Only days after I discovered the fluffy “Castlevania for in between” Grimoire of Souls on Apple Arcade and suddenly realized how much I miss this series, Konami is already releasing the Castlevania Advance Collection. That came almost as ordered. I had bought the first GBA Castlevania, Circle of the Moon, as the launch title for Nintendo’s Gameboy successor and had only fond memories of it.
And it only got better when Koji Igarashi himself took over the helm with Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow. At the same time, a refresher was slowly due. Not only because the games were no longer so insane – Circle of the Moon is 20 years old, after all – but also because a lot has happened in Metroidvania, especially in the last five or six years. And what should I say? I just wanted to take a quick look, but nothing came of it. Because these three games are simply the nicest Metroidvania three-pack that money can buy – until the DS-Collection inevitably comes out at some point, but even then it will be a close fight!
No less fun on the big screen either!
I caught myself putting the first title of the GBA trilogy aside after three hours because I wanted to try out the next one straight away. With Harmony of Dissonance it went almost exactly the same: only after a good two and a half hours did I go to bed, only to continue with the third GBA game after another half hour in the morning, reluctantly, but with an insane desire for Aria of Sorrow. That also captivated me from the spot for hours. It’s just incredibly difficult to put these almost perfectly composed games aside, so satisfying to get rid of the endless respawns of grotesque pixel enemies.
But maybe right from the start: For 19.99 euros you get the faithfully emulated originals plus Castlevania Dracula X, better known in this country as Vampire’s Kiss or later SNES copy of Rondo of Blood. All four games can be experienced in the Japanese, US-American and European versions (with non-compatible savegames). If you like, you can play the music with an integrated player or look at contemporary artwork in the gallery. The graphics can be displayed pixel-perfect or stretched, if you are not completely at ease, the standard zoom cuts a very good figure on my 4K television, which I prefer, despite the low resolution.
You are allowed to reassign the keys – which was urgently needed in my case when attacking the “B” or circle key – look up things in an encyclopedia that is individual for each game, switch between two sound qualities (leave it!), Create your own save states, yours Save replays and of course rewind. Standard program, but thoroughly comprehensive and well implemented. I am actually extremely satisfied with this package, which for less than 20 euros easily captivates 35 to 40 hours.
Metroidvania doesn’t get any better
Of course there are differences. Circle of the Moon isn’t as pretty as the other two, the sound in Harmony of Dissonance doesn’t sound that special. But each of the three GBA games follows the old “Symphony of the Knight” school of the large, freely explorable castle, which reveals new sides, paths and secrets of itself with the expanded repertoire of the heroes, who are constantly rising in their character values. Basically, these are the truest sequels to the PSone classic about Alucard that we have received to date – and yes, I include the three DS parts from Dawn of Sorrow to Order of Ecclesia.
Perhaps, evaluated in a vacuum, they do a little better, very well possible. But I vaguely remember touch gimmicks that wouldn’t have needed it and that at some point in the fifth game in five years – Portrait of Ruin – I needed a break at some point. Nonetheless, it’s been long enough that I’m really looking forward to maybe seeing it reissued at some point. Either way: For me, the Advance parts were incredibly fresh back then. They are likely to have left a lasting mark on many designers of modern Metroidvanias.
It is also interesting how well the three parts can be played away one after the other without it getting any old: Each one makes its own bows on the well-known RPG systems, be it the card-based magic system DSS from Circle or the stealing soul from Aria of Sorrow . The bottom line is that Harmony of Dissonance is perhaps an idea too simple, almost a sure-fire success, but overall a beautifully made and not too scarce gem that saves with direct references to SotN and flows nicely.
How does Dracula X fit in there – and does it have to be?
And then there is Dracula X, which I would at least book as an interesting footnote. It’s a very classic Castlevania, much left-to-right, without the action-adventure, RPG, and exploration elements of the later games. Slow walking pace, geriatric climbing stairs, but nice pixel art. It is, so to speak, the Evil Dead 2 from Rondo of Blood, a mix of sequel and remake, which only appeared afterwards in the West and is widely regarded as inferior. It’s incredibly difficult, with the tendency to be unfair, I would say after an hour and two and a half levels, but thanks to the rewind function you can also cut hairier sequences and see the end quite soon. Well worth it, even if the story behind it is probably more interesting than the game itself.
But hey, that’s a hell of a lot of extremely good Castlevania for only 20 euros. It crashed twice in three days, but thanks to the uncomplicated save states and the not exactly long loading times, these were only brief irritations. The Castlevania Advance Collection is a beautifully put together package and the best opportunity to fill an educational gap – or to bring back vivid memories of these young-at-heart classics.