Review: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair


Developer: Konami
Genre: Action Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360 [Xbox Live Arcade]
Release Date: August 4, 2010
Compatability: File Size 176.9MB | HDTV 1080p | Online Multiplayer 2-6 | Co-Op 6
Rating: 8.6

As if to precede the forthcoming release of Castlevania’s series reboot, Lords of Shadow, Konami have gone back to basics with Harmony of Despair – only this time with a sharp 1080p resolution, a remastered soundtrack and, most notably, the addition of 6-player co-op play. Castlevania has a lengthy history of being one of the most successful and influential platformers out there, so how does the latest (and possibly last) 2D entry to the series stack up?

It’s important for players not to begin playing Harmony of Despair hoping for a sequel of sorts, as in fact it is quite the contrary, acting as more of a nostalgic trip through the series’ past. In each of its six chapters it recreates the classic dungeons and chambers of Symphony of the Night, Rondo of Blood, Order of Ecclesia and more, all filled with classic enemies and bosses. Six chapters may not seem like a lot for some, especially considering the fairly hefty 1200MSP price tag, but the beauty of the game is its re-playability. Every one of the six different characters to choose from has entirely different ways of grinding and leveling up their powers, and picks up different types of loot in the game’s many chests.

The game offers a great and bright colour palette even though Harmony of Despair is in 2D.

This system will see you playing that one chapter time after time in the hope of that one purple chest yielding that one particular item, and this sheer addictiveness combined with the already incredible platforming elements is the main pulling power of Harmony of Despair. Personally, I’ve played for a rough total of 25 hours as the mage Shanoa, and though I must have run through any of the chapters at least 150 times, there are still enough items to collect and spells to level up for me to tirelessly keep replaying. This ethos of ‘kill enemies, grab loot’ comes at a total loss of storytelling, but this must be expected from a title that only really serves to bring back fond memories from many different games at once, and it will certainly please the hardcore looking to brag about their highly kitted-out characters.

What new content Harmony of Despair does bring to the table is co-operative play, and impressively a game can hold up to 6 players. Although Castlevania titles have always been single-player (with the exception of Portrait of Ruin), co-operatively is clearly how the game is intended to be played here, with many chests and secret areas only accessible with the aid of at least one other player, and most of the bosses being incredibly challenging to face alone, especially when starting out. Taking to the halls of Dracula’s lair on single player can be a slow and dangerous haul, but taking a friend or two along with you totally changes the experience. It also introduces a lot of tactical play, as while one may be using Charlotte’s healing spells and ranged magic attacks, another could be playing as Soma or Alucard to deal heavy melee damage.

Nostalgia. Those were the days.

In addition to the ordinary missions, there is Survival mode, in which a group of players take on a boss with many times more HP than usual. He who inflicts the most damage within three minutes wins, and while this is great fun, it also highlights a few balancing issues between the characters. All are faithful to their forms from the games from which they originate, and while this is in part a good thing, it also singles certain characters out as more powerful than others. For example, Shanoa can grind up her magic attacks until she is definitely a force to be reckoned with, but it will still have nothing on Alucard’s utterly devastating Yasutsana sword, or some of Charlotte’s spells (I once saw a Charlotte kill a boss on Hard difficulty in under 5 seconds). This is a problem in Survival mode mainly as some characters will almost always win, but even in ordinary co-op it’s frustrating to see some other players blasting ahead while you’re stuck on some fairly mediocre enemies.

It could be argued that Castlevania’s glory days are gone, but Harmony of Despair nonetheless does a fine job of keeping some memories alive in this downloadable title. It may be a little on the pricey side, but there’s room for a heck of a lot of looting, exploring, and vampire-slaying fun – especially now that your friends can join you. Seeing Dracula defeated by 6 mighty hunters at once is an awesome sight, and the experience is not to be missed by fans of the series.

Reviewed by failboatskipper – November 22, 2010

Keeping the traditional 2D perspective, the game still manages to look great, with a bright and playful colour scheme, and the all-important touch of authenticity on the appearance of classic locations and enemies.
Many tracks from the older games have been re-recorded, replacing 8-bit sounds with electric guitar, and for the most part it sounds great.
While it’s just good old Castlevania on single player, with anything between 2 and 6 players at once the game is a reinvented experience. Frustrating imbalances can leave some players in the dust, though.
Final Score



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