Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Randomizer
Review by Mike Finkelstein
I have noted in the past that I am not a huge fan of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. While it's a fine game it does feel like the weakest of the Metroidvania titles in the IGA era of Castlevania. It's a game that tries way too hard to be Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, like an eager puppy nipping at the PlayStation game's heels, while also bungling so many other choices in the process. It's playable, but not great.
As far as fans are concerned, it's probably an even toss up as to which GBA Metroidvania is appreciated less, Harmony of Dissonance or predecessor Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (which is a game I personally love), and that's evident by the fact that while many of the other Metroidvania titles in the series had received randomizers, these two GBA titles lacked the same fan-projects. These were the two stragglers, but thankfully both the Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Randomizer and the Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Randomizer are now out, giving fans a better way to appreciate the titles. And, in the case of harmony of Dissonance, it's randomizer does make a big difference.
Let's start this off properly by noting that the randomizer doesn't change the things that really didn't work about harmony of Dissonance. if you weren't a fan of the graphics in the game, with their weird, pastel palettes, they're the same here. Similarly, all the bosses and enemies remain the same, and all those bosses just being bigger versions (and duplicate versions) of what we've seen before still holds true. The creativity in the base game is still just as lacking and the randomizer doesn't magically fix all the flaws. Instead, it makes them easier to ignore.
Randomizers, by their nature, shuffle up and "randomize" all the aspects of a game. In the case of Harmony of Dissonance there is actually a lot to randomize. While the hero, Juste, only has one weapon (the Vampire Killer), he does have other gear -- whip attachments, armor, accessories, consumables, and relics -- that all can get added into the pool. These will naturally get shuffled around and, depending on the whip attachments and relics you find, and the order they're discovered, the game will flow very differently from what you might be used to in the vanilla game.
Harmony is actually an interesting one to randomize in this regard because it's not just one castle but two, interconnected. It's the only game in the series to lay itself out in this manner as other games either have two distinct castles (like Symphony) or a bunch of individual areas that don't really overlap. With Harmony's interlocking castles, though, you can find yourself forced into tougher areas at lower levels just to find your next bit of progression. It can be terrifying but also thrilling.
This can be made harder still via the area randomization feature in the game, an option just like in the Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Randomizer 2 (which was also programmed by fusecv). With this on, doors (and transports) between areas won't necessarily link to the next section you'd expect. You could be thrown into the deep end of an area, put on a loop in the same area, or all kinds of other tomfoolery. Keeping a map handy so you know where you can go is needed, especially with the double-layered castle of Harmony at play. You can even mix the castles up differently (or even with each other) to make a real mess of an adventure if you want.
The difficulty of the game is really highlighted by the randomizer, in point of fact. I've heard it mentioned, more than once, that while Harmony of Dissonance is not a hard casual game it can be very difficult to speed-run. The programmers expected you to explore everything, to kill every enemy that came your way, and balanced it accordingly. That means, though, that the game scales up quickly and can be tough for a low-level hero, which is exactly the kind of hero you're going to be, at times, in a fully shuffled castle. Anyone that thought this game was easy will find some real challenge in the randomized version, for sure.
One other feature I really enjoy is the "IKEA Placement" for the item logic. The name is amusing, of course, but it's apt for what it does: IKEA logic means that key items and relics are mixed only among their own locations and the furniture locations in the game (instead of every random item location in the game). This helps to narrow the game down to just focus on specific locations, which also makes the randomizer more manageable for someone that doesn't have the whole game memorized.
Frankly, I had a lot of fun playing through the randomizer. I find the vanilla game kind of tedious in places, very samey and expected, made only worse by the double-castles that make me feel like I'm going back and forth across the same areas over and over again. With all the options of the randomizer turned on, though, the whole experience gets a solid shake up while, strangely, feeling more streamlined. The game gets better when filtered through the randomizer, turning it into something I actually want to play once in a while.
The Harmony of Dissonance Randomizer doesn't redeem the original game but it does take the bones of that Castlevania adventure to make something way more fun to play. For anyone wanting to get back into Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, to find the redeemable in a lesser entry in the franchise, the randomizer is absolutely the way to play. It creates a solid Metroidvania from a game that, frankly, needed a bit of work.