Retro of the Week: Harmony of Dissonance

Posted by Swifto on 19 August, 2012 at 07:17AM

Tags: Retro, Castlevania, metroidvania, exploration, GBA

Retro of the Week: Harmony of Dissonance

God damn it.

This one isn't going to be very well... researched. I have tried multiple times to beat this game over a few years, and each time I get bored and quit trying. I tried yet again in preparation for this one, and, well, failed. I actually fell asleep multiple times trying to play it. I would feel good and energetic, and after not long, be snoozing. Whether it was at home, on break at work, or even on the bus. Snore City hit me whenever I tried to play it. That's... Probably not a mark in its favour.

So, rather than try to force something, I figured I'd just do my best to put words to my thoughts on this game, and move on. This is hardly the most popular Castlevania game, so it's not like there'll be a lynch mob after me if I don't do a full and proper review of Harmony of Dissonance, right?



But I may be overguessing my popularity there.

The thing that gets me most about Harmony of Dissonance is the strong sense of bland I get from it. The whip feels boring, walking seems to feel kind of bleh, despite how quick of a trot that Juste Belmont (pronounced Juiced Belmondo) has. Jumping similarily isn't interesting, it feels very floaty and slow, and given Juste's posture when he jumps, it's like he's making a tiny little hop from his toes rather than a full-tilt leap. (but perhaps Circle of the Moon has me spoiled in that respect) While there's fun to be had in the quick and responsive dash and slide in this game, I had the hardest time staying interested in it.

Now, I can't blame that much on Konami. Nearly everything about Harmony of Dissonance is almost a direct improvement on Circle of the Moon. Rather than stunted animations and recolours ahoy, Harmony of Dissonance is beautifully animated, as near to Symphony of the Night as likely possible for the hardware. (almost too much so. They tried to copy the blurry effect that Alucard had to his movements, without much success. Perhaps they were trying to improve visibility of the character in a time before the Gameboy Advance was backlit? That's only a theory.) Sprites are larger, much more colourful, and there's a greater variety to be had. Likewise, the various areas of the castle are quite diverse and varied, at least by comparison to Circle of the Moon. Backgrounds are a vast improvement on the static images of Circle of the Moon, with some wonderful backdrops to be had in some areas.

Similar to the Circle of the Moon card system, here now are spellbooks. They are of a specific element, and when activated they combine with your current subweapon to cast great and powerful spells of various effects. This is a nice system, if a bit clunky, as they tend to drain your MP very quickly, and turning the spellbook off to use standard subweapons is a rather lengthy chore. Had it been associated to the L button, as it was in Circle of the Moon, it would have worked a bit better in my opinion. Interesting concept, and rife with experimentation. In contrast to the dull whipping and subweapons, these feel gratifying to use and reflect the power they have in gameplay.

But, there's a dark side of the coin here. In order to power all that graphical fancywork, in the sprites, backgrounds and magic attacks, something had to take a hit. The Gameboy Advance just wasn't up to keeping up with all that. (not yet, at least. The programmers weren't yet at their full potential, as we'll see)

Circle of the Moon had music that sounded on-par with the Super Nintendo. Quite crisp and clear, considering the hardware, and there was a wide variety of instruments and tones at work. Harmony of Dissonance............. Well, I'm pretty sure the original Gameboy, that ol' grey brick, could play this music. Nothing wrong with 8-bit songs, heavens no. It just sounds rather... Awkward. I can only remember a couple of the songs that play in Harmony of Dissonance, and none of them I can recall with much interest. Granted, I'm sure I'm missing a lot of songs, since I haven't come close to beating this game.

This is almost a cardinal sin. See, even the worst of Castlevania games have always, always, ALWAYS, had fantastic music. Classic tunes from old remade as new, with many new songs throughout that bring fresh blood in. Castlevania music is always the most important factor in their games, since the legacy of the songs stands stronger than any of the gameplay elements. (aside from up and attack, hearts and gothic castle settings) The fact that Harmony of Dissonance chose to have fancier graphics instead of sound quality is tantamount to treason in some eyes.

Now, while this may be considered a BETRAYAL to some, to me, personally, I'm still not in approval. In regards to Castlevania, I'll contest in favour of having strong music over anything else to the end. Other game series could possibly get away with it, but when the music has been tantamount to the quality of the series, with such a strong sense of legacy to the songs, to the point where it almost has its OWN mythos beyond the games themselves... Well, when the music has such importance, it doesn't seem like something to skimp out on.

Now again, I emphasize, I haven't finished Harmony of Dissonance. It may be a case of where the later game is much better than the beginning. Maybe there's some castle shinanigins that go on that much improve the game. I don't know.

And for how dull the beginning of the game is... I personally don't want to find out. I'm having too much fun with...... The NEXT in our series coming up!

Harmony of Dissonance on cartridge by itself may be very hard to come by, even on ebay, but thankfully, it got a rerelease in a double-pack with Aria of Sorrow in.... 2006, I believe. Tracking down one of those is well worth the while, as you can play the superior (sry spoilerz) Aria of Sorrow, and as well get the chance to play Harmony of Dissonance for curiosity's sake, if nothing else.