This game won't suck your blood, but it will suck your patience.
As a fan of the Castlevania series, I’ve been waiting for a game worthy enough to oust 1997’s Symphony of the Night as the best game in the series. I initially thought Order of Ecclesia, the latest Castlevania game for Nintendo DS, would finally break the 11 year wait. But thanks to some of the game’s more demanding factors, it seems that my wait will continue. I certainly believe this is the best original DS game to come out in months; unfortunately, the game gradually went downhill from beginning to end.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia’s plot revolves around the Order of Ecclesia (obviously), a group dedicated to the eradication of Lord Dracula, everyone’s favorite vampire. Shanoa, the protagonist and a member of the order, is tasked with absorbing a glyph called Dominus, a magical spell that would finally put the bloodsucking freak back in his place. In a convenient twist of inconvenience, another member of the order named Albus interupts the absorption ceremony, taking both the Dominus glyph and Shanoa’s memories. After recovering from unconsciousness, Shanoa is brushed out the door on a hunt for Albus.
The story made an honest effort to tug my heartstrings during the later portions, but I felt like the general plot only lent itself as glue between key points. The details made sense and everything fit, it just wasn’t enough to captivate me. The pseudo-romantic aspects made me shake my head in disapproval, though I get the feeling I should have been more empathetic with the characters’ situation. The Castlevania series is hardly acclaimed for its narrative, but as a fan, I’m sorely disappointed by what Order of Ecclesia had to offer.
If there’s anything that makes a Castlevania game worth playing nowadays, I definitely think it’s the combat and gameplay. Thankfully, that’s where this particular game excels. When I first started the game, I thought the new glyph system was a bit unwieldy. After desensitizing myself a bit, I can undoubtedly say that glyphs are the best thing to happen to the series in over a decade. Attaching glyphs on each hand and customizing combo attacks made the combat feel more tactical and satisfying than ever before. On top of that, everything from the jumping to the dodging felt right.
The innovations continue with the setting of the game. Until now, most Castlevania games have resided within Dracula’s Castle and only there. In Order of Ecclesia, I was pleased to see that there was a world map full of different environments. Conventional settings such as forests and mountains blended well with odd places like a prison island and an abandoned monastery. Each retained a gritty, Transylvanian feel and contributed to the setpiece as a whole.
The graphics and sound do much to add to the aforementioned setpiece. Even with the DS’s limited hardware capabilities, the developers at Konami tossed expectations out the window once more. The environments were colorful, the characters and enemies animated nicely and the art style finally ditched the anime theme in favor of a gothic painting look. In addition, the music was upbeat and continues the series’ tradition of excellent sound quality. There’s not much to say about the presentation other than the fact that it’s absolutely fantastic.
Given all this great content, I thought Order of Ecclesia was bound to be the greatest in the series. Unfortunately, where it went wrong, it really went wrong. I think modern games should be more difficult than they are, but this game crossed the fine line dividing “acceptably hard” and “frustratingly hard”. At first, I thought the increased difficulty was the breath of fresh air I yearned for. Sadly, the further I got, the more annoyed I became. The enemy attack patterns were easy to recognize; it was the act of maneuvering around them that I found infuriating. Dying numerous times in the same area forced me to put the game down for hours or even days. It ceased to be fun at certain points.
In true Castlevania fashion, Order of Ecclesia contained mulitple endings. Getting the bad ending is quick, as it only took me five hours to obtain minus all the times I died. The second—and better—ending required me to complete the most arcane fetch quest the series has ever seen. After completing said quest, I was shocked to see that doing so unlocked the second half of the game. While I could say more content is better, it didn’t make sense for the developers to embed the extra bits and pieces as deep as they did. It felt satisfying when I unlocked the final stage, but I would have felt resentful if I did not know it was there in the first place.
I trudged through the final stage and sighed a huge sigh of relief as I saw the end credits roll through the screen. Beating the game granted me access to another character and a harder difficulty. I wasn’t able to power through the harder mode in time for this review, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it given how much I loathed the default difficulty. On the other hand, playing as the second character (unnamed for spoiler purposes) was more pleasurable than my first playthrough as Shanoa.
In the end, part of me says I should recommend against this game. Even with the challenging portions, I’ll go ahead and give it a hesitant thumbs up since games like this are hard to come by. Thankfully, it didn’t burn a huge hole in my wallet like full-priced console titles will in the coming weeks. The high points are higher and low points are lower; ultimately, Order of Ecclesia is simply average.