Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (HoD) takes a slightly different approach however, adding multiplayer into the mix as well as fixed level time limits. The basic rundown of HoD is to work through the game's six chapters that each contain a maze of rooms leading up to a boss that needs to be defeated. There are two main ways that the game can be played, each with their own problems that are very hard to ignore. Single player usually consists of playing each chapter up until the boss, who will in turn destroy the player and force them to try again. Multiplayer however is the opposite, whereas single player is too hard in some respects, Multiplayer is simply too easy.
When a player starts the game, they must choose a character from a selection of five. Each character has there own skill set and weapon types to suit any player's game style. A few characters even have special abilities like learning an enemy's magic or using martial arts, all of which are used with the 'Personal Skills' button. Once a chapter is chosen, players have thirty minutes to traverse the level and defeat the boss, all whilst avoiding deadly traps and enemies that can cause havoc on the health bar which has to last through the boss fight as well. Seeing that this Castlevania game has no real levelling system it is not really worth the time or effort to defeat the minor enemies. Sometimes they drop items, but even then that is a rare occasion as opposed to the item chests littered about the place.
After having completed a few chapters it was apparent that the game was literally kill some enemies, open some chests, get killed by the boss, start again. Because of this, the game just became a chore. The only thing to look forward to was finding some equipment or a weapon to help progress through the level and eventually win the game. But with that, the game does have a few good points, for instance, the music with which each player is forced to listen to at least ten times during a chapter is actually rather good. Most of the music is a mix of heavy metal guitar riffs along with a church organ that oddly enough brings out the gothic surroundings of the game really well. Unfortunately the surroundings could have been a little more detailed and worked on; the game uses three different camera zooms with the closest bringing out another of the game's shortcomings, the graphics.
After struggling through the single player, I decided to try out the multiplayer with a few strangers that had obviously been playing the game a lot. In fact, this was the problem, because they were all outfitted with such good equipment, each level literally took hardly any time at all to finish. Suddenly the game was complete from start to finish in less than an hour, leading back to the repetitive nature of playing all of the levels again. The only other choice to play the game was its 'Survival Mode' where up to six players can battle each other in closed off sections of each chapter until the time runs out and a winner declared. Again, because of the over-powered equipment of the other players there was no competition. Because of the random drops of weapons and items, and the limited items in the in-game shop, the only way to compete or otherwise be useful in multiplayer match-ups is for players to put a lot of time in the game.
Unfortunately there isn't a lot in the game to keep players occupied after the end battle with Dracula. Players can gain better items and upgrade their skills but for what purpose? There isn't one. As mentioned before, the game still has a few secrets waiting for players to find but there isn't a real reward for finding them, at least, there's no indication that there is. I suppose a few players may want to upgrade all five of their characters just to get their moneys-worth out of the game but most players will probably just try out Hard Mode and give up halfway through.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is in no way a classic Castlevania game. The new multiplayer and level design does not compliment the series at all. It's hard to see why there was so much emphasis on the game in regards to spells and character abilities when the game is relatively short with only six chapters. Castlevania should stick to its roots just as gamers should stick with the other Castlevania titles. The good music and gothic aesthetic are true to the series but that's where it stops.