In 2001, Castlevania Chronicles, an enhanced remake of the original Castlevania found its way to the PlayStation. The port was originally released for the popular Japanese X68000 computer and was quickly lost to time. Later that year, however, Konami would release the first Game Boy Advance installment of the series: Circle of the Moon.
Circle was a resurgence of the gameplay from Symphony and introduced a whip-wielding non-Belmont named Nathan Graves into the fray. He would go on a grand adventure in a rather poorly lit castle. The sub-weapon system is interesting, as it allows the player to combine different cards (dropped by enemies) to create different effects and contains the Castlevania standards of the knife, axe, holy water, etc …
The adventure is large and interesting and makes for an altogether unique experience in the series. The only caveat, however, is that the dark environments don’t show up as well on the Game Boy Advance and can make for some rather heavy eye strain.
The original GBA did not have a backlight, so when I first played the game I experienced the eye strain. However, I kept returning to the game until I finished it. Later games don’t have the darkened background and the game is much easier on the eyes on the GBA SP or Wii U Virtual Console version. Circle has the distinct honor of being the first Metroidvania — so called because of its focus on exploration in a large area, similar to the Metroid games, on a portable system.
In 2002, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance marked a complete return-to-form for fans of Symphony of the Night. In this installment, set in the 1800s, Juste Belmont and his friend, Maxim Kischine, venture into Dracula’s castle to find their missing friend, Lydie. While the plot is threadbare, the game mechanics are amazing. Juste has perfect command of the whip (which can be upgraded) and can combine elemental spell books with the sub-weapon attacks to create spectacular effects.
Harmony is also much larger than its immediate predecessor. The game features several modes, including a boss rush, which will become standard in subsequent Metroidvanias, and the ability to play the entire game as Maxim after defeating Dracula. There’s even a secret appearance of Simon Belmont!
Harmony stands out because of its smooth play control, interesting environments, originality and larger-than-life boss characters. Unlike later Metroidvania games, Harmony tends to have more original locales and enemies, rather than reusing past sprites.
Following the success of Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance, two very different things happened with the series on the different gaming platforms. Nintendo handhelds continued the Metroidvania style, while the Playstation titles all followed the 3D arcade style.
On the PlayStation 2, Lament of Innocence was released in 2003. Lament tells the story of Leon Belmont, a holy knight on a quest to save his beloved — wielding the Vampire Killer, the first of the Belmont line to do so. The game plays like a 3-D, arcade-style adventure with some role-playing elements tossed in. The graphics, for the time, are amazing and the music is nothing to scoff at. The game also featured a giant medusa head battle, similar to Stage 2 of the original, which you can watch here.
The gameplay is similar to other action titles like Devil May Cry, with its combo system and it’s fun, if a bit of a grind. Lament is the first of two 3-D Castlevania games released for the PS2. Later that year, on the Nintendo GBA, Aria of Sorrow arrived and changed everything …
Castlevania – Journey Through the Years will continue right here on Nerdvana next week!
Stay tuned for our next installment, when I’ll dive into my favorite part of the series, covering Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclessia.