Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
The first two Castlevania games on the Nintendo DS, Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, opened the door for this 2D hack and slash franchise to a new handheld gaming platform. The depth of these games especially the Portrait of Ruin installment not only extended the life of this long running series for the Castlevania faithful, but also brought new fans and injected new blood (no pun intended) into the world where fighting Dracula is a way of life. Helmed once again by the great IGA (Koji Igarashi), Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the third Castlevania title for the Nintendo DS. While it provides a new story, a new fighting system and new locations, Order of Ecclesia didn’t stray far from its Castlevania core and at times felt like just another long, continuing journey of a never-ending fight against the dark prince.
Story and Levels
After Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the Belmont Clan vanished and several orders had formed to fight Dracula. Order of Ecclesia was one of these orders. The game starts with Shanoa, a young lady chosen by the order’s leader, Barlowe, to bear the power of Dominus, which is really Dracula’s own power. But something goes wrong, Shanoa must search the world to retrieve and learn the powers that will enable her to defeat Dracula. Like most Castlevania games there are a couple of twists and turns filled with betrayal and self-sacrifice.
Unlike in Portrait of Ruin, the Order of Ecclesia centers around a village called Wygol Village. When you first get there it’s deserted. But as you explore each location you will free villagers who were kidnapped and imprisoned; in turn they head back to the village and become trader, weapon smith, jeweler and even quest givers. This set up not only provides the necessary NPDs but also makes dungeon crawling more fun. The level designs are much simpler than those in Portrait of Ruin with exception of Dracula’s castle. In several locations, the dungeon has just one straight road. Limitations in movements or powers in earlier stages of the game ensure revisits of dungeon locations. We were a little disappointed in the less elaborate level designs that pale in comparison to those in Portrait of Ruin, again save for the Dracula’s castle map. Though not long, the levels are not without gems. You will experience some rare outdoor locales and underwater worlds, and hunt treasures and defeat enemies in a shipwreck and mountain passes. Like in Portrait of Ruin where you get Nest of Evil as sort of reward for beating the game, Order of Ecclesia gives you two locations for surviving the Dracula’s castle level, though the two “reward levels” are considerably harder than the story levels.
Gameplay and Weapon System
Castlevania veterans will feel right at home with the gameplay in Order of Ecclesia as you will see familiar monsters, perform old jumps and seek out familiar treasures. Of course the game introduces new elements, new monsters and new powers and weapons. The biggest new element in the Ecclesia is the Glyph attack system. By collecting Glyph powers throughout the game, you will come to possess over 100 different attacks, combos and abilities. You get some of the Glyph powers as treasures others you need to absorb from enemies while they are in the middle of performing them. Gaining knowledge of weapons and magic powers, and of enemies who have strengths and weaknesses against these weapons has been the core of gameplay in Castlevania games. And the Order of Ecclesia succeeds in continuing that tradition.
Treasure hunting and replaying levels are also the traditions in Castlevania games and the Ecclesia game falls a little short on these. The Glyph weapon system means no real hardware needed for fighting and in turn you loose the pleasure of finding different types of swords or axes you often prefer. Once you absorb the power of an axe, for example, you will use the same axe throughout the game. Though there are different levels of certain type of weapon, like there are three levels of the throw axe in the game, and you must gain three Glyphs to use these weapons. Thankfully you will still need real armor and you can buy them from the merchant (remember Jacob?) or beat monsters that drop them.
Healing items are similar to other Castlevania games and they are very hard to come by in the beginning stages of the game. The game also is very stingy on money (no more 100G). You will replay levels until you are bored with them just to make enough gold to buy potions and food to survive the next level. That’s a cheap way to extend game’s replay time, a result of lazy game design. Thank goodness for the quests and the different endings which give the repetitive dungeon visits some purpose.
Graphics and Sound
Order of Ecclesia features the same 2D graphics style that made the Castlevania a popular franchise. In fact, this style of graphics is most suited for the Nintendo DS as opposed to the large console screens, as the graphics look sharp on the handheld screen. You will see the familiar doors, backdrops and platforms, and some new environments that blend right in with the “Castlevania look”. The game looks great on the Nintendo DS. If your last Castlevania game was on a GBA, you will be amazed to see the game on the NDS.
Fans who enjoyed having several Records in the Portrait of Ruin should be happy to know you can have 8 Records in Ecclesia. Each Record has different style music you can use as background music and you must complete quests given by George, the village, to have access to the Records. The quest tie-in is a creative design and certainly makes you more curious about these Records after you’ve worked hard for them.