Reviews: Castlevania Harmony Of Dissonance
Good Surreal Fun W/Some Design Flaws
Back when I was into Castlevania, this was probably my second favorite, after Symphony of the Night. I liked the fact that the hero was a whip-wielding Belmont, who had magical powers and handled a lot like Alucard from SOTN, that Ayame Kojima's promotional art and character portraits made him look like a cross between a Stage Magician and some kind of swashbuckling ex-soldier, and that his BFF Maxim looked like a Tripoli pirate and fought like a ninja. I loved the atmosphere of the better designed castle areas. To me the garish but obsessively detailed backgrounds, weird bits of humor and abrasive, unsettling music just added to the atmosphere. I also liked the idea that the Castle in this one was spawned by the actions of someone close to the hero, and my personal fanon was that the castle's more benign aspects (like the merchants) were manifestations of that someone's desire to help Juste. Yes, it was a super-easy game, but I had pretty sloppy reflexes and managed to die frequently in SOTN, so I didn't really consider the easiness a problem. My main hangup the last time I played it (which has been a while) was the way the backtracking was set up. You spent a lot of time filling in half or so of a castle area, then went bouncing off to somewhere else only to find the artifact/skill you needed to explore the rest of that castle area you last visited three hours ago. There was also a very Guide Dang It point in the plot, not long after it becomes clear even to Juste that something is wrong with a certain character, where I got absolutely stumped about what to do next...on every single playthrough. Also, the mook population patterns had a sloppy, unfinished quality: there were some places that did a fairly good job of placing the the enemies in tactical ways, or turning them into puzzles, and then there were places where there's absolutely nobody to fight and no obstacles for several screens. The other piece of sloppiness was the fabulous "toolkit" of weapons and magical attacks...most of which you didn't need to use in any sophisticated way. Once you found a subweapon+spellbook combo that appealed to you, there was very little reason to change it out, except for the lulz. I don't do the gothic horror/adventure thing very much anymore, but I still remember this game as a fun, if flawed, entry into the Castlevania series.