So it is 1830, and near an abandoned Austrian castle darkness stirs. Master vampire hunter Morris Baldwin and his two pupils, his son Hugh, and Nathan Graves, race in only to find they are too late. Nathan's parents aided Morris in originally sealing Dracula. Aided by his dark minion Camilla, the lord of darkness himself, Count Dracula, has been brought back into the world once again. While the ritual to use the life force of his arch enemy Morris to restore Dracula's full power is being prepared, Dracula destroys the ground beneath Hugh and Nathan as if it were mere child's play, hurtling the two of them down into the catacombs deep beneath the castle.
Upon landing Hugh comments how they were brushed aside like mere children, and tells Nathan he will only get in his way, and rushes off to find his father. But Nathan is as determined as anyone to save his master. Thus begins Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, the first installment of the long standing Castlevania series on the game boy advance. The player must guide Nathan Graves, aided by the legendary vampire killer whip, through Dracula's massive castle, along the way battling a huge host of monstrous entities. Throughout the game, he also acquires various items unlocking new forms of movement and other tricks that allow him to reach various sections of the castle.
In addition, Nathan has at his disposal the DSS cards, or dual system setup. There are 10 action and 10 attribute cards, and by combining an action and attribute card up to 100 different effects are possible. The effects range from simple weapon or stat enhancements, to mighty summon attacks, to transforming into a skeleton that throws a bone for either pitiful damage or an instant kill, but causes Nathan to die instantly if something so much as breaks wind in his direction. He also has at his disposal the sub weapons familiar to players of previous Castlevania games. He can acquire rings and armor, as well as consumables of various strength to restore his health, mana, and the hearts that fuel his sub weapon attacks.
The controls are fairly simple, or at least I thought so. B is your basic attack button, a is your jump, left trigger activates the DSS cards, and the right trigger is the special action button. Unfortunately the controls weren't customizable, but I didn't have any problems with them.
I would say that the graphics are solid, but not spectacular. At times things can seem a bit blurry. But they do get the job done. I have seen better, and I have seen worse. They didn't have me going wow, but they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the game either. With that said, I was impressed by the visuals of the 10 magic summoning attacks, as well as the other magic effects.
The sound is one of the games high points in my opinion. Each area has its own track, and they seem to fit really well, though I will admit it can get repetitive hearing the same thing for an extended period of time. The sound effects are decent enough as they fit the action quite appropriately. The game has some very good background tracks. I particularly like the track to the later boss fights, as it helped pull me into the battle. I also liked the tracks to the observation tower and the abyss hallway.
A single play through should last anywhere from 10-15 hours maybe. Beating the game unlocks magician mode where the player has all DSS cards and increased INT and MP, but low defense and HP. Beating this unlocks fighter mode which as one might expect is the opposite, no DSS, but strong STR, DEF, and HP. Finishing fighter unlocks ranger, who has high hearts and the homing dagger sub weapon. Winning the game as a ranger unlocks thief mode, which I am guessing has a high luck rating. I have only beaten normal and magician modes, but I was hoping after thief there would another mode where Nathan gets the best of everything, but sadly there isn't. It would be nice though, I mean after beating all those other modes I think the player has earned the chance to play an overpowered SOB, don't you think?
Overall I found Circle of the Moon to be a nice addition to the series. Other than the opening scene not much on story aside from the increasingly heated rift that forms between Hugh and Nathan. Aside from that though, it is a decent game, and it sticks to what made its predecessors in the Castlevania series so popular, good background music and solid gameplay. Since it is an older it can probably be found for a decent price, so I recommend buying it.