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In 1830, a woman named Camilla holds a ceremony to resurrect Dracula. A trio of vampire hunters, the aging Morris Baldwin, his son and apprentice Hugh, and Hugh's fellow apprentice and rival Nathan Graves, go to her castle to stop her, but arrive too late. The reborn Dracula overcomes them all, captures Morris, and casts Hugh and Nathan into the catacombs. Lost within the castle and abandoned by Hugh, Nathan must find his way to Dracula's chamber to defeat him and save his captive master.

Arguably the game that introduced the new-school Castlevania to the states- while Symphony of the Night had been released four years earlier, it was at this point an obscure title that Konami had not supported heavily upon release. Likewise, the more recent Nintendo 64 games had been critically panned.

Gameplay consists of exploring the castle in search of artifacts that will allow Nathan to overcome obstacles and push deeper inside, with the ultimate goal of confronting Dracula. Exploration and combat with enemies also yields items that will make Nathan more powerful. The most valuable are a series of tarot-like cards which allow the casting of spells. Although the plot is threadbare and predictable, it is played up for all it's worth, with major bosses that would just otherwise just be random monsters given purpose, if not exactly character.

The game caught some flak upon release for allegedly having graphics so dark and poorly-defined that it was nearly impossible to see what was going on on the screen. In fact, this was the fault of the non-backlit Game Boy Advance, for which Circle of the Moon was a launch title. Later improvements of the hardware have dispelled these criticisms, but it explains the uncharacteristically bright and colorful graphics in the later Harmony of Dissonance. Those critics who could play the game, however, had generally positive things to say.

Tropes used in Castlevania: Circle of the Moon include:
  • Animated Armor: More varieties than probably any other game in the series.
    • 13 in total. The Castlevania standby Axe armor, One armor for each of the 10 elements, and two bonus armors (basically buffed versions of the Holy and Dark elemental armors) in the arena.
  • Anticlimax Boss: Death, who is pathetically easy compared to some of the other bosses. Especially egregious since you fight him after the Zombie Dragons.
  • Artifact Title: Along with Dawn of Sorrow is one of the few Castlevania games to not include Castlevania / Demon Castle Drcula.
  • Awesome but Impractical: The Mars + Black Dog combo gives you a gun. Range and damage go through the roof, but it takes forever to fire (and put away) and you need to be on the ground to use it [1]
    • Maybe Nathan doesn't have any experience with a firearm, since he was chosen to wield the hunter whip?
      • Also, the first Revolver would be invented six years later then the setting of the game, and is likely a single-shot Flintlock pistol.
    • Special mention goes to the DSS combo of Venus and Griffon, which increases intelligence by 25% while it's in use. The problem? It drains magic at the rate of 4 per second, and you recover mana each second equal to (intelligence / 100). This means that with 400 INT after using it, it would exactly negate your mana regen. In order to use it effectively, you need at least 800 INT with it activated (which you'll almost never have on a standard playthrough, because at that point, you're well into level 50, at least before items are factored in). Although, in one New Game+ mode, it becomes something of a Game Breaker.
  • Back That Light Up: Basically, playing this on the original GBA is not recommended. Fortunately, just about any other system that plays GBA, from the SP (even the older frontlit SP is an improvement) to the DS Lite, solves this problem.
  • Blind Idiot Translation: While Camilla is a real name, it's generally an accepted fact that it's the traditional Castlevania villain Carmilla who's the primary bad guy.
  • Bonus Dungeon: The Arena; filled with Demonic Spiders and has the game's best armor waiting at the end.
  • Boss in Mook Clothing: The Devil enemy in the observation tower is probably one of this game's best examples. At least the experience matches.
    • The hidden Lilith enemy counts as well, both for difficulty and experience points.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Hugh's increasingly Jerkass behavior is revealed to be manipulation on Camilla's part.
  • Brand X: The "Hunter Whip", since only a Belmont can use the Vampire Killer to its potential.
  • Broad Strokes: It is debated whether the game is part of IGA's official timeline. IGA, in a 2008 interview with Nintendo Power magazine (covering Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia) considers this game a side story and not part of his timeline, as it's unmentioned on the Japanese timeline (updated as of 2007's The Dracula X Chronicles), though it was shown in the timeline that came with pre-ordered copies of Portrait of Ruin, minus the description.
  • Clipped-Wing Angel: Death's second form is actually easier than his first.
  • Copy and Paste Environments: Blatantly obvious, at least compared to Symphony of the Night that came before and Harmony of Dissonance that came after. Large stretches of the castle have precious few distinguishing features, giving it a far more repetitive feel more reminiscent of NES Metroidvanias like Metroid or Blaster Master.
  • Darker and Edgier: Despite having a rather cartoony artstyle, the graphics had some criticisms for being too dark! However this wasn't exactly the fault of Konami. As an early Game Boy Advance release game, it suffered from the first GBA model's infamously dim screen. But when played in emulator, it becomes obvious that the developers tried to compensate generously for this as the colors appear too light.
  • Difficulty Spike: The boss battle against the Zombie Dragons.
  • Disc One Nuke: You can get the cross subweapon as early as the third area if you explore enough.
    • Magician Mode (and a few others) make this literal.
  • Double Jump: Though as per Metroidvania rules, you must earn it.
  • Dracolich: The Zombie Dragons.
  • Dual Boss: The Zombie Dragons, who are also Those Two Bosses.
  • Elemental Powers: The DSS allows 10.
  • Everyone Lives: Save for the villains, of course. There is only one ending in this game anyway; more or less a Happy Ending...
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: One New Game+ mode you earn is Fighter mode, which boosts all your stats but you never earn DSS cards. All things considered it isn't that great, but it does seem to be made for the Arena.
    • isn't that great nothing, it actually subverts it because the growths for the Warrior is ALSO exponential. Whereas before where the Wizard more or less could care less about MP (in the high 50s-60s, you need not even care that you have a bar at all), the warrior does the opposite where most hits quickly become 1 HP worth of damage. This is so bad that by the time you get to the end of the game, you could TANK Dracula's insane charge multiple times. Considering the sheer defense and HP that you get, the only thing holding you back is the fact that you only have a subweapon and a whip.
  • Gotta Catch Em All: The magic cards. Which are a...
  • Guide Dang It: Some of the magic cards and secrets. Perhaps most egregiously, the Pluto & Uranus cards requires you return to a certain boss room at a much later point in game- when you would have no logical reason to- and defeat a mook that appears to be part of the scenery. And then hope said mook actually drops the card before it melts away. The Unicorn and Black Dog cards are rare drops from enemies far into the Arena--an area with abnormally pumped-up enemies whose later rooms you can only get to after completing those before them.
    • That is before saying that some DSS combinations have effects which don't show up immediately: The simpler DSS combos instantly add elements to your whip or increase your stats, but some other combos only show their uses after you get hit. Worse, some, especially the uber-useful summoning, requires a relatively complex button input, and the game absolutely doesn't tell you all these until you figure them out.
  • Infinity+1 Sword: Some DSS cards (Unicorn and Black Dog come to mind) and the Shinning Armor you find at the end of the arena.
  • James Bondage: Morris
  • Jerkass: Hugh
  • Joke Item: The Uranus+Black Dog combo summons the Black Dog, who deals four damage to everything on screen and heals you for four hit points. It would be mana cost-prohibitive against the very first monsters, but both cards are found near the end of the game in obscure locations.
  • Lethal Joke Item: The Pluto + Black Dog combo turns you into a skeleton that dies in one hit, but its attack can do the most damage in the game, emphasis on can.
    • Apparently, the chance increases based on having higher strength. Even so, you'll find a big bone shows up every 4-6 attacks on average. Combined with the Good Bad Bug entry above, you can defeat bosses very quickly in some cases.
  • Lost Forever: One of Nathan's DSS Spells can summon a long-lasting storm of rapid homing projectiles, but only if you never got a subweapon during the game (you can't take them off).
  • Luck Stat: To go with the Random Drops. The last New Game+ bonus you earn boosts it through the roof (hitting the Cap before long) and is also a Game Breaker to boot...
  • Metal Slime: The Skeleton Medalist, who will run into a wall as soon as you enter his room. He drops the Bear Ring.
    • Masquerading as ordinary candles, the Scary Candles only give you a brief window of opportunity to destroy them before they dissolve into the floor and disappear. They drop the Uranus card.
    • With careful positioning, it's actually very easy to farm the medalist for his ring. Typically, you want to run left, hop, then use the Roc Wing to enter the second secret room, then do a double jump as you're falling to land on the raised platform. Because you started running, you'll still have that momentum the second you land, meaning you can land one or two hits on him before he suicides into a wall.
  • More Than Mind Control: Implied to have been the case with Hugh, who harbored some degree of jealosy toward Nathan, as Morris chose him over his son to be his successor. After Nathan defeats Dracula, Morris tells Hugh that his training will have to begin anew.
  • New Game+: Every time you beat the game, you get a new mode that has a set of bonuses. Beating that gets you another, and so on, until you get Thief Mode.
    • The modes include:
      • Vampire Killer - The standard playthrough
      • Magician - You start with all the DSS cards, but have poor physical stats
      • Fighter - You have amazing stats, but can never get a single DSS card
      • Shooter - Subweapons cost half the hearts, plus you can get a homing dagger, and subweapon damage is equivelant to "Fighter" stats.
      • Thief - You get insanely high luck in a game where power is more or less influenced by item drops
  • Nintendo Hard: Unlike Symphony, Harmony, and Aria, this game is far harder and has less forgiving control physics. (You can still steer your jumps, but don't expect to be pulling Mario-esque acrobatics and mid-air dodging.
    • The lack of save points, no After Boss Recovery that's been there in practically every other game in the series and excess of low-contrast projectiles on dark backgrounds really ups the difficulty. The game itself is also pretty hard even with lighting.
  • One-Winged Angel: Dracula.
    • Death (more like Clipped-Wing Angel) and also Camilla (who does this without you fighting her normal form).
    • Necromancer does it too.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Features Werewolves, werebears, werejaguars, weretigers, and more.
  • Perverse Puppet: The marionettes. Also tread into Goddamned Bats territory.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Camilla
  • Quicksand Box: Well this is a general trope with Metroidvania games; you pretty much need a guide or to religiously check the map or else you'll get lost. It's probably most prevalent in this game because you don't get much of a hint on where to go; only a couple times do you get a boss giving you a goal.
  • Random Drop: The items and the DSS Cards, the latter of which is the mutant lovechild of this and Guide Dang It. In Magician mode, at least, you start with all the cards.
    • Rare Random Drop: Thanks to the absurdly low drop rates of items, some of which only drop from one enemy at a rate of <1%. Thief mode helps by starting you out with 1400 luck (and jacking it up close to max pretty quick), but considering that takes three playthroughs to get...
  • Sequential Boss: Averted in that while Dracula has two forms the second is in a different room and you are free to go save and heal before you follow him there, unlike most games in the series.
  • Sequence Breaking: You can skip the fights with Death and the Zombie Dragons. Once you kill Adramelech, you can access the Underground Waterway, although the water is poisonous until you get an item from Death. If you know the path through it and some good reflexes (or abuse the Uranis + Unicorn combo), you can make it through to the save point before Camilla relatively unharmed.
  • Shout-Out: A very well hidden easter egg gives a shoutout to an obscure N64 fighter called Rakuga Kids. In a secret room hidden within a secret room, itself pretty difficult to find, there is a unique enemy, who will immediately run away from you before you can fight it. Figure out how to catch and kill it, and ,if you're very lucky, it will drop a Bear Ring. This item has no ostensible purpose other than lowering all of your stats by 100 when equipped. However, if you equip the ring and then use the Pluto+Black Dog combo that normally turns you in the aforementioned skeleton (and getting either of those cards is a Guide Dang It in itself), you instead will turn you into a strange green bear with a cannon on its head and its ass that shoots bear-shaped rockets out of the cannons and can drop bombs. It is a lot more agile than the skeleton, and can Double Jump, but still dies in 1 hit. The bear, called Beartank, was one of the fighters in Rakuga Kids.
  • Summon Magic: Uranus card, generally regarded as the best card in the game. Too bad some dexterity is required to use it, and they don't tell you how it works.
  • The Rival: Hugh. Also a Rival Turned Evil
  • Save Game Limits: Save points are well spread-out, and there's no quicksave feature. And this is a game for a portable system.
  • Standard Status Effects
  • Who Forgot the Lights?: Its dark graphics became something of a running gag until Nintendo added a backlight to the GBA hardware.
  • Wicked Witch: In contrast to the Cute and Hot Witches seen in other Castlevania titles, the witches in this game have large noses and green skin, a la the Wicked Witch of the West.
  • You Have Researched Breathing: You need to find a powerup in order to run. Even though you were seen running in the opening sequence.
  1. Try it- you can jump off the highest drop in the game and pull out said gun at the top, and it won't fire until you hit the floor. Perhaps Nathan is not confident with firearms?)