More of harmony, less of despair

So, I ended up liking Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, despite the fact that it’s pretty friggin’ weird. I still haven’t had a chance to play it with a full crew of six people, though, and I’ll be out of town for the next week — right during the peak “OMG guys let’s play let’s play” season for the game. Oh well. Hopefully people will enjoy it enough to keep playing beyond that first week.

I’m surprised by how positively the game has reviewed so far; by and large, people seem to share my opinion. The two strongly dissenting reviews I’ve seen mostly focus on how difficult the single-player game is, which is… well, I guess it’s a fair complaint, but I think it’s one that could have been avoided if the game had done a better job (or in fact any job) of giving you some basic information about character balance and general mechanics up-front. People who pick Alucard or Shanoa will have much easier going than people who go with Jonathan or Charlotte — although the leaderboards are dominated by Alucard and Jonathan players, which I take to mean not that Jonathan is great but just that people like the familiarity of a whip-wielder and are willing to suffer through a lot of pain to get that Belmont-esque experience.

Anyway. As I mentioned in the review, the game’s saving grace is that you keep your loot and level-ups even if you die. I also like that the bosses also have very distinct patterns and tricks, and blundering into their lairs unprepared is a good way to die. Even though I’ve fought these bosses before, I never found them especially remarkable — novel, sometimes, but rarely requiring any kind of strategy. You’ll have to take on most of them a few times to get a feel for their abilities and powers, which really does give Harmony a classic Castlevania feel; once you get the hang of the fights, they’re pretty simple. The bosses have been remixed to make them much more interesting, and every single boss can be approached different ways; for instance, a solo player will probably want to clear out the chambers beneath Gergoth before the fight, while a group of players can be more direct in their confrontation.

You will notice I didn’t mention price in my review, because I never mention price in my reviews except to say, “This is a great deal.” I prefer not to think of games as commodities, and I refuse to evaluate fun in terms of dollars. Money is a tight resource for me these days, but time is even more precious; if a game is entertaining enough to make me want to spend my fleeting free time on it, then it’s surely worth whatever dollars the publisher is asking for in return. In short, cost should be regarded as a secondary consideration to real value, not the determining factor thereof.

Here’s a secret between you and me: Any time I see a reviewer dismiss a game because of its price — especially if length is the primary issue cited — I make a silent mental note never to pay attention to that person’s opinions again. (OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But I do ignore that review.)

28 thoughts on “More of harmony, less of despair

  1. I would like to see the “Is it value for money?” metric applied to all pastimes to help me stop wasting cash on movies, books, games or anything else i might be accidentally enjoying at a below optimal economic standards

  2. Yeah, price should never be mentioned. That doesn’t stop me from being angry when I spend $60 for a game that’s 5 hours long, though. But everyone is different.

    Also, this game looks awesome. Iga has to be the best lazy developer I’ve ever seen; the games always follow the same formula, but every single one completely envelopes me until the very end, and usually far beyond that.

    What I wouldn’t give for a big-budget retail release of a new 2-D Castlevania. It’s a broken record, I know.

  3. I don’t know. I think your comment about mentioning price in reviews may be a bit of an unfair generalization. I’m in the same boat as you, in that time is a much bigger issue than money these days, but I definitely think one can still take into account what you’re getting for what you’re spending. For instance, I enjoyed playing Brutal Legend, but when it was over I didn’t really feel like it was worth the $60 I paid for it. On the other hand, I absolutely loved Deadly Premonition, and the fact that it was only $20 made it even more appealing in my eyes, as I easily would have paid the standard full retail price for it. You’re right, in that simply saying, “X game last 60 hours and costs $60, while Y game only lasts 10 hours but still costs $60, therefore X game is a better value,” is a pretty crummy, ignorant way of looking at things, as it doesn’t take into account how much fun those 10 hours are compared to those 60 hours. Still, I don’t think comparing the price to what you’re getting is totally out of bounds for a game reviewer in all situations.

  4. I disagree. Price may be a quantifiable factor, but its impact on the reader is completely subjective. I can say, “This is a good game,” but I can’t say, “This game is worth X dollar amount.” Because I have no idea what your earnings and expenses are, how frugal you are, whether you’re gainfully employed or eking out a living on minimum wage, or how you regard money. There are some people who drop $1000 a month on new games that they never play, while others buy one or two a year and sink months into them. How can anyone make a statement of absolute value when the concept of value is so variable? They can’t. “Worth/not worth the money” is a decision left to the reader, and it’s arrogant for any reviewer to assume they can make that call for someone else. A reviewer should tell you about a game’s intrinsic strengths and weaknesses, not act as your personal shopper.

  5. I think the Jonathan factor is similar to Richter in SOTN: his default setup is stronger than the other heroes’ starting points. When I first played Chapter 1 with Alucard and Soma, I lost. But when I tried Jonathan, his whip dealt twice as much damage as those two did. A winner was me.

    In the long run, I think Soma and Alucard get stronger faster than Jonathan, but for beginners the whip is the way to go.

  6. I get why you’re calling the game weird, but to me it’s surprising that more big-name developers haven’t leveraged existing assets in addition to existing IP. I mean, a company could invest some money in developing a sophisticated emulator and literally mix up 8 and 16-bit era games, creating funky hybrid/multiplayer concoctions. Or something like that. In other words, these companies are sitting on piles of assets — graphics, music, code — which could be put to good use for a relatively small budget. I dig it, anyway. For example, I’m imagining a multiplayer action-RPG ala Castle Crashers featuring hordes of sprites lifted from old Taito or Capcom arcade games. That would be sweet.

  7. I don’t think the reused assets are weird so much as HOW they’re being reused. What Castlevania fan has ever said, “I want a crazy multiplayer time attack version of Castlevania with giant living levels”? Probably none. But hey, it works.

  8. Well, I mean, to some extent isn’t everything subjective to the reader? I’m not trying to turn this into an objective vs subjective reviewing argument, I’m just saying I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable for a reviewer, when comparing a game’s price to the prices of other games on the market, to occasionally point out when he thinks consumers are getting a great deal or a total hose job. I do agree with you that it’s not a reviewer’s job to be the reader’s personal shopper, and in general I don’t see cost factoring into reviews much. I just don’t think it’s totally beyond a reviewer’s jurisdiction.

  9. I’m with ZRofel on this one, in that I can understand where a reviewer comes from when he says that a game is “worth it” or not. Granted, I also understand and respect Parish’s take on the issue, as well; it’s true that whether or not something is worth some kind of arbitrary dollar amount is really hard to generalize among an audience as diverse as ours.

    It’s like saying something is worth a dollar, and then taking it somewhere so that the exchange rate can jack it up to a hundred (local) dollars. There’s a social conversion factor at play that you can’t really gauge. That was a terrible economics example, by the way.

  10. I see where you’re coming from regarding mentioning price in a review. I think it may be a worthwhile thing to note if something is a serious aberration along the lines of $60 for a 5-hour game. But then, the issue is the length of the game, not what they’re asking for it. In such a case I’d be inclined to simply consider the price adding insult to injury – unless it’s a full-retail disc game that could have fit as a downloadable.

    Whichever. Anyway, taking price into account also ensures it won’t age well.

  11. You got me pegged, Jeremy – the first thing I did when I booted up the single player was pick Jonathan… Partially because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who mains Alucard, but mostly because I want that Belmont experience. In games that don’t have a Belmont character, I always get excited as soon as the code for one is revealed and I can play as them instead. I also got the crap kicked out of me for doing that. Oh well.

    I’m a busy guy, so I don’t know much time I’ll get this week to play, so I know I’ll at least be playing next week.

  12. I agree with the price point thing.. it’s fine to mention the length of the game as part of the experience (60 hours of tedium!) but the actual purchase price of a game tends to vary, and its impact on someone’s wallet depends on many factors. The consumer should make an informed decision when standing in a store, not dismiss it while staring at a screen.

  13. Parish, I wish you could get away with pounding the price != enjoyment point into other people’s heads until their necks start to bleed.

  14. While I agree it’s not right to say Y game is worth X amount of $. I wish all reviews at least mentioned the price of the game, because I won’t buy a digital download for more than $10 and I’d like to know if the game is in my buying range or if I’m waiting a year for it to go on “sale”.

  15. “What Castlevania fan has ever said, ‘I want a crazy multiplayer time attack version of Castlevania with giant living levels?'”

    This one? I feel there are many excellent old games that with the addition of some multiplayer component or gameplay tweak could be re-released.

  16. yeah! carry on, renegade! that’ll show those damn pesky capitalists and their evil preoccupation with money! In a world where games hit the shevles at $60 and drop $20 within a month or two, journalism shouldn’t be about warning readers if a game isn’t worth the full cost of admission at all; its about extoling the presentation, the soul, the…. art… of a game. That’s all that matters. Price, like life, has no meaning in this post modern world. Pat yourself as hard as you can on your back, new games journalism. Even slightly shuffling a foot forward is progress. PROLETARIAT SHALL RISE!

  17. Jeremy, you mentioned how price shouldn’t be factored into the enjoyment of a video game. It’s interesting you note that because I was made aware of your print zine by Retro Gamer, a high quality British gaming mag. So if someone was deciding to buy Retro Gamer or your zine, do you honestly believe that it’d be fair for him to say, “Well, Retro Gamer is much better than GameSpite Quarterly – it has higher production values, better paper quality, better writing, it has full color, etc.”? Keep in mind that a professional magazine like this would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and the price is 33% lower than yours.

  18. That’s interesting about not mentioning prices and judging a game based on if it’s worth playing than a dollar amount, in this case Castlevania: HD getting possible flak for being $15 instead of $10. It reminds me of certain manga priced higher than more popular series because the publisher knows it will only sell so much and it has to sell for a certain price to make a profit. I liked what I saw of the Castlevania: HD demo and I’ll be getting it and hope it’ll fund similar Castlevania games in the future.

    If I remember right, your Mega Man Anniversary Collection review didn’t mention the price, only pointing out that despite the flaws that it was a “good deal” for the amount of games you get in the collection. I guess if you had mentioned the price, someone reading that might have their own perception of prices, thinking the price was too high for a bunch of old Mega Man games, and instead judge the game based on the retail price, and not the actual content that makes it worth buying and playing. I suppose if anything the price should not be explicably stated and instead reflected in the contents of the review and the game’s score.

    So after thinking about it for a while what you’re saying makes sense. I’ll have to keep not talking about the price in mind when writing and I guess in general when talking about games.

  19. “Well, it’s nice to see you live up to your name from time to time”

    Jeremy, I’ve read your stuff for quite a long time. Its hard to read the last paragraph of this entry along with your follow up comments and not notice something is off. I realize your profession along with who you work for means you do not have total freedom to say what you want as long as ad revenue is at stake, but what I’m reading here… The thing about mentioning price in a review… Taking pride in that is one thing, but spinning if off as the ideal or even morally correct thing to do? Jeremy, you haven’t just sold out, but you’ve made your soul part of the bargain. Not everyone has $1000 to blow on games every month so cost is an issue to someone with limited disposable income. Leaving it as unsaid and understood would have lost you any cool points, but brumming up this pompous sophistry is practically an official declaration you no longer identify with that sort. (IOW: you’re no longer one of us) Money talks, and bullshit walks, eh?

    Go ahead, take a shit on me from your high horse all you want, I’m used to it.

  20. i pretty much refuse to play this on the grounds of creative conscience, if i may be so bold. self-cannibalization is nothing new to the series (though it should still be critiqued) — we’ve had to deal with reused sprites, gorgeous as they may be, and reconfigured backgrounds. but we’ve never had to deal with rooms — literally, whole rooms — being ripped from previous games and pushed next to one another in a “new” title. what makes it even weirder is that, since there is no graphical reverence, why didn’t the level designer tackle the layouts with the wild creativity of a kid with legos? instead, the rooms remain as vacuous containers with random platforms. i don’t think it’s hard to make an aesthetic, or at least stylistic, case for the metrovanias’ veneer. but if it’s impossible to do so for harmony of despair, then all you’re left with are the actual mechanics: super-bishounen fighting monsters whose a.i. or placement hasn’t been accordingly matched, and are instead superficially toughened by more hit-points. going by videos, the co-op is just like portrait of ruin, where the presence of a buddy is so negligible that one could solo the whole game and have the experience essentially remain the same. rather than allowing dynamic situations to spring up, co-op just cuts down to the time it may take to chip away at the dumb, hp-heavy monsters. i wish fans and reviewers had the guts to call this what it is — a more-than-lazy fan hack approved by the series’ recent producer — rather than resorting to the weak, almost apologetic “there’s not a lot new here but it’s hard to resist that castlevania charm, 7.5693/10” sentiments.

  21. Taking into account that not everyone has american wages and 60€ is a lot of money then yes, cost can very well be a very important part of a review.

  22. I really only think price is ever something that needs mentioning in a review if the price is set for eternity.

    Believe it or not, some people do buy games months or *gasp* years after the review was penned!
    “Haha, this person is complaining about games that cost $60. Way better than the $100 they currently go for! Though that one only costs $5 now.”

  23. For me price ALWAYS matters. It always factors in on anything I buy.

    A product might be a great buy at 10 bucks but at 40 its an insult and a waste of cash.

    Look at it like this:
    If you go to dinner and you get say, a 10 dollar meal you expect something entirely different than you would if the same thing cost 100.

    The more expensive something is the better its got to be and the less forgiving I am about it, and this goes for most people except the few maniacs with more money than sense. (Like Japanese toy collectors. Those people happily drop over a grand on toys. They consider it a rite of passage really. Sadly, its illegal to beat them up for their bad choice in economic expenditure.)

    Its why I buy most games when they hit the sub 25 dollar price range these days. Most games aren’t worth 50-60. They never have been.

    Luckily at least in videogaming outside of ultra niche Atlus type stuff no major release (Besides Nintendo stuff because they can get away with it.) ever sits at MSRP more than 9 months or so anyhow.

    I mean I love Transformers but HAAATE Activision. I hate multiplayer as I would prefer to play live people at actual tabletop games. (You find far less douchebaggy behavior that way.) The solo game experience is what? Sub 10 hours?

    That aint worth 60 dollars. I shall happily wait 6-12 months and grab it for 20, maybe even less if our blessed Lady of Target Clearance Section has it up there. I will get 20 bucks of fun out of it, and I won’t be doing much of anything for Kotick to continue his quest to making gaming as soulless and evil as network television is. (Ok its not so much evil unless you count Fox News, but it sure is soulless and Lowest Common Denominator. I think I lose brain cells any time I ever even see a snippet of a reality show.)

    I think though that PRICE HAS NO OBJECT!! has gotten traction thanks to the Internet and Ebay. There is ALWAYS some sucker out there that MUST HAVE IT and price is never an object. Which leads to Amazon resellers to list anything out of stock for as much as they can in hopes at least one knucklehead will pay it. A Transformers book just went OOP like last month. Amazon was selling it for 14 bucks. Every reseller has it up for 450+ dollars.

    Is this book worth it just because it went OOP?

    God no. You can buy a LOT of quality entertainment for 450 bucks. Hell, just spend half that and give the other half to charity and help better the world and still satisfy your urges to buy useless stuff.

  24. “Taking into account that not everyone has american wages and 60€ is a lot of money then yes, cost can very well be a very important part of a review.”

    That’s exactly why I don’t like to mention cost and value; I can’t possibly know what financial perspective other people are coming from. Best to comment on the quality of the game and let you decide if it’s worth it for you.

  25. “So if someone was deciding to buy Retro Gamer or your zine, do you honestly believe that it’d be fair for him to say, ‘Well, Retro Gamer is much better than GameSpite Quarterly – it has higher production values, better paper quality, better writing, it has full color, etc.’? Keep in mind that a professional magazine like this would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and the price is 33% lower than yours.”

    They’d be totally within their rights. I am acutely conscious of the fact that I am asking people to spend money on those books, which is why I publish the contents online for free. I wish the books could be much cheaper, and I don’t expect anyone to pay to read what we create.

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