Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (known in Europe as simply Castlevania and in Japan as Akumajou Dracula: Circle of the Moon, the former sub-title loosely translated to "Devil's Castle Dracula") is a 2D horror-fantasy platformer-adventure game developed by KCE Kobe and published by Konami for the Game Boy Advance (as a launch title) on June 8, 2001.
A spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon brings the gameplay style of free-roaming backtrack-focused exploration (with RPG-style attribute, inventory, and experience systems) to the handheld.
The game takes place in an old Austrian castle in 1830, where Camilla, a female vampire, begins the ritual to resurrect her lord, Dracula. Sensing this, master vampire hunter Morris Baldwin rushes to the castle along with his son Hugh and disciple Nathan Graves. However, they arrived too late, and the risen Dracula imprisons Morris while casting Nathan and Hugh down into a graveyard underneath the castle. Players control Nathan, heir to the Hunter Whip (unknown if it's another name for the Vampire Killer whip), as he explores the large castle to rescue his master and defeat Dracula. As the game was intended to be a standalone game in the series, the game's story is considered non-canon in the main Castlevania chronology.
Circle of the Moon features a unique magic ability system known as the "Dual Set-up System" (DSS), where players find special Action Cards and Attribute Cards dropped by certain enemies and combine them to produce one of 100 temporary magic effects (such as improving the functionality of the Hunter's Whip and changing the player's stats).
The game was later digitally re-released for the Wii U (as a Virtual Console title) in Japan on August 27, 2014, in North America on October 9, 2014, and in Europe on January 29, 2015. It was also included in the 2021 compilation Castlevania Advance Collection for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Nathan with his Hunter's Whip, an item handed down through the generations of vampire hunters, must search the castle, finding all the enemies and bosses that, upon their defeats, will aid in his journey to get to Dracula and save his master. As Nathan defeats each boss, he gets a certain Key Item/Ability that will give him a new ability to use to get to new areas of the castle. This is generally called the "Metroidvania" pattern.
- Double - allows character to jump a second time in mid-air. After defeating Cerberus.
- Dash Boots - allows the character to run faster. In Earth Demon room.
- Tackle - allows the character to take down brittle stone barricades. After defeating Necromancer.
- Kick Boots - allows character to jump off of walls for an extra boost. After defeating Iron Golem.
- Heavy Ring - allows the character to push heavy crates out of the way. After defeating Twin Dragons.
- Cleansing - allows character to walk through the tainted waters in the Underground Waterway. After defeating Death.
- Roc Wing - allows character to fly upwards a hefty distance. After defeating Camilla.
- The Last Key - allows character entry to Dracula's chamber. After defeating Hugh.
This game features an interesting way of character enhancing, called DSS. It's a card system, with two sets of cards. Creature cards (mythical beasts really) and God cards (Roman Gods specifically). By pairing up a God card with a creature card, Nathan can get various enhancements, ranging from a flaming whip to summoning powerful creatures. Be warned that using the cards' abilities drains MP. Luckily, Save Points refill MP. Getting the cards requires defeating the right enemies. Some cards are more common, and can be found from multiple enemies, whereas some are so hard to find, only 1 enemy will drop them. Note, however, that cards won't be a guaranteed drop from the enemy, and it may take several attempts at killing the foe before they drop the card.
- Salamander - power of fire.
- Serpent - power of ice.
- Mandragora - power of plants.
- Golem - power of earth.
- Cockatrice - power of stone.
- Manticore - power of poison.
- Griffin - power of wind.
- Thunderbird - power of electricity.
- Unicorn - power of healing.
- Black Dog - power of darkness.
- Mercury - potential of strength.
- Venus - potential of enchantment.
- Mars - potential of change.
- Jupiter - potential of defense.
- Diana - potential of creation.
- Apollo - potential of explosives.
- Saturn - potential of familiars.
- Neptune - potential of healing.
- Uranus - potential of summoning.
- Pluto - potential of special.
Circle of the Moon also features "sub-weapons", little projectiles that can help damage difficult or hard-to-hit enemies. Sub-weapons are found in candles scattered all over the map, with the more powerful ones being harder to find. With the Shooter mode, Nathan has certain enhancements to his sub-weapons (including a Homing Dagger that follows the enemy for a guaranteed hit). They, however, cost the character Hearts. Hearts are easily regained by defeating some enemies who drop them, or taking out candles (which can be found everywhere). Hearts are the only stats that don't get replenished when a Save Point is used.
- Dagger - hurl a dagger forward at an enemy.
- Axe - throw an axe in an arc at enemies.
- Holy Water - creates a temporary fire on the ground, hurting all enemies who cross over it.
- Cross - throws a cross forward, it will then reach it point where it will travel in the opposite direction, whether or not the player is there to catch it.
- Clock - slows down all enemies in the room, while the character is still in normal motion.
There is also a DSS combination with Pluto and Salamander that results in a Super Powered Sub-Weapon attack. Activated by a button sequence. Costs 4 MP per use.
- Dagger - fires rapidly like a machine gun
- Axe - fires in a spiral motion from center to off-screen
- Holy Water - it rains down on the enemies
- Cross - large crosses spiral from the bottom to the top of the screen
- Clock - four clocks appear instead of one (longer effect)
Another combination, Pluto and Serpent, fires off two sub-weapons, with the Hearts used being the same (except for the Cross and Clock)
The last aspect of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is it's various modes. Like how many games feature multiple difficulties, it features multiple "scenarios" for Nathan.
- Vampire Killer -starting character; basic, well-rounded stats.
- Magician - beat Vampire Killer mode and enter "Fireball" as the file name; high INT, all DSS cards, and high MP, but low STR and DEF.
- Fighter - beat Magician mode and enter "Gradius" as the file name; high STR and DEF, but no DSS cards.
- Shooter - beat Fighter mode and enter "Crossbow" as the file name; upgraded sub-weapons (stronger, cost less hearts), high starting amount of Hearts, relatively low stats, and at each level grants 10 hearts instead of two.
- Thief - beat Shooter mode and enter "Dagger" as the file name; extremely high Luck, otherwise very low stats.
Final Battle: The final battle against Dracula is divided into 2 parts. The first is the humanoid form of Dracula. He merely attacks (all of which are easily avoidable) and teleports to a different location in the room. This portion of the battle is easy, however, the second portion is rather difficult. Dracula has obtained his full-powered-form, and now Nathan must face it.
In a much larger expansive room, Dracula's giant new form fights with several different attacks. One is his eye laser, which fires from his eye in his chest and creates an explosion. Another is his extremely deadly charge attack. This attack has Dracula start glowing, and he'll rush Nathan 3-5 times. The best way to avoid this is to repeatedly use the Roc Wing ability (he can't reach that high). The only way to hurt Dracula in this form is to deal damage to his eye in his chest. In the beginning, it isn't so hard, but halfway through, when he begins his charging attacks, he'll turn into a flying eyeball surrounded by bats. Nathan must still hit the eyeball, though it is much harder to both avoid its attacks, the bats, and still get in that hit.
In the end, Nathan defeats Dracula, causing his vast castle to crumble. Nathan, Hugh, and Morris all escape harm. Morris congratulates Nathan, and Hugh learns his lesson and becomes friends with Nathan once more. Peace is restored...for now.