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Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd.
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 10/28/08
Japan 10/23/08
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 92%
Sound: 90%
Gameplay: 95%
Control: 95%
Story: 70%
Overall: 89%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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The bosses are typically intimidating and rightfully so: they will kill you.
 
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This room is so much fun.
 
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Whatever this says, you can be sure it isn't emotional.
 
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This is the town where you will find a host of quirky townsfolk.
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Kyle Miller
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
01/21/09
Kyle Miller

Admission: Order of Ecclesia is my first experience with a Castlevania game. That may cause some readers to grow pale and quickly denounce a review from a gamer that has never played a Castlevania game, yet calls himself a video game journalist. Stop reading if you will, but know that you will miss the unique perspective of one who has never before stepped into the shadow of Castlevania until now. Jumping into the series this far along provides fresh insight, and I confidently say that Order of Ecclesia provided a hearty welcome to this venerable series. I could hardly have expected more.

Order of Ecclesia begins with the conception of the Dominus glyphs, powerful magic with the ability to conquer Dracula forevermore. Since the Belmonts have vanished and fallen from this duty, the Order of Ecclesia has stepped in to continue their drudgery. Our heroine, Shanoa, has agreed to bind herself to Dominus in order to stop Dracula. Unfortunately, fellow member of Ecclesia Albus steals the glyphs for an unknown reason and Shanoa is tasked with their recovery.

Even though the plot contains a couple of twists, it remains secondary to the gameplay at all times. There are only three characters involved in the story, and Shanoa loses her emotions and memories early on, making for an extremely forgettable character. In fact, she is the least interesting of the three. Motives are all quite elementary, and the quest largely involves an endless race to catch the rogue Ecclesian Albus. I get the idea, however, that Castlevania isn't famous for its storylines, but for its gameplay.

Order of Ecclesia employs a glyph system to govern attacks and special powers. At any one time, three glyphs may be equipped on Shanoa, and they can even be combined into a union attack for massive damage. The glyphs range from mundane axes and swords to fantastical Cerberus heads. Glyph use is limited only by magic points, although Shanoa's magic points and other stats improve over time through level gain and the acquisition of powerups.

The glyph system functions well enough, and the variety of powers is impressive. The inclusion of the union attacks makes combining glyphs to create the best special attack a sort of game and an entertaining one to be sure. Unfortunately, many of the union attacks aren't particularly useful, but most deal more damage than would be done otherwise. Glyphs provide for some of Shanoa's statistics, but there are basic attributes as well. At times their inner-workings seem cryptic, and this may be an attempt to reward players who put in additional time trying to decode all the numbers, but it may irritate those who don't. I can't say how the system compares to those used in past Castlevania games, but I found little to complain about.

Exploring the game's twenty-some locations is extremely addictive and fun. Due to almost perfect control, a balanced leveling system, and a vast array of enemy and environment types, the core gameplay of Order of Ecclesia is golden. Moving from one screen to another, Shanoa encounters an almost constant flow of monsters. Some require unique strategies to defeat while others die after a simple flogging. Opening treasure chests and finding hidden chambers in between the carnage really keeps the player coming back for more. In a game as fun as this, even mindless grinding offers enjoyment, and there will be grinding. Some enemy item drops are incredibly rare, not to mention the brutal difficulty. That difficulty, however, only adds to the intensity of combat and value behind the package. Through repeated deaths, grinding, and side questing, the player can easily put in twenty hours.

The hub town in Order of Ecclesia provides Shanoa with a number of side quests via townspeople she finds and rescues throughout the land. These quests typically involve item fetching, but there are several that mix up that formula. Even if players don't want to complete them, they may be forced to: the rewards are almost necessary to succeed. Quests often advance the shop's inventory with powerful armor, although some are just for fun, such as records for changing the background music. I never found that necessary, however.

Order of Ecclesia's music keeps your ears as busy as your thumbs. Characterized by complex, baroque tunes, the game's soundtrack is fun and appropriate for the setting. The music never grows stale and there are a large number of tracks, used to their full potential. For example, there are several different themes used in the massive final dungeon. Voice acting is sparse and average, while sound effects are occasionally annoying. Several glyphs and monsters are always paired with the same voice clip or effect, which can cause the player to avoid that glyph or monster in the future. The music more than makes up for it, however. That said, players might not be able to recall much of the music after playing due to the enthralling gameplay that tends to capture the most attention. The graphics might help distract as well.

Order of Ecclesia looks great, with smooth sprites, multi-layer backgrounds, and conservative pallet swapping. Spell effects are impressive, animations are well done, and the art style effectively conveys a gothic atmosphere with all of its menace and shadow. Ecclesia also features an impressive array of enemies, most of which look vastly different. Classic gothic monsters such as ghouls are present (as well as original creations) and all have fantastic design, even down to the lowly bat. Some of the larger enemies are pixilated and look inferior to their smaller brethren, but this is not the rule. Every enemy also has a different and glorious death animation, the best I have seen in any game.

My first impression of the Castlevania series is thus a positive one, and it will unlikely be the last. With addictive, entertaining action RPG gameplay and an effective gothic atmosphere, Order of Ecclesia is a ridiculously fun game. Tight control ensures that even the most difficult boss battles are fair, and the barrage of contrapuntal music is enough keep both ears happy. If a more substantial plot were present, Order of Ecclesia would be among the best in the DS library. Even still, it stands out as one of the most enjoyable DS games to date. Admission: I was wrong to have avoided Castlevania until now.



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