First and foremost, we must inform you that we literally had to stop playing Harmony of Despair in order to write this review.  In fact, we’ve been playing Harmony so much this past week, we’d almost forgotten to write a review at all, until now!!

A lot of us here are fans of good ol’ fashioned 2d Castlevania dungeon crawling.  Luckily, that’s exactly what Harmony of Despair gives you.  Not only that, but it gives the same to up to five of your friends as well, so you can all get in on the classic action together.

The first thing you’ll notice is that this game looks and feels like Symphony of the Night and every 2d Castlevania since.  There are some tweaked textures and images here and there, but for the most part, we’ve seen this all before, literally.

Harmony of Despair is quite literally made up of some of the best design elements and monsters taken from previous Castlevania games.  It even lets you play as five different characters from various older games.  Soma Cruz (Aria of Sorrow), Alucard (Symphony of the Night), Jonathan Morris (Portrait of Ruin), Shanoa (Order of Ecclesia), and Charlotte Aulin (Portrait of Ruin).

If you’re familiar with these characters and have played their respective games, then you’re in luck, because they play almost exactly the same as they did in those titles.  Unfortunately, if you’re not familiar with how these characters work, you’re shit out of luck because the game isn’t going to tell you much about how to play them on it’s own.  Luckily for Ripten, each of us who got into Harmony this week had our favorite Castlevania title and corresponding character represented, so it wasn’t an issue.  Yet, for the average gamer and non-Castlevania fan, this poses a distinct problem.

However, once you get the hang of it, you will realize that the characters do indeed work well together, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses that you will have to use and overcome respectively, in order to defeat the bosses within the six chapters of Harmony of Despair.

Now you may be asking, only six chapters!? That doesn’t sound like much of a game!  And you’d be right, except for the fact that there is no way, and I mean no way, for you to beat each chapter in one, two or usually even three runs.  You will have to grind out gold and gear (both bought and found) within the levels in order to improve your character’s chances of survival as well as your teams chances of finishing each chapter.  The game could definitely benefit from a deeper-than-just-gearing-up roleplaying system, (more similar to that of Symphony of the Night) but I suppose that’s just being picky here.

While grinding for loot and replaying levels may sound tedious and boring, (as well as a cheap way to force replayability instead of adding content) rest assured it is actually quite fun and you will soon find yourself replaying earlier chapters just for kicks as you learn the ins and outs of the levels and conquer the bosses faster and faster every time. The magnificent (and we don’t use that word often) level design also really helps in making each chapter immensely replayable.  If you want to see just how awesome each level is, you can zoom in and out at any time to get a better idea of your surroundings, or just gaze at the scenery.

You may have noticed that we have not yet spoken about this game as a single player adventure.  Well, that’s because frankly, it isn’t.  Harmony of Despair was made to be played with a team, and it shows.  Playing solo is not only tedious, but can get downright boring as well as difficult.  You will not have access to the time saving shortcuts or powerful character combinations that you get with multiple players.  On top of that, in multiplayer you can resurrect your dead allies (a great feature) as they will only turn into skeletons when killed.  In single player, when you die, it’s game over.  Furthermore, there’s also no story to the game whatsoever.  You are simply dropped into a level and expected to kill the boss within 30 minutes.  While this is all fine and good and tons of fun, the game would definitely benefit from some storytelling . . . a little backstory never hurt anyone.

Moving on, one cannot express just how much more the game seems to reward you for playing with a team.  Levels go faster, bosses die more effectively, you find more loot, you open up new areas, you solve more interesting puzzles and you will simply have more fun.  In fact, if you were planning on picking up Harmony of Despair to play solo, we’d highly advise you against it.

However, although the multiplayer aspects of Harmony of Despair are truly fun and addictive, they are not without flaws.  The equipment system and menus for said system are a real pain in the ass to navigate and you cannot share loot or equipment with any of your teammates. Also, some added achievements would be nice as there are only a few interesting ones that you can complete as a team, and only 12 in all.  Yet, none of this takes away from the fun you’ll have slaying hordes of undead with your friends, so don’t sweat it.

The one thing we found as we played more and more Harmony of Despair, is that we wanted to play more and more Harmony of Despair.  The level grinding and timed aspects of the game are strangely addictive and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves playing until the wee hours of the morning.  (Sunrise apparently means it’s time to put the controller down)  Konami has managed to take an array of old content and characters and somehow make it feel new again, all while getting your friends to come along for the ride.  If you’re looking for some multiplayer action this summer, look no further than this.  Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is the game for you.

We’ve also been told that downloadable content is in the works, which may feature new characters and levels.  If that’s the case, this may be your multiplayer title of choice for quite some time to come.

To sum it all up, in between the engaging story and deep roleplaying aspects of Symphony of the Night and the blissfully addictive multiplayer action of Harmony of Despair, is a Castlevania game that I desperately want to play. Moreover, I believe it’s a game that Konami is very capable of making.

Here’s the rundown:

+ Fun and addictive multiplayer action

+ Makes old content feel new again

– Hardly worthwhile as a single player experience

– Lack of story

Second Opinion – Brandon Fenty  (Johnathan Morris)

When I first starting playing the game, I wasn’t impressed. The graphics reminded me of the Super Nintendo days, and the game seemed repetitive. There’s no real storyline, and only six levels. I was playing by myself, and bored within the first few minutes, ready to give up on the game.  Working on a review didn’t seem like the kind of thing I wanted to do at all.

I say that so that you understand when I say that, now I really like this game. From the moment I started playing with other people, I noticed the game was much more enjoyable. Each character has a unique style, so playing with others and pulling off combos is great. While the game can be played from start to finish as a solo experience, that’s not how it’s meant to be played. The more people playing, the more possibilities are opened. For instance, in the third level there is a hammer that can be used to knock the boss down. While the boss is down, you can hit him much more easily than while he’s up and attacking. The hammer can also be wound back to it’s starting position to hit him again. However, those three actions are impossible to do in a timely manner for just one person. To pull it off, you’ll need at least three people. There are also plenty of shortcuts through the levels that can only be activated with multiple players.
As I played, I also noticed how deep the RPG elements of the game can become. Between (and even during) games, you can customize your character with new weapons and armor that you pickup while playing. You can also carry potions with different effects. Again, working together is key. By equipping different weapons and armor with different strengths and weaknesses, players can work together to take on different enemy types.
In the end, this game is just fun to play. The level design is awesome, the RPG elements add a lot of depth, and when playing with friends it adds a new dimension to the game every time you add another person. The single player is not the greatest, and if you like to game alone, you might want to find another title.   As a fun way to hang out with friends online, this game is perfect, and I highly recommend it.
So, it seems that we are all in agreement on what Castlevania: Harmony of Despair both is and isn’tAre you?