Castlevania as a series is a lot like its plot. It’s an archaic franchise that’s constantly reborn from the ashes of its formulaic gameplay and no matter how jaded you think you are you’ll still find yourself entranced by its charm. From Simon’s Quest to Portrait of Ruin we’ve helped the Belmont clan and others destroy the King of Darkness countless times. Alas, even through we’ve traveled far and slayed more Madusa Heads than we can count, we still remain divided as a fan base. Some say Soma Cruz is the top vampire slayer while others might swear by Alucard, but with Castlevania: Harmony of Despair we can finally all get along.
One year after its original XBox 360 release, Castlevania: HoD finally makes its way to the PS3. The game comes in at $15.99 for the original 6 levels and the Ps3 version offers a little bonus by also including two DLC characters and the DLC Chapter 7 dungeon. If you’d like to play all the way to the Chapter 11 finale however, you’re going to have to fork over some more cash for the $3.99 installments.
For the most part Castlevainia: HOD plays out like any of the previous 2D iterations. It’s a 2D dungeon exploration game with more than its share of slashing and whipping. But in Harmony of Despair you forgo the lone hero shtick and instead team up with as many as six vampire hunters to explore levels based off of Castlevania lore. The game gives you a boss to slay at the beginning and from there your group must work together to collectively destroy some undead nightmares. The group dynamic is a must and without the extra friends the game falls flat on it’s face. Konami left nothing for a solo campaign and if you wanted to play Harmony of Despair alone you’re completely out of luck.
The game is an ode to fan service, providing nods to many old Castlevania levels and music. All the characters (Soma Cruz, Alucard, Jonathan Morris, Julius Belmont, Shanoa, Charlotte Aulin, & Yoko Belnades) have their own unique skills and weapons and each one level up in their own specific manner. For instance, Soma Cruz the souls of enemies, Jonathon leans martial arts, and Charlotte absorbs magic from enemies. This not only adds to the replay value of the title but also keeps variety in check while playing with multiple people. Unfortunately Harmony of Despair does a very poor job of relaying gameplay mechanics to you and you might find yourself half way through the game and just realizing that you only level up when you use your sub weapon. Be aware that you’ll do a lot of grinding through early levels in order to pass through later ones, so be ready to grind if your willing to pay the entry fee. The system is solid and the bosses can range from entertainingly easy to punishingly hard, at times even suprising you with their sheer size and strength.
The PS3 version also adds a competent LAN mode. While this is extremely welcome it does encumber the screen. It’s easy to say that Castlevania: HoD shines in it’s online play. That being said, the online system is superb. Matchmaking is easy, the infrastructure is solid, and organizing your friends is a breeze. Our only issue is when we ran into a few snags where players would got disconnected during the load in/load out screens.
Castlevania: HoD’s main problem is it’s length and pricing structure. The game plays out with a boss to defeat and a level to conquer, but you’ve got a 30 minute time frame to finish. While this set-up will last you a bit of time, you’ll still find yourself completing it in about six hours from start to finish. Maybe faster if you find a good team online. Unless you’re interested in leveling your character or battling your way through the punishing hard more you might have to open your wallet to prolong the experience. With all the bells and whistles the game will run you about an extra $20 bucks on top of the purchase price. If you’re not a die-hard Castlevania fan that might just be too steep.
While Castlevania: HoD is a welcome addition to the PSN library, it’s gameplay and fan-service will mostly appeal to the long-time series fan base. The game is well put together through the 2D art-style and the music, but for a grand total of $35 it’s a bit overpriced. If you have a group of friends dedicated to take the plunge with you give it a go, otherwise you might want to stay in the light where the vampires can’t suck your wallet dry.
– – – – – – –
Name: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Available on: Playstation 3 (PSN) XBox360 (Marketplace)
Developed by: Konami
Published by: Konami
Release date: September 27, 2011
EG Score: 4 out of 5 / “Worth Buying/Worth Trying”