from enemies far into the Arena—an area with abnormally pumped-up enemies whose later rooms you can only get to after completing those before them.
That is before saying that some DSS combinations have effects which don't show up immediately: The simpler DSS combos instantly add elements to your whip or increase your stats, but some other combos only show their uses after you get hit. Worse, some, especially the uber-useful summoning, requires a relatively complex button input, and the game absolutely doesn't tell you all these until you figure them out.
Infinity+1 Sword: Some DSS cards (Unicorn and Black Dog come to mind) and the Shinning Armor you find at the end of the arena.
Joke Item: The Uranus+Black Dog combo summons the Black Dog, who deals four damage to everything on screen and heals you for four hit points. It would be mana cost-prohibitive against the very first monsters, but both cards are found near the end of the game in obscure locations.
Lethal Joke Item: The Pluto + Black Dog combo turns you into a skeleton that dies in one hit, but its attack can do the most damage in the game, emphasis on can.
Apparently, the chance increases based on having higher strength. Even so, you'll find a big bone shows up every 4-6 attacks on average. Combined with the GoodBadBug entry above, you can defeat bosses very quickly in some cases.
Level Scaling: As the player progress through the game, enemies are replaced by more powerful enemies to keep up with them.
Little Hero, Big War: Nathan is completely unrelated to the Belmont clan or anybody they've ever encountered or intermarried with, and it bears repeating, he does not wield the Vampire Killer. But that doesn't stop him from doing what he can to help keep Drac sealed away.
Lost Forever: One of Nathan's DSS Spells can summon a long-lasting storm of rapid homing projectiles, but only if you never got a subweapon during the game (you can't take them off).
With careful positioning, it's actually very easy to farm the medalist for his ring. Typically, you want to run left, hop, then use the Roc Wing to enter the second secret room, then do a double jump as you're falling to land on the raised platform. Because you started running, you'll still have that momentum the second you land, meaning you can land one or two hits on him before he suicides into a wall.
Musical Nod: The title screen and main menu reuse the main menu theme from Rondo of Blood, even including the sound of a door opening when the player presses Start.
New Game+: Every time you beat the game, you get a new mode that has a set of bonuses. Beating that gets you another, and so on, until you get Thief Mode.
The modes include:
Vampire Killer - The standard playthrough
Magician - You start with all the DSS cards, but have poor physical stats
Fighter - You have amazing stats, but can never get a single DSS card
Shooter - Subweapons cost half the hearts, plus you can get a homing dagger, and subweapon damage is equivelant to "Fighter" stats.
Thief - You get insanely high luck in a game where power is more or less influenced by item drops
Nintendo Hard: Unlike Symphony, Harmony, and Aria, this game is far harder and has less forgiving control physics. (You can still steer your jumps, but don't expect to be pulling Mario-esque acrobatics and mid-air dodging.
Spread out save points, lack of an item shop, no After Boss Recovery that's been there in practically every other game in the series and excess of low-contrast projectiles on dark backgrounds really ups the difficulty. The game itself is also pretty hard even with lighting.
Quicksand Box: Well this is a general trope with Metroidvania games; you pretty much need a guide or to religiously check the map or else you'll get lost. It's probably most prevalent in this game because you don't get much of a hint on where to go; only a couple times do you get a boss giving you a goal.
Random Drop: The items and the DSS Cards, the latter of which is the mutant lovechild of this and Guide Dang It. In Magician mode, at least, you start with all the cards.
Rare Random Drop: Thanks to the absurdly low drop rates of items, some of which only drop from one enemy at a rate of <1%. Thief mode helps by starting you out with 1400 luck (and jacking it up close to max pretty quick), but considering that takes three playthroughs to get...
Respawning Enemies: As with other metroidvanias in the series, enemies respawn when entering a room. Some respawn even within a room by arriving from outside a room.
Sequential Boss: Averted in that while Dracula has two forms the second is in a different room and you are free to go save and heal before you follow him there, unlike most games in the series.
Sequence Breaking: You can skip the fights with Death and the Zombie Dragons. Once you kill Adramelech, you can access the Underground Waterway, although the water is poisonous until you get an item from Death. If you know the path through it and some good reflexes (or abuse the Uranis + Unicorn combo), you can make it through to the save point before Camilla relatively unharmed.
Shout-Out: A very well hidden easter egg gives a shoutout to an obscure N64 fighter called Rakuga Kids. In a secret room hidden within a secret room, itself pretty difficult to find, there is a unique enemy, who will immediately run away from you before you can fight it. Figure out how to catch and kill it, and ,if you're very lucky, it will drop a Bear Ring. This item has no ostensible purpose other than lowering all of your stats by 100 when equipped. However, if you equip the ring and then use the Pluto+Black Dog combo that normally turns you in the aforementioned skeleton (and getting either of those cards is a Guide Dang It in itself), you instead will turn you into a strange green bear with a cannon on its head and its ass that shoots bear-shaped rockets out of the cannons and can drop bombs. It is a lot more agile than the skeleton, and can Double Jump, but still dies in 1 hit. The bear, called Beartank, was one of the fighters in Rakuga Kids.
Unique Enemy: The Devil is found in one room in the game. And thank Christ for that!
Wake Up Call Boss: Cerberus makes up for its weak appearance in Symphony by setting the standards of high difficulty for the bosses of this game. It is huge, the player can't be careless about its powerful attacks and only by bringing the right subweapon can the player expect to do good, constant damage.