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Old 08-02-2010, 10:03 AM   #1
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[XBLA] Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

Title: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Platform: XBLA
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
ESRB: T
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
Editor: Loren 'AgtFox' Halek

Quote:
What's Hot: Up to 6-player co-op and survival modes; fun to play; highly addicting even playing by yourself early on; can buy new weapons and items with money purchased

What's Not: No real story; very difficult on your own; the need for a Grimoire location to change offensive/defensive loadouts; once you know the paths in each level it becomes somewhat tedious playing through again
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is an oddity in the series. The paper thin plot available via the main menu is that the Grimoire book has assembled five characters from the series to take on Dracula and a host of other bosses. The five characters are: Alucard (from multiple games), Soma Cruz (from Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow), Shanoa (from Order of Ecclesia), Johnathan Morris and Charolette Aulin (from Portrait of Ruin). The Grimoire book itself brings some semblance of logic to the fact that we have characters from the 1800s to the 2300s in the series (Alucard covers several centuries and games himself).

You start off with the usual weapons for each character: swords for Alucard and Soma, whip for Johnathan, spell book for Charolette and glyphs for Shanoa. You are able to purchase new offensive and defensive items as well as regular items for the character you choose as you stash away money while playing. You can only buy and sell in the main menu, there is no way to do it on the fly while playing. Each character has eight different outfits, or more accurately colors, you can choose from. You can play Harmony of Despair by yourself or with up to five other people. I played the majority of the game on my own, but I was able to find some other people that had review copies of the game and played some hours of co-op with them. The interesting thing with co-op is that each character will usually start off at a different Grimoire than the one you start off at. It does mix things up a bit in path selection, but in many cases it can shorten the path by quite a bit. Usually you want to wait for your partners to reach the boss before taking them on though, just makes defeating them that much easier.


The game is made up of six levels that are large in scope. The interesting thing is that you can view the whole map no matter where playable characters are at any time by pushing in the right analog stick. With that same button press you move into a mid-range zoom where I played in most of the time. With another press you can really zoom in close to your character and you start to see the pixels of all the characters and enemies, but the background stage itself still has high textures and everything is scaled to high definition. In fact, the graphics are quite good in this game as long as you aren’t in the super zoomed in camera. The game moves smoothly and I didn’t notice any slowdown even when fighting some rather large bosses that you’d never see rendered on the current handhelds where the games of many of these characters are found on.

In each level you have 30 minutes to beat the boss of the area and continue on. There are multiple ways to get to said boss in each level, but it does behoove you at least early on to open up whatever treasure chests you can see on the map to gain money and items. There are also points on the map where the Grimoire icon is. Here you can go in and change your offensive and defensive loadout by pressing the right trigger. The negative part of this is that you cannot change your setup at any time, something you can do in most games in the series.

I am very impressed by the level design and even though I wasn’t playing through a game with a deep storyline, there is a lot of fun to be had both alone and with others at least early on. The only problem with playing on your own is that you are going to have a tough time beating the bosses whereas if you had multiple people you’d be able to hit them from all sides. Along with this you can also pull of combo moves if other people are playing that result in massive damage. You are also able to resurrect dead players with the water of life (if you find it in a chest), although you can also play as a straight skeleton while being dead. Another plus is that any item picked up or chest opened will be duplicated for all characters, so the opener is not the only one that benefits.


Harmony of Despair is obviously best played with other people, but I did find immense enjoyment and addiction at least early on. It was frustrating as I would reach the boss on the first stage and be unable to beat him. Eventually after multiple times through and getting a lot of money I was able to upgrade Alucard’s sword to a more powerful one and be able to take out that boss. I played as all three of the male players and haven’t really touched the other two. I know Shanoa is able to use the small magnets in many of the rooms to bypass areas other characters have to do to continue on through the stage. Every character has their pluses and minuses, so it isn’t as if you are only choosing between the same type of character.

If there is one major minus I saw as I continued playing this game, it was that the levels become almost derivative after you know all the paths you can take to the final boss. When you first play this game you are really working against the clock as you are figuring out the maze and how to get to the final boss. Once you reach them though you have now committed to memory at least one path and possibly multiple ones to get through the level. The fun is still there if you’re playing co-op, but playing by yourself gets rather boring knowing all the paths and enemies in front of you.


Ultimately I feel you can find many hours of enjoyment in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair even without the deep story that many games in the series have. I also think you can find fun both playing alone or with other people in the Co-op mode or even the Survival one where the last character standing wins. With the 30 minute time limit for every level, that could allow you to play as little or long as you want. I recommend this game, but for $15 I can also easily recommend that you should bypass it unless you are looking for an enjoyable co-op experience or have some extreme patience to play by yourself and build up your character(s) in order to take on the full game alone.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 CoGs


Loren says, “Even though the game has no real story, this is a fun experience whether playing alone or with up to five other people. Once you know the paths to the end boss of each level you may become disinterested in the game, but joining up with other players will usually mix it up a bit as you start at a different Grimoire than you would in single-player. A good party game for at least a playthrough of all six levels.”
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Old 08-02-2010, 10:40 AM   #2
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Excellent review! You mention there are time limits, which I hate in games. You don't automatically give it 5 stars just because it is a 2D Castlevania, and you even put in a slight dig at the price. Yet you still manage to be fair. Love it!

If only people had reviewed Limbo this way, we wouldn't have umpteen gushing reviews that don't point out that you're paying top dollar for an extremely short game that didn't even need to worry about a color palette.
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Old 08-02-2010, 10:51 AM   #3
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Does the game have single console co-op, or over Xbox Live only?
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Old 08-02-2010, 11:01 AM   #4
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Does the game have single console co-op, or over Xbox Live only?
And, if so, can I have multiple players on one box go online with XBL players?
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Old 08-02-2010, 10:52 AM   #5
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Great review. I've been very curious about this game.
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Old 08-02-2010, 11:01 AM   #6
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Who's the sixth character? You mention only five.
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Old 08-02-2010, 11:26 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by quidmonkey View Post
Who's the sixth character? You mention only five.
Good catch, there are only five. I have changed those instances. I was never able to play a full 6-player online game, highest I got was 4. I must have assumed there were 6 characters for 6 players and wrote it down not counting the names I proceeded to put down...heh.

As far as I know there is no local co-op available, only over Xbox Live. I did not attempt to connect a second controller, but I'm going to bet it isn't available simply because any character can be anywhere in the huge levels and I can't see there being a split screen type of option where each player is zooming in and out, I think your eyes would bug out with the other player doing that.
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Old 08-02-2010, 12:04 PM   #8
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As far as I know there is no local co-op available, only over Xbox Live. I did not attempt to connect a second controller, but I'm going to bet it isn't available simply because any character can be anywhere in the huge levels and I can't see there being a split screen type of option where each player is zooming in and out, I think your eyes would bug out with the other player doing that.
Bah. Pass. They should at least let you have two players tethered together on the same screen like old school coop games.
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Old 08-02-2010, 11:46 AM   #9
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One other thing:

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Ultimately I feel you can find many hours of enjoyment in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair even without the deep story that many games in the series have.
Uh, the Castlevania story has always been that Dracula comes back. Surprise!
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Old 08-02-2010, 01:23 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by quidmonkey View Post
Uh, the Castlevania story has always been that Dracula comes back. Surprise!
Very true, although many of the modern day Castlevanias have lots of dialogue in them which further pans out the overall storyline. This game has none outside of some voiceovers by bosses. The story is very paper thin with no extra info about why the Grimoire has summoned all these characters and none of the Belmonts for example.
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Old 08-02-2010, 01:41 PM   #11
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Uh, the Castlevania story has always been that Dracula comes back. Surprise!
Aria of Sorrow.
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Old 08-02-2010, 12:03 PM   #12
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Well, as a Castlevania fan, I am disappointed this is a game with no real story to add into the time line, BUT the review did a good job of pointing out what the game was made for, and it does sound like fun.
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Old 08-02-2010, 01:21 PM   #13
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How were the controls? Did you have a choice between using the D-Pad and the analog stick?
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Old 08-02-2010, 01:23 PM   #14
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How were the controls? Did you have a choice between using the D-Pad and the analog stick?
I can try the d-pad tonight and get back to you. I never used it and don't know if it is available to be honest.

I felt the controls were as good as any of the handheld and 2D console Castlevanias Symphony of the Night and beyond. You will still miss some double jumps, but the controls seem much the same as the rest of the series.
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Old 08-02-2010, 01:55 PM   #15
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I can try the d-pad tonight and get back to you. I never used it and don't know if it is available to be honest.

I felt the controls were as good as any of the handheld and 2D console Castlevanias Symphony of the Night and beyond. You will still miss some double jumps, but the controls seem much the same as the rest of the series.
That'd be cool, thanks. This is one of the few summer of arcade titles I really want to pay for on day one.. Limbo didn't sound too long lasting for $15.
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Old 08-02-2010, 04:10 PM   #16
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A new character would have been nice. And 6 maps doesn't seem like that many, honestly.

How's the music?
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Old 08-02-2010, 06:26 PM   #17
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A new character would have been nice. And 6 maps doesn't seem like that many, honestly.

How's the music?
Music is actually pretty good. I forgot to note anything about it. Each level has a track and they are of the upbeat rock/techno style found the modern games.

And there is d-pad control as well to answer an earlier question.
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Old 08-02-2010, 04:27 PM   #18
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The fact that it's aimed mostly at co-op is pretty much a no-sale for me. I'll just fire up one of my 2D DS Castlevanias instead

Good review though.
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Old 08-02-2010, 05:26 PM   #19
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The fact that it's aimed mostly at co-op is pretty much a no-sale for me. I'll just fire up one of my 2D DS Castlevanias instead

Good review though.
I probably wpuld have bought it regardless but I have five friends that I knkw are buying it ONLY because it is coop. Because I want to see more 2d Castlevania on the 360, I hope more people have their attitude.
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Old 08-02-2010, 05:31 PM   #20
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I probably wpuld have bought it regardless but I have five friends that I knkw are buying it ONLY because it is coop. Because I want to see more 2d Castlevania on the 360, I hope more people have their attitude.
That's cool. I just know that I might eke out one evening of play with this if I'm lucky.

Just reading the general set-up of the game shows me that this just doesn't interest me at all. I thought the game was going to be a real, proper 2D Castlevania, not whatever this is. I'm not crapping on it... I'm not interested in it for what it is. It would be nice to see it do well enough to give us a 'real' 2D Castlevania though, but I'm not buying a game I don't want in the hopes that they might give us one that I do.

Crap, that came out a lot more snarky than I meant it to be.
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