The second Castlevania for GameBoy Advanced followed the pattern of Circle of the Moon. Placed in continuity between Simon’s Quest and Rondo of Blood, the game’s story tried to deviate a bit from the common Dracula is awakened and you have to vanquish him pattern. You play a Belmont whose friend Maxim believes someone had kidnapped their friend Lydie Erlanger. You enter a castle and the rest is pretty much like most other Castlevania games. A plot twist you can see coming miles away, all tied into the usual Castlevania lore.
In contrast to Circle of the Moon, Dracula’s castle is much more colorful. Sure, it’s still a gloomy and decrepit place, but the style isn’t as earthy as in the previous game. At times the colors really feel a bit off, with the art design veering too much into a playful and decidedly unCastlevania direction.
While the overall gameplay hasn’t changed much, there are small changes that make the game play slightly different. The most obvious change is that the magic system and sub weapon system have been merged, now you can use either subweapons or spells based on combinations of subweapons with elemental attacks. The topology of the castle (2-in-1 with various dead ends for a long time) also forces you to backtrack much more often, which is a bit annoying even with the full usage of the teleporter system later on (kneel down for speedy travel). And they dialed the difficulty down a lot. The game is far, far too easy.
Despite the attempts to differentiate the game from other Metroidvania Castlevania’s, it plays like most of them and at times feel both too derivative (there’s nothing really all that different and unique compared to SotN or CotM) and yet the slight changes in style make the atmosphere less gloomy and creepy Castlevanian than other games in the series. Still, if you like the Metroidvania gameplay introduced by SotN, than HoD suffices, even if it doesn’t exactly excites in presentation.