Review – Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
You shouldn’t lose your temper, Charley. It isn’t polite.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, to be referred to as Castlevania: HD from now on (get it?) is a brand new Castlevania title for download from Xbox Live for 1200 MSP. Well, actually it’s not totally brand new and for that matter it’s not particularly HD either, but we’ll get to that.
People who have previously played Castlevania games may be surprised to see that Harmony of Despair isn’t directly comparable to any of them. It doesn’t have the simple level structure and platforming of the originals or the Metroid-style skill advancement of Symphony of the Night but is instead focused around multiplayer. You can play the game in single player, but it is infinitely less fun and the levels were designed with co-operation in mind.
As you progress you’ll unlock six levels in total and an extra difficulty setting once you’ve completed them all. Each level is made up of multiple sections which are populated by enemies, chests and a boss. The regular enemies shouldn’t cause you too much bother and just act as speed bumps to stop you getting to the loot and boss. Chests contain random items, from food to armour to weapons. As you’d expect the further you progress the better the items you’ll find, but the tougher the enemies will be standing in your way.
Each player (up to six in total) starts at a different point on the map and work together or alone in order to collect all the chests (everyone receives an item from an open chest, not just the person who opened it) and work their way to the boss. There are five different characters to choose, all from previous Castlevania games. There’s Alucard (Symphony of the Night), Charlotte and Jonathan (Portrait of Ruin), Shanoa (Order of Ecclesia) and Soma (Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow). Each has a selection of colour palettes to choose from so that things do not get confusing if multiple people are playing as the same character.
As in their respective games, each character plays differently. Shanoa can absorb enemy’s spells to use as her own for example, whilst Jonathan can only use a whip as his primary weapon but has a wide variety of sub-weapons to use. There is no levelling up in the traditional sense in Castlevania: HD, but you can power up your characters in different ways. Obviously you can start off by equipping better armour or weapons, but to truly become powerful you have to grind. When Jonathan uses his sub-weapons they will slowly become stronger and so will Jonathan, Soma must collect multiple of the same soul from enemies to boost his strength, whilst Charlotte gets stronger through absorbing spells fired at her.
The variety this provides is excellent. You can easily find a character that suits your style of play and then once you’re bored you can move on to someone else and start from scratch. Well almost – any equipment you’ve collected with one character can be shared across everyone so you won’t be totally back to square one. When playing in co-op the different play styles also combine well to overcome different obstacles, though obviously if one player is much more powerful than everyone else then that person will be doing most of the heavy lifting.
I’m a long time fan of the ‘Vania series going all the way back to Haunted Castle in the arcades so when they announced CV: HD I was champing at the bit to get me some online vampire hunting but despite the obvious fun to be had with you and a bunch of mates rampaging through one of Drac’s castles it’s a far from perfect experience.
Playing the game solo is more or less pointless not to mention dull as hell and almost impossible without friends on hand to resurrect you during the tougher boss fights. The item grinding is so long winded it makes WOW look positively straightforward and as for all the reused assets it just screams of a quick cash-in made for monetary reasons rather than any love of the series.
That’s not to say it’s all bad though, if you can get a good group of players together you can have some epic boss fights chasing them around the map or setting up elaborate deathtraps to kill them but with only six chapters to play for your 1200M$P it won’t be long before you’ll just left with an overwhelming sense of been there, done that. Sure there’s more to be had from the game but only if you stump up MORE shekels for the inevitable DLCâ€¦ But enough talk, have at you!
Secondary Score: 7/10
Visually the game isn’t ugly, but it’s not as HD as the abbreviated title might imply. Sure, it’s quite crisp, but the sprites used have been copied and pasted straight from their respective PS1/DS games and as such are much lower resolution than you’d expect from an XBLA game. Little environmental effects are very nice to see however, paper flying up as you run across books or flames dropping to the floor from a broken light bulb. Bosses can be dauntingly large and the ability to zoom out to see the entire map (and continue to play from this view) is rather impressive. It’s just a shame a little time wasn’t spend updating the sprites for HD gaming.
The audio also seems to have been pulled straight from previous games, though this is less obvious. The music is very good (assuming you like guitars) as Castlevania fans would expect, which is lucky as you’ll be playing the same levels over and over so you’ll be hearing a lot of it. In general the presentation is a bit bare bones which does make you wonder how much effort has gone into this game on Konami’s end. And the loading screen annoys the hell out of me.
As I mentioned there are only six levels in total and it won’t take you too long depending who you’re playing with to complete those. You’ll then unlock Hard mode and will play the same levels again for better rewards. It might not sound great but in co-op the difficulty knocks up a notch and it really is a lot of fun and as I’m sure many people will be aware, collecting loot and powering up is an addictive process. Unfortunately that is pretty much all this game depends on. The levels never change and there will be a point where you are powerful enough to complete the levels in a matter of minutes. If you are looking for a particularly deep game then Castlevania: HD will disappoint.
Ultimately how much value you find in Castlevania HD will depend on what type of gamer you are. If you complete Level 6 on Normal with one character and feel you’ve experienced all you want to experience then this game is not for you. If however you enjoy the quest for loot and strength, even if it means grinding, then you may have found yourself a keeper.