The first Castlevania that followed the path paved by Symphony of the Night. I must admit I have a strong preference for the 2d-Castlevania games and I even prefer the metrovania-styled games over the older platformers that made the whole series famous. The metrovania-styled game are much easier than the older platformers, mostly due to the inclusion of RPG-elements like leveling up. If you can’t beat an enemy, you have to simply farm exp-points until you’re strong enough. But the lost difficulty is offset by the exploration aspect.
Not that it’s entirely a walk in the park, at least not Circle of the Moon. Whereupon later Metroidvania games on the GBA and the NDS are pretty much on easy, Circle of the Moon keeps the difficulty up a bit. There’s a sort of level scaling, which stronger monsters popping up on already visited earlier areas later on and most of the boss monsters aren’t enter, mash button and win, but enter and die until you’ve figured them out.
CotM takes place around 30 years after Symphony of the Night, but it doesn’t really matter, as most of those games are pretty self-contained. Again someone has woken Dracula, again someone has to kill him. This time there’s no Belmont around, but an old guy and two younger ones. Dracula takes the old guy hostage and you play one of the younger ones trying to rescue him. Things are complicated by the second youth, who is the son of the old guy and envious of you for some reason. Okay, it doesn’t sound too complex, but it’s fun to follow the plot broken up into small dialog pieces all over the castle.
And the main ingredient, the gameplay, is near perfectly executed. A dark and gloomy castle full of monsters, a magic system based on tarot cards and the sub weapons known from the older platformers. My only misgiving with the game is that you get the tarot cards by luck from certain monsters, which reminds me of typical jRPGs who deploy such tactics to lengthen game time. Not something I appreciate.