You know I don’t often play X-Box Live Arcade games, though I really should start doing it again. I played Deathspank recently, and although I never beat it, I did enjoy playing it to a moderate degree, and to this day I still play Magic the Gathering like it’s going out of style. Recently however I’ve started playing Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, and man am I having a blast! I have no idea why I don’t like the Castlevania series more than I do because playing this game reminded me of the fun I had playing Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclasia. Okay, maybe not Order of Ecclasia (no freaking castle!? What a rip off!), but adding Harmony of Despair to the list is a pretty good resume of A-grade titles for the series.
For those unaware, Harmony of Despair, i.e. Castlevania HD (Get it? It’s an initialism pun!) is the new X-Box Live Arcade title that allows for a team of up to six players take control of five heroes from the more recent 2D Castlevania games (Soma, Alucard, Jonathan, Charlotte, and Shanoa) and let them go co-op through six massive maps. It’s a fun game when you get together a party of your friends and have them start ripping through the legions of badguys and the legitimately challenging series of bosses the game throws at you. The levels, enemies, and bosses are all hodgepodges from the more recent Castlevania titles (mostly the GBA and DS titles), but the game features enough variety that one play through isn’t enough. Five playthroughs isn’t enough. Hell, I’ve put enough time into this game to make most Bethesda RPGs jealous and I’m still not done playing. Why? It’s the Co-Op.
Anyone watching LordKaT’s stream (which you can view at LordKaT.com/live of course!) knows how much we’ve been playing the game. In fact, I’m stunned people are still watching the stream considering how much we’ve been playing. I guess it’s really entertaining for people to watch us farm. Yes, farm. Like all good Castlevania games they provide a great challenge up until you reach a point where you put enough work into the game to completely break everything. Let Soma or Alucard get a Valmanway, or let Charlotte max out her Heal spell and spam and Astral Ring/Skull Ring combo and watch the game crumble apart. Still, this is part—if not most of the fun. See, we spent hours fighting Brauner in Chapter 4 on Hard. Seriously, a good six hours had to be devoted to beating that guy just once. We struggled to defeat his paint spells and unblockable Curse/Poison spells before finally we grinded our way to having two Somas using RPGs and then we rocket launched his frilly ass into oblivion. Yeah, we could have spent hours perfecting our jumps and tactics, but part of the fun of Castlevania is picking up some sword with ridiculous stats that tears through your enemy like they were made of tissue paper and hollow ambitions. Fair? Well that’s to be debated. Fun? No argument, at least in the beginning. Eventually defeating the game’s six bosses can become tedious especially once they cease being a challenge, but at that point you can realize you have four more character to play through the game as, and this is the game’s other major strength.
The collection of Castlevania characters might have been a novelty had the cast not all played so radically different. The closest would be Soma and Alucard who use mostly the same weapons and armor, but level up differently. Soma has a wide variety of souls he can collect from just about every enemy in the game, and Alucard has four scrolls he can collect from different enemies that he powers up through successive collection that makes his moveset acute, but very powerful. Then you have Jonathan who becomes stronger as his subweapons are used more, Charlotte who becomes godlike as you absorb spells, and Shanoa who has a limited list of spells to absorb, but an amazing cap to her spells should you use them frequently. Each character is different and poses a different challenge, so once you get bored of one character, you can switch to another (which more characters to be included with DLC). That’s quite a lot of gameplay out of a game that costs $15.
Still, the game has flaws. Coding is buggy, and it’s not uncommon for people to get kicked from your group randomly. Maybe server issues caused it, but we’ve had it a lot so far. Also, the game requires you to grin, and for Charlotte grinding in a group of characters who aren’t also Charlotte is almost impossible. The amount of time it takes to fully level up a character can takes days, and honestly isn’t all that fun after a few hours, but it’s worth it in the end to run up and solo Dracula without needing to spend a potion. Would I recommend the game? Absolutely. Anyone who enjoyed the DS/GBA Castlevania titles will enjoy playing this game, though I can’t recommend it for those out there who don’t play online. Whether with friends or strangers, you need to have a party to enjoy this game, but trust me, you will. I can tell you now I’m close to fully leveling up Charlotte, and following that I look forward to giving Jonathan or Shanoa a try. Plus with the rumor of DLC to come very soon including two new characters and a new level, the shelf life of this game looks to extend dramatically.
My biggest regret about this game? It makes me want to play the DS Castlevania games again… and I sold all of mine. Sigh.