Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review
It doesn't give a good first impression, but Harmony of Despair delivers new and exciting gameplay opportunities for an old series.
- Cooperative gameplay is fun
- Grinding is addictive
- Offers a good challenge.
- Instructions are terrible
- Some areas seem too focused on multiplayer
- Controls feel a bit too loose.
Cooperative play probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when reflecting on Castlevania--a series that built an identity around solitary adventures through a single, massive castle. Some ardent fans may even consider the major integration of such a feature sacrilegious, something that breaks Castlevania's fundamental appeal. But, like it or not, cooperative play (that supports up to six players) is the crux of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. There’s not much evidence to suggest that such a formula should work or provide any semblance of entertainment beyond that of staring at a train wreck, but Harmony of Despair delivers a fun, new, interesting approach to a franchise that has largely followed the same rubric for years..
That's not to say that much of the game won't feel immediately familiar to those who have played the last few Nintendo DS games or the PlayStation classic, Symphony of the Night. In fact, much of Harmony of Despair--from the characters to the maps--is a Frankenstein monster of sorts, selecting various visual and gameplay elements from those games and melding them into a cohesive experience. Accordingly, you have the option to select from five characters from previous Castlevania outings: Soma Cruz, Alucard, Jonathan Morris, Shanoa, and Charlotte Aulin. These characters have skills and abilities unique to the game they appeared in.
Alucard can still change forms and can find spells to complement his strong melee attacks, whereas Shanoa relies heavily on magic attacks that she can steal from enemies by absorbing their glyphs. Charlotte can learn new spells by blocking enemy projectiles with her special shield, and Jonathan Morris can learn new martial arts skills that are dropped by enemies upon defeat. The same applies to the traditional Castlevania subweapons he can use. What's great about these characters is that they all have distinct strengths and weaknesses that balance out when you're playing cooperatively. Alucard may have strong melee attacks, but since his magic attacks are relatively weak, he's not that effective at a distance. But when he's partnered up with characters who are more proficient with magic, the combination is devastating. Still, don't expect to just waltz through Harmony of Despair's six levels--even when playing cooperatively. The game is hard, and it knows it's hard.
Therefore, death is an intentionally common occurrence, but it's not an entirely frustrating one thanks to the surprisingly addictive way Harmony of Despair handles character growth. To put it simply, it's all about grinding, but you're not doing it in the traditional sense of defeating enemies and earning experience points to level up. Characters do have individual stats, but these can be changed only by purchasing weapons, items, or armor from the store or finding them in treasure chests scattered throughout a level (special items can also be found by simply defeating enemies). Since the money you earn in a level carries over even after death, you can grind for additional funds and then use them to procure stronger items that will help get you through a level. You can do the same for items not found in the store like new martial arts skills or subweapons for Jonathan, more magic spells for Charlotte and Shanoa, or more souls for Soma.
This might all seem like a supremely tedious experience, but there are a few things at work in Harmony of Despair that counterbalance the repetition. The first is that the grinding has an immediate payoff, at least in terms of money. Purchasing new armor or weapons (for those who can equip weapons) is a quick way to beef up your character enough to take on the boss of a level. Magic users aren't quite as fortunate since their spells are typically limited to the enemies they have access to, but even then, finding a new spell in a level can make all the difference in a fight. The second is the way the levels are structured. Since these aren't the same huge castles from previous Castlevania games (they're more like mini-castles), it's a bit easier to entertain the idea of playing through an entire level over again. Plus, it's also worth mentioning that you can easily plot an initial course to the boss by viewing the entire map (performed by clicking in the right analog stick), and once you've found an easy route, it takes very little time to go from the start to the end.
- Downloadable Game
- Player Reviews: 17
- Game Universe:
- Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2, XBOX),
- Castlevania (N64, PC, C64, NES, AMI),
- Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES),
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (X360, PS3),
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Reverie (PS3, X360),
- Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (X360, PS3),
- Castlevania Judgment (WII),
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS),
- Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (PSP),
- Castlevania Double Pack (GBA)
- Number of Players: