Castlevania is one of those legendary NES series that is old as myself. Having played 80% of all Castlevania games I always found it intriguing how the games’ creators kept the series fresh and interesting. Harmony of Despair is the latest entry in Castlevania’s long lineage and it just might be the most unique.
Harmony of Despair is not your typical Castlevania game. First of all the game has no story whatsoever. The music and sound isn’t even catchy and enchanting like previous Castlevania games. With no mind bending way to resurrect Dracula long time fans may be disappointed, but that is not the direction the developers wanted to take this Xbox Live Arcade title. We live in an age of co-op and Castlevania offers plenty of 6 player online action.
Players are given the opportunity to play as one of five Dracula slaying veterans each with their own combat style, equipment, and magic from their respective Castlevania games. The characters are Alucard (Symphony of the Night), Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin (Portrait of Ruin), Soma Cruz (Aria of Sorrow / Dawn of Sorrow), and Shanoa (Order of Ecclesia).
Harmony of Despair is based on the concept of having a game with 6 maps that players have 30 minutes each to complete. If players are killed, they turn into weak skeleton characters and time decreases rapidly for each additional death of those players. There are opportunities to revive your friends from their skeleton form, but the particular item needed to do so is usually limited to 3 to 4 per map.
Slashing your way through Harmony of Despair may sound like a simple task, but you are destined to die multiple times if you play alone or with people who have similar stats to your own. There will be plenty of moments where you don’t have enough strength, defense, and health to defeat a lot of enemies. The realization that Harmony of Despair is made to punish people who don’t play online is something that hit me during 30 minutes of single player action. With co-op play you can occasionally do devastating partner attack to overcome enemies. When you play alone only death and frustration await you.
To help overcome many of the game’s overwhelming odds, Harmony of Despair is heavy on item collecting. There are plenty of weapons, armor, money, and various items to collect that makes replaying maps that just owned you easier than it was before. Most items collected online by any individual player are also given to the entire team for their respective character, so expect to have plenty of things to buy and modify your character with after a couple of hours of online play. This adds a RPG essence to Harmony of Despair that will keep you coming back for more and more.
Overall, the maps in Harmony of Despair are big enough to keep gamers entertained but replaying those maps over and over is the intent behind Harmony of Despair. There are plenty of items to collect and monsters to be killed that add a lot of replayability to Harmony of Despair. I applaud Konami for attempting to do something different with Castlevania. It’s not the Castlevania we all know, but it can become one that we all love.