30 Reviews in 30 Days, Day 16 – Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Okay, if you have played Castlevania games before, you know they follow a certain formula: Dracula is trying to once again take control of the world, and it is your job as a legendary vampire killer, often a member of the Belmont family, to stop him. This formula has been repeated over and over again with some variations. Of course most gamers are familiar with Symphony of the Night, which changed things up by making you play a vampire yourself who was hunting other vampires, and this was the first game to offer an experience system and the ability to carry more than one secondary weapon at a time. There were also two other DS games, each with little quirks that made them different, but still following much the same plot.
I have been a Castlevania fan for years, so I have played several of them. One of the things the more recent versions of the series have been missing is the challenging and sometimes downright frustrating difficulty of the earlier games. So when I started hearing that Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia was bringing that difficulty level back, I was definitely interested.
What I did not know at the time was this was going to be one of the more unique Castlevania experiences out there.
Not your normal Vampire Killer
Order of Ecclesia turns the normal gameplay for this series on its ear. You play as Shanoa. a member of the Order of Ecclesia, a group formed after the death of the last member of the Belmont Clan. The Order has been trying to find a way to deal with Dracula’s impending return, and in doing so has created the glyphs, magic symbols that can be equipped by those trained to use them for combat. Of the glyphs, there are three that reign supreme: Anger, Hatred and Agony, the Dominus Glyphs made from Dracula’s power. Just as Shanoa is about to be made the living vessel for this powerful set of glyphs, her colleague and fellow vampire hunter Albus steals them. Shanoa is left powerless and devoid of both emotion and memory, with no other goal than to get the Dominus glyphs back.
The glyphs completely change the way you do combat in this game. Shanoa can equip three glyphs at a time, one in each of her arms and one on her back. The arm glyphs are either weapon or magic glyphs that are used in combat. The one on the back allows Shanoa to do various physical maneuvers, including creating a magnetic field that will let her launch herself from metal objects or become insubstantial enough to walk through certain types of walls, or they can effect things like Shanoa’s magic resistance or the amount of money received from killing enemies.
Using the glyphs takes magic power, measured in a meter in the left hand corner of the lower screen. The more powerful the glyph, the more magicÂ it uses. The magic power will replenish over time, but if you use it all up, you will not be able to attack till you have enough built back up. On top of that, you can combine the glyphs in Shanoa’s arms to make a Glyph Union. This attack does much more damage, but they use up yourÂ hearts.
You obtain glyphs throughout the game by absorbing them into Shanoa’s body. This is no real problem when you run across them in the world or are dropped after you kill enemies, but that is not the only way you obtain them. When an enemy is casting magic, you will see a glyph form, and if you start absorbing it in time, Shanoa will gain the ability the enemy was going to use against her. The problem is she is very vulnerable when she is trying to absorb glyphs, and any damage taken duringÂ that time will stop the absorption. In other words, you need to learn how to time this glyph theft.
Now THIS is the difficulty I remember
When reviewers were saying Order of Ecclesia brought the difficulty back to the Castlevania series, they were not kidding. Early on, everything seems easy enough. You face off against the typical fair of enemies, and you advance relatively quickly. Not too long in, however, you run across your first major enemy, a giant skeleton who is rather difficult to take out this early in the game. As if that was not enough, vanquishing it opens up a new area filled with enemies you will have to really be on your toes to deal with, including some that, for the time being, you will just have to avoid.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia brings the difficulty back to the series.
Thing is, these difficult enemies are not even bosses. You don’t face your first real major boss until you reach the lighthouse; there, you will fight a giant crab who is the perfect example of an old school Castlevania boss: hard hitting, pattern driven and broken into several stages. There was a point where I though I had beaten this enemy finally, just to find out there was still one more stage to face. In the end, you end up getting all the way to the top of the lighthouse in this battle and smash the crab to bits with the elevator conveniently placed at the top. As frustrating as it was, there was something that felt familiar about this battle. It felt like the return of an old friend.
Not just stuck in a castle
One problem with many Castlevania games is you see the same level layout repeated over and over again. Portrait of Ruin broke that up a bit by adding the paintings representing different lands, but still, if you have played one of these games, you know what to expect environmentally, down to the watery caves under the castle and the clock tower full of Medusa heads.
This is an area where Order of Ecclesia once againÂ stands out. One of the first places you visit is a village whose villagers have all been kidnapped by Albus. He has taken them to different locations that include forests, snow covered mansions and ship wrecks on the floor of the sea. In other words, you will travel to areas you are not used to seeing in a Castlevania game, making this an excellent blend of the old school difficulty and new gameplay.
On word of warning: make sure you find all the villagers before your final showdown with Albus. if you don’t, you will get the bad ending for this game. That is one Castlevania convention I could have lived without, but it is not surprising that it is there.
The game has such unique environments…until you get to Dracula’s Castle.
And yet there is one catch
Up to one point in this game, I was really loving how different Order of Ecclesia was. It really stood out in the battle against Albus, where not only did you have to memorize his unusual pattern to beat him, but you needed to absorb his Agony glyph or you would never have the chance again. After beating him, Shanoa learns the truth behind his actions and the fact that Dracula is about to return once again. This leads you to Dracula’s Castle, where the old familiar scenes start to play out.
That’s the problem. Up until this point, Order of Ecclesia was unlike most other games in the series. Once you get into Dracula’s castle, however, it starts to feel all too familiar. In a gem where they were so innovative, it is disappointing to see the developersÂ kind of return to form. It almost feels like laziness on the part of Konami, going back to the same old gameplay that has lead to more and more gamers leaving the Castlevania series behind. I guess those of us who like the series are just going to have to wait till Kojima’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow comes out to find a truly unique Castlevania experience.
That being said, this is still a very enjoyable and challenging game. I would even argue that it may be the most invative Castlevania game since Symphony of the Night. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia gets a 4 out of 5.