Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia Review

Back in the days of the NES, I played the Castlevania games. I wouldn't say I was a huge fan... certainly not on the level of Super Mario or Mega Man, but I do have fond memories of Castlevania III especially.

When Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came out, my impressions of the series changed. Symphony is quite possibly the single best game in the first PlayStation's library, in my opinion. It traded the older games arcade-style whipping and avoiding instant death pits/spikes with a single large level to explore (ala Metroid), a variety of weapons and spells, and RPG-ish character building. While future console Castlevania games have ranged from so-so to poor, the "Metroidvania"-style of Symphony was continued on Nintendo's handheld systems. There was Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow on the Gameboy Advance, and again Aria of Sorrow was probably my pick for the single best game on the GBA (although at least this time the Mega Man Zero games give the Castlevanias a fair run for their money). The series was further continued on the Nintendo DS with Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin (and despite the grief it got from some reviewers, I actually think Portrait is better than Dawn), and for a third time they are the cream of the crop for Nintendo's newest handheld. It's been awhile since Portrait of Ruin, but Konami has finally released the next game in series, Order of Ecclesia.

The basic gameplay hasn't changed from the other Metroidvanias. You still gain experience, you still equip stat-boosting items, and you still fight your way from save room to save room. There are some changes, too. For starters, you don't actually collect weapons. All of your weapons, spells, and sub weapons are actually magical glyphs (which can be mapped to either Y or X). That means every time you swing a sword or toss an axe, you're actually using magic. And, oddly enough, pressing up plus X or Y will unleash a powerful magic attack that uses up your hearts, not magic. While at first this seems a little odd, you get used to it quickly and you start to match glyphs for effect, especially when fighting bosses.

Another change is that the game is far more linear than even Portrait of Ruin. Rather than a large castle to explore, you start the game in the Ecclesia headquarters. From there, you'll explore many other areas including monastery, a forest, a little village, hopping on boxes over a lake, a prison, mountains, and a swamp. The village is sort of an enemy-free hub where you can save, replenish your hearts, and visit merchants. As you work your way through the game, you unlock more and more areas.

Of the now seven Metroidvania-style Castlevania games, I'd also say this is the hardest. The previous ones have certainly had one or two bosses that sort of stood out as being extra difficult (Gergoth, from Dawn of Sorrow, was a particular pain), but many of them, especially the first boss encountered, were pushovers. In Order of Ecclesia, I died many times looking exploring the levels. I died many more times trying to learn boss patterns. Depending on how hardcore you feel about the series and its past difficulty (or lack thereof), that might either be a blessing or a curse.

Overall, it's still Castlevania, and that'd still put it in the top six games for the DS (the others being the two Mega Man ZX games, the other two Castlevanias, and New Super Mario Bros). Truthfully, I'd say this is the second-best of the DS Castlevania games.

Final Score: A

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