Developed By: M2 Published By: Konami Categories: Retro, Compilation, Adventure, RPG, Platformer Release Date: 09.23.21
Konami and M2 do it again! In 2019, with assistance from Hamster and M2, Konami released three excellent collections for classic Castlevania, Contra, and some Arcade hits. After a few patches to include other regions for some games, button mapping, and some bug fixes, these became the definitive ways to play these games. Even better, you have these all on the go, including some of the rarer, less ported games like Castlevania Bloodlines.
It’s 2021, and Konami teamed up with M2 once again to release the Advance Collection. As the name implies, it collects the Gameboy Advance titles. These being Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow. As a bonus, Dracula X on the SNES is included. While the prospect of only four games might seem disappointing, especially after the large volume we’ve gotten before. These are newer and much more in-depth games than before and the more explorative games in the series have their own fanbase.
It Truly is an Advance Collection
Four games, three regions per game. We’re off to a great start. Lets get even better, M2 included their signature Gadgets to the games. For this collection, the gadgets assist in helping you know which enemies you kill, which key drops they give, like cards or souls in CotM, and AoS respectively. In addition to this, each game has an encyclopedia for EVERY item, EVERY enemy, and all of the combinations you’ll need to know. This is a great help and beats checking GameFAQs every ten minutes. Want to use the clean files for music instead of that sound the GBA gave off? Go nuts. There’s even a rewind feature in addition to save states if RNG drives you nuts.
I love art galleries for retro compilations. It’s standard, but big whoop, it’s nice to have. Advance Collection goes one step above by including FULL BOX ART AND MANUAL SCANS. For each region! I ab-so-lute-ly ADORE this. It’s not often at all that devs include box art and manual scans, and when they do, they often crop out the actual console info. This is an incredible win for preservation. Game preservation isn’t just about the games, but their media, their box, their manuals.
A given for collections is a music player. Castlevania Advance Collection has one too, which is great because *most* of the games here have great music.
Circle of the Moon
Circle of the Moon is the first of the games to ape the style of Symphony of the Night. Just a few years later, and instead of being developed by the team who made SotN, it was instead by the Castlevania 64 team in Kobe. I liked Casltevania 64, and I very much like Circle of the Moon. First thing you’ll notice is the absence of what is now the series regular Ayame Kojima’s art. That said, I much like CotM’s art. It has the perfect Dracula and Carmilla designs in my opinion. Circle of the Moon is also one of the few games to *not* be full of reused sprites. This makes up for the rather dark graphics.
What sets CotM apart is the DSS (Dual Set-Up System). Twenty cards, ten in each set, Action and Attribute. Action, based on Dii Consentes, members of the Greek Pantheon. These decide what a move can do. Attribute, based on Roman Mythology. These decide the effect added. There are 100 combinations to make, but if you’re lost with any of them, just pull up that encyclopedia! Also, this is the only one of the trilogy of GBA games that actually has a living Dracula.
Love music from the past games? Majority of CotM’s music is fantastic remixes.
One issue people seem to bring up with CotM is that it feels a bit stiff. This mainly has to do with it’s control scheme, particularly the double tap to run, and jump further mechanic. This never bothered me as I wouldn’t call Castlevania ever a really “fast” game. This isn’t Mega Man X, where double tapping to dash can become cumbersome.
Harmony of Dissonance
IGA, Kojima, and to a small extent, Yamane are back! Is this the return Castlevania fans were wanting? Kind of, but many design decisions seem made purely to combat what Circle of the Moon did. People complain Circle of the Moon is too dark , so Harmony of Dissonance is INCREDINLY bright. The GBA didn’t have a backlight when either of these games came out, so it makes sense for their releases back *then*, but on a modern display, HoD is garish. IGA didn’t like the DSS system, so it’s removed and in it’s place is just spellbooks that practically do the same thing for your weapons with less thought. CotM has no Belmonts, well HoD does now. Not to mention, according to IGA, CotM is no longer canon, with canon games only starting again with HoD. This starts with the return of the Belmonts.
While with CotM, you are at the mercy of RNG for well…everything, HoD gives a bit more grace with some equipment, some healing items, all just out for the taking, some RIGHT when you get into an early game room. This is a change I do like. Yes, raising your luck through a matter of different ways can raise the chance of getting new drops, but it’s nice to know for a fact you’ll get things.
Harmony of Dissonance is also when we get the return of SotN sprites, which was the return of Rondo of Blood and Castlevania IV sprites. This won’t be the last time either. These sprites are great, they were great back then, they’re still great. But it was so incredibly tiring to keep seeing reused sprites.
In something that will return, and I always like, you can get multiple endings depending on how you play the game.
Aria of Sorrow
Here we are, at what is considered the peak of the Castlevania series. Or at the very least, the peak of the exploration styled games. The criticism that HoD received has been rectified. Yes, it’s still a tad bright game, yes it’s still reusing sprites. However, by this time the GBA SP was out. Everything seems to have a more consistent look. It, especially the new sprites looks fantastics, ESPECIALLY for the GBA. Kojima’s art will be used for the last time for a mainline Castlevania with Aria of Sorrow, and it’s a great place to go out on.
I have two minds on how I feel about the Soul mechanic. I love that everything can grant you boosts, special abilities, and so on. I don’t like how some are just that much better than others. This will lead to you only using specific souls.
I am however a huge fan of the variety of weapons you can use. Not just whips, but knives, swords, spears, axes, A GUN. Aria of Sorrow does take place in the future you know. Just let me shoot these monsters with a handgun in Castlevania. That never stops being ridiculous, and yes I know one of the DSS moves was a gun.
Time for a very, very divisive game. When it was released, this was the only way for an American to reasonably play anything remotely close to Rondo of Blood. Dracula X is what you’d get when you bring Rondo of Blood over, but remove what made Rondo of Blood unique. Yes it’s a better looking game, yes the music is arguably better. And yes, it’s still a decent experience. Playable Maria though? Gone. Alternate paths outside of a single stage? Gone.
This on it’s own, sure whatever. But Dracula X came out in 1995. This is not only after Rondo of Blood, but after both Bloodlines and Super Castlevania IV. All three of these games did things to improve the franchise, and Dracula X, despite being the youngest of these 16bit games, feels the oldest. Despite having four face buttons, sub weapons are still Attack+Up, which is dangerous on stairs. At least the Item Crash moves are their own button.
The biggest sin that this game commits is how invincibility frames are handled. You can and will get hit by attacks that don’t just strike once. You will take damage from each hit. Say a knee height enemy charges as you, be quick or he’ll drain near all of your HP. Thank god this game has infinite continues.
So What Comes Next?
By all intents and purposes, Castlevania Advance Collection is the best way to play these four games, especially the GBA games. I’ve probably let it known, but when M2 includes Gadgets in their games, I fan out over it. On top of the other enhancements, there’s just no arguement as to why you *shouldn’t* play the games this way. Unless you’re one of those people who scoffs at paying for old games on principle, but if that’s the case, your opinion isn’t worth my or anyone’s time.
Konami has made it clear that they’ll make more if there’s interest in the series. So Buy. This. Game. M2 and Konami have proven on multiple occasions that their re-release efforts are worth the money and time of the customer.