Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia Review: A Whole New World

I’ll admit it. I was wrong. A few weeks ago when I previewed “Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia” I was concerned that Konami was stepping too far away from many of the elements that make a “Castlevania” game a “Castlevania” game. I cited some of the many changes, like the weapons system, female character, lack of a Belmont, and the fact that the game took place outside of Dracula’s castle. However, after spending many, many hours with the DS game, I will be the first one to admit that I was wrong. “Ecclesia” definitely steps away from many of the conventions that have made “Castlevania” titles so memorable over the years, but the changes and tweaks to the formula really pay off in the end, and Shanoa’s journey is worthy of comparison to anyone with the last name Belmont.

Pretty much everything about “Order of Ecclesia” is different from all of the “Castlevania” games that came before it. The weapons system, the magic items, the characters, the setting, even the goal of half the game (hint: it isn’t to take down Dracula) are vastly different than everything from “Simon’s Quest” to “Dawn of Sorrow.”

Set in the 1800’s, you play as the all new character, Shanoa, as she does the dirty work of the Order of Ecclesia in their quest to take down the most evil of all evil – Dracula. Apparently, the Belmont family has died out, and Shanoa is the only person who can handle the complicated Glyph system created by the Order to combat the Dark Lord. She must absorb, and wield the awesome Dominus Glyph which is the only thing that can put an end to the Count.

Throughout the game, the Glyphs are basically what Shanoa uses to attack. They can be either in the form of a weapon, or of magic. Some of the weapon Glyphs are reminiscent of the traditional “Castlevania” weapons of recent memory, like rapiers, knives, and lances. However, some of the magic Glyphs allow Shanoa to possess and create powerful attacks such as creating ice pillars and summoning owls to attack. From the outset of the game this seems like just a creative way to mix up your attacks, but, as you work your way through the game, it becomes very clear that each of the enemies has a weakness, usually for either the weapons or for the magic attacks. You’re forced to study your opponents, and choose your powers wisely as you end up needing to switch between Glyphs, on-the-fly, to combat different enemies in the same room. It’s actually quite innovative, and easy to get used to. Again, I was wrong.

Another step away from the traditional “Castlevania” formula is the fact that the game doesn’t take place in Dracula’s castle, well … most of it doesn’t. In the beginning, it was hard to accept that this game actually had the word “castle” in the title, and yet, there wasn’t a castle in the game. However, this wasn’t a misstep, and the new distant forest actually offered some much needed variety to the level design which, much to my surprise, was starting to feel a bit stale. I once thought Drac’s Castle had it all, until I worked my way up the Lighthouse fighting a giant crab thing, and again, I was wrong.

Speaking of the giant crab thing (it’s actual name is Brachyura), this game is crazy hard. Much like the past few DS “Castlevanias” “Ecclesia” offers what feels like just the right level of challenge, and progression. However, it’s very likely that most gamers are going to get hung up on more than a few different spots in this game. While challenge isn’t a bad thing, I think I had become accustomed to just working my way through “Castlevania” games, not necessarily putting all the work in, but making it through anyways. You can’t get away with that in “Ecclesia” – it’s a freakin’ hard game.

All things considered, “Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia” is a really great game, even worthy of the “Castlevania” moniker. It brings a lot of new ideas and mechanics to a series that is constantly changing itself, and, for the most part, all these new additions actually enhance the experience. The comparisons to the classic “Symphony of the Night” are fair, but, in the end, “SOTN” comes out on top. However, “Order of Ecclesia” is a real treat for DS gamers, especially ones that are fans of the “Caslevania” series, or just 2D gaming, and it deserves a really strong 9.25 out of 10.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★½

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