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Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia Review

Order of Ecclesia was released for the DS in 2008. It stars Shanoa, who is a basically emotionless young lady who kills the undead by using glyphs. The story, this time, is that the Belmonts are gone, and in their absence is the Order of Ecclesia, who use glyphs to hopefully defeat Dracula. Primarily, their weapon seems to be the Dominus glyph, which, spoilers, is actually based on Dracula’s power, and isn’t actually intended to defeat Dracula, but to summon him. Gee. Shanoa loses her emotions during a failed attempt by the leader of Ecclesia to revive his dark lord, and goes on a quest to retrieve the Dominus glyphs from her fellow Order member and potential sibling or maybe lover or something (their relationship isn’t really explained, but they were at least friendly), Albus. The plot structure is basically the way it is so you can easily identify with Shanoa, as she isn’t driven by emotions that are dissimilar to your own, because she displays no emotions throughout the game, and prescribe whatever kind of relationship you want between her and the other characters. The first part of her quest is done without being aware of what Dominus truly is, but come on, it hurts you when you use it and the attacks are Dracula’s classic maneuvers, and the second part, which is just a relatively quick jaunt into Castlevania itself (and is basically absent of further story elements or dialogue) is done post ending the titular Order.

So, there’s a lot to cover in Order of Ecclesia. It’s a pretty radically different game from the others in the series, since more than any other it’s a hybrid of the level-based and exploratory styles. Unlike Castlevania III, though, it’s first level-based, and then focused on exploration. Weird, right? But the thing to note, here, is that’s not the real thing that makes it so different. This game, more than any other, is an action game before it’s anything else. The Castlevania games always struck a kind of awkward balance between platforming elements and action elements, with varied results—like how the early games have cheap deaths which can be caused by medusa heads knocking you into pits. For the most part, though, it worked out. Once you got to Rondo, there was a general lack of focus on the platforming elements, which was great, but they were never completely gone. There were still pendulums to jump across and clock towers to traverse. Those aren’t really missing in Order of Ecclesia, even, but they might as well not be there, since they’re usually only on an individual screen.

To exemplify this, you only have to look at one of the first areas, the Forest. It’s actually literally a line, with no pits or even differences in elevation throughout the area. There is literally nothing between you and the other side of the woods aside from enemies and treasure chests. The thing that’s kind of crazy, though, is that you don’t even notice this immediately. I mean, you probably will by the time you get through it, but in general you’re a bit preoccupied, because good lord do these enemies hurt. Not only are the enemies as intricate and painful as they were back in Rondo, but they rarely come alone and their attacks are pretty much universally harder to dodge while also staying in range. The enemies are usually used in really interesting combinations that enhance the difficulty of each one. Clearing a room isn’t trivial, like it often could be in Aria of Sorrow or even Symphony of the Night. It’s incredibly difficult, especially if you want to avoid as much damage as possible. Like in Symphony, you never know what’s coming next, so getting hit has an element of fear in it. Every hit you take now is less health you have for the new dangers of later. You’re never really given the option to tank hits, so every encounter has to be as optimal as you can get it. Whether or not this is a bad thing is probably really a matter of opinion, since it’s definitely not universally good in this game. It really results into a fair bit of getting deep into an area before dying suddenly and having to retread a lot of the same ground, which is certainly repetitive. Probably the worst aspect of this is that dying means you don’t get to keep the items and experience you’ve earned, which would alleviate some of the monotony. It’s certainly interest, though. It was always pretty rare to die due to lack of health in the older games, aside from against bosses, or getting lost in the castle for the first time, so having a long and strenuous series of encounters is an interesting change. I happen to like it, but I can understand why not everyone would.

The game plays really incredibly well during this, too. Shanoa controls as well as Soma, and can quickly turn on a dime and, with some weapons, move while attacking. She can also bring three sets of weapons to the party, which are quickly swapped between by holding the A button and pushing L and R. This alleviates a lot of the going into menus to change souls around that you had to do back in Aria of Sorrow—this element was also added in Dawn of Sorrow, so it’s been around. It makes it really nice, since Shanoa’s best options for quick damage are usually not also the ones with the best attack arcs, so changing would get obnoxious and clunky if you always had to use the menu. Shanoa is also the fastest attacker in the game, but in a brilliant decision, you actually have to stagger her two weapon attacks to get them out at optimal speed. Just mashing the buttons quickly attacks slower than if you hit them in the perfect rhythm, which prevents the attacks themselves from getting dull, even if you are mostly using rapiers and swords for most of the game. Which you aren’t, the other weapons offer a ton of utility, and you’ll definitely need it. Shanoa, unlike her predecessors, actually treats subweapons and normal weapons as the same thing. She has glyphs that attack in an arc, like the axe, as well as straightforward swords and all kinds of oddly arced magic. You always have a lot of viable options for what you want to do, so it’s easy to get a play style you enjoy. Probably my only real complaint is that her options for support glyphs, the ones activated by tapping R, are pretty weak and don’t offer a lot of variety. Her basic straightforward attacks are also almost always her best options for damage per second, as well, so you do still end up using them a bit more than the others, but that isn’t really a big deal—it’s been that way in every Castlevania, after all.

The bosses are, like in Rondo, mostly encounters revolving around evasion and placement. Knowledge of enemy attack patterns is a must. The problem is, the bosses are really rigidly patterned for the most part, and are all huge. While they’re centered around not getting hit, it doesn’t feel like the graceful ballet of Rondo, since Shanoa is usually zoned into relatively small areas. They provide unique experiences, like the giant enemy crab who chases you up a lighthouse, or the giant horse with crossbow legs that you have to climb up onto, Shadow of the Colossus style. The problem is, the fights are so rigidly structured that they really don’t offer a lot in terms of that variety of approach you’re presented with during the rest of the game. While they do have a variety of attacks, they don’t move around much, which can create a surprisingly dull series of dodges, like the battle against the shadow conjurer, Blackmore. You basically spend the whole battle with your back to the wall, whaling on him with all your might, while dodging his giant swinging arms. The most interesting fights are the ones against the other members of Ecclesia, since they’re actually human sized and move around. It works a lot better with the good controls that the game has, as well. It’s more fun to move a lot than be stuck in a corner. It’s not really a huge problem, but it would just be nice if the game offered more variety. They’re certainly all memorable, but it could be more interesting to actually play.

The game also has a bunch of quests, which are mostly fetch quests but with a few twists to keep them at least vaguely interesting. The quests are also tied to what options are available to you in the shop. Bringing metal to the armorsmith makes more armor, bringing herbs to the curiously egomaniacal healer makes new potions, you know the score. It’s a little more rewarding than just grinding to unlock the better shops, which is what you did back in Harmony of Dissonance, or just getting to buy the incredibly good healing potions for free. Getting the better gear and potions just means more when you had to put in that little extra effort for it, and it gives you something else to do. There’s also a couple secret areas which provide very different challenges, and are kind of a total blast if you’re into insane difficulty, but hey, Order of Ecclesia is a hard game. It’s probably one of the hardest in the series, and is certainly the hardest one focused on exploration. But if you can’t handle it, you can just grind and do the quests for better gear. Some people would say that cheapens the experience, but I don’t really think so—it just offers more ways for the game to be played, which lets more people play it. If you want to do a low level no gear run, that’s your prerogative, but good luck.

Overall, Order of Ecclesia is certainly an incredibly fun game, which is what really matters. It always feels good to play, and is incredibly straightforward with what it wants to be. The exploratory elements are basically gone, but the game isn’t hurt because of it. Dracula’s castle is still an intimidating place where you will die. Often. I’ll give it a 9 out of 10. The only real thing that holds it back is the bosses feeling a bit worse this time around, but it’s not a huge deal. The game also has a pretty rocking score. I recommend this for anyone who prefers their action platformers with two heaping helpings of action and only a tiny bit of platformer. But platformer is sort of a hard to define genre, anyway. Still, Order of Ecclesia is undeniably a game that puts its action elements before everything else. The end result is a more pure Castlevania experience, a more direct exercise in slaying the undead.

As always, right in the face!

Anyway, that brings us out of October, and out of Castlevania reviews for now. I’ve been your host for this series. Happy playing!

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