Dammit, Dracula, why won't you stay dead?
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair joins a long line of 2D Castlevania games, but this one's got a twist. Now, you're still facing off with the undead, supernatural, and/or demonic enemies you'd usually find in Dracula's crew. Dracula rolls deep, son. But this time around, there's a big focus on multiplayer, co-op specifically, and things have been tweaked to fit this new direction.
[image1]Whether those things are welcome is up to the player to decide. A big part of the experience is derived from previous Castlevania titles. If you're a new player to the franchise, you might not really understand what's been taken away. But if you're a veteran like I am, especially of the handheld releases, you might be one disappointed Belmont.
Harmony of Despair pits up to six players against the hordes of enemies you find in any given castle. I say "any castle" because players will actually be hacking their way through one of six unique layouts. Each has a slightly different motif, though it's hard to notice the difference. At the end of each castle is a boss, ranging from Castlevania classics, like The Painter and Dracula himself, to some lesser known entities.
The art style is beautiful, as usual, and the ability to zoom out and see the whole castle really gives you a sense of scope. Every weapon you apply to your character has its own animation and every character is easily distinguishable. Despite all of this, Castlevania's looks alone aren't enough for the $15 entry fee.
[image2]At its heart, Castlevania has always been an action-RPG, a game of grinding for experience and equipment. Harmony of Despair only has players grinding for one of those key factors. Players don't level up. This is a big misstep for the developers. Increasing your damage, defense, and other statistics is only possible by the loot you pick up in castles. A level system would not have been so terrible, but as it is, loot alone is not enough.
What's worse, the loot system is bad. With no leveling system to fall back on, there are too many mistakes made in loot management. There's a shop, but there isn't really anything available to the player. Every party member gets loot even if they didn't open the treasure chest themselves, but the loot you find isn't good until you reach Hard mode. What's the point? If players find character progression too slow, they're more than likely going to drop out, which brings me to my next gripe.
Harmony of Despair suffers from its lackluster online community. Right now there should be plenty of people playing, but from the day of release to a week later, I've had persistent trouble connecting with other players, not to mention getting people to stick around for more than one level.
There is a single-player mode, but the level design, enemy design, and overall gameplay is not meant for lonely gamers. At least Konami didn't see fit to include moronic bots (here's looking at you Lost Planet 2). Still, there's no real reason for players to boot the single-player mode, as the game is just as hard alone as it is with friends, which is how Harmony of Despair is meant to be enjoyed.
[image3]If you're new to the series and you're really curious, try it out now while the online community is still around. Not knowing what isn't in the game will probably make the experience much better for you, though you might feel swindled now. If you're a vet and just want to maintain your level of dedication, buy the game now so that I can actually play with other people. Honestly, though, wait for the sale.
Let's be straight here: Harmony of Despair is a frustrating game. What should have been a step forward into new territory seems to have landed in some sticky bat guano. As a Castlevania fan, I want to like Harmony of Despair. I was really excited for the co-op castle-crawl, but Harmony of Despair just turned out to be Harmony of Disappointment.