Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is an oddity in the series. The paper thin plot available via the main menu is that the Grimoire book has assembled five characters from the series to take on Dracula and a host of other bosses. The five characters are: Alucard (from multiple games), Soma Cruz (from Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow), Shanoa (from Order of Ecclesia), Johnathan Morris and Charolette Aulin (from Portrait of Ruin). The Grimoire book itself brings some semblance of logic to the fact that we have characters from the 1800s to the 2300s in the series (Alucard covers several centuries and games himself).
You start off with the usual weapons for each character: swords for Alucard and Soma, whip for Johnathan, spell book for Charolette and glyphs for Shanoa. You are able to purchase new offensive and defensive items as well as regular items for the character you choose as you stash away money while playing. You can only buy and sell in the main menu, there is no way to do it on the fly while playing. Each character has eight different outfits, or more accurately colors, you can choose from. You can play Harmony of Despair by yourself or with up to five other people. The interesting thing with co-op is that each character will usually start off at a different Grimoire than the one you start off at. It does mix things up a bit in path selection, but in many cases it can shorten the path by quite a bit. Usually you want to wait for your partners to reach the boss before taking them on though, just makes defeating them that much easier.
The game is made up of six levels that are large in scope. You can view the whole map no matter where playable characters are at any time by pushing in the right analog stick. With that same button press you move into a mid-range zoom where I played in most of the time. With another press you can really zoom in close to your character and you start to see the pixels of all the characters and enemies, but the background stage itself still retains a high resolution texture as everything is scaled to high definition. In fact, the graphics are quite good in this game as long as you aren’t in the super zoomed in camera. The game moves smoothly and I didn’t notice any slowdown even when fighting some rather large bosses that you’d never see rendered on the current handhelds where the games of many of these characters are found on.