Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review
By - Tom M.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is the game no Castlevania fan asked for. While pleas of a true, HD adventure in the 'Metroidvania' style go unrequited, Koji Igarashi and team at Konami developed what can only be described as Symphony of the Night mixed with Monster Hunter. The focus of this game is the multiplayer which is new territory for the series. The game ultimately reflects its conflicted nature, as there are some genuine bright spots integrated with baffling design choices.
In C:HoD, players have 6 different stages/castles to thrash about in, each with its own specific style and boss. It's a decent marriage of the older, linear Castlevanias and the more recent 'Metroidvania' styles which are essentially glorified mazes. There's also 5 different heroes to choose from: Soma Cruz, Jonathan Morris, Charlotte Aulin, Shanoa, and Alucard. Each is fairly unique and retains their gameplay gimmicks from their respective games such as Soma's soul-absorption or Shanoa's glyphs. The goal of each stage is to defeat the big-bad-boss within 30 minutes, and collecting sweet loot along the way. You can partner up with 5 other players, making it a 6-man scramble as you power through the stage. Not only does playing with others make the game vastly easier, there are specific chests that you can only reach through teamwork, such as depressing buttons together.
On paper this sounds promising and conceptually the game is solid. It's just a victim of half-baked execution. The game desperately needs balancing when you play alone versus playing online. Unless you grind on the first level for hours, eventually earning enough cash to buy some decent gear, you simply will not progress. Enemies hit you too hard and healing items are too expensive to stock up. Unless you come prepared, the first boss will defeat you in 2-3 hits. I was left feeling a little miffed when after 4 attempts on the first level, I still didn't have enough cash for a good weapon. I decided to play the game as it was intended and went to the multiplayer mode.
Once I grouped up online, I was able to make considerable progress. My allies rushed towards the boss in 5 minutes and proceeded to beat the ever-loving crap out of him. There was no exploration - just cold, hard beatings. While this was effective for gaining items and cash, it destroyed the charm of Castlevania. Exploration is such a key element of my love of the series. When playing with random strangers, you can essentially kiss it goodbye. Everyone runs to the boss, hitting any easy chests along the way. This is why I describe it as feeling like Monster Hunter. The goal of the game is to head out in groups and just clobber anything in your path in record time and hopefully get a shiny new item in the process. The more I played, the more I settled into this mindset. I was envious of other player's devastating skills and weapons. I wanted to be godlike too! Its the same feeling I got from Diablo II or Borderlands. Once I understood the game's change in philosophy, I got into the groove. I started minding less and less that it wasn't another Symphony of the Night.
While I came to terms with the games design, there's still some issues that I cannot overlook. For instance, the game's menu is beyond goofy. I normally wouldn't comment on something as trivial as a game's menu layout, but this needs lambasting. The design is squarely stuck in 1997 with options needlessly buried several steps in. Also, you cannot access your in-game inventory you're next to a magical tome, which only exist in a few spots on any given map. Why this was added is beyond me, other than to be an obtuse challenge so you cannot easily equip new healing items. And while the multiplayer works in that I rarely had laggy games, there's no drop-in, drop-out co-op. It's a huge mar on this game, seeing as that is the main mode of play. There's also no single screen co-op. I understand not letting 6 people play on one screen, but it easily could have accommodated 2 people.
Visually, the game is...serviceable. Early buzz teased promises of an all-new, high-definition Castlevania adventure. It turned out it was only half-true. Recycling sprites from past games (dating all the way back to SoTN from 1997), C:HoD's visuals are not anything new. If you're an avid Castlevania fan, you'll be experiencing serious deja vu as enemies and heroes are all recycled. While the sprites look surprisingly good for being blown up on an HDTV, it won't impress.
The soundtrack is also largely remixed tunes from previous games, though there are some new compositions. I get a kick out of hearing older tunes gussied up, and the music choices are generally enjoyable. It definitely panders to Castlevania fans. The voice work is surprisingly competent. It won't blow your socks off (mostly since the characters just have a handful of lines), but it's well beyond the hilarious delivery from SoTN. It seems like they spent a decent amount of the budget on the audio, as it is easily the most well-produced part.
Admittedly, the game is too short. For 1200 MS points ($15), you get 5 characters and 6 stages. The game can be beaten in a couple hours easily. Unless you get a kick out of replaying stages on harder modes to get better loot, you will not get your money's worth. Even though I do enjoy grinding a bit, I still feel this game deserves to be no more than 800 MS points. The assets are largely recycled which means not much work went into this. More time should have been spent on creating a more cohesive multiplayer experience and additional stages. More characters and levels will be coming via DLC, and I can't help but feel they should have been in there from the start.
I'm very torn on this game. I love Castlevania and most of the entries to the series. I totally geek on out seeing different characters all coming together, along with remixed tunes from my favorite entries. However, it's hard to cope with the schizophrenic game design that doesn't quite blend the single player elements into a competent multiplayer game. While I definitely had fun with it, I can't recommend this game to anyone but established Castlevania fans, especially at an inflated $15 price point. Without the nostalgia to pull me in, I doubt I'd keep going with it.
- Excellent character variety
- Well-remixed music
- Scratches the loot-whoring itch
- Intense boss battles
- Nostalgia factor
- Heavily recycled assets
- No drop-in,drop-out multiplayer
- Poorly balanced single-player