Castlevania Advance Collection (2021)REVIEW

The year was 2001, I was living in my second apartment, the one in the shitty part of a small Oregonian college town where I sold weed and… smoked weed far too much. It was illegal at the time so, I was rad for doing it. That summer my best friend’s sister’s ex-boyfriend, whom became ‘known’ for his wild crystal meth/whiskey benders later on, changed my life with two simple actions: First, he gave me a hardback copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to read. I wouldn’t call it a religious experience but hey, I haven’t stopped reading books for a single day since. Right, and secondly he stole a launch edition the Gameboy Advance handheld console and a copy of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (2001) from his job at Blockbuster Video then traded it to me for an eighth of an ounce of weed. Now, technically speaking, if we’re talking best handheld video game experiences of a lifetime which hold up to old-bro nostalgia obviously Megaman II (1991) & III (1992) on the original Gameboy are forever top two but third place is without a doubt Circle of the Moon.

“Metroidvania”, action platformer, whatever you want to call it I didn’t think of it as a ‘thing’ until I played this game. Though I’d played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997) and Super Metroid (1994) to some great extent at that point Circle of the Moon was the first and only “metroidvania” title from Iga-era Konami that was actually a challenge. To be fair Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (2008) is just as brutal at certain points but this was one of the few games where I found myself printing out a FAQ/Guide to reference while I played, spending far too much time trying to get all of the DSS cards to get an edge on the bosses and finally finishing the arena after days of grinding levels and healing items. When attempting to blog for the first time around 2009 one of the first things I did was grab an emulator and replay all six of the handheld (GBA + 3DS) Castlevania games in a row writing far too thorough reviews for each. Point being I’ve a couple decades worth of nostalgic indulgence under my belt for the first game on this Castlevania Advance Collection, which includes Circle of the Moon in addition to Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002), and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003). In total I’ve played Aria of Sorrow and Harmony of Dissonance twice each, Circle of the Moon about six times or twice with each character type. In terms of Dracula X (1995) there is no reason to even touch it if you’ve already got Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (1993), since it is a cheap Super Nintendo port/de-make of it. I’ve worn these games out enough for a lifetime yet they were/are still well worth ripping through again.

I’ll post slideshows and a paragraph for each of the three Gameboy Advance games included on the collection but there’ll be no point in rere-reviewing them. If you like metroidvanias and want to see the archetype as it evolved, these are some of most pure and reasonably sized examples. You’ll get about ~7-10 hours out of each game and they all feature their own systems, art style, and twist on the ol’ Castlevania plot. The one bit of criticism in hindsight, which is more of an observation, is that the DS/3DS trilogy is markedly better in hindsight and the more obvious flaws of these first three games begins to show up with repeated play. Otherwise the quality of emulation is fantastic. Region switching, save states, trainers for each game that help with collecting etc., multiple viewing modes/filters, a concept art gallery, access to all four soundtracks, controls are tight without any notable lag, and I had zero technical issues or crashes throughout 60+ hours of gameplay.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (2001)

After Konami‘s hazardous attempts at a couple of third person action Castlevania games for the Nintendo 64 in 1999 they’d canceled Castlevania: Resurrection outright and tasked Koji Igarashi with the Castlevania: Chronicles remake for the original Playstation. The best Castlevania game for the Game Boy Advance was particularly good (and still holds up best) because it doesn’t feature a lot of the shortcuts that egotist Iga’s productions would often feature, such as reusing assets from other games. Circle of the Moon likewise features a darker illustrated look that was especially brutal on the original handheld since it didn’t initially feature a backlight for the screen. Interestingly enough, the producers for this game now run Good-Feel, the developers behind recent Kirby and Yoshi games with the yarn and whatnot. Anyhow, the Dual Set-up System or DSS is the big draw here as this quasi-sequel to Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994) tasks the player with collecting cards which offer primary effects and secondary modifiers which replace the need for various equipment and weapon effects. This means selecting the card that grants an effect to your whip strike would then require you to have a secondary effect card which might make you blast poison from your body in all directions when you swing the whip, or shoot a wave of fire with every swing; This system is almost ridiculously deep for a game that takes maybe ten hours to beat and is refreshingly different from what they’d do on each of the five games in this style that followed. Much as I like the two games that followed, this is the one with the exact right look for Castlevania alongside systemic depth, strong castle design, and by far the best music.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002)

“The quality of the music was sacrificed for the quality of the graphics.” is probably the most mind-boggling thing I have ever encountered in the years I’ve spent gathering information about this game. In fact, yes, the music is horrendous and would be even for an early Super Nintendo game but the graphics are awful, too. Though I didn’t have the foresight to screenshot any actual gameplay, I’ve got playthroughs of each game up on YouTube and you can see the main issue right away: Juste Belmont looks like if they’d drawn a Lord of the Rings (SNES) version of Alucard from Symphony of the Night and outlined him in bright blue. Rest assured this game does everything it can to invoke the look of that 1997 Playstation/Saturn game without any particular success. Harmony of Dissonance was in production in tandem with Aria of Sorrow to start and I don’t necessarily understand how this one went so wrong and the next went so well. The aesthetic, the story, the castle design itself, and the music — All of it forgettable trash. Although I wouldn’t suggest skipping this game it is one of the worst Castlevania titles ever made and the only one that truly deserves a remake of some kind. The ability systems here are novel enough but far more limited than Circle of the Moon as you collect about 4-5 spellbooks which allow you to use magic points to cast specific spells depending on which sub-weapon you have equipped. Switching between the two identical, but very small, castles means a ton of backtracking to the point that it seems like they were doing all that they could to juice the small number of areas that could fit on the cartridge. Don’t listen to a single idiot out there suggesting this was an improvement over Circle of the Moon, nah, fuck off already with that.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003)

Although many have hailed Aria of Sorrow as perhaps the best of this initial quasi-trilogy of releases on the GBA this is largely the rose-colored lens of nostalgia overselling what is perhaps the first -merely decent- game to come from Iga-era Castlevania. First, you’ll notice it is set in futuristic Japan to start and feature an anime influenced aesthetic. It isn’t a favorite of mine but it is always pure pleasure to play. Each game beyond this point only got better and the direct sequel Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (2005) was far, far better. That said: The controls are perfect, the art style is some of the best on the system, the progression of abilities/layout of the castle are excellent, the difficulty is ultra-mild, and the only reason to extend the playthrough is to gain a few soul abilities that’ll help you slash through bosses in a few seconds. I would not have gotten 100% of the souls in the game if I wasn’t 100% into it. My only complaint is that there just isn’t enough to do in this game and the extra final area + true final boss aren’t all that exciting. The music comes with songs from Michiru Yamane but also Takashi Yoshida whom she worked with on Suikoden III‘s soundtrack and Soshiro Hokkai who also worked on Harmony of Dissonance. The composer was doing much more notable work on Playstation/Playstation 2-era games at the time and Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2003) was the superior work of the two Castlevania soundtracks of hers to have been published that year.

There’ll be no getting around it. These games are still fun, still have great music, and are absolutely essential titles for your scant digital Gameboy Advance archives. There is no way to improve upon this emulation collection as is in terms of visuals, accuracy and easy of access. This is all we need for this type of release and here’s hoping the DS/3DS and the Playstation 2-era Castlevania titles make it into their own collections. Just… don’t ever bring back Castlevania: Judgement.

Highest recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
TITLE:Castlevania: Advance Collection
FORMAT REVIEWED:Digital Download [PS4 Pro]
PUBLISHER/DEVELOPER:Konami Digital Entertainment BV
RELEASE DATE:September 23rd, 2021
GENRE(S):Action Platformer,
Action Role-Playing Game

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