Game Rant’s Vivas Kaul reviews Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
The latest entry into the Castlevania franchise titled Castlevania: Harmory of Despair at first glance seems to have all of the ingredients necessary for a fantastic game.
The game reunites Castlevania alums from previous entries into the series and players can choose any one of them to progress through the game. The individual characters even have unique abilities, move sets, and magic at their disposal in order to take down Dracula and his minions. Even the bosses from previous entries into the series return here, such as The Puppet Master and Death.
At the start of each level players have 30 minutes to run around and beat the boss of the level. The timer does not stop or pause for any reason – even while accessing the menus. While this may sound daunting, Harmony of Despair’s levels can be beaten in roughly 10 minutes depending on player skill and boss difficulty. Set to the game’s rocking soundtrack and Konami had a recipe for success. Sadly something must have gotten messed up with the single player formula – because, as a single player offering, Harmony of Despair is a mess.
Numerous problems prevent Castlevania: Harmony of Despair from capitalizing on its competent parts. The first major problem is that HoD completely eschews any kind of story. There are bits of dialogue and maniacal laughter, but it only comes from bosses or enemies in the environment. As a result, there isn’t any exposition to help flesh-out the experience.
The game also doesn’t contain a tutorial – or tool tips/pop-up hints that could help indicate how players are supposed to attack, dodge, or use any of the more advanced traversal and combat techniques. There isn’t even an explanation for how to level up spells or what stats under your character’s profile actually mean. The game heavily relies on the player having an existing knowledge of Castlevania – a pretty outrageous assumption in this day and age, where tutorials are the norm, and not having one in a game with this many systems is inexcusable. The fact that the experience is completely encapsulated within a system of grossly archaic menus doesn’t help either.
In the single player campaign, Harmony of Despair is a savagely difficult experience. Often the game requires players to grind out better equipment (or gold to buy better equipment) in lower levels in order to progress. However, loot drops in the game are mostly just vendor trash and merch food – and many of the goods are mostly useless. Eventually players get enough gold to buy much better equipment from the store, but the store doesn’t change much as the campaign progresses. In fact, most of the store is unlocked right from the get go. Similarly, the rarity of certain items is ridiculous and players will have to open an absurd number of chests to finally get something that’s worth keeping or is, at least, better than the premium equipment the store has to offer. In short, finding worthwhile loot is a frustrating grind.
To make matters worse, there is a massive spike in difficulty during boss encounters – especially when bosses have special attacks and techniques that can take advantage of the levels where you face them. Here again some kind of tutorial or hint system could have gone a long way towards making these moments more manageable.
That said, one of the major selling points in HoD is the cooperative multiplayer gameplay. It’s here that Harmony of Despair‘s true potential really shines – and the chasm between single player and multiplayer experiences is apparent. As a multiplayer game, HoD allows up to six would-be vampire hunters to rampage through the same levels available in single player – but in a cooperative effort to progress. As a result, players with better equipment or higher level skills can aid low level players. Loot drops are also shared so there isn’t any griefing over pickups. The bosses also become less frustrating when more people are in on the action. The game does scale the difficulty of the enemies, but this isn’t really too much of a problem for an organized group.
Plus with voice chat available in multiplayer there’s no reason why a team of people shouldn’t be able to stay coordinated – allowing for players to run in all directions throughout a stage, making the 30 minute timer seem less daunting. Another major selling point of co-op is the that all progress and loot can also be used in single player. Effectively, this unifies the campaign and means that if players are planning on beating the game on hard mode (which unlocks after beating the game’s six standard levels), they should probably cut their teeth with some friends.
Needless to say there’s a huge dichotomy between the two halves of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. In general, Castlevania games are heavily steeped in the single player experiences and don’t usually have to rely on multiplayer – as a result, HoD is difficult to recommend and mediocre at best (especially to fans of the franchise). Players who don’t have any friends on XBLA or PSN, or don’t play a lot of online multiplayer, are probably going to want to save their $15. However, for hardcore Castlevania fans (who are open to something a little different) or players that have a group of active friends willing to take the plunge as well, HoD can definitely be pretty entertaining.
The PSN version of the game (which was the version played for this review) is also the better buy for anyone interested in this latest outing – as it supports 4 player local co-op and comes with Julius Belmot and Yoko Belnades (both paid DLC in the XBLA release) as well as a seventh mission called ‘Pyramid of Ruin’ that is unlocked right from the start. There is also a large amount of day one paid DLC for the game including chapters 8-11 and 4 additional characters including iconic Castlevania alums Simon and Richter Belmont.
It’s a shame to see Konami neglecting the elements of Castlevania that have made past entries so iconic. Perhaps if they could incorporate some of the multiplayer elements into a single player experience that’s less daunting and more enjoyable, in terms of exploration, their next attempt could be a must-have title. In the meantime though, this is probably one time where it’s best to just let Dracula win – and play something else instead.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is now available on XBLA and PSN.
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