The Dualism in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (HoD)
22 October 2022
This post contains spoilers of the major plotline and screenshots of areas from Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (HoD) on Game Boy Advanced (GBA) [Wikipedia link]. It includes minor spoilers from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SOTN) for Playstation (PS1) [Wikipedia link].
Dualism: A theological perspective
Dualism can refer to a separation of mind and matter, or in theology, the independence of the forces of good and evil. From the theological perspective, evil cannot exist without good and good and evil are separate energies or matter that can manifest in physical forms. For more information on this subject, take a look at Evil: a historical and theological perspective by Hans Swartz (1995) on the Internet Archive.
I recently finished playing Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (HoD) and I wanted to share my appreciation for this theme within the game with example screenshots.
Contrast to reinforce the theme of dualism
Contrast is frequently used in exploring the theme of dualism in Castlevania HoD. The forces of evil manifest in the supernatural castle of Dracula and the creatures within; the undead, bats, rats, the possessed, animate golems, magic, witches, sorceries, slimes, poisonous floating jellyfish, ghosts, and unusually aggressive owls. Good manifests in the Belmont clan, this time in HoD the story follows Juste Belmont who looks a lot like Alucard.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Playstation) also explored dualism along with some sort of time travel and spatial distortion, with Alucard facing off against his doppelganger (an evil alter ego) at a few points in the game. One of my favorite things about the Castlevania metroidvanias is these different forms of dualism - it's not just a fight against good and evil manifest in the castle but about the good and evil within yourself, and how this could change through time.
Time travel to expand the world of Castlevania
The use of teleporters beyond a travel device also allows magic to go into spatiotemporal realms and permits the appearance of doppelgangers, inverted castles, and more unusual liminal spaces. Liminal deities which watch over thresholds and portals [Wikipedia link] may be some of the inspiration for these elements.
Inclusion of time travel in the Castlevania world make Dracula's castle feel like a lot more than a castle, larger than itself, and in a way brings Dracula and his castle closer to the underworld or death by representing a threshold between life and death in a greater physical form. I like that the Castlevania Netflix show leaned into the time travel element as well to pay homage to this part of the series.
Dualism of mind and body
Although the gameplay of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance follows many of the same conventions as its primary inspiration Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, it takes the idea of the inverted castle and imagines what might happen if the extra castle reflected the evil part of our minds and souls. A good idea in theory, but could have been better in execution if the difference between the two castles in HoD had greater visual distinction and more separate identities - one, belonging to Dracula - the other, belonging to the subconscious of the mind which was possessed who is in the end, human.
If I were to re-write the story, the encounters with Juste's friend possessed by Dracula might have explored some more of the evil or negative side of their friendship instead of just Dracula Being An Evil Bastard. Anyway, since both castles are evil, they kind of look the same. I frequently found myself wondering if I was in Castle A or Castle B. The fact the Castle A and Castle B are named after letters of the alphabet instead of having more unique names kind of reflects this problem as well. However there is the suggestion that time passes differently between the two castles, with some rooms set up with very obvious time differences.
Areas in Castle A vs Castle B
The skull painting is encountered early in the game while the eye is not seen until later.
The marble gallery features this statue, the lighting becomes blood red in Castle B.
This was the first instance that I recall of an environmental difference interacting with the environment. The whole bust will weep blood to spawn red skeletons.
This room is in a separate part of the castle and is discovered late-game and contains special items. It is one of the only areas which isn't overrun by Dracula's undead.
Despite the sometimes confusing distinction between the two castles, I greatly enjoyed exploring them. I took screenshots of a few of these areas, since I found encountering these rooms the most interesting part of jumping between the two castles. The final example is the room with the largest difference between them and is probably one of the only examples of a "good" room.
Overall I greatly enjoyed playing Castlevania HoD. It could only have been improved with more teleporters being available earlier in the game to save some tedium from aimless backtracking while you try to figure out where to go next. In making this blog post, I hoped to share my appreciation for some of the more overlooked aspects of the Castlevania series, those involving time travel and different ways of exploring dualism through contrast. If you would like to share your thoughts on this post please contact me!
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