Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance ReviewJoe Shaffer
Konami must've figured that they were on a roll. Shortly after releasing Circle of the Moon did they unleash yet another Metroid-style whip-lashing adventure, only this time starring an actual Belmont. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance allows players to assume the role of Simon's grandson, Juste Belmont, on a quest to rescue his childhood friend Lydie from the bowels of Castle Dracula. That might sound like a serviceable premise for some players, but to me it serves as an omen of what to expect from Harmony. Like it's tired rescue-the-maiden premise, Harmony is plagued by banality to the point that it's almost a forgettable adventure, despite actually being a fairly good game.
I've played through Harmony three times, and in each instance I've struggled with remembering the events that transpired during its campaign, the bosses and enemies I had encountered, and whole set pieces. For the most part, this is due to Harmony's lack of a truly standout feature. There's little to separate this game from its ilk, especially since its mechanics and world design are essentially the same. Even the presence of a second identical castle to explore was previously utilized in a slightly different form, featured in the classic Symphony of the Night.
The game's story also doesn't take you down any bold avenues. It starts off with a plot device that I thought gaming had left behind when SNES/Genesis era ended. However, the cliches don't stop there. Juste's dear friend Maxim also joins him on the search and eventually disappears. He later returns as the "master of the castle," another device robbed from Symphony. On top of that, we later learn he's actually possessed. How novel. A friendly character turns heel after coming under the influence of a wicked spell... Again, both Symphony and an older portable game called Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge come to mind. While I don't expect Shakespeare from a Castlevania game, I'm not a fan of blatant, unimaginative rehash.
Thankfully, I've covered most of what's wrong with Harmony of Dissonance, which are some moderate-sized complaints. As for what's right with the game, well, there's plenty of that...
Harmony features mostly solid mechanics. The only hangup is that Juste's jump is a bit wonky, but not to the the extent that you can't acclimate yourself with the game's physics. Beyond that, he moves quite fluidly. I noticed this especially when using either of the dodge commands or the Mega Man-like slide ability. The game processes Juste's actions timely, making for exciting combat (especially boss battles).
For the most part, the mechanical end of the game is transparent. I didn't find myself cursing missteps or blaming control response for my mishaps, especially when I was thoroughly engaged in exploring Harmony's vast castles. Harmony provides a plethora of hidden nooks and crannies packed with worthwhile treasures. Unlike Symphony, you don't discover a slew of useless weapons and outdated armor. Rather, I found that most of the armor I stumbled upon was actually useful at the time I nabbed it. In a way, it's as though the developers predicted how players would progress through the game and planned equipment placement accordingly.
Exploration gives way to new rooms, more enemies, and especially badass boss encounters. Harmony's rogues gallery may not be the greatest, but there are some rugged and wild battles to be had within its walls. One that had me on the edge of my seat featured a creature simply referred to as Devil. This guy could took a hell of a licking before he finally fell, but he nearly brought me to my knees in so doing. I spent just about every restorative item fighting him, and definitely exhausted my uncurse potion supply. Mostly, I had a hard time avoiding his burning fist attack. Harmony's other boss battles were decent enough, but weren't as entertaining as encounters from other titles in the franchise. Sure, it was nice revisiting some old faces like Cyclops, Minotaur, and Legion (aka Granfalloon), but nothing about these conflicts particularly stood out. Mostly, I wiped these abominations out with a modicum of effort and moved on.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is by no means a terrible game. It's solidly built and a pleasure to explore, and it's quite engaging. For instance, there were a few times where I had to consider where to go next, which required me to examine the map and see which route possibly led to events that furthered the campaign. I especially had to study it for unexplored gaps that might aid me to that end. The only unfortunate misstep this game makes is that it isn't as memorable as its brothers. Sadly, Harmony is the middle child that will be remembered only by those who cherish it. The rest of us, especially those who like the game, will have to replay it several times throughout our lives to remind ourselves why we considered it such a solid title in the first place.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.