Review by Phantasium
"Not quite Harmony. But definitely not Despair."
In what is probably the most unexpected move for the series, Harmony of Despair is a multiplayer Castlevania game currently only available on Xbox Live. As you've probably already heard, the game takes sprite work from the collective works of the DS titles and bundles them together in giant maps that are all loaded at once, allowing enemies to travel between rooms in the castle. You may think that this gimmick of sorts never comes into play, but it's sort of a surreal moment having Gergoth fall through his tower into a pit of enemies you forgot to clear before facing him. Or having Puppet Master travel through the castle, looking for one of several Iron Maidens littered about in areas you just might not make it to in time for him to shank you in one.
Your playable roster includes Soma, Alucard, Jonathan Morris, Shanoa, and Charlotte. Soma still collects his enemies' souls, and can strengthen their effects by gaining multiple ones. Alucard's spells have been reduced to scrolls you have to find and equip. Both Alucard and Soma can find weapons to equip, and dual-handedness is back from SotN. Jonathan is stuck with the Vampire Killer whip, but can find martial arts scrolls to do his techniques from Portrait, as well as the classic Castlevania subweapons. Shanoa still sucks glyphs into her back, though gaining their power is not 100% this time around. Her Magnes glyph also tends to give her an unfair advantage half the time. Charlotte plays the role of blue mage. She has a shield attack that will occasionally give her the spell she just blocked to equip. Otherwise she's stuck with her sword-book, which is largely worthless. She's also the only character that can't jump kick, though that's not really that important.
The game consists of areas that could best be described as levels from old Castlevania scrunched into maps that resemble more closely the new Metroidvania type of areas; slightly small for the old games, slightly large for the new. You can still get hearts and money from candles, and most items are gained through treasure chests like those found in Ecclesia, though enemies still drop some loot. And boy, is there a lot of loot. You'd think due to the relative shortness of the game, and the notion that most characters only have a fraction of the items they get from their games, that there should be less than one of the proper titles. But those fractions end up adding to more than the amount of stuff to find in just one of the games, so replay value is high.
Which is good, since you probably will want to spend a good time with the game playing with friends. Not to say the single player is broken, but it's going to be hard if you're going it alone. I mentioned Puppet Master traveling through the castle earlier, and in that particular instance, it is nearly impossible to catch up with him before you get put through an iron maiden should you be alone. Those who just got off of Ecclesia's difficulty will feel right at home, though.
If you've played the DS Castlevanias, you know largely what to expect. Characters don't seem as fast as they did in those titles, but the physics in-game are not messed up by any means. Every character has their unique hook from the game they hail from, and all the collect-a-thon portions have been summed up in 6 short "castloids" that make it feel more like one of the older titles. Generous time limits included.
Quite simply, the game has none. I can't really fault them for this, since whatever story that could have been added would be a time-travel addled mess that would have screwed with the continuity that the games have been enjoying for awhile, now. In fact, the sum total of the story in the game is a short bio for each character, explaining who they are.
This is almost exactly the same spritework as seen in the DS titles. There are certain portions of animations that use 3D not seen in the originals, but these are few and far between. There is a stage or two that use completely new artwork, but it fits well with what else is presented.
Music is comprised completely of decent remixes of tracks from the DS titles. Once you've cleared a stage, you can assign any track you want to the stage or boss music for it (like in Dracula X Chronicles). Sound effects are largely familiar. Though the voicework is completely original, it fits well with the characters and their established moods.
Though I was not able to test this due to not having Gold, the in-game manual shows that when you have multiple people playing, you do not lose until everyone dies. Those who lose all their HP before a loss turn into skeletons with limited attack power. Healing water items unique to multiplayer mode can be used to revive those characters. Also, dual crushes (from Portrait) can be used if two players are close enough to each other. Loot is given for every player participating for each chest opened, and for those wondering, approximately five of the achievements in the game require multiplayer.
If you don't mind playing through something that feels more like old Castlevania than the new "Metroidvania" style, then this is worth a playthrough. With promises from the creators of new stages should the game become popular, Harmony of Despair is a great way to pass the time before the next proper Castlevania title arrives.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/09/10
Game Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (US, 08/04/10)
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