REVIEWS -- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia -- DS
Order of Ecclesia redefines without breaking the mold
by Peter Fiorilla
Fun factor: Boring
Worth to: Buy
It might not be as groundbreaking as SOTN, but it’s still sufficiently refined and offers enough fresh ideas to be considered the best Castlevania of the series
The Castlevania franchise has seen little in terms of new ideas in the past ten years; and while that’s just fine for fans of the formula, it also has raised the question of whether we will see another title as groundbreaking as Symphony of the Night. Order of Ecclesia may not oust Symphony of the Night as the top Castlevania of all time, but it comes close thanks to brilliant, fresh ideas that new and old fans of the series will appreciate.
Leaving the Belmont comfort zone
The Order of Ecclesia is an organization with the intent of stopping Dracula from destroying the world. Barlowe, an aged priest, wants to give Shanoa special ‘Dominus’ powers in order to give her the ability to eliminate Dracula -- the very same powers Dracula possesses. The third member of the group, Albus, is consumed with jealousy and feels betrayed. He interferes with the ritual and receives the powers instead of Shanoa. Shanoa loses her memories and identity, but is still sent off by Barlowe to stop Albus from whatever evil he is doing.
As expected in a Castlevania game, there are multiple endings, the first of which is meant to displease players, while the final one is the “good” one. The story here is no masterpiece, but it sets the stage for wicked enemies, intense boss fights and large gothic environments. The change of personality is also a very good turn from previous DS titles; for example, Shanoa is the exact opposite of Portrait of Ruin’s Jonathan -- attractive, serious and cold, befitting the series more than Jonathan’s light-hearted, typical anime personality.
The script is the strongest in the series, with some interesting characters and voice acting, and strays outside of the all-too-familiar Belmont comfort zone. Having a female protagonist is the most interesting change to the writing here, and it works. Enemy taunts are at times specifically aimed at Shanoa’s gender, which can be funny and sets the overall mood of the game very well.
A well oiled fighting machine
That said, the real experience is in the action. The new Glyph system is outstanding; as opposed to collecting weapons, Shanoa collects Glyphs. Every attack costs a small amount of mana, which replenishes itself very quickly when Shanoa isn’t in action. These Glyphs are immensely superior to collecting weapons; they give Koji Igarashi and his team more creativity with how weapons look (wolves and golem fists could only be done here) and special weapons can be pretty cool (metamorphosing and summoning work much better than in previous games).
Two Glyphs can be equipped at the same time. Rapidly switching from one to the other creates a rapid attack that could not have been done with previous Castlevania control schemes. Hearts now have their own bar. Super Moves, which can be used by combining two Glyphs that work together, use up a certain amount of hearts. Everything in the game is perfectly balanced and it’s a ton of fun to develop techniques and strategies against enemies. As with any Castlevania, Order of Ecclesia’s battle system is a well oiled machine that can hold its own against any other 2D Platformer out there.
Another aspect of Order of Ecclesia that distinguishes it from other Castlevanias is its fetch quests. Once you save villagers that Albus kidnapped, they give you requests to retrieve items or take pictures of areas. The rewards are solid enough to motivate the player to keep coming back and completing them. This system also makes the shop larger with more variety, but the player has to work to achieve this status; for example, healing items are extremely scarce until the player completes the Chef’s requests.
The pinnacle of the series
A more convenient level system has effectively eliminated backtracking. Players can now select what level to go to from a world map. The days of aimlessly wandering around the castle looking for what to do are a thing of the past. But if this sounds too good to be true, it is. Amidst these accomplishments, Order of Ecclesia fails in repeated level design. In more than one case does a level have the same design as another, which is just disappointing and inexcusable for a game on a system full of great 2D Platformers. Another disappointment may be the extremely linear design, which is an unfortunate turn for the series, but perhaps an unavoidable one given that it destroys backtracking.
Order of Ecclesia boasts some very impressive boss fights that are the pinnacle of the series, but this part of the game is also what may be a deal breaker for casual gamers. Many of these boss fights are extremely tough and memorizing patterns may take a couple of deaths before the player gets the hang of it. Fortunately, what these fights lose in harsh difficulty they gain in brutality and intensity. Not only are a few of the death sequences very memorable, these battles are also as fast-paced as, say, Contra 4, if not as tough.
The title does not disappoint in its presentation, either. The 2D work here is simply incredible and surpasses The World Ends With You and previous Castlevanias, making it the best looking 2D game on the platform. The art style has returned to a grim and dark look; enemy designs are appropriately morbid and visceral, and environments show off the art style like no other Castlevania before. The soundtrack is one of the best in the series and on DS, and a headphones option is available. Sound effects and enemy taunts sound great. Combine all of this and you will find that Order of Ecclesia has a completely different personality from its DS predecessors.
While Order of Ecclesia disappoints in extreme linearity and the occasional cut and paste level design, the final product is far too great to be deemed anything less than one of the best titles on DS. It’s easily in the ring of top 3 Platformers for the system. It does things differently than many other Castlevanias but keeps what’s important intact. The final product is a title worthy to be included in any hardcore DS owners’ library.
Genre: 2D Platformer
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Review Date: 05-05-2009
Numbers of Players: 1-2
Players Online: No
Notes: Wi-Fi, Content Sharing
Unprecedented beauty for DS, forsaking the unattractive anime art style of previous games and introducing a plethora of sinister enemies and gothic environments.
The new Glyph system combined with a high level of challenge makes this the best Castlevania in a decade, even if level designs are occasionally recycled.
An unambitious plot and throwaway multiplayer modes do not hamper the experience, but show Konami has yet to realize the full potential of its long-running series.
Fantastic arrangements, great sound effects and a modest amount of voice acting makes this one of the best-sounding games in the series and on DS.
Story mode should last players a mere 10-12 hours the first time through, but it will take a long time for even seasoned veterans to conquer extra modes and levels.