Title: Castlevania Advance Collection
Release Date: September 23, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Genre: Action-RPG, Metroidvania
Castlevania has received remastered efforts over the years through various collections. From Anniversary Collection to Requiem, gamers have had the opportunity to embrace the experiences of these praised titles.
Now, these efforts have delivered us Castlevania Advance Collection. Containing arguably some standout entries in the franchise. Still, there is one outlier here, but the collection is excellently worthwhile.
This package aligns with the remastered GBA entries hence ‘Advance’ being in the title. The trilogy is Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow. Each title is a Metroidvania, though some lite RPG elements make their way into the experiences to provide thought-provoking depth.
For instance, Circle of the Moon has the Dual Set-Up System. More commonly referred to as DSS, players must obtain random card drops from enemies and combine them to unleash varying effects such as enhancing stats to summoning familiars.
Additionally, Harmony of Dissonance houses a Magic Book system where items emit unique damaging methods depending on what Book is equipped and if Magic is even enabled in the first place. There is an incredible degree of player adaptability and freedom with builds, thanks to these mechanics.
Furthermore, they are all implemented in avenues that don’t make randomness necessarily required for progression. Instead, they are experimental add-ons encouraged in non-intrusive ways. This is all amplified by the games’ brief expected playtimes, so it encourages players to replay with different builds.
Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. The Metroidvania elements deserve mention due to their rewarding ventures. During gameplay, players will encounter several diverging pathways, some of which can’t be traversed until gaining a movement ability later on.
This tried-and-true design element works well in these games, especially when visiting numerous side paths that become accessible and house juicy rewards. Honestly, there isn’t a single strongly negative aspect that comes to mind when I reflect on the experiences I had.
Still, if there is one somewhat critique I have, it has to do with the lack of map interactivity. Now, none of these maps are confusing, but there are times when they can become frustrating such as when you’re in a room where you can’t fully grab the contents of, such as an upgrade, as they require movement capabilities you’ve yet to earn. However, the maps sometimes label the rooms containing these items to be fully explored, so it’s unfortunately easy to miss out on upgrades because of how misleading this can be. Having icons of unobtained items in rooms you have been in would have remedied this.
Difficulty-wise, the games felt relatively similar in intensity, or more fittingly, lack thereof. That isn’t to say these games were braindead by any means, but if you’re experienced with action games and stay conscious of your level and equipment, you’ll usually be able to achieve victory without much concern.
However, a few bosses can be challenging and require intricate understandings of their telegraphs to prevail against. The final boss of Circle of the Moon gave me a run for my money, I’ll admit, but that’s because I didn’t utilize the DSS system wisely until that point.
Castlevania soundtracks have always boasted an esteemed pedigree, and this collection emphasizes its brilliance. While not each track is memorable, they achieve the vital importance of enforcing the atmosphere of every encounter and area. It’s no wonder Castlevania is consistently identified in tandem with its songs because they are a tethered aspect of the franchise’s identity.
You’ll notice there’s one game I’ve neglected to mention throughout this review. That is the fourth title included in this collection; Dracula X. This game is the outlier of the bunch and is more fitting for the Requiem collection. Unfortunately, it is also the entry that I enjoyed the least. Unlike the others, Dracula X is a reimagining of Rondo of Blood and therefore plays more akin to the series’s roots. This is a linear action platformer that, at best, I view as a reprieve from what the other games in the collection provide if you desire it.
I became aware of this title’s mixed reception when researching it, and while I don’t view it quite as negatively as fans do, this is undoubtedly the lowest point of the collection. Even when considering the genre shift, which isn’t an issue in it itself and just more jarring than anything else, the stage designs and general movement are questionable.
Still, I never wanted to quit the experience outright as the bosses and such do have clear telegraphs, so there is a level of satisfaction with victory. It’s just that the level design can be a chore to deal with at points with troll-like enemy placement, especially in later stages. I will say that I used Rewind during those points, though, as loathe as I am to admit.
Speaking of, Advance Collection has several customization options to take note of. Players can adjust screen settings to play with the original presentation or perfected pixels to enhance the appeal. Side wallpapers can be picked from if the entire screen isn’t chosen to be utilized.
Plus, save states and even sound quality can be configured. Perhaps most welcoming, though, is the control settings where players can remap buttons to their liking. While not utterly groundbreaking, all of these options are representative of the care that went into this collection to make it as “advanced” as possible without sacrificing the identities of the games’ original states.
Castlevania Advance Collection is legitimately one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The collection of this trilogy is magnificent, boasting satisfying, methodical progression, great soundtracks, and addictive RPG systems. Even Dracula X, which caters to a different crowd, doesn’t take away from these classic GBA titles. The package provides some standout gaming action and you owe it to yourself to pick it up.
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