Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the newest of the action-RPG Castlevanias, which received their start with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Although battles are in real time, there's an extensive equipment system and numbers appear over enemies' heads when they're hit. It's an RPG.
"The vampire-hunting Order of Ecclesia has taken up the slack, tasking its number one heroine with sealing everyone's favorite bloodsucker away..."
Dracula's back, and there aren't any Belmonts around to whip him into shape. The vampire-hunting Order of Ecclesia has taken up the slack, tasking its number one heroine with sealing everyone's favorite bloodsucker away before he can cause any more trouble. Series creator, Koji Igarashi, promises "a brand new story with all new characters. Nobody from previous Castlevanias," but we've already seen Dracula and something resembling a Frankenstein's monster show up, so the validity of that statement is questionable.
Shanoa, the game's heroine, receives most of her power from magical glyphs that she can place on her arms and back. The X and Y buttons cover her arm runes while the R button controls Shanoa's back rune. The same rune can be keyed to each arm, allowing Shanoa to activate it much quicker than if it were only attached once. Not too fast though! Every time that Shanoa uses a glyph, her magic bar diminishes. In order to recharge it she needs to momentarily disengage from combat. Alternately, both arm runes can be activated at the same time for a combination attack. Combination attacks are the flashy ones that can target every enemy on the screen; unlike normal glyph attacks, these use hearts instead of the magic bar.
Back runes serve more specialized, utility purposes. The first back rune that Shanoa gains allows her to form a magnetic bubble around herself. She can use that to draw herself toward specially marked posts or fling herself around the screen. Other glyphs allow Shanoa to temporarily change her shape to that of a defeated enemy. Glyph-collecting is a major part of the game experience, and finding new ways to discover them or wrest them from monsters encourages all sorts of wild exploration. Overall, there are over 100 rune combinations with which to play around.
Beyond glyphs, Shanoa has access to a full range of equipment to help on her quest. She gains access to much of these items by pummeling monsters until the loot randomly drops. These items can be traded over Nintendo DS Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi also features a head-to-head minigame. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia will also be compatible with the upcoming Castlevania Judgment for the Nintendo Wii, a 3D fighter. Connecting the two games opens unlockable items in each one.
Unlike previous 2D Castlevania games, the action is not constrained to a single structure. Order of Ecclesia features an overworld map, connecting a wide array of environments. Early screens show mountains, forests, an ocean, and the town of Ecclesia to explore in addition to the traditional castle maze. The game is not fully free-roaming, but Shanoa's journey undeniably covers more ground than the Belmonts ever had to cover.
The meaty features packed around the typical Castlevania skeleton offer several reasons to explore the game leisurely rather than speed through it once and forget about it. Many of the townspeople of Ecclesia have subquests for Shanoa to complete. As she fetches the proper trinkets, she will gain access to new items and zones. There are also multiple endings; unlocking all of them requires several play-throughs.
Despite all of these additions, the layout is familiar to the franchise. All of the action takes place on the lower screen and is controlled by the d-pad and other buttons. If there is stylus functionality, it has not been announced at this time. The upper screen is reserved for an automatic mini-map.
Order of Ecclesia returns to the more traditional Castlevania art style from the anime-inspired character portraits of the previous two Nintendo DS games. Shanoa exudes gothic strength, while her mentor Barlowe's sumptuous clothing suggests great attention to character. Although not all of the details of the character portraits carry over into the in-game animations, the graphics are rich enough to be noteworthy. Also of note: Albus, Shanoa's twin pistol wielding associate in the Order of Ecclesia, whose grim smile and anachronistic weaponry make him a character to look out for.
Michiru Yamane, longtime Castlevania composer (who also composed portions of Suikoden III-V), returns in Order of Ecclesia, as does most of the team from Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. The game features English voice-acting, but retains the Japanese voices for gamers who appreciate the original experience.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia will be released in the United States on October 21, 2008 – a full two days before its Japanese release! It is rated "T" for Teen for alcohol references, mild blood, and mild violence.