In the past couple of years, the Castlevania series has made one of the most astounding reinventions in gaming history.  While every other franchise was trying to go 3-D, Castlevania remained delightfully 2-D.  It focused on exploration, essentially filling the void where Metroid games usually go.  The DS has already seen two excellent Castlevania games: Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait Of Ruin.  Now, continuing with the (blank) of (blank) naming template, they have released Order of Ecclesia.

 

Order of Ecclesia follows the titular order, which is one of the many groups set up to permanently destroy Dracula.  Ecclesia has found the most success of any of these groups by harnessing magical glyphs based on Dracula’s own power.  Just as the main character, Shanoa, and your mentor, Barlowe, are set to begin the ritual of destruction, your colleague, Albus, steals the glyphs and runs off.  Shanoa must relearn all the glyphs she had learned, track down Albus, and destroy Dracula.

 

With Order of Ecclesia, they’ve made a major change to the usual template: Instead of exploring one castle until you find Dracula, they’ve expanded the gameplay to various locations, like a village, a desert, and a lighthouse, among others.  Did it work?  Was it enough to shake up the series, or is it merely a cosmetic change?

Since you’ll be staring at the main character, Shanoa, she better be animated well.  Fortunately, Order of Ecclesia maintains the series’ high detail level.  It’s apparent in everything that she does, from the way she rolls backwards to the slight moment when she hovers in the air after doing a double jump.  She looks and moves very humanly, even if she is calling on magical powers to kill zombies.

 

Speaking of the zombies, starting out in the game, you’ll see a lot of repeated enemies that you’ve seen in other Castlevanias, like skeletons and the like.  Never fear, as these quickly give way to far more grotesque and fear-inducing enemies.  As always, Konami has made some very memorable monsters that you’ll remember for a while, like a giant crab with a baby’s head that will haunt my dreams.

 

Moving the series to different places has allowed Konami to expand their graphics palette in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.  The first time I set foot in the Kalidus Channel, with waves rolling on top of the pier and a galleon bobbing in the background, the graphics won me over for good.  It was an excellent choice.

High production values abound throughout Order of Ecclesia’s sound.  Voice actors sound good.  The music is memorable.  You’ll be impressed from start to finish.

 

I do have one slight complaint: Shanoa’s unfortunate tendency to yell about the magical power she’s using.  The biggest offender is the power of Luminatio, which causes two lights to circle around you and attack enemies.  It’s a really effective power, which makes it all the more annoying that she yells “Radiance!” half the time you use it.  I didn’t mind her yelling every once in a while, but she seems to yell an awful lot about “Radiance!” and it’s annoying.

Control is always top-notch in the Castlevania series, and there’s no exceptions here.  Shanoa stops when you tell her to stop, and she moves when you tell her to as well.  When you die, it will be because of your own actions, not because some control glitch made you die.  They’ve also stopped using needless touchscreen controls, which is definitely appreciated.

 

There’s really only one complaint here.  First, when enemies die, they sometimes leave behind glyphs that you can absorb.  Thereafter you can use their power.  It’s great, but in order to absorb the glyph, you have to hold down the up button on the D-pad for a couple of seconds.  If you get hit with an attack during that time, you have to start over.  If you stray too far from the glyph (which happens repeatedly during one particularly annoying section with a tower, a glyph, and a strong wind), you have to start over.  Is there any reason you couldn’t have just walked over the glyph to absorb it like in Dawn of Sorrow?  It just makes things needlessly difficult.

 

Still, compared to the whole delicious control-fest that is Order of Ecclesia, these are just minor annoyances.  Everything else is solid throughout, and you’ll have a good time.

One major change is with the aforementioned glyph system.  Instead of equipping weapons, you will equip glyphs that various enemies drop.  Some glyphs have basic powers, like a rapier glyph or an axe glyph.  Others have powers like a wind attack that sweeps in front of you on the floor.  One of my favorites is Umbra, which releases a spirit of the dead that homes in on enemies and can hit them repeatedly for more damage.  However, each glyph uses MP, meaning that you can’t go nuts with your most powerful glyphs all the time.

 

You would think that having every attack including your most basic attacks use MP would be annoying, but it’s not bad.  Once you stop attacking, your MP fills up almost right away, and it forces you to be more strategic.  You can’t just pummel enemies with your strongest attacks all the time; sometimes you have to use weaker ones.  If this sounds like it will bug you, don’t worry.  I was in the same boat and barely had any problems with it.

 

Most Castlevania games are all about backtracking, going back to locations you’ve visited before with new weapons and abilities in order to progress.  I like backtracking.  It makes me happy, although I know I am in the minority on this point.  Those who do not like backtracking will be pleased to know that Order of Ecclesia has mostly done away with backtracking.  You can still go back to previous areas and dig up secrets that you couldn’t reach before, but it’s not a need.

 

The one gigantic turd in the punchbowl of Order of Ecclesia is the overwhelming difficulty.  I know I’m not the only one to comment on it, either, so I know it’s not just me.  The bosses are crazy difficult.  There are some, even at the beginning of the game, that will punish you repeatedly.  One false step can kill you, or take away half of your health.

 

On top of that, some areas of the game are so hard that I almost put the game down for good.  There’s one area in particular that was like hitting a brick wall, in terms of difficulty.  I tried going through it over and over, trying to level up as much as I could.  Each time I was repelled and had to retreat.  Finally, I gritted my teeth and forced my way through it, avoiding combat where possible.

 

The next level was a piece of cake.

 

It just seems a little weird that a game that has so much polish throughout would have such weird difficulty problems.  I know they’re assuming that most Castlevania gamers are veterans, but believe it or not, there are some gamers that are not.  Crazy, but true!

 

However, even with the difficulty being what it was, I still kept fighting to get further.  It’s a testament to the design and the intriguiging nature of the game that I kept going against all odds.

You may say, “I have Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin.  Do I really need Order of Ecclesia?”  To that, I would respond that if you have the first two games, you are more than likely a Castlevania fan, and that don’t mind a challenge.  If that is the case, then get it.  If you’ve never played a Castlevania game before, Order of Ecclesia isn’t a bad choice, but I would recommend Dawn of Sorrow first, then Order of Ecclesia.  Either way, get Order of Ecclesia.

It doesn’t take much to see that I enjoyed Order of Ecclesia.  The story is top-notch, the graphics are excellent, the controls are great, and the gameplay, while difficult, is still rewarding.  Honestly, what more could you want in a game?  Go get it.

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