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Review

Review: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

A tedious mess.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is finally available on the PlayStation Network. The game was released over a year ago on Xbox Live and, unfortunately, not much has changed since then. This is a multiplayer extravaganza that ultimately fails to impress.

Unlike previous games in the series, there is no storyline. In fact, there’s no context whatsoever. You’re just thrown into a chapter and your main objective is defeat the end boss. It’s rather anti-climactic but it does make for a decent arcade experience, which is exactly what Konami was going for. That’s not all that differs from a traditional Castlevania though; the pace is deliberately faster and there’s less emphasis on exploration.

There are a total of seven characters to choose from and seven chapters to complete (with more available as DLC). Each character has most of their abilities and skills from the game they originated from. For example, Alucard can still turn into mist and cast magic, Shanoa can cling onto magnets, and Jonathan Morris can learn martial arts. The character variety definitely makes the gameplay feel unique and it works well for the most part.


Don't let the full maps fool you, the chapters are nowhere near this overwhelming.
However, each chapter is essentially one giant labyrinth of frustration. The Castlevania series has been known to have its fair share of cheap enemies and the most aggravating of the bunch (bats, imps, Medusa heads) have been included in Harmony of Despair. There’s also a 30 minute time limit but it’s more of an annoyance than anything else since chapters can be completed in half the time rather easily.

The map itself is quite unique. You can zoom out for a complete view of the level or you can zoom in closer to the action. The camera never feels quite right though even when you’re zoomed in all the way. Don’t even think about using the default camera view for anything else other than reconnaissance. Imagine watching a giant ant farm made out of reused Castlevania assets. As awesome as that may sound, it doesn’t exactly work from a gameplay perspective.

What’s interesting is that characters don’t actually level up or gain experience points. Instead, you have to rely on equipment to boost your stats (or spam secondary moves depending on the character). The best way to find gear is to open a treasure chest and hope for the best. Enemies can also drop some good loot but it doesn’t happen very often. You’ll most likely receive Hobo clothes or a hotdog. As a result, this game is nothing more than a glorified grind fest. It’s not fun replaying a chapter over two dozens times just for a single weapon. There are so many better ways to waste your time.

The biggest problem is that the difficulty fluctuates randomly. Some chapters are nearly impossible (especially when going solo), while others are laughably easy with a fully party. Bosses are appropriately the most difficult enemies but that’s only because they hit hard and have a ridiculous amount of health. The actual patterns aren’t difficult to figure out, so it does become a test of patience. You just have to keep up with the grind or else you won’t make it very far.

This might just be the most obnoxious loading screen ever. Who thought this was a good idea?
The PSN version of Harmony of Despair has a few notable additions. Julius Belmont and Yoko Belnades, who were originally DLC characters, are now playable without an additional purchase. Pyramid of Ruin was also included, which brings the total level count to seven. Chapters 8-11 and the rest of the cast remain as DLC. After looking at the prices you’ll soon realize that you’d have to spend more than double the asking price to have the complete game. It’s quite ridiculous.

Unlike the 360 version, there’s also a local co-op mode with support for up to four players. It’s a nice gesture but it’s frustrating due to the camera. It’s nearly impossible to see anything on screen once your team starts to spread out. You pretty much have to stick together at all times and that’s not exactly how this game works.

Camera aside, playing cooperatively is the best way to experience Harmony of Despair. You actually have to form strategies, help others, and come up with the most efficient way to complete a chapter. It’s definitely not easy, especially when you don’t have good equipment. For the most part, playing online was a smooth experience. There were some occasional disconnects but nothing gamebreaking. Lag isn’t much of a factor either, although you might see someone teleport every now and then. The only downside is that some players already have the best equipment and they’ll easily breeze through a level in less than five minutes. It’s not exactly fun when that happens your first time through.

Pros

  • Old school sprites.
  • Character variety is nice.
  • Interesting concepts.

Cons

  • Doesn’t feel like a cohesive experience.
  • Playing alone is absolutely boring.
  • Grinding can be very tedious.
  • Not enough content included in initial purchase.
  • Obnoxious loading screens.
  • The camera.

A game featuring the main characters from the Castlevania series should be an instant classic. Unfortunately, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is nothing more than a brilliant idea gone horribly wrong. The chapters are relatively short, uninteresting, and the gameplay just isn’t exciting enough to keep you coming back for more. Adding co-op for the sake of having a multiplayer component does not automatically make for a fun game. Harmony of Despair is proof of this. Konami’s halfhearted effort does not deserve your money.

Score: 4/10

5 Comments
  1. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    Haven’t played the demo yet but it looks like i wasted some bandwidth.. I really expected better :/

    Comment posted on 13/10/2011 at 16:27.
    • Foxhound_Solid
      Is a smart cookie.
      Since: Dec 2009

      Me too. Glad TSA popper this review up as was about to buy it.

      Comment posted on 13/10/2011 at 19:33.
      • Delriach
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        I was really hoping to get this out earlier in the week but everything imaginable prevented that from happening ;(

        Glad it could help though.

        Comment posted on 13/10/2011 at 19:40.
  2. matthangzhou
    Member
    Since: Sep 2010

    Glad I didn’t impulse buy this bad boy yesterday. Still tempted by Saint’s Row 2 on digital download though, but my copy of Dark Souls should be here any day so I really should wait…

    Comment posted on 13/10/2011 at 16:50.
  3. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    I tried the demo and i had no clue what i was doing. I thought that they had striped out the story to reduce the demo size. I won’t be getting this mainly due to the sometimes crap controls and I found the punching to be better then the sword. Since there is no story then no deal. Excellent review Del.

    Comment posted on 13/10/2011 at 17:26.

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