Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2010-09-05 Xbox 360 Platform T (Teen) Konami

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is my favourite Castlevania game. I lost count of how many hours I spent killing things in the Clock Tower to get a pair of Haven Swords. Not to mention how many Schmoos I killed until I got that Crissaegrim. The first time I caught a glimpse of Harmony of Despair I actually thought this was a SotN remake with some interesting alterations to it. As it turns out, this is definitely not a remake, but it's certainly... interesting.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair still offers the same 2D side-scrolling classic feel seen on the Playstation and other recent DS games in the franchise, but takes the experience to a whole new level by allowing you to team up with up to six friends. In fact, you SHOULD team up with friends to go through the levels, since the single-player gameplay becomes extremely frustrating due to the insane difficulty level.

Sure, you can go through by yourself, but this will be a daunting task, as you make your way through platforms (and realize that some areas are specifically designed for co-op progression, forcing you to find alternative routes) within a time limit, kill a bunch of sometimes tough enemies, only to reach the stage boss and die a horrible, horrible death.

At least, when you die you don't lose all your hard-earned items. As for experience, the levelling up process is far from familiar. In fact, there is no levelling up anymore. You can equip yourself with better gear and find spell scrolls, but there's no actual experience and level gain. Instead, the more you use your weapons and spells, the better you become at them. You can no longer switch equipment on the fly either; you must do so either outside the game or if you find a book within the stage.

There are several different characters to play as, each a protagonist of a previous Castlevania game, and each with unique traits: Alucard, Shanoa, Charlotte, Jonathan and Soma, with promises of others in future DLC. In multiplayer games, the characters' abilities will complement each other's, making the gameplay much more effective. For example, Alucard's melee and shape-shifting ability combined with Shanoa's magic and range result in some fun times and certainly more efficient progression.

The most notable feature (aside from the obvious multiplayer) is the map zooming; you can zoom in and out of the map at any time without pausing, and are still able to play with the map fully zoomed out. This allows you to plan your progression to the boss' location and see where everyone else is at in a given stage. Of course, actually being able to see and play properly while using the farthest zoom mode depends on the size of your TV screen...

One major disappointment for me was Alucard's voice. It's not quite the same hearing him cry out "Dark Metamorphosis!" or "Soul Steal!" anymore, as the voice actor used for Symphony of the Night was just perfect. This new Alucard voiceover falls short and doesn't seem to fit the character.

As much as I like the platform goodness that comes with 2D Castlevania, there are some aspects of Harmony of Despair that could have easily not existed. Yes, aside from the abysmal Alucard voice. First, the aforementioned difficulty while in single-player. Which leads to the second: whatever happened to having checkpoints? Especially while in single-player, you die, and die, and then die some more... and every time you must start from the beginning of the stage. ARGH! What kind of masochistic idea of fun is this? And third, why can't the Water of Life be swapped between players?

In a franchise where the solo gameplay was usually rewarding and a lot of fun, Despair was an appropriate choice of word for this Castlevania subtitle. But if you manage to group up with a couple of friends and put the annoyances of being a lonely adventurer aside, you're sure to spend some good times with a bit of old-school fun.

Special thanks to Konami for providing a copy of this title.

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