Castlevania : Harmony of Despair is the most unique entry in the series in quite a long time. Obviously the game is radically different than your average Castlevania due to the added 6 player co-op. The game is separated into 6 levels that have nothing to do with each other. The goal of each level is to get to and defeat the target boss. In multiplayer you are supposed to strategize your route through the open ended levels and destroy the boss together. However, I did not have access to the multiplayer and played through the game entirely solo.
This game is designed with multiplayer in mind and is immediately evidenced by the constant timer and the many co-op opportunities peppered throughout the levels; all of which are still present in the singleplayer. The game is made for 6 players even though they only give you 5 to choose from. Alucard, from Symphony of the Night for PS1, is the easy to use all around character and Jonathon and Charlotte are from Portrait of Ruin for DS and are both pretty un-usable and unable to solo any levels after the first. The best characters are Soma Cruz from Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, and Order of Ecclessia’s Shanoa. Shanoa has the most powerful magic while Soma owns the right to the best melee abilities.
The game has many strange mechanics that come from the previous games, however, they are never fully explained unless you look at the help menu. Such as the glyph system where you can steal glyphs from specific enemies as Shanoa or Charlotte, or the martial scrolls you need to collect as Soma Cruz. There are several very specific tricks you use with the different characters to max their potential and certain characters are better or worse for different levels. The game also lacks a large number of spells and items, but instead of adding more they made the drop percentages smaller and forced you to grind for longer. Most of the levels require 3 stages of play. When you first go in, the goal is to learn the lay of the land, then you find your way to the boss, and finally you figure out how to defeat and then proceed to pummel him. This does add a lot of time to the game, but it ends up being very repetitive and eventually can become pretty tiresome.
The graphics are all sprites and backgrounds taken from the DS games. There are 3 views of the screen: Full screen, Actual Size, and 3X zoom. This game is displayed in HD, however, it is a bit of a trick. The Actual Size view is the resolution and size of about 40 DS screens and makes your character look incredibly small. The normal view, with which you would usually play a Castlevania game, is called 3X zoom and makes the sprites look blown up and awkward. The Full Screen view is used as the games map screen and proves to be quite useful.
This is the Actual Size view your character is in the red circle.
Even with all of my complaints, I did end up enjoying the game as a fan of strange and inane mechanics. Otherwise, if you want a great Castlevania game, there are better choices out there. If you are a fan of the Castlevania series and are looking for some fan-service, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair will give you a place to grind for the price of 15 dollars. Otherwise, the 3X zoom view makes the sprites look blocky, the game is unbalanced with two fifths of the characters being useless, and it forces you to play through levels repetitively.
3 out of 5 stars.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is riddled with flaws and issues, but it does give a fair amount of fan service and is built to take you time to beat.