To the (Circle of the) Moon and Back, Never to Return?

If you’ve stuck around here long enough, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t stray too far off of a gaming path that I beat down long ago. My platformer/puzzler/fighter tendancies make sense given what I grew up with. Only recently have RPGs of one sort or another entered the mix; and the connections I’ve developed with them make them necessary inclusion. Sure, I’ve had some notable deviations (DOOM, SSX, Tecmo Super Bowl), but they’ve been few and far between, all things considered. I mention all this because those old gaming notions to which I cling habitually and continually inform my game buying habits.

Take for instance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (2001).

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon cover art © Konami, Nintendo
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon cover art © Konami, Nintendo

Despite my mixed history with the Castlevania franchise, I picked up Circle of the Moon not too long after getting my Nintendo DS because…well…because of Castlevania Adventure. This early entry in the series was one of exactly two games that I played on a borrowed Gameboy back in the day (the other game being Tetris, of course). Castlevania Adventure wasn’t a great game, but it built enough of a nest of memories in my brain to make a lasting impression. As I’ve mentioned before, I remain interested in the series and how it’s progressed over the past couple decades despite only playing a few titles. In my mind, “Castlevania” is as synonymous with gaming as “Mario” and “Metroid.”

See what I mean?

Now, that interest in all things Dracula and castle-y has waxed and waned over time. In fact, I bought Circle of the Moon without knowing much about it. There I was, in a Gamestop (or maybe it was EB?) staring at all the portable games under glass near the register. At the time I was on a kick with older Gameboy Color/Advance games, picking up the likes of Mega Man Xtreme and Metroid Fusion; and knew that I needed something Castlevania  to make my hand-held gaming life complete. In the store I zeroed in on three titles: Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow – all used, all of different prices, the least expensive being Circle of the Moon. Me being the cheap bastard that I am, I bought Circle of the Moon. It turned out the be right choice as it was the sequel to Legacy of Darkness, the last Castlevania game I had played. And thankfully, Circle of the Moon was a whole helluva lot better than Legacy of Darkness. Plus, it had what’s still my most favorite main Castlevania theme after Symphony of the Night.

Unlike the fuckups of 3D Castlevania on the N64, Circle of the Moon returned to the masterful and blissful platformer mechanics of Symphony of the Night. Dracula was still in the game, as was the host of skeletons, werewolves, and various mythological demons, apparitions, and other strange creatures. The basic premise of protagonist meets Dracula remained the same except that this time round the protagonist was one Nathan Graves (rather than a Belmont family member, a name ubiquitous to the series). The game also reintroduced Camilla (later Carmilla) as one of Dracula’s underlings. Camilla, who was first seen in Castlevania II, was cool, sexy, and nasty in battle. Just like you want it…uh…to…um…

Me and women with bat wings...it's a...thing...
My next form in my next life. (Image from Saikyo Mog)

Ahem. Anyway, Circle of the Moon played quite gloriously on the DS. Though the character renditions looked a bit antiquated, the environments were simply gorgeous – bright when called for, or otherwise dark and dismal. And Nathan’s story was deeper than just “vampire hunter seeks vampires.” His purpose in slaying Dracula was to save his brother, Hugh (who was being controlled by Dracula and Camilla), and his father, Morris (who had been captured by the evil duo). The castle of Circle of the Moon, just like any good castle, held plenty of secrets that laid in wait until Nathan’s wily ways uncovered them, among which were cards. Yes, unlike previous games, Circle of the Moon offered players a card system that allowed them to alter and customize Nathan’s actions and attributes. While this was certainly an interesting feature, I was far too entrenched in my hack/collect/progress ways to use the system in any meaningful way. Perhaps the game might have been less frustrating if I had paid attention to the cards, but what’s a Castlevania game with the bordering-on-rage-quitting challenge?

Sure, when you say it it, it sounds like a goddamn walk in the park!
Sure, I’ll just get on with all the banishing…for the the millionth goddamn time.  (Image from Saikyo Mog)

I really want to end the story here, on a high note with “Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is a-okay! A really great game!” And it is. But we can’t hide from the truth because the truth is all there is, and the truth is, I’ve not played a single Castlevania game since. I never got its sequels, I never got the highly touted Portrait of Ruin, and I never glanced over store shelves for Lords of Shadows. I’ve read plenty about the nearly two dozen Castlevania games that have been made since Circle of the Moon, but nothing has forced my hand into action. With each new, non-Castlevania game I play, I feel less and less the urges to explore castle and hunt vampires. Even the new trailer for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 resonates very little. Regardless, Castlevania still informs my game choices because there’s no way I can separate “Castlevania” from “game,” despite my distance from the series. It’s a sad and intriguing enigma, and the truth is, I think I like it that way.

6 thoughts on “To the (Circle of the) Moon and Back, Never to Return?”

  1. The only Castlevania I’ve ever played much is Super Castlevania IV. It was awesome! Just challenging enough without being punishing, great combat, great platforming, and the music..holy cow! It’s made me really want to try the NES ones. I’ve also take a brief look at Symphony of the Night, but it didn’t grab my interest. The feel wasn’t right, to slow and backtrack-y for me. (which oddly enough is something I love in the Metroid games…go figure eh?)

    As for Lords of Shadow, I’ve heard it’s good from a character/story/lore perspective. If you like those aspects of the franchise it might be worth your time.

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    1. I adored Castlevania IV, but something about Symphony of the Night just really caught my attention. Probably the graphics, which just looked great on the ol’ PlayStation. But I agree that Castlevania IV I’d definitely one of the best in the series.

      You make good points about Lord of Shadows. My only reservation is that I’ve read it plays like a hack-and-slash, which aren’t my favorite games. But maybe I’ll get to give it a go someday.

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  2. I’d really love more 2D entries in the series. I played the demo for Lord of Shadows 1, and it wasn’t for me at all. At the same time, I’ve been there done that with so many 2D Castlevanias, that I’d want it to be a little fresh. Maybe time will be enough for that or maybe I just need an HD one. Mmm, HD.

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