Review by tuzlowps
"A multiplayer Castlevania? What else is there to say?!"
I have to admit, when I first heard about Castlevania: Harmony of Despair I was a bit skeptical on whether or not the purchase would be worth it. Unlike many of the other players, I did not play any Castlevania games besides the XBLA Symphony of the Night port. What made me consider passing this up was that from the little information I had at the time it sounded like a rush the boss no time for fun type game. My experience with SOTN was amazing and so this game sounded like a waste of time, boy was I wrong.
The game starts out with 6 levels playable on either Normal or Hard difficulty (Hard is unlocked once completing all 6 levels on Normal, although DLC is the exception as Hard can be played without beating it on Normal). The best way I can think to describe these levels is concepts taken from other Castlevania titles and warped to fit a multiplayer gameplay. The chapters 1-9 are in my opinion quite easy once you get the hang of it, now I'm not saying 10 and 11 are hard, but just that they take a little more time to get used to.
The game starts you out with 5 characters, these being Soma Cruz, Jonathon Morris, Alucard, Shanoa, and Charlotte. Soma is able to use weapons of all kinds varying from a sword to a lead filled teddy bear, but what makes him special is his ability to use enemy souls to his advantage. To someone just starting out Soma is the character of choice as he is easy to start and can quickly become powerful. What Alucard and Soma share in common is that they become stronger when they get a new piece of gear they, in theory, become instantly stronger, however what sets Soma and Alucard apart is that Alucard uses spells similar to those found in SOTN. Charlotte is the main magic character here as her main attack is her spells. These are acquired from trapping the spells off of specific enemies. To make her stronger not only do you have to acquire each spell, but you have to acquire one spell NINE times in total. While for those used to grinding out their characters this is a fairly easy task, those less experienced will find this extremely boring and almost in the end not worth it. Shanoa can be seen as the middle ground between Melee and Magic as she has a few strong weapon glyphs along with strong glyph spells. Her non DLC spell glyphs are acquired by simply getting them from an enemy once, while her melee weapon glyphs are acquired from chests. Now here's where the fun begins. To level up Shanoa's spell glyphs one must grind it up from level 1 to level 9. This process can either take a few hours through a method known as Survival Grinding, or many hours through actually playing through levels. Jonathon is our final non DLC character. He uses a whip just as the later DLC Belmonts, and levels up the same by getting his subweapons to level 9 the same way as Shanoa. At the time before DLC Jonathon was seen by most as a useless character since he takes forever to get to his prime as his subweapons are just as annoying as Shanoa's glyphs to get up.
Some people may wonder if there is any sort of story behind this game. The answer to their question is No. HoD is intended to be played as a multiplayer game, although it can be played solo, it does not have a story.
HoD is a game all about loot. The better the loot you get, the happier you should be. Once starting a level your sole objective is to grab the chests you choose and kill the boss to obtain one of his drops. While this gameplay can sound a bit repetitive (It is VERY repetitive) it remains fun as playing with friends to get that final piece of gear is a great motivator. The other part of this game is platforming. If you've played any Castlevania game then you already know what to expect, if not then just imagine a very basic platforming experience used to create a unique level.
Anyone who enjoys Old School game music will be a fan of the music found in HoD. The music can vary from soothing to energetic just by entering the boss room. The level's music can be changed in the Main menu to any piece already in your game from other levels or through DLC. I for one have never, and have never heard of someone who found the music to become annoying or even bad. The small bit of voice acting that is in this game is very well done. Now that doesn't mean it is by all means perfect, but it does mean that it is not monotonous (as I am reading this in my head) and it also means it does not sound overdramatic. While there is a lack of passion in the voices, I feel that any more would lead to the expressions sounding fake and annoying.
As I've said before, HoD is targeted mostly as a multiplayer game, one example being the ability to use a Dual Crush'. This becomes available when playing with a friend and they both agree to use a special attack between characters that uses a chunk of your magic, but in turn can lead to devastating results. While there is a single player game mode, that is mostly for people who have already started out and wish to find gear by themselves. The multiplayer in this game consists of hosting or searching for a group to party up with and run a specific level, or set of levels to obtain their gear of choice. The host can change the level and difficulty at will, and an ability for the party members to request a chapter/difficulty is available. One great quality about this game is the ability to press the back button and gain access to a few generic greetings for those who don't have a mic. The main thing to note about multiplayer is that as the party size increases so does the difficulty in terms of enemy health and damage.
I personally love 16-Bit games and 2D side scrolls so I found this game visually appealing. Some audience may find the graphics of this game to be sucky' or trashy' while other gamers may find nostalgia in the simple graphics of the past. The animations for Dual Crushes appear very well done, along with special attacks from certain enemies.
Overall I give this game 9/10. While I do not find it perfect due to repetition and a few minor annoyances it is a very well built game with some great DLC. All in all the game + DLC levels and characters will end up being about $50 I find this game much more valuable than a regular retail game. I have put into the game at least 70 hours, while others have put in 300+! If after reading my review you still aren't sure on your purchase, then I would suggest downloading and playing the demo, while keeping in mind that it isn't an accurate view of the full game at all besides the basic gameplay.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/07/11
Game Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (US, 08/04/10)
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