Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (JP) (simply referred as just Castlevania in Europe) is the first Castlevania game to appear on the Game Boy Advance and the first handheld Castlevania game since Castlevania Legends in 1997. It also the final game developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe, a former division of Konami. The plot follows a man named Nathan Graves on a mission to save his master, Morris Baldwin, from the clutches of Dracula, despite protests from Morris' son, Hugh Baldwin.


Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is well noted for having a similar castle layout to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, in which the castle is open-ended and isn't level-based. It is even referred to as a Castleroid, because of the similarity it has to the interconnected areas in the Metroid series. Nathan Graves, the protagonist, must cross obstacles and fight off an assortment of enemies as he tries to stop Dracula and save his mentor. Occasionally he will face off against a boss inside the castle, and once that boss is defeated Nathan will be one step closer to his goal.

Experience points are gained after defeating foes, not unlike an RPG game. After enough experience points are earned Nathan will gain a level and raise his stats. Some stats include "hit points" (HP), which show how much life he has, "magic points" (MP), which shows how much magic can be used, and "hearts", which are needed for subweapons. Other stats are strength, defense, intelligence and luck. There is even a status bar that shows if Nathan is suffering from poison or other afflictions. Items can be used to recover HP or MP, or to cure status ailments. Armor dropped by foes can raise stats once they are equipped.

The basic controls of the game allow Nathan to attack, jump and to perform special moves. The game allows players to change the button configuration to fit their play style.

The A button is used for jumping. In time Nathan will able to perform a double jump and much later in the game will be able to shoot straight up to highest part of any room. When the down directional button and the jump button are pressed, Nathan will slide across the floor. This is helpful in getting across tight spaces that prohibit walking.

The B button is used for attacking foes with a whip. Holding the button down lets Nathan spin the whip quickly in a circular fashion for as long as the button is pressed. Pressing the up directional button and the attack button lets you use subweapons. Subweapons are weapons that inflict light damage but can be beneficial when you take advantage of their attack range. Nathan sometimes finds different subweapons when he breaks the lamps placed around the castle. Unfortunately he can only have one subweapon at a time, so he must choose to either keep the one he has on him or take the subweapon that appears before him. A certain number of hearts are required to use a subweapon and, luckily, hearts can also found by breaking lamps.

A unique feature in this game is the DSS card system. As Nathan defeats enemies throughout the game, some of them will drop a card. When a card from the "action" category is combined with a card from the attribute category, a specific ability is enabled. These abilities can be restorative, offensive, protective, stat-building or a combination of attributes. However, they can only be activated by pressing the L button and, once activated, require magic points in order to work.

Magic Items

From time to time, Nathan will find magic items that will give him special abilites. These items don't need to be equipped, they automatically allow Nathan do things he couldn't have done before. Most of the items are typically found after a boss battle, since the item grants Nathan the ability to reach a new part of the castle. Nathan can also use his newfound abilites to find bonuses and secrets that were hidden away in other parts of the castle. Some moves require the R button, the special move button, to use the item.

  • Dash Boots: "Double tap forward to perform a dash move."
  • Double: "Another jump can be performed while in mid-air."
  • Tackle: "Forward + Special Move button makes the player charge. Some blocks can be destroyed with this move."
  • Kick Boots: "Jump against walls for extra height. Push forward + Special Move button to execute."
  • Heavy Ring: "Certain boxes can be pushed."
  • Cleansing: "Cleanse specific bodies of water, so that they are safe to traverse."
  • Roc Wing: "Upward direction + Special Move button, will result in a higher jump."
  • Last Key: "Key to open the door to where the rite will take place."

DSS Card System

The DSS Card System is an extensive magic system that allows Nathan to gain a wide assortment of abilities. Many of these abilities imbue Nathan's whip with magical properties, while other abilities change his weapon completely. Nathan can also create force fields, restore health, have animals and entities fight alongside him, gain experience points, and much more. The ultimate ability is arguably the power to cast a summon, which has the power to inflict damage to all foes on screen. It is through cards that Nathan gains special abilities. The cards are dropped by enemies that have been defeated, though this doesn't happen too often and can depend on stat-related factors.

Cards are divided into two groups: action cards and attribute cards. The action cards each represent a mythological god with some sort of power attached to it like strength, enhancement or explosives. The attribute cards represent mythological creatures whose powers belong to elemental forces, such as fire and ice. By combining one action card and one attribute card, Nathan will have a specialized ability based on those two card types. There are ten action cards and ten attribute cards, which means there are 100 different abilities for him to tackle.

Finding out exactly what a card combination will do takes a little guesswork. When you select an action card and an attribute card, the game won't give you a description for what the ability is or what buttons are used to activate it. Pressing The L button causes Nathan to glow a bit, showing the player that a DSS ability can be used now. Doing this gives you the chance to discover a what a particular ability does and how it works. Sometimes, this can be as easy as pressing the attack button or even just L button. Other abilities can be tougher, though, because some of them require unique methods to unlock. Some abilities are unlocked when Nathan is damaged by an enemy while others require inputting a series of buttons in order to unleash an attack or summon. There is even one card combination that will only work if you don't press anything at all. Magic points are always needed for these abilities to work, though fortunately the magic points regenerate on their own without the use of items.


The year is 1870. Dracula has been resurrected once again. He is greeted by Camilla, a loyal follower, who informs him that he is not at his full power yet. At this point Morris Baldwin storms in with his apprentices, Nathan Graves and his son Hugh Baldwin. They are attempting to stop the plans of Dracula and his minions. Dracula is unfazed, though, and decides right then and there to use Morris to regain his power. The floor beneath Hugh and Nathan is suddenly destroyed by Dracula, separating them from their master. After falling down a deep abyss they land in a cavernous area. With their feet on solid ground, Nathan suggests they hurry and save their master, though Hugh objects to this sentiment. Hugh prefers to go alone and rescue his father, feeling that Nathan will be in the way. Hugh leaves but Nathan is still intent on saving his master. He heads off into the castle catacombs, thus beginning his adventure.



The catacombs are series of caverns, hallways and crypts found at the bottom of the castle. While Nathan first finds Skeletons throwing bones from inside a pit, he eventually will face off against Zombies, Bats, Boneheads, Poison Worms and almost a dozen other enemies. Most of the enemies are not difficult to defeat, though near the end of the game tougher enemies will populate the area. Boss: Cerberus Obtain: Dash Boots, Double Jump



Cerberus is a giant beast/monstrous dog that storms around the room at lightening speed. There are three basic attacks that the legendary beast uses and signifies change in attack with a howl and a color change. When Cerberus is blue it will shield itself with lightning, and while it's red it will unleash a deadly beam across the room. While Cerberus is grey, it will simply charge at random moments


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 88.28% (based on 38 reviews)
Metacritic 91 (based on 22 critic reviews)
Review scores
Publication Score
Electronic Gaming Monthly 9.5/10
Eurogamer 9/10
Game Informer 8.75/10
GamePro 5/5
GameSpot 9.6/10
GameSpy 82/100
IGN 9/10
Nintendo Power 5/5
Nintendo World Report 9/10

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon received generally positive reviews, with critics admiring the depth of the gameplay and the scope of the setting. Jeff Gerstmann of GameSpot wrote that the game “sticks fairly close to the Symphony formula while adding a small collection element that adds more replay value into the equation." He, along with many other critics, also commended the game's sound and music. "The soundtrack is full of great songs that emulate songs from earlier Castlevania games", wrote Gerstmann, "but they also stand up just fine on their own. Additionally, the game's sound effects are very well done." The game's presentation seemed to irritate most of the reviewers, at least in 2001. When the Game Boy Advance was released in June 2001 it lacked a backlight in the system that made many games hard to see, and that includes a launch title like Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. This problem was solved with the release of the Game Boy Advance SP and the Nintendo DS, both which had backlighting to illuminate even the darkest game. Still, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon's muted color scheme did not really go over well with critics at the time. "There's the 'contrast issue'", notes Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer, "I say issue, but to Konami it's a bleedin' feature. Already labouring under a barrage of complaints about the lack of backlighting and difficult to see LCD graphics, the Game Boy Advance now welcomes a game where the developers have purposefully toned down the contrast in order to create a mood. Frankly guys, you needn't have bothered." Andrew S. Bub of Gamespy agreed, writing that "Any game that features ample darkness is going to be hard on the eyes, even with a third party lighting solution, and this is one dark game. Not being able to see monsters on the sides of the screen can result in death, and that's no fun at all." Bub was more forgiving of Konami though, stating that "the lighting problem is really Nintendo's fault, and besides, it's a horror game about Dracula, don't you want ample light around you anyway?"

Another major criticism among reviewers was character movement. Craig Harris of IGN wrote that "character sprites are very limited in animation frames, especially in the lead character -- he walks in an awkward three-frame cycle, something that you might see out of a Game Boy Color version." He also felt that the game "...isn't entirely overwhelming graphically". GameSpot's Gerstmann disagreed, "Graphically, Circle of the Moon looks very nice. The backgrounds are all impressive, and while the game is a little too dark for the GBA's already dim screen, it has a crisp look to it."

The high level of difficulty was a topic among critics, though the reaction was mostly positive. IGN's Harris wrote that "the game is very long and extremely challenging without being frustrating or a chore to zip through." Eurogamer's Bramwell had a similar take, writing that "it's a surprisingly difficult game at times, but it's never frustrating or tedious; you always want to keep playing until you're through, which is one of the biggest assets any game can ever boast." About the overall game he added, "it's big, it's sprawling, and it gives you something new to play with every few minutes. That's textbook gaming, that."

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon currently has a score of 91 on Metacritic and a score of 88.28% on Game Rankings.

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