Better than Portrait of Ruin
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the third and final installment in the Castlevania series on the Nintendo DS, following Dawn of Sorrow (2005) and Portrait of Ruin (2006). This time the secretive Order of Ecclesia, unconnected to the Belmont clan, is attempting to prevent Dracula’s centennial resurrection by collecting the fragments of his scattered soul. These glyphs can only be controlled by Shanoa, a raven haired beauty who has sacrificed her memory to serve as an empty vessel for their power. However, before Drac can be sealed, another member of the order named Albus runs away with the glyphs. Shanoa will have to hunt him down before he is consumed by Dracula’s power.
Shanoa can absorb glyphs left by enemies, and these can then be equipped to serve as offensive weapons and spells. Her magic power is drained with every attack, preventing you from spamming – but it quickly replenishes when not attacking. If you press UP and both attack buttons, you can combine the glyphs to perform a more powerful attack that uses up hearts. She’ll also gain support glyphs that bestow special abilities, like summoning helpful familiars or activating special moves. Only some enemies will leave behind glyphs – and they drop them randomly – so you’ll have to kill a lot of them to obtain each one. In practice, the glyph system isn’t much different from the soul system seen in Aria of Sorrow.
The typical Metroidvania level design has become a bit of a slog, but thankfully Order of Ecclesia doesn’t adhere to the same structure as the past six games. Instead of exploring one large castle, Shanoa chases after Albus through several smaller areas for the first half of the game. Like the paintings in Portrait of Ruin, these are basically bite-sized maps – there’s nothing particularly difficult about them besides the local monsters. You’ll find plenty of save points, warp points, and you can even return to town instantly using magical tickets sold in the shop. It’s a shame they didn’t take the opportunity to create more traditional platforming levels, where one missed jump could lead to instant death.
In between areas, Shanoa can return to the village where she can buy items and upgrade her armor. There, she can take on requests from villagers (that she has rescued) to earn money and items – but most of them are just fetch quests. Again, it feels like a missed opportunity when they could have easily added more varied challenges to the game – such as time trials, perfect boss runs, etc..
Unlike the rest of the game the bosses can be quite tough, but it’s mainly because Shanoa is a such fragile heroine. It seems like regardless of the armor you equip, she dies after just a few hits from their attacks, so you’ll probably expire before you can learn (let alone memorize) their attack patterns. And because healing items are ridiculously expensive, you’ll have to fight losing battles repeatedly until you sort them out. It’s frustrating, but it actually makes the game more enjoyable because you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally do succeed. There are also two optional areas in the game designed specifically to test your skills, and naturally they’re pretty difficult. Once you’ve completed the game, you will unlock a Boss Rush mode and harder difficulty settings.
Order of Ecclesia’s difficulty seems a bit unbalanced, with fairly easy exploration contrasting with the merciless boss fights. It’s nice that the designers have broadened the scope of the adventure by dividing it into several smaller maps, but these don’t contain any real platforming challenges. And again, collecting glyphs and the villager requests amount to nothing more than tiresome fetch quests.
However, for the most part this is an enjoyable 2D action game, with good graphics and a great soundtrack, which is becoming increasingly rare these days. I also appreciate that the character designs have returned to a more detailed style than the anime look of the last two installments.