Though this is the second Game Boy Advance Castlevania title, it is the first on the platform led by Koji Igarashi, often credited as a major player in creating the Metroidvania genre with his work on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The series had to accept a graphical downgrade moving from PlayStation to GBA, but the result is a fun adventure with a lot of grinding that fits in your pocket.
You are Juste Belmont of the Belmont family, a last name common to the Castlevania series. Your friend Maxim has become possessed by Dracula, and a mutual friend Lydie has been kidnapped by the possessed Maxim. You enter a castle, which is never explicitly called Dracula’s Castle, and in it, happen to be Dracula’s remains. Juste must collect these remains so he can resurrect and defeat Dracula, freeing your friend Maxim and subsequently Lydie.
Inside the castle, you will notice some familiar faces. The purple armor knights, fleamen, and zombies make a return from Symphony, as do some other enemies. It is a sign of what’s to come; unfortunately reused art assets are all too common in future Castlevania titles. This is a harder game than both Symphony of the Night and the GBA predecessor Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Still, grinding (repeatedly attacking a group of enemies) is a valid way to get your level up and curb the difficulty level.
It doesn’t take long to discover there’s a second castle. It is akin to Symphony’s upside-down castle in that it’s harder and it doubles the amount of exploration in the game. It differs in that “Castle A” and “Castle B” overlap one another, and you shift between them by jumping into a mirror. Enemies in Castle B are more powerful. There is a map that shows you the main castle, the two castles overlapping, and the second castle. In a loving tribute to Symphony of the Night, you can reach 200% completion by fully exploring both. The graphics in the first castle are great. Unfortunately, the graphics in the second castle range from so-so to bad.
Sound is a point of contention among fans. When video games are portrayed in movies, it’s still common for a film to use bleeps and bloops like you’d hear on Atari. Well, there are many parts of Harmony of Dissonance’s soundtrack that sound more like it came from the original Game Boy rather than from the Game Boy Advance. While the previous game Circle of the Moon is credited as having an excellent soundtrack, with classic Castlevania tunes, this is original music, and it needs to grow on you. It’s still a tribute to Symphony of the Night to make the subtitle of the game music-related at all.
Gameplay is the Castlevania series strong suit, even before the Metroidvania genre changed the series direction. This game is no exception. You can now dash forward and backward. You can outfit yourself with armor from the loot you collect along the way. There is also a merchant to buy items from. As you pick up Dracula’s remnants, you get new skills, like a sliding kick, a double jump, and a high jump. Back is your trusty whip, which can be outfitted with stones for magic powers. I suppose for a complaint, combat does get trite, as it seems like there are sometimes too many enemies.
There are three endings, although (spoiler alert) the final boss isn’t too hard (end spoilers). This game manages to be unlike any other Castlevania, mainly by requiring that you completely go through two castles to win the game at all. Where Circle of the Moon just tries to keep the Metroidvania genre going, this game goes as far into a light world/dark world territory as the series will ever know. The next two titles move Castlevania in a new stylistic direction, seen by some as Igarashi’s best. If you still own a GBA, and if you can look past the rough edges discussed in this review, Harmony of Dissonance can be enjoyable. A unique entry to the franchise, with a lot of great gameplay to enjoy.