Castlevanie Double Pack (Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow) (GBA) – Review

Castlevania Double Pack CoverThe Castlevania series has been a series which has undergone a number of versions over the years, each with slight changes to the last. The last series in the series has worked on merging the Metroid exploration aspect with the fundamental whip-wielding action of the Belmont clan to provide a rather good type of game that works well on portable system. Two early portable Castlevanias, “Harmony of Dissonance” and “Aria of Sorrow”, the latter which is the prequel to the DS title “Dawn of Sorrow”, were recently released for the GBA as a double pack, offering little change from their earlier GBA incarnations beyond the classic Castlevania gameplay. Neither title may be the best of the series, but it’s interesting to come back to play these versions after completing “Portrait of Ruin” and prior to playing through “Dawn of Sorrow”.

Harmony of Dissonance

Story: B

Juste Belmont, descendant of Simon, is urged to help his friend Maxim to save a childhood friend, Lydie from a strange castle, but as they enter, they are separated. Later, Juste finds that Maxim has managed to acquire the remains of Dracula in attempt to one-up Juste, but instead has been taken over by the spirit of Dracula himself. Juste must decide whether the slaying of the undead Dracula is worth more than his friendship with Maxim.

Gameplay: B+

Like most recent Castlevania series, the game is based on a “Castletroid” exploration, locating powers that help to access new sections of the castle. Along the way, Juste can gain experience to improve his statistics, as well as new weapons and armor accessories to improve his offensive and defense maneuvers.

Harmony of Dissonance ScreenshotThere are two primary features of HoD that are new to the series. The first is the way Dracula’s castle is laid out. It’s the usual size for a Castlevania game, but about a third of the way through the game, you learn the secret that there’s actually two castles: one that exists in the physical world, tending to have easier monsters, and one that exists in the spirit world, with a more difficult challenge. The basic architecture of the castles are the same, though a few rooms that exist in one don’t exist in the other. There are several rooms that allow you to warp not only between castles but to other warp rooms within the same castle, which do a reasonable job of allowing you to move around quickly, but certainly some more of the extreme parts of the castle are still a distance away from any warp point and require a bit of whip-work to get there. The map screen, once this realization is revealed, can be toggled between either castle, allowing to easily identify (for the most part) where you’ve yet to travel, and knowing of rooms in one castle that you’ve not yet seen in the other can help you to find secrets and helpful items

The other feature of HoD is a simplified magic system. Five magic books exist around the castle. The books alone don’t do much, but when equipped and activated, any sub-weapon attack releases a strong magical attack that uses up magic points instead of hearts. There are also certain extremely power attacks that can be achieved by “fusing” one magic with a specific subweapon, learned through trial and error or hint cards.

The game is not too hard, and you’ll likely find that most of the last half of the game to be about figuring out how to get from point A to point B using the awkward warp system in the game. Some warp points are inaccessible until you find a specific key as well, and you’ll find yourself retracing a lot of steps throughout the game. However, it’s still a good size for a portable game, clocking me about 8 hours total. There’s a special ending if you defeat a certain boss in a specific manner, that unlocks a bit more to play through, but the game will otherwise remain the same on subsequent plays.

Graphics: B

The game is mostly sprite based and uses a few unique background effects at some locations. While everything can be clearly seen, the game is heavily based on reds and greys, and can get somewhat old after a while. While the map is easily accessible, having to switch to it after being used to the concurrent display with both Castlevania DS games is a bit annoying.

Sound: C+

The music, while definitely based on common Castlevania themes, is barely above older music systems and has some rather odd and unpleasant sounding melodies, but the rest of the sound effects are the usual fare for a Castlevania game.

Overall (Harmony): B

Pretty much, while the game fits the mold of a modern Castlevania game, the overall issue with the two castles aspect makes this game a bit more of a struggle to get around, and thus slows down the late game. The few additional touches are not enough to really get this over the mediocrity of traversing the castle so many times, but it’s still a good challenge.

Aria of Sorrow

Aria of Sorrow ScreenshotStory: A-

In the year 2035, 36 years after a total eclipse coincided with the last defeat of Dracula, his castle banished. However, as another total eclipse approaches, young Soma Cruz finds himself transported to the castle, along with several other mysterious characters all there for their own reasons, some more diabolical than others as well as his friend from school, Mina. When Mina is injured by attacking, Soma can only go into the castle to try to defeat the evil inside and cure Mina.

Gameplay: A

Like all newer Castlevania games, the castle is arranged is several sections, some which require you to have certain abilities to get to, but usually once you get through a section, you can open a backdoor or alternative route such as a warp point to get there. There’s no tricks to this castle unlike Harmony of Discourse, save for one section that is a bit of a tricky maze to get through. It’s usually much easier to get from a point A to a point B compared with “Harmony”, and having played through both “Dawn of Sorrow” and “Portrait of Ruin”, the navigation system only gets easier from here. The rest of the gameplay is very familiar, including experience and level gaining, and improved weapons and accessories.

The fundamental difference in gameplay is that as Soma, you aren’t a Belmont, and thus don’t have access to a whip. Instead, you’ll need to rely on weapons that you pick up through the game for your melee attacks. To give you a bit more edge, you also have the ability to absorb souls of defeated foe and equip these for additional powers: one for a sub-weapon type attack, one for a triggered ability, and one that constantly in action, usually helping to improve your stats. Souls are generally not easy to get though as your luck improves and you kill larger numbers, they can become more frequent. There’s also a few souls that are hinted at that, if you have equipped when facing a certain boss, will unlock an additional portion of the game. The largest annoyance is that there’s a few areas that you need to swap between two specific souls to maneuver about water-filled areas, which requires a trip to the pause menu to do so. The soul system continues into “Dawn of Sorrow” with a few more improvements (including a remedy to this switching problem), but it’s starting point here in Aria is a rather interesting change from the usual sub-weapon mechanic.

Value/Replayability: B+

Certainly with the easier time to get around the castle, there’s a lot less time spent in going over the same sections compared to “Harmony”, but there’s still points that after you’ve acquired a new power, you’ll likely head to sections that you’ve been to before to find new sections you can access. There also may be times you want to hunt specific monsters to get that soul, though I found no need to level grind to succeed in the game. As noted, defeating a certain boss with certain souls will unlock an additional section, but otherwise, the game plays the same way each time. It took me about 7 hours to complete the main game.

Graphics: A-

Compared to “Harmony” the graphics in “Aria” are much better, with a lot more variety in colors and stylings, but keeping a good theme for each subarea of the castle.

Sound : B+

With most themes inspired by past Castlevania series, the music is definitely more pleasing to the ears than that in “Harmony”, and is generally pretty good to keep the pace of the game. Sound effects, as per usual, are the usual ones for the Castlevania series.

Overall (Aria): A-

The soul system is a fun addition to the game, and with the easier time of maneuvering around the castle, it’s a lot easier to focus on the game as opposed to the mechanics of it.

Overall Notes

To the best I can tell, there’s no major changes to either game from their original GBA versions. ‘Harmony’, besides the usual save points, allows you quick save, which keeps all your progress and items but will start you at the last save point you used, while “Aria” has a more traditional quick save approach which stores and restores exactly where you are at (deleting that quick save should you use it). When you start up, you get to select which game you want to play, but to switch requires a restart of the system. The only major change of note is that you cannot use this cartridge to activate a secret in Aria’s sequel, “Dawn of Sorrow” for the DS; only the original Aria cart can be used for this.

Value: A-

Each game, alone, is a pretty good portable game with about the right amount of time for it. While it’s likely that with a bit of work, you could find both original GBA carts for less than the cost of this game, it’s just a time saver to have them both there, as well as one less cart to possibly lose if you go traveling.

Overall: B+

While “Harmony” is definitely the weaker of the two games, it’s still interesting to play both games back to back to see how varied the gameplay can be with just a few mechanics changes, despite both being Castlevania games. It’s also easy to see how the series has improved from both games with the more recent DS games, though certainly it’s possible to return to these games after playing the DS ones.

3 Responses

  1. Hi! Great site, keep up the good work! rv trader


  3. According to the Wikipedia, the Konami code does nothing in Aria, it only has an affect in HoD.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: