Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

I’m not what you might call a nostalgic gamer. With a few exceptions, I very rarely revisit games that came out before the past decade, and this means, since the last Castlevania game I played was Symphony of the Night on PSX, my skilz were a bit rusty. But it’s just like riding a bike, it turns out, because after 20 minutes with Harmony of Despair, I was right back in the groove.

What I found with this title is the old formula, with a few tweeks. Yeah, it’s still wandering around castles killing things in two dimensions, but this time it’s geared almost entirely toward co-op play, there’s no leveling up in the traditional sense and there’s no story to speak of.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (XBox360 [Reviewed])
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: August 3, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

And you can choose from six franchise characters to play with, and each behaves in his or her own way. To beat the “it’s just like riding a bike” thing further into the ground: at first, when you try each character, it can be quite confusing as you probably won’t immediately remember which one can do what and the game doesn’t really help you out, and anyone playing this game will probably be too proud to hit the “how to play” option, but then (here it comes) you do remember what to do, and it’s just like riding a bike.

When I said this thing is built for co-op, I was not kidding. Although it’s more than possible to play through the game on your own (if you’re a decent player, at least), and it’s not even remotely unenjoyable to do so, you will, definitely, have to give each a castle a couple shots before you can take it down. And that’s OK and fun. But it’s very different with co-op. If you actually manage to gather five other players to romp with you through the game, you’ll probably find yourself quickly and efficiently dispatching all the monsters and bosses in each castle. But I don’t think the co-op aspect takes away from the single player; like, say, LittleBigPlanet, there are areas you can’t reach and loot you can’t loot when playing alone, but none of that interferes with your ability to progress through the game. It’s just harder.

So there’s no RPG-style progression, eh? Nah, this time around it’s 100%equipment-based. You play a round, collect items and money, die, equip better equipment, try again. This aspect of the game, which roughly equates to grinding, to me makes the whole experience work. I found, when I played the game, I didn’t particularly care about progressing from one castle to the next; I was just obsessed with getting new stuff for Soma Cruz (who I eventually settled on) to wear and wield. Once I maxed out what I could get from one stage, I would move on to the next. When your game has no story, the experience that is playing it revolves entirely around the mechanics, and I found that mechanic wildly successful.

So what are you gonna get, exactly, out of your 1200-Microsoft Point purchase? If you play by yourself and are any good at Castlevania games, you’ll get about 10-15 hours out of it. If you’re playing with a group, you’ll spend somewhat less time in this game. There’s little replay value to speak of, because once you’ve completed all the castles, any grinding you do will just be for the sake of grinding, which even I find tedious.

Basically, you probably already know if this game is for you. Let me spell it out: if you have a history of obsessively playing Castlevania, this is for you. If you played an old Castlevania game once and didn’t like it, this game is absolutely not for you. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is only the very essence of old-school Castlevania, which means it’s a niche title. But for a Castlevania fan like me, it’s a niche title I very much enjoyed.


It’s Castlevania, baby
Getting new equipment is addictive
Co-op is very cool


Very niche
Lack of story makes the game feel pretty slight

Score: 85/100

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1 Comment on Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review


On January 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Kick the tires and light the fires, problem offiaclliy solved!