"Who needs mercy? Weak threats from an unworthy opponent..."
- Maxim Kischine
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe (lead producer was Koji Igarashi, creator and mastermind of the Castlevania series) and published by Konami for the Game Boy Advance in the US on September 18, 2002. (The European version was released October 11, 2002 and the Japanese version, titled Castlevania: White Night Concerto, was released June 6, 2002.) As of this noding, the game is still available in just about any store that sells video games. The packaging, as well as the game's level, has the strangely pale Juste Belmont on the cover, with a watercolor castle in the background, done in greys. Of note is the fact that the Castlevania logo has changed, again, now in pseudo-Gothic lettering, with a stylized sword for the "T".
Maxim, a friend of Juste, after an extended absence, has returned to his hometown, stricken with amnesia and babbling about the disappearance of Lydie, a mutual friend of the two. Maxim leads Juste to an unmapped castle, one which matches the descriptions of the legendary Castlevania...
Harmony of Dissonance has a curious place in the Castlevania series. Chronologically by order of release, it's the sequel to Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, and certainly shares many design elements (as well as Nathan Graves's whip-twirl) and is on the same platform (Game Boy Advance). Chronologically and thematically, this is the sequel to Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, as the story once again revolves around a vampire hunter cursed by Dracula, and the need to retrieve Dracula's parts to ressurrect and properly dispose of the Count. In every other way, this is the sequel to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The character design and level design are in the same style as SOTN, and Juste Belmont, the hero, even looks like Alucard.
The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who's played a Castlevania since SOTN, or any of the Metroid series. A small portion of the sprawling, non-linear castle is available at the start, and by finding new items, new areas are opened, following the convention set by the Legend of Zelda, so long ago. Thus, the focus is on exploration, and there's plenty of territory to explore. The castle's architecture is interesting, although it seems to be missing some of the elements that made SOTN's Castlevania feel like a castle, like the chapel or the actual dungeon (with cells and whatnot). This hardly hurts the game, and the pace is entertaining, with visually interesting (if awfully easy) bosses scattered about.
Juste Belmont is an amalgam of all the previous Castlevania heroes. As for appearance, he's strikingly similar to Alucard, with a flowing red cloak, flowing long white hair, and inexplicably pale skin. (In appearance, if not personality, Juste is in many ways stereotypical bishounen.) As for abilities, he can change direction in midair except after whipping (much like Richter Belmont), he can dash backwards (like Alucard) and forward (which is new), and he has the "limp whip" trick, allowing the player to move the whip loosely (like Simon Belmont in Super Castlevania IV.)
Of course, that's just what he starts with. He eventually earns the super jumps and double jumps that heroes of the series have had since Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, although lacks Alucard's and Nathan Graves's Ninja Gaiden-style acrobatic wall jumps. With his whip, not only does he start with the "limp whip", but he earns a new charge-up attack (a la the M-Buster in Mega Man 4 and others), a whip spin attack replacing the limp whip (like Nathan Graves's spin), and even the ability to fire projectiles from his whip when he has full health (like Christopher Belmont - this item was even called "Christopher's Soul" in Japan). Drawing from Richter's bag of tricks, Juste earns a super-fast super jump stright up, and also a dash-kick. (Juste can also just this kick in midair after earning the double-jump; it allows for a useful dive-bombing attack.) As for subweapons, available are the dagger, holy book, boomerang cross, holy water, sacred fist, and axe; missing is the stopwatch, as well as some of SOTN's odder weapons (like the taser).
Juste's Belnades blood shows through in this game as well, as he has quite a bit of magical talent. Throughout the castle are hidden spellbooks. By equipping a spellbook and using a subweapon, Juste casts a spell. Some of these are original, some are item crashes from Castlevania Dracula X (like Wind+Dagger, a flurry of thrown daggers), and some are subtle references to other Konami games (Bolt+Holy Book is the shield power-up from the Gradius series.) All of them are ridiculously powerful; magic is a major reason that the game is so easy. (Entering your name as "MAGICOFF" at the beginning of the game will remove all of the spellbooks from the castle, however.)
After beating the game, some very nifty options are unlocked. The title screen turns blood red, for one. Most obvious are the "Boss Rush" and "Sound Test" modes. The former is simply a survival fight against the game's bosses, one after another, with only one subweapon for the entire run (chosen in the first room) and no spells. (CHOOSE THE BOOMERANG. You won't be able to get past Legion (Corpse) without it.) The sound test is completely unremarkable, and doesn't allow playing sound effects, only music.
Much like Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, the niftiest unlocked secrets are hidden. Entering in the Konami Code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A in this case) at the Konami logo will turn the title screen back to the original blue, and also unlock Simon Belmont in Boss Rush mode. Simon is slower than Juste, has a smaller selection of subweapons, and can't jump nearly as high. On the flip side, his subweapons are generally better, he hits harder, and he's tougher. Additionally, there's a secret ending for beating Boss Rush quickly enough with Simon.
Playing as Maxim, however, is the real secret to unlock. You can play as Maxim in the main game by entering "MAXIM" as your name, and play as him in Boss Rush by holding L and R when choosing your difficulty level. Maxim is much faster than Juste, faster than any Castlevania hero to date. He can triple-jump (and jump kick like Juste) and slide, but can't super jump. Rather than the "spell fusion" system, he simply has a handful of straightforward spells. Rather than a whip and subweapons, he has only his sword, which he can throw as a subweapon. In general, playing as Maxim is far more direct, as he doesn't gain levels, has no need to collect items to explore the castle, and only can collect HP Up items and Heart Up items.
Why would you want to play this game? It's fantastic. It's actually an improvement on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in almost every area, and it's on a portable system to boot. Playing Boss Rush is a fun diversion, and Maxim plays differently from almost every Castlevania hero to date.
Why wouldn't you? Well, it's very easy. The magic system makes the game pretty easy all around, particularly with the shield spells. Not only this, but all the space used on graphics means the music took a major hit. It sounds tinny, with quality overtaken by even the NES. The composition is fine, but the quality is quite low.
Below this point are spoilers. You Have Been Warned.
Juste goes on to find that Maxim, in an attempt to prove himself, was trying to gather Dracula's body parts to destroy the vampire once and for all, much like Simon Belmont. However, Maxim fails, and his mind is shattered into two halves. The first is the real Maxim, still loyal to Lydie Elranger (a mutual friend of him and Juste) and Juste, and the second is corrupt, under the control of Dracula's sleeping spirit. Castlevania forms from Maxim's mind, and is similarly split into two mirror halves.
The game has three basic endings.
The first ending, earned if Maxim is defeated in Castle A, is Maxim escaping the castle with Lydie, mourning the death of his friend.
Mirroring Castlevania II, the second ending is also the worst. Earned by finding all of Dracula's pieces and defeating Maxim in Castle B, Juste arrives too late to rescue Lydie, and defeats Maxim. He escapes the castle, and mourns the loss of his friends.
The best ending is earned by defeating Maxim in Castle B with Juste's and Maxim's bracelets equipped, then defeat Dracula's Wraith. This will earn you the best ending, rescuing Lydie and Maxim.
Additionally, defeating Boss Rush with Simon Belmont nets you the ending from Castlevania, overlaid with "SIMON BELMONT FOREVER."