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Old 08-06-2010, 10:36 AM   #1
Kragg
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[XBLA] - Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

Title: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Platform Reviewed: Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
MSRP: 1200 MSP ($15)
Writer: Ben 'kragg' Daniels

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

...and Yoko decided to take things in a weird new direction.

As Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade 2010” begins to wind down, we’ve been delivered Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, or “CHD”, or “questionable” as I will refer to it for the rest of this review.
So lets look at this vampire slaying action-platformer and see if it really has fangs, or if it’s all sparkle and no substance. You see what I did there?

Right away I can tell you that this game is niche, and for only two types of people. The first type is diehard Castlevania fans such as myself. The second is diehard score junkies and loot whores, such as myself. The concept of this game is basically a glorified version of the time attack “boss rush mode” that is unlocked in previous installments of the Castlevania series. So already, if you’re saying “what the hell is boss rush mode?” this game is probably not for you.

You can select any of five characters from previous titles - Alucard, Soma, Shanoa, Johnathan, and Charlotte-and then run through streamlined versions of six “castle” maps attempting to kill a boss before a timer expires. All the characters retain trademark powers from their original games, but CHD doesn’t do a good job explaining what those are to the uninitiated. If you see pegs scattered around a map you might say “what are those for?”, but the seasoned Order of Ecclesia player will know that Shanoa can use her magnet powers to spring off them and boost to a higher platform. Again, this game is for Castlevania junkies. It’s almost feels like Konami just assumed that if you were purchasing it that you are a longtime fan of the franchise.


The graphics look like they were directly lifted from the Nintendo DS installments and cleaned up for HD. There is also a very odd 3x “zoom” system that basically let’s you look at the entire map/castle, a maneuverable area view, and then a full zoom focused on your character. The game action does not stop while zoomed out, so it can be frustrating being attacked while your hunter is literally the size of a pinhead on your TV. The sound is the most comfortable and familiar aspect of this game, with all effects being lifted from previous games, and a score of digitized goth-rock pieces that will be instantly recognizable to fans. One cool feature is the ability to set exactly which piece of music will play during each level and its respective boss battle once you’ve unlocked it.


The strongest aspect of CHD is the multiplayer. It’s online only, and presents a highly streamlined version of Castlevania that is basically a mash-up of the first game combined with Symphony of The Night’s most basic inventory mechanics. You and up to five other players choose your loadouts, enter the level, and try to beat the boss while opening as many chests to obtain new loot as time allows. You either defeat the boss and succeed to loot a fairly powerful random item, or you all die/time expires and you fail. That’s it. There is no leveling system to speak of, but you can power up each characters individual skills/spells through repeated usage.

While death is prohibitive in single player, it’s a mere annoyance in co-op as other players can resurrect you from a playable “skeleton” state using “water of life” which is scattered in chests throughout the levels. Single player tends to be frustrating, since these maps were clearly designed with multiple players in mind. Similar to Little Big Planet, there are certain paths and rewards only accessible using teamwork. There are also strategies to fighting certain bosses that may only be executed with more than one vampire hunter present.


A very strange feature is that aside from your initially chosen loadout on the main screen, you can only equip items at special pedestals within a level. This means that while you’re on your Winona Ryder looting spree, you have to run back to a specific area to actually equip and utilize your new weapon or armor, or wait until your next run to try it. This may have been implemented to add a challenge, but when you’re trying to navigate the clunky inventory system while under a strict time limit it simply becomes frustrating.

With only six maps to choose from the game feels a bit limited in scope. You can easily tear through them in 10 minutes a piece with a group of experienced players or possibly even less in the last-man-standing style “survival mode”. That being said, this falls into the Left4Dead category of multiplayer where you must play with friends. Without a solid group of people who you can communicate with and know exactly what the plan is, things quickly devolve into random, controller throwing chaos. There is replay value here, but only in the idea that you will want to collect as many items as possible, or rack up achievement points. I also have to applaud Konami for implementing a very cool replay system on the leaderboards, which allows you and your team to view other teams time runs and strategies, almost creating a meta-game based on the competitive nature of timed runs.


The bottom line is that this game is truly an arcade experience. It’s Castlevania; not “Metroidvania”. Do not expect the depth of titles such as Symphony of The Night or Portrait of Ruin. If you’re hankering for a loot grind fix and love the franchise, there will probably be enough familiarity here to satiate. However, if you’re not a longtime fan or even someone who appreciates a game based on hardcore mechanics such as time attacks, you’ll be decrying it as “Castlevania: Lament of Lost Wealth”.

Score: 2.5 out of 5


The Good
  • Action is hard boiled, fast-paced, and classic Castlevania
  • Konami should be applauded for taking a chance with an established franchise.
The Bad
  • There is only replay value for the OCD sufferers among us.
  • Konami’s experiment didn’t completely work out so well.
The Ugly
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Old 08-06-2010, 10:56 AM   #2
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esh, perhaps I expected too much out of a 2d castlevania for consoles.
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Old 08-06-2010, 11:09 AM   #3
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Get a bigger TV PIN HEAD
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Old 08-06-2010, 11:23 AM   #4
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Excellent review, Ben. I think you more or less nailed it with both the game strengths and weaknesses. The 2.5 is, I think the appropriate score. You're right--it's an -arcade- experience. This is exactly the depth you would expect to find in a game like Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom but with gameplay that more closely resembles the old Dark Castle games. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's certainly not anything at all like the traditional Castlevania games. Even the Gameboy classic CV games had more depth.

That being said, my heart breaks over this game. I was so looking for to it for exactly the strengths you identify above--multiplayer with friends. But then when I found out that there was no support for local multiplayer, it killed it for me. That, and the lack of a pause feature, even when playing in single-player mode, killed it for me. I'm sure I'll pick it up once it eventually goes on sale. But for $15? Nope... just too little there to appeal to me at that price.
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Old 08-06-2010, 11:24 AM   #5
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Get a bigger TV PIN HEAD
Man, I play on a 14' projected hi-def display, and the zoomed out view is too hard for even ME to play by.
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Old 08-06-2010, 11:36 AM   #6
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Man, I play on a 14' projected hi-def display, and the zoomed out view is too hard for even ME to play by.
put in your quad-focal lenses, geezer! ;0
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Old 08-06-2010, 11:51 AM   #7
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Should've been 2.5D.
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Old 08-06-2010, 12:04 PM   #8
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Should've been 2.5D.
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Old 08-06-2010, 12:11 PM   #9
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Might just wait for Lord of Shadows to come out instead.
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Old 08-06-2010, 12:41 PM   #10
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I'll wait for Castlevania on the 3DS with multiplayer.
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Old 08-06-2010, 12:52 PM   #11
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i love this game. sure it's not deep. no story. but man, it's fun to run through with some buddies. there's DLC on the way too, with 2 additional characters and another map.

i do wish they had some different "rules" in place for single player, especially a pause. I can understand why it's not there for multiplayer but it could definitely work in single.

they might have been able to do local multiplayer, but reviews would rip them apart for how shitty it would play. the way this game works just lends itself to being online-only. splitscreen wouldn't allow you to actually use the zoomed out view at all really (everything would be very tiny... i mean you could use it as a map but you couldn't like... fight the stage 3 boss easily that way)... or they could have a single screen that zooms out as people separate. But even that would be annoying because of the zoom mechanic.

in all, i think the game works for what it is. fun, quick arcade style action with castlevania flavor.
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Old 08-06-2010, 01:08 PM   #12
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i love this game. sure it's not deep. no story. but man, it's fun to run through with some buddies. there's DLC on the way too, with 2 additional characters and another map.

i do wish they had some different "rules" in place for single player, especially a pause. I can understand why it's not there for multiplayer but it could definitely work in single.

they might have been able to do local multiplayer, but reviews would rip them apart for how shitty it would play. the way this game works just lends itself to being online-only. splitscreen wouldn't allow you to actually use the zoomed out view at all really (everything would be very tiny... i mean you could use it as a map but you couldn't like... fight the stage 3 boss easily that way)... or they could have a single screen that zooms out as people separate. But even that would be annoying because of the zoom mechanic.

in all, i think the game works for what it is. fun, quick arcade style action with castlevania flavor.
I agree with you on the strengths of the game. What it does, it does well. I just feel that it really doesn't have the depth and longevity of other titles in the series, especially at the $15 price tag they are currently asking for it. There were also so features I feel could have been implemented better.
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Old 08-06-2010, 02:33 PM   #13
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That was a really fun read, Kragg.
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Old 08-07-2010, 02:11 AM   #14
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Now that I actually know HOW to play the game, i'm really enjoying it. My charlotte is a beast.

The game is intensely grind heavy though, i can't imagine how much effort it would take to strengthen up Shanoa or Jonathan.
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Old 08-07-2010, 06:26 PM   #15
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Now that I actually know HOW to play the game, i'm really enjoying it. My charlotte is a beast.

The game is intensely grind heavy though, i can't imagine how much effort it would take to strengthen up Shanoa or Jonathan.
I am playing as Jonathan. The quick answer is "a lot".
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Old 08-07-2010, 11:12 PM   #16
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Excellent review, Ben. I think you more or less nailed it with both the game strengths and weaknesses. The 2.5 is, I think the appropriate score. You're right--it's an -arcade- experience. This is exactly the depth you would expect to find in a game like Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom but with gameplay that more closely resembles the old Dark Castle games. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's certainly not anything at all like the traditional Castlevania games. Even the Gameboy classic CV games had more depth.

That being said, my heart breaks over this game. I was so looking for to it for exactly the strengths you identify above--multiplayer with friends. But then when I found out that there was no support for local multiplayer, it killed it for me. That, and the lack of a pause feature, even when playing in single-player mode, killed it for me. I'm sure I'll pick it up once it eventually goes on sale. But for $15? Nope... just too little there to appeal to me at that price.
I don't know if I agree with the statement that it isn't like a true Castlevania...the Castlevania series has had a lot of just action adventures, like Castlevania and Castlevania III, IV, that later one on SNES and Genesis. So, I can appreciate it from that perspective, although I really can't wait for them to get to a proper SotN return to console.

That said, I'm particularly pleased that they finally have a game with proper pixel support...it looks 1:1, which is something I've been asking for since they started releasing lo-fi games on the current gen of consoles.
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Old 08-08-2010, 12:08 AM   #17
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Still waiting for 2.5D Castlevania. If any game apart from Metroid deserved that treatment it's this series.
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Old 08-08-2010, 01:03 AM   #18
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I agree with the review. I got it to play with one of my friends and yes it's a blast if you like that sort of thing, but for the price you pay it really should have offered more. Considering how much content is being reused, there should have been 2-3x more maps at the very least.
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Old 08-08-2010, 07:25 AM   #19
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There is a LOT of content here, it's just based around the characters more than the enemies.
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