His master captured, his friend turned against him, and worst of all, a dark ceremony to power up Dracula looms in the horizon.
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.
Circle of the Moon provides examples of:
Animated Armor: Thirteen varieties; the Castlevania standby Axe armor, one armor for each of the ten elements, and two bonus armors (basically buffed versions of the Holy and Dark elemental armors) in the arena.
Armor of Invincibility: There's two, the first being the "Shinning Armor" which boosts all your stats in addition to its outstanding defense. Its counterpart, the Dark Armor, boosts defense even more, but actually cuts the rest of your stats (it's also simpler to acquire, being an item drop, albeit one from a somewhat rare enemy).
Artifact Title: The game takes place in Camilla's castle, making the game (along with Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow) one of the few Castlevania titles to not include the eponymous Castlevania / Demon Castle Dracula.
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.
There's a secret item crush triggered when you have at least 100 Hearts and no subweapon equipped. Since you can only swap but not completely drop subweapons after you've picked one up, you'd only be able to use this by intentionally avoiding picking subweapons up until you've attained a 100+ Heart maximum and the DSS cards necessary to use the item crush command (unless you use the "use any DSS combo" glitch). The requirements mean that indeed, you'd want to try this out maybe once at the most.
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 640 base 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).
Even then, it won't actually pay for itself until your base INT is at least 1600; even in the Magician mode, 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.
Early Game Hell: At the beginning of the Thief mode, enemies can kill you in about 2 or 3 hits and your attacks are incredibly weak, but as your luck goes up you can easily collect equipable items that more than make up for your reduced stats and max out your healing items. By the end of the game, even the Battle Arena can be easiest to beat in this mode.
Fixed Damage Attack: The Diana card gives your whip projectiles, but the strength of their attack is uneffected by leveling up. meaning at first, they are one hit kills for early enemies and the first boss, but by the end of the game, your normal whip attack will inflict more damage then most of them, although they are still very useful.
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.
Harping On About Harpies: Harpies appears as flying enemies that sometimes shoot their feather all over the place, and they are also used later as palette swaps to display succubi and fallen angels.
Item Caddy: In Thief mode, you gain an incredibly high Luck Stat and not much else, so you will be buried in stockpiled items from fallen enemies, which you'll spam constantly in order to survive.
Item Farming: Required if you want certain spells or being up-to-date on your equipment. Thief mode makes this much easier.
James Bondage: As Nathan finally reaches Dracula, Morris stands tied to a pole in the background.
Jerk Ass: Hugh appears frequently troughout the castle, giving Nathan hard time.
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.
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).
Mana Shield: The Neptune card combinations heal you if you are hit with an element that it is guarding you against. However, in the regular mode the amount of restored health is very small, turning the combinations into this trope.
Mercy Invincibility: One of the DSS combinations (Jupiter+Golem) actually interacts with this mechanic, making the invincibility last four times longer.
Mirror Boss: Hugh Baldwin wields a sword instead of a whip, but he uses your subweapons as well. He also has a variety of special sword techniques which are roughly similar to the DSS enhancements used by Nathan.
Multi-Mook Melee: The Battle Arena, a multiple-room area where you are drained of your MP and thus not allowed to use DSS cards. There are several floors of monsters to fight through, but between floors there's a one-way path to leave the area prematurely
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.
Mythology Upgrade: Mesopotamian sun god Adramelech appears as a giant, eyeball controlling, ooze gagging goat thing that is locked into a giant pillory.
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.
Pimped-Out Dress: Camilla wears a pink and red dress with frills trimming the sleeves and neckline, and the skirt made of flowing fabric, that is bunched up in the back that makes it look like a Giant Waist Ribbon.
Power Up Letdown: The Dagger is yet again the weak starter weapon that just gets in the way of progress. Averted once you unlock the Shooter mode, you can make daggers home in on enemies, which can actually be pretty handy. The Shooter also does more damage with daggers than the other job classes (but they still aren't as powerful as your whip).
Quicksand Box: 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...
Recycled Title: The game was released in Europe simply as Castlevania.
Regenerating Health: One of the spells allows you to heal gradually, but you have to stand still for it to work.
Regenerating Mana: Your mana replenishes over time, its rate depending on your Intelligence.
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.
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.
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.
A very well hidden easter egg gives a shoutout to an obscure Nintendo 64 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.
Hugh's rant on Nathan's winning all the time not because of his own skill, but because of the whip he has calls back to a similar rant to the protagonist in Mobile Suit Gundam.
Slide Attack: The one special move that you have from the get-go. If your strenght is high enough, you can plow through enemies that you'd be able to oneshot anyway. Trying the same on stronger enemies does hurt them, but you will receive Collision Damage.
Space-Filling Path: In any room that is more than one screen wide or tall, it is virtually guaranteed that you'll move through every possible screen to get from one corner to the other.
Spell Whip: The Mercury DSS card imbues your whip with the element of whichever card it's paired with, causing it to deal elemental damage and changing its attack range.
Spider People: Arachnes make their 2D debut here, appearing in the catacomb tunnels after Death is defeated.
Poison drains your health gradually for a short time.
Curse makes you unable to attack for a while.
Freeze and Petrify make you unable to move for a while, and you must shake yourself free.
Stationary Boss: One of the mid-game bosses is a huge goat-headed monster called Adramelech that is locked into a giant pillory at the end of the Creepy Cathedral. It can't move, but attacks with summoned projectiles.
Turns Red: Hugh, who halfway through the battle, turns on the power of evil and gets an extra skill for each of the sub weapons.
Unique Enemy: The Devil is found in one room in the game. And thank Christ for that!
Useless Useful Spell: The watch subweapon ordinarily only stops regular enemies, slows down larger ones, and doesn't do a thing at all to bosses. There is an item crash spell available later in the game that enhances the watch to make it stop all enemies and even slow down bosses (including Dracula himself), but at this point you have much better spells that actually do damage.
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.
Wall Jump: The magic item that you receive after defeating Golem allows you to do this, enabling you to proceed.
Where It All Began: At the very start of the game, your character is dropped into the Abyss while standing in front of the door to Dracula's inner sanctum. The entire rest of the game is a quest to get the key to that same door, behind which is the final encounter with Dracula.