Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is a game designed for fans. The games assets are directly ripped from previous Castlevania titles and stitched together to blend into one cohesive title. The game is broken up into seven unique chapters — with a boss to defeat at the end of each. Strangely, there is a 30-minute time limit to complete each chapter. Depending on how many adventurers are with you, the time limit may become your toughest advesary. Up to 6-players can team up online to battle Dracula and his forces of the undead.
New to the PlayStation 3 version is the addition of a 4-player local multiplayer mode. The game doesn’t utilize a split-screen so once players are spread out across the map, the game will zoom out making it nearly impossible to decipher what is going on. If you are going to be hunting Dracula by yourself, you may find Harmony of Despair much harder than any other Castlevania game before it. The game will always be a multiplayer first experience. Of course, you can tackle it solo, but this will take more time, especially when you have to traverse the entire map to unlock a door or gate. When playing with others, players will start each chapter spread across the map.
Just like the DS and GBA titles, as well as the legendary Symphony of the Night, Harmony of Despair is all about the loot. Spread throughout the chapters are treasure chests that may hold that special item you have been looking for. The best loot however, will come from the bosses. Once you complete all of the chapters and take down Dracula, you can replay the chapters on hard mode — expect to find all the best items in hard mode.
Before you start on your quest, you have to select your adventurer. There are plenty for you to choose ranging from the classic Alucard and Soma Cruz to latest keeper of the legendary Vampire Whip Julius Belmont from the Nintendo DS titles, Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow. My all-time favorite character will always be Richter Belmont from Rondo of Blood. The gameplay follows the “Metroidvania” style as you use your attacks to defeat skeletons, imps, and flying medusa heads — I hate those things so much.
Not all the characters control the same and with no instructions on what differentiates them, it is basically a trial and error to see which one you will have the most fun using. The members of the Belmont Clan use the Vampire Killer whip and are able to use classic secondary items such as Holy Water or the boomerang-like Cross. Alucard and Soma both use looted items such as swords, daggers or axes as their primary attack.
I would recommend playing through the chapters in order, as each chapter gets progressively harder. The downloadable content available on the Xbox 360 was available for the PlayStation 3 on the same day as the game’s release. Just like the game, the DLC is overpriced. The game itself is a premium $19.99, which is a lot especially considering it has already been on the 360 for over a year. The downloadable content is also priced very high, although it contains new characters and new chapters; there is no reason for them to still be at full price. I do not care that it’s “new” to the system, if the game has already been out on other systems it should not be full price. Loading bugs that plagued the Xbox 360 version are still present on the PS3, so after finishing a chapter you have to cross your fingers that everything loads correctly.
Before each of the chapters you can buy health items at the shop or change equipment. Armor can be shared across all your characters and pieces can be swapped at will. If you die in game, you appear as a skeleton able to fight by tossing bones though it only does minimal damage. There is an item that can resurrect your character, but you can only carry one on each chapter.
If you have friends who can play Harmony of Despair online with you or if you don’t mind playing with random people online, a lot of fun can be had with this game. It’s a solid 2D Castlevania platformer with lots of content. The downloadable pieces add some classic faces to the game such as Simon Belmont, as well as classic chapters like an 8-bit version of Dracula’s castle. The price will be a turn off for anyone but hardcore fans, but even so it is one of the best multiplayer experiences for a downloadable title.
Note: The Castlevania Harmony of Despair review was written based on the PS3 version of the game.