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His master captured, his friend turned against him, and worst of all, a dark ceremony to power up Dracula looms on the horizon. All in a night's work for a Belmont...except he's not a Belmont.
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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.

The second modern new-school Castlevania, following in the footsteps of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon was the first game in the series on the Game Boy Advance, launching together with the system in 2001. It helped keep the series going after the more recent Nintendo 64 games had been critically panned.

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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. Also notable was the difficulty, which was considerably higher than the games which came before and after.

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As of October 2014, you can now pick up the game on the Wii U as a Virtual Console title in all regions, and as of September 2021 it is included in the multiplatform Castlevania Advance Collection.


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 Battle Arena.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: The Castlevania Advance Collection version includes an outside-game "gadget" that, when toggled on, displays a pop-up on the side of the screen whenever Nathan hits an enemy that can drop a DSS card, along with an icon showing whether it's been collected yet or not. This takes out much of the guesswork in finding DSS cards.
  • 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).
  • Arrange Mode: Rather than unlocking alternate characters, each clear of Circle of the Moon grants access to a new mode where Nathan starts with different stat growths and item availability.
    • Magician Mode, unlocked by beating the main game, has you start off with all 20 DSS cards, high magical ability, and reductions to health, strength, and defense.
    • Fighter Mode, unlocked by beating Magician Mode, removes all DSS cards from the game but increases the player's physical strength.
    • Shooter Mode emphasizes the Sub-weapons, giving the player a high maximum of hearts as well as decreasing their heart consumption, but decreases health, strength, and defense. This mode also introduces an exclusive Sub-weapon in the Homing Dagger.
    • Thief mode plays like the Luck mode from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, with an increase to luck in exchange for penalties for every other stat.
  • 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.
  • Back That Light Up: The game's muted color palette makes some details difficult to make out on original, non-backlit GBA systems. Later systems and subsequently ports lack this issue.
  • Baleful Polymorph: The Pluto/Black Dog DSS combo turns Nathan into a Ballistic Bone-flinging skeleton. Equipping the Bear Ring while using this combo instead turns him into Beartank.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation:
    • While Camilla is a real name, it's generally an accepted fact that it's the traditional Castlevania villain Carmilla who's the primary bad guy.
    • In other games in the series, the best armor in the game is called the Shining Armor. In this game, however, it has been misspelled as the Shinning Armor.
  • Bonus Dungeon: The Battle Arena, a Brutal Bonus Level filled with Elite Mooks that denies usage of magic. The game's best armor waiting at the end, and the final two Attribute cards are dropped by enemies only found there.
  • Boring, but Practical: While rare, the Cross is a very reliable sub-weapon that can even eclipse DSS powers at times, since it takes high advantage of large enemy hitboxes.
  • Boss in Mook Clothing:
    • The Devil enemy in the Observation Tower gives out some of the best experience in the game, but has a moveset fit for a boss and tons of HP. Worse yet, he also appears as the final enemy in the Battle Arena, with heavily buffed stats.
    • Lilith, the strongest variety of the "lady bat" enemies, spawns in one room following the defeat of Camilla, and is on par with the Devil while also giving even more experience.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Hugh's increasingly jerkass behavior is revealed to be manipulation on Camilla's part. Nathan has to Beat the Curse Out of Him in the penultimate boss battle.
  • Broad Strokes: It is debated whether the game is part of IGA's official timeline. IGA, in a 2008 interview with Nintendo Power magazine (covering Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia) considers this game a side story and not part of his timeline, as it's unmentioned on the Japanese timeline (updated as of 2007's The Dracula X Chronicles), though it was shown in the timeline that came with pre-ordered copies of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, minus the description.
  • Cap:
    • Unlike all the other Metroidvania games in the series, your default stats for STR, DEF, INT and LUCK start at 100, quickly go up to 4 digits and theoretically max out at 9999 (though you're not likely to reach that point unless you're playing one of the special modes). In gameplay terms, this doesn't make much of a difference, but due to the way enemy defense works, the damage done to various enemies varies to a ridiculous degree compared to the other games in the series: by the time you're strong enough to beat the game and can do about 100 damage to endgame enemies with a normal attack, you'll do close to 1000-2000 damage to the weakest enemies in the game, when in any other game in the series, it'd probably be closer to 200-300.
    • The experience levels max out at 99.
  • Cards of Power: Nathan casts magic by combining DSS cards dropped by enemies. One attribute card plus one action card grants a specific ability.
  • Cartography Sidequest: A couple of the DSS card combinations increase your stats based on how much of the map you've uncovered.
  • Clipped-Wing Angel: Halfway through the fight, Death transforms from his typical robed form into something resembling a gigantic praying mantis. While significantly scarier looking and gaining a Ground Pound attack, this also brings him down to earth, putting him in range of Nathan's entire arsenal, dramatically increasing your damage output.
  • Clown-Car Grave: The floating Mummy-producing sarcophagi, as one holds an infinite amount of them, as well as supplying the page image.
  • Collapsing Ceiling Boss: In a variation to this, one of Iron Golem's attacks will make gears tumble down, since you're fighting it in a clock tower.
  • Cut-and-Paste Environments: Blatantly obvious, at least compared to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that came before and Harmony of Dissonance that came after. Large stretches of the castle have precious few distinguishing features, giving it a far more repetitive feel more reminiscent of NES Metroidvanias like Metroid or Blaster Master.
  • Cranium Ride: Enemies turned to stone or frozen in ice can be used as platforms, with the harmless Brain Float enemies existing entirely for this purpose.
  • Cursed with Awesome: The Cursed Ring grants +30 to both Strength and Defense, but a pretty massive penalty of -100 Luck. Under normal circumstances, this is rather significant given that item drops are very rare as it is and likely not really worth the excessive penalty to the one stat that increases it outside of boss battles. However, during Thief mode, by the time you're even able to get a Cursed Ring (first chance is from Beast Demons in Eternal Corridor), you're likely to have over 4000 Luck as it is and gain +160 additional Luck per level. As a result, the penalty is peanuts and worth the significant boost to both Strength and Defense given Thief mode's lacking growth rates in those two stats. The only other items to give near that amount up to this point are the Hard Ring (+50 Defense, -10 to everything else) and the Strength Ring (+50 Strength, -10 to everything else).
  • Determinator: Nathan Graves is not part of a legendary clan — in fact, he's a vampire hunter still in training who gets bested by his rival time and time again during lessons — and yet can still hold his own against Dracula's forces.
  • Difficulty by Region: The US and EU versions of Circle of the Moon require around 20% more experience for level-ups, making the level curve noticeably less generous compared to the original Japanese version.
  • Disc-One Nuke:
    • You can get the extremely powerful cross subweapon as early as the third area if you explore enough.
    • Magician Mode makes this literal, since you can access late-game spells from the start.
  • Double Jump: The "Double" necklace allows Nathan to jump again in the air.
  • Dual Boss: The Zombie Dragons, two massive bosses fought in the same room. When one dies, the other will chew on its corpse to restore some health.
  • Dual Tonfas: The combination of the Mars and Cockatrice cards allows Nathan to attack with these. They can turn enemies to stone.
  • Early Game Hell: At the beginning of the Thief mode, enemies can kill you in about two or three hits and your attacks are incredibly weak, but as your luck goes up you can easily collect equippable 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.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • The first portable "Metroidvania" Castlevania game, and one of the least friendly ones for playing on the go, due to having no Suspend Save of any sort coupled with save points being sparse and well-distanced, as if the developers thought the game would be played exclusively at home with the GBA plugged into an AC adapter (rechargable batteries for the GBA wouldn't come until the Game Boy Advance SP). Thankfully this lesson would be learned come the next game.
    • Circle is also the only portable Castlevania title without an in-game enemy database, currency and shops to spend it at, and a second quest where you get to play as the main character's rival; these were all features of Symphony of the Night that became standardized starting with Harmony.
    • This game is also among the few where new armor and accessories only affect Nathan's stats. While other games would have items that raise resistance to elements, halve Heart consumption, and so on, those powers are relegated to DSS use. As a result, your inventory will become cluttered with many items that are no longer usable simply because you have an item with superior stat increases.
  • Elemental Powers: The ten Action DSS cards all correspond to a specific element:
  • Elemental Rock–Paper–Scissors: Some elements work better on some enemies and some don't. Since there is no Monster Compendium, this will take a while to learn.
  • Familiar: The Saturn action card allows Nathan to summon various creatures to fight alongside him. These include a medusa head, a fairy, and a fire-breathing bat.
  • Fiery Salamander: The Salamander DSS card grants effects relating to the fire element.
  • Fighting Your Friend: The penultimate boss of the game is Nathan fighting a Brainwashed and Crazy Hugh.
  • Fixed Damage Attack: The Diana card gives your whip projectiles, but the strength of their attack is unaffected by leveling up. 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.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: Appears as a common enemy in the Eternal Corridor after defeating Death.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: Nathan is no Belmont, and he certainly isn't wielding any Vampire Killer, so naturally one might expect him to have quite the task in taking on Dracula, and he does given the game's high challenge.
  • Glass Cannon: Combining the Black Dog and Pluto cards will turn Nathan into a skeleton that throws bones. He occasionally throws a large bone that deals an automatic 9999 damage, but he dies in one hit while in this form.
  • Go for the Eye: Final Dracula's sole weak point is the giant eye on its stomach.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: There are 20 DSS cards in the game that make up the magic system, each of which is randomly dropped by one or two enemy types.
  • Grimy Water: The Underground Waterway has crimson water that hurts you when you touch it. It can be purified with the proper magic item, or just avoided with extremely judicious double jumping and enemy-dodging.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • Finding the DSS cards is generally difficult, but the final two of each set are especially tricky. The Pluto and Uranus cards requires you to return to certain boss rooms at much later points in the game—when you would have no logical reason to—and defeat a mook that appears to be part of the scenery before it melts away and randomly drops the card. The Unicorn and Black Dog cards are rare drops from enemies far into the Battle Arena—an area with abnormally pumped-up enemies whose later rooms you can only get to after completing those before them.
    • 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 useful summoning, requires a relatively complex button input, and the game absolutely doesn't tell you all these until you figure them out.
    • The matter of getting Gambler Armbands can be tricky. While the Scary Candle and Trick Candle (who drop the Uranus and Pluto Cards) can be dealt with quickly using Venus/Thunderbird, even without a Stopwatch, the Mimic Candle who drops Gambler Armbands has 900 HP and 600 DEF, which is rather stacked for something that disappears after a few seconds. The answer is to use the Stopwatch Item Crush to freeze it wholesale, though with the amount of abuse it can take, in Shooter and Thief modes you'll need 120 Hearts just to kill it once. Things are only more awkward for Fighter, as in spite of Fighter's attack being through the roof, their total lack of DSS Cards means that the Stopwatch Item Crush is out of the question, and at a high enough level (such as Level 48) with as much Strength as can be derived from equipment as possible, it'll take six hits to destroy the thing, which is seemingly out of the question because Nathan attacks more slowly while crouched than while standing. The "Guide Dang It" aspect is remembering that you can slide, and that your slide is both just as powerful as your whip and comes out significantly faster. Thus, by using the Stopwatch before exposing the Mimic Candle, whipping it twice as it falls, three more times when it lands, and closing with a slide kick, it's just barely possible to take it down, possibly even with enough leeway to change to Luck gear before the kick if your level is high enough.
  • Harping on About Harpies: Harpies appears as flying enemies that sometimes shoot their feathers all over the place, and they are also used later as palette swaps to display succubi and fallen angels.
  • Headless Horseman: Dullahan, who gallops back and forth with its half of a horse.
  • Helping Hands: Evil Hand is a floating undead hand that tries to grab you.
  • Holy Hand Grenade: The Holy Water and Cross subweapons let you smite horrors with holy powers.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: The final two Attribute DSS cards (Unicorn and Black Dog) and the Shinning Armor (the best armor in the game) are found in the Battle Arena, with the latter being past the final room. While extremely useful, all that's left after getting them is possibly the Observation Tower, or just Dracula himself.
  • Invincibility Power-Up: The Pluto/Unicorn DSS combo makes you invincible for a fairly long time, but disables your ability to attack for its duration.
  • It's All Upstairs from Here: The Machine and Observatory Towers have you ascending upwards to the inevitable boss battle.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Hugh appears frequently throughout the castle, giving Nathan a 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.
  • Lethal Joke Character: 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, and such a hit shows up every 4-6 attacks on average.
  • Level Scaling: As the player progress through the game, enemies are replaced by more powerful enemies to keep up with them.
  • Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: At the start of the game, Magician Mode suffers from doing only does half damage and taking double damage, plus MP and MP recovery aren't high enough to spam DSS attacks. By the end of the game, you recover MP so quickly you can chain even the strongest Uranus DSS combos while remaining invincible.
  • Little Hero, Big War: Nathan is completely unrelated to the Belmont clan or anybody they've ever encountered or intermarried with, and he does not wield the Vampire Killer, but that doesn't stop him from doing what he can to help keep Dracula sealed away.
  • Luck Stat: To go with the Random Drops. The last New Game+ bonus mode you earn, Thief mode, boosts it through the roof, hitting the Cap before long.
  • Magic Knight: Nathan Graves qualifies, wielding both a Hunter Whip and magic cards. This game even has a Magician Mode where you have all the cards available from the start.
  • Mana Shield: The Neptune card combinations heal you if you are hit with an element that it is guarding you against at the cost of MP. However, in the regular mode the amount of restored health is very small, making it more useful for the shielding than the healing.
  • Mercy Invincibility: One of the DSS combinations (Jupiter/Golem) interacts with this mechanic, making the invincibility last four times longer.
  • Metal Slime:
    • The Skeleton Medalist, hidden inside a secret room within a secret room, who will run into a wall as soon as you enter. He drops the Bear Ring.
    • The three candle monsters masquerade as ordinary candles in specific rooms after defeating late-game bosses, and only give you a brief window of opportunity to destroy them before they dissolve into the floor and disappear. Two of them drop the Uranus and Pluto cards, while the other drops Gambler Armbands, the best luck-boosting equipment in the game.
  • Meteor-Summoning Attack: One of Dracula's ultimate abilities is to drop a shower of meteors on the protagonist. Given Dracula's own gigantic form limiting your movement options, the only real escape is to activate a rock-absorbing spell.
  • Minimalist Run: Actually rewarded. Opting to play the game without a subweapon limits your options somewhat, but if you get enough hearts to use an Item Crash without one, you perform a long lasting, screen wide attack powerful enough to kill all but a handful of bosses in a single cast. Outside of Magician Mode and glitches, this is a very late-game capability as it costs 100 Hearts to use plus the Pluto card, which is required for the Item Crash DSS combo and drops from an enemy that only spawns after defeating Camilla.
  • 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.
  • More Than Mind Control: Implied to have been the case with Hugh, who harbored some degree of jealousy toward Nathan, as Morris chose him over his son to be his successor. After Nathan defeats Dracula, Morris tells Hugh that his training will have to begin anew.
  • 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.
    • The entire game is a love letter to music from past games. Accompanying the five tracks original to the game, among others, are the intro theme and stage 2 theme from Bloodlines and final boss theme from Dracula's Curse.
    • The Stage 4 and Game Over tunes are from Super Castlevania IV.
    • The first boss theme, "Shudder," is from Castlevania 64.
  • Mythology Upgrade: Mesopotamian sun god Adramelech appears as a giant, eyeball-controlling, ooze-gagging goat thing that is locked into a giant pillory.
  • Necromancer: The second boss is a necromancer (called Necromancer) who sometimes summons skeletons to its aid.
  • New Game+: Every time you beat the game, you get a new mode based from RPG character classes that has a set of bonuses. Beating that gets you another, up to five different modes in total:
    • 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 equivalent 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.
    • In addition to the aforementioned lack of shops and high difficulty, items are only found as drops from enemies, from every piece of armor (bar the Shining Armor) to the simplest potion. Unfortunately, items are all pretty rare themselves, so unless one takes time to farm for them, healing is a major issue especially with all the damage you'll be taking in some of the bonus modes. Unless you've farmed plenty of items for a while, a tedious task itself, or have a DSS combo that allows for it, your only reliable source of healing is visiting a save room, requiring you to gauge your ability at all times to know when to retreat and try to heal or push on, and there's no guarantee you'll survive either venture, especially given how far apart each save room is.
  • No Sympathy Between Mooks: If one Zombie Dragon is killed, the other will chew away at the corpse to recover its own health.
  • Oddball in the Series: One of the more unusual games in the "Metroidvania" era of Castlevania games:
    • It doesn't have Koji Igarashi's involvement.
    • It's not part of Igarashi's canon, at least not initially.
    • The Jump Physics are somewhat less flexible than in other games.
    • There are no shops and other than the reward gotten from beating the Battle Arena, no fixed locations where you can find new equipment, so what few items you can get must be farmed from enemies.
    • There is no After Boss Recovery, making it very possible to kill a boss and then die trying to get to the nearest save point.
    • Dracula's lair is in the center of the castle rather than being at the top, let alone approached by a big staircase coming from the right. Even Symphony of the Night, which has Dracula fought in the center of the Inverted Castle, at least has his series-traditional quarters present in both versions of the castle.
    • The stat numbers are on a pretty big scale; unlike other games where stats cap at 255, stats here are each in the 2000s at least by the endgame.
    • There are no alternate character modes, with four New Game+ modes taking their place, each of which tweak Nathan's stats and abilities. In other games, the most you get is choosing a difficulty level and your level cap rather than being offered new play styles for the same character.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Carmilla's dress top is a corset.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: The game uses the traditional "Kyrie Eleison" chant for its opening menu.
  • One-Winged Angel:
    • To get more power after Nathan beats him, Dracula teleports into a hellish dimension where he turns into a demonic figure.
    • Death turns into a skeletal mantis-turtle creature after losing enough health.
    • Camilla turns from her human form to her typical demonic skull form before fighting her.
    • Necromancer turns himself into a flying skeletal demon halfway through his fight.
  • Orbiting Particle Shield: Some of the Jupiter DSS combos create elemental shields in the form of projectiles that rotate around Nathan to protect him and deal damage.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Features werewolves, werebears, werejaguars, weretigers, and more.
  • Padded Sumo Gameplay: Without enhancements via equipment and DSS combo's, Nathan's whip deals relatively low damage, and even by the end of the game it'll hit for about 50-60 damage without massive amounts of Level Grinding. Fortunately, sub-weapons can make up for this.
  • Permanently Missable Content: 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).
  • Perverse Puppet: The floating life-sized marionettes that inflict Curse upon contact.
  • Petal Power: Several of the Mandragora-based spells involve attacking with flower petals.
  • 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.
  • Plant Person: Alraunes look like women inside enormous roses, and attack with vines that come from the floor.
  • Poor, Predictable Rock: The Underground Waterway is one of the most obnoxious areas in the game due to the freezing attacks its enemies can use. With the Neptune/Serpent combo, which grants immunity to ice attacks, the place becomes nearly harmless. The difficulty comes from the Neptune card dropping from Ice Armors, which are primarily found in the Underground Waterway.
  • 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).
    • Quite a few of the DSS combos, though with 100 possible spell effects, this is to be expected:
      • The Venus + Griffon DSS spell. Increases intelligence by 25%...which has functionally no use as it resets back to your base if the spell is turned off and drains 4MP/second, and intelligence is only used for MP regen. The ONLY conceivable use it has is to try and regenerate your MP faster if you lack for restorative items and have a safe room to sit for a few moments, though your intelligence needs to first be high enough to offset the 4MP/second drain first and THEN hope the boost is enough to increase your regen rate higher than what it was to begin with. Put simply, unless the game is being played in Magician Mode, this spell will never see any use.
      • Venus + Cockatrice. Gains experience from walking...WALKING, not RUNNING, and you only gain 1 point every couple of steps. Would be cool if it weren't for the fact that it takes a lot of experience to gain a single level, and running and jumping restarts the amount of steps you need to take for the gain to kick in again.
      • Jupiter + Cockatrice. Turns you to stone and makes you highly resistant to damage...at the cost of slowing you to even SLOWER than Nathan's usual walking speed and making it so you can barely jump higher than a step. On the plus side, status ailments won't affect Nathan while he's like this.
      • Jupiter + Black Dog. Surrounds you in a black hole that both protects you and drains 1% of your HP like poison does.
      • Mars + Golem. Swings a hammer that, upon contact with a surface, unleashes a quake that does damage to enemies situated on that surface. Sounds good in theory, but the execution used here leaves much to be desired. Firstly, the hitbox of that hammer is outright prohibitive: Nathan can't do damage if he hits an enemy with the shaft of the hammer, and the hammer being used is huge. Secondly, Nathan takes a painfully lengthy time just swinging that hammer in the first place, meaning that the possibility of an enemy hitting him and interrupting his attack is a problem. Thirdly, if the final attack animation doesn't land on a surface, no quake results. Fourthly, and most egregiously considering the second shortcoming, this hammer has no STR buff whatsoever compared to just using the stock Hunter's Whip. Lastly, Nathan can't brandish the whip if the attack button is held, so forget that tactic if projectiles start heading his way.
      • Mars + Black Dog. Shoot a gun...that takes a LONG time to draw and even fire. The damage is incredible compared to the other Mars weapons, but only usable if your enemy is standing still and not an immediate threat in the time it takes to draw the weapon. The only potential saving grace, outside of abusing the DSS combination glitch while summoning with any of the damaging card combinations that Uranus offers, is that the STR boost does apply to slide kicking or tackling your enemies.
      • Diana + Thunderbird. Lightning crackles while the whip is being brandished, increasing damage potential. Niche as it is, this effect would be good if it wasn't for the limited nature of whip brandishing in this game: unlike every other Castlevania game in which the ability to brandish the whip existed, the player must be grounded in order to make use of it.
      • The Neptune card is either this or extremely handy, but it depends super heavily on knowing what element each enemy belongs to. While some are super obvious (Poison Armor, Earth Demon, etc.), others....aren't (Evil Sword = Poison? Only obvious when in the Battle Arena, where they gain the ability to poison you). Without a LOT of experimentation, you probably won't get a lot of mileage out of the Neptune card.
      • The Pluto card. While there are indeed some very handy combinations available once Nathan obtains that card (namely, the combinations which lead to the Item Crush, Exp Gain +20%, and Speed Up abilities), the rest of the combinations available are very situational at best, which makes it seem fairly disappointing for the effort necessary to acquire it.
      • The Black Dog card, probably FAR more than any other card in your available deck. The effort required to get it is hardly worth the mostly mediocre, if not outright useless effects it gives. The only useful effects it gives are the Darkness Whip from Mercury and the Darkness Shield from Neptune. Everything else is either too unwieldy, damages you, makes you weaker defensively, or isn't useful at all.
  • Random Drop: Restorative items, equipment, and the DSS Cards all can only be found when they drop from enemies. Playing the game in Magician mode at least has a small mercy in that Nathan starts 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 less than 1%. Thief mode helps by starting Nathan out with 1600 luck, and each level in that mode gives Nathan +160 luck, so around the low-to-mid 50's, that stat will literally be maxed out at the cap of 9999. However, considering that Thief Mode takes four playthroughs to get, there's going to inevitably be some item-farming downtime during a given playthrough.
  • Recycled Title: The game was released in Europe simply as Castlevania.
  • Regenerating Health: The Jupiter/Mandragora spell 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.
  • The Rival: Hugh is Nathan's sparring partner and the son of his mentor, but often bumps heads with him because Morris chose Nathan as his successor over his own son. Also a Rival Turned Evil, thanks to Dracula's influence.
  • Save-Game Limits: Save points are well spread-out, and there's no quicksave feature, which makes the possibility of death harrowing since it usually means losing out on several rooms of progress.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: The game's cover art features Nathan whipping forward, creating this effect
  • Sequence Breaking: You can skip the fights with Death and the Zombie Dragons. Once you kill Adramelech and blow up all of the sarcophagi barriers, 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 Pluto/Unicorn combo on Magician mode or with glitches), 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. Played straight with other bosses in the game, though, like Death.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A well-hidden easter egg gives a shoutout to an obscure Nintendo 64 fighter called Rakuga Kidsnote . 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 that can shoot bear-shaped rockets out of numerous cannons and 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 strength 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 Blade: 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.
  • Status Effects:
    • Poison drains your health gradually for a short time.
    • Curse makes you unable to attack for a while.
    • Petrify make you unable to move for a while, and you must shake yourself free or take tremendous extra damage if an enemy smacks you.
    • Freeze is the same as Petrify, except that you cannot break free manually, but rather wait until you thaw out.
  • 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.
  • Summon Magic: The rare Uranus card allows Nathan to use a command input to summon whatever Attribute card creature he combos it with, which proceeds to attack the whole screen with elemental damage.
  • Taken for Granite:
    • Enemies like the bronze Medusa Heads and Gorgon (and its Palette Swap Catoblepas) can turn you into stone.
    • The Cockatrice card can add a petrification effect to your weapons or abilities.
    • Using the Jupiter and Cockatrice DSS combination turns you into a statue with low mobility, but immunity to status effects and virtually impossible to knock down.
  • Technicolor Toxin:
    • The poison status effect causes Nathan to take on a purple tint.
    • Poisonous worms, Poison Armors and other poison enemies are purple, fitting the game's focus on different elemental traits. Oddly, the poison-curing antidote is also purple in color.
    • The Manticore card applies the Poison element to your spells, which results in predominantly purple graphical effects.
  • Temporary Platform: Before gaining the Roc Feather, you have to relay on crumbling floating platforms in some areas. Ice and Stone weapons can also turn enemies into this, which is required in order to get a few Power Ups.
  • Theme Music Withholding: The game doesn't play "Vampire Killer" until the very last area.
  • 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 only two places in the game: a side room in the Observation Tower, and the final room of the Battle Arena.
    • The Nightmare enemy and her palette-swapped counterparts each only appear once in the entire game, and only in side areas that you have to go out of your way to reach.
  • 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 the Iron Golem allows you to do this, though it requires two walls to be next to each other to be used for ascending.
  • Where It All Began: At the very start of the game, Nathan is dropped into the Catacomb 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.
  • Who Forgot the Lights?: Its dark graphics became something of a running gag until Nintendo added a backlight to the GBA hardware.
  • Wicked Witch: In contrast to the Cute and Hot Witches seen in other Castlevania titles, the witches in this game have large noses and green skin, a la the Wicked Witch of the West.
  • You Have Researched Breathing:
    • You need to find a powerup in order to run, even though you were seen running in the opening sequence.
    • You're somehow able to smash boulders by slamming into them before being able to push wooden crates.

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