Review | Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Format: Xbox 360 | Genre: Strategy | Publisher: Konami | Developer: Konami | Release Date: 04/08/10 | RRP: 1200 MSP (£10.20)
Mike Rose fends off ghouls and zombies to review CASTLEVANIA: HARMONY OF DESPAIR.
THE XBOX Live Summer of Arcade chugs along this week with the next Castlevania title, Harmony of Despair, or HD as it’s shortened to (see what they did there?). Mixing retro stylings with more up-to-date visuals, the game provides single and multiplayer castle crawling with lots to see and huge boss fights to partake in.
Some unique and quite intriguing ideas are thrown into the mix this time around, providing both veteran Castlevanians and newcomers with challenging gameplay and a lovely online co-op mode. Yet while it all sounds so promising, Harmony of Despair proves to be an exercise in frustration and unfair balancing. It was always going to be a difficult game and not for the faint hearted. Unfortunately with the challenge ramped up, the fun fades away into oblivion.
First impressions are all over the place. As the first level begins, Castlevania’s vast scale hits you like a ton of sweet-smelling bricks. While previous games have kept the camera firmly focused on whichever room you’re currently occupying, Harmony of Despair pans out and provides a view of the entire level. After surveying the scene, players can click the right stick to zoom in on their character and start the action.
The next pointer that soon becomes apparent is that this is most definitely a Castlevania game. Ghoulies and zombies and all other sorts of mythical creatures will relentlessly try to kill you, and will usually do a very good job of it too. Each of the five available characters have their own set of weapons and special powers for taking out the monsters, but none of this matters a jot if you haven’t learned how each bad guy moves and attacks.
All in vain
It’s at this point that we come to the first hurdle and stumble wildly. Castlevania games aren’t exactly known for their easy-going gameplay, but at least an ample number of save points is usually provided so that you can care a little less about dying all the time. Harmony of Despair provides no such thing – there are a couple of pedestals dotted around the map which can be used to buy new weapons and stock up on potions, but ultimately if you die, you must start all the way from the very beginning of the level.
For this reason, the aforementioned ability to zoom out and see the entire level becomes quite the double-edged sword. In any previous Castlevania game, if you died you’d simply spawn again at the last checkpoint and get back on your way. In Harmony of Despair, however, since you can see the whole level already and know it’s going to be quite the trek, it’s rather off-putting to think that you now have to traverse this whole castle all over again.
Case in point – I reached the boss of the first level, and spent five minutes dealing him as much damage as I could possibly muster up. With my health steadily dropping throughout the battle, I eventually hit the bucket and was thrown back to the main menu. Upon loading the level up again, it zoomed out to show the long and winding path I had to take all over again, and I simply felt that I couldn’t be bothered to go through all that again. Dying when quite far into a level is easily the most frustrating element to this game.
This is, however, only touching the surface of how frustrating Harmony of Despair can really be. Unless you’ve seen an enemy before in a past game – indeed, many of the monsters are taken straight from previous titles – defeating enemies can be an utterly trial and error experience. Even when you do know how they move and attack, it’s still very fiddly, especially when multiple enemies pack together.
Then there’s the baffling inclusion of a time limit. You’re given 30 minutes to complete each level, and if the timer hits zero, your game is over. Half an hour is easily enough time to beat each maze and destroy the boss, but Harmony of Despair isn’t about rushing through as fast as possible. There are rooms dotted all over the place which conceal special treasures and interesting puzzles, so quite why Konami would put a limit on how long you’re allowed to explore for is beyond me.
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