Castlevania Harmony of Despair Review

System: Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Action
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points
Available now

While fans sit and wait in anticipation for the next Castlevania game produced by MercurySteam with help from the father of the Metal Gear Solid series Hideo Kojima, Koji Igarashi has been hard at work on a few Castlevania titles, and his first new title is the Xbox Live downloadable title Harmony of Despair.

Players can choose between 5 playable characters from 4 different Castlevania series titles, including:

  • Soma Cruz from Castlevania Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow. Soma is the reincarnation of Dracula and thus has dominance over souls of demons he takes down. Once he absorbs the souls he can use them as his own power creating a vast amount of possible skills, which he can level up by using them. He can equip a large variety or weapons including Axes, Swords, and Lances.
  • Adrian Farenheights Tepes, aka Alucard, the son of Dracula and a human, makes him a Dhampir. This version Alucard is a mix between Castlevania Symphony of the Night form and Castlevania: Dawn of sorrow, where he gains new spells as he finds new scrolls in chests and powers them up the more he uses them. He can also equip a variety of weapons.

  • Shanoa comes from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia who came from a Holy order destined to defeat Dracula if he would ever to be revived. She uses her ability to steal/absorb magical glyphs from enemies using her Rune, and she can use the power freely once she successfully absorbs it. She only uses her Confodere, which like her glyphs, power up with the more enemies you defeat.

  • Jonathan Morris is responsible for carrying the Belmont’s legendary Vampire Killer whip in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Jonathan isn’t a Belmont by blood so he uses the whip at a price. His martial arts skills are used with a button command that allows him to fight in full force. He also can collect and use items such as grenades, holy water, the bible, crosses as the other Belmont’s used in the past and gain more strength the more they are used. Jonathan can only equip the Vampire Killer which gains more power with every enemy he defeats.

  • Charlotte Aulin is a descendant of the Belmont clan. She can use powerful magic which helps aid her partner Jonathon Morris in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Charlotte uses a binding spell which allows her to absorb many skills, which she can use a counter spell at her whim to defeat her enemies. She uses the Book of Binding to attack, but she more useful as your spell caster.

There are 6 chapters in HoD, each representing a different Castlevania game which must be completed in a time limit. Defeating the boss from each chapter allows you to proceed to the next chapter. But to do so, you must navigate through the dungeons, traps, and puzzles while defeating enemies and collecting chests and money in order to power your skills and abilities to make it easier for you. Be prepared to take on a chapter a few times just to be ready since you don’t level up in this game, only characters’ skills, or in Shanoa and Jonathon’s case, their weapons. Dying will mean a game over in solo play, while in online co-op you turn into an undead skeleton that can fight and can be revived if your partner(s) picks up a revival water and uses it on you.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair gives you the chance to take on the game via single player or gather a team of up to 6 players on online co-op, working together to take on the large maps and bosses. When in co-op, enemies and bosses are much stronger than if you were playing solo, but the enemies give better rewards. Co-op also allows you to reach areas that are not available in solo mode. Castlevania co-op mode also saves your team the headache of possible arguing over who would be getting what chest by randomly generating items that are shared by the whole team, which includes money, weapons, armors, and items. Sometimes you will see your partner get better items, so don’t be jealous, since you at least get to get something. When all else fails and you don’t get the weapons or armor you need, a shop is available in your main menu screen, allowing you to use the hard earned money you’ve collected as you proceed in the game. You can even sell some extra equipment and items you don’t need. Each character has specific equipment that can be bought from the store if not collected from chests in the game.

Harmony of Despair reminds me of some of the most memorable Castlevania titles to date, and uses graphics and sprites similar to the DS games, taking stages from Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin and even the Symphony of the Night, which fits the game very well.

The game is pretty short, but once you beat a chapter, you are free to continue on to the next chapter or redo the chapter until you finally reach the ultimate opponent, Dracula. Being quick and efficient is important since you have to beat the clock or you get a game over. Luckily, unlike other Castlevania titles, if you die, you can keep all your items you have collected. When teaming up via multiplayer, the game will be even shorter and with only 6 chapters. That’s not a lot of gameplay, but Igarashi planned ahead as you can unlock a Hard mode which will increase all opponents HP and attack, giving you more of a challenge, if you beat the game. By unlocking hard mode, more equipment is available for purchase and the ultimate equipment can be found, but lcan leave you wanting more. According to Igarashi and Konami, DLC will be available that will include more characters and chapters. If the game sells well enough on the 360, it is possible it may also appear on the Playstation 3.

Overall, Castlevania is a fun and challenging game Castlevania fans have been waiting for. Rather than focusing on graphics, it focuses on gameplay, and for the first time, co-op teamwork. You can check out who the best player in single player mode is by a score ranking, and you can test your skills in a multiplayer survival mode. The only downfall at the beginning that will eventually become strength to correctly use is the map camera, it can zoom in and out allowing you to scout ahead and plan accordingly but at times can be a nuisance.

Grade: B+ (expect another look when new DLC is released)

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