Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia - Reader Review  

An Atypical Church Practice
by JuMeSyn

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Tried & true Castlevania action
+ Excellent audiovisual presentation
+ Glyph system open to experiment
- Glyphs dependent upon MP
- Some stages too short and linear
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   Created to oppose the power of Dracula, the Order of Ecclesia has been training Shanoa in the use of Glyphs for the vast majority of her life. Her brother in the order, Albus, interrupts the ceremony during which the power of Dominus is being attached to her and takes Dominus for his own. Shanoa loses her memories and emotions as a result, and is sent on a mission to take back Dominus by Barlowe, head of Ecclesia, for Dominus is the greatest means the Order has created to oppose Dracula. The turn this tale takes in its final act will astonish all who have never played a Castlevania title before and are also poor at prognostication. To all other players the story serves as it has in every Castlevania action-RPG: a clothesline upon which to string the garments which matter in this game.

   Shanoa explores the world in two-dimensional platforming action, and she controls similarly to prior Castlevania protagonists with the ability to backdash and jump. Shanoa gains experience from defeating enemies and her statistics go up a bit upon achieving a level-up, with items being found in on the field and available for purchase using money that is mostly found from attacking innocent lamps and candles. Unlike any prior protagonist, however, Shanoa uses the Glyph system. Glyphs bear some resemblance to the Souls of Soma Cruz in Castlevania: Aria and Dawn of Sorrow in that they are quite open to experiment and combinations. Shanoa can have one Glyph on each hand, corresponding to the Y and X buttons for the player. Glyphs come in many varieties, from rapiers to throwing axes to balls of light to sparks of electricity. The same glyph can also be equipped on both hands. Activated by hitting R is a third glyph on Shanoa's back, which will have a lasting effect but does not require further player input - statistic raising magic and the summoning of familiars fall into this category. The catch to the Glyph system is simple; every attack using it requires MP. Most of the time this is not a major issue, because Shanoa's MP recovery is quite low. It is not instantaneous, however, and it is possible for a player to attack in succession and run out of MP for a moment. Of much greater risk are enemies that Curse, which leaves Shanoa dependent upon either sliding and jump kicking (bad idea) or running away when all her MP vanish. She can use hearts for a Glyph Union that combines both equipped glyphs on the arms, but some of these use up hearts at a startling rate and to waste them on grunt enemies is a pain.

Paleontology is much more dangerous when the fossils behave like this. Paleontology is much more dangerous when the fossils behave like this.

   Glyph acquisition takes place in one of three ways. The easiest way is to simply have the glyph be lying around, often hiding behind a statue, waiting for Shanoa to absorb it. The second is for an enemy to drop its glyph upon death - this is fortunately telegraphed by enemies with obtainable glyphs by how they die. And the third method is to snare the glyph from an enemy using it to attack. Snaring glyphs also restores ten hearts, a very useful side effect. The actual method of Shanoa's glyph acquisition is to have the player hold Up, whereupon any onscreen glyph will be attracted to her back and be absorbed. The process does take a moment during which Shanoa is immobile, so some finesse is required because taking a hit will undo the attempted absorption. Shanoa's journey will take place in a number of locations that are frequently quite linear in construction. These stages have a few hidden areas and can be revisited at any time. Given that these stages do not take place in Dracula's castle, they evidence a bit of geographic variety. The actual exploration of the stages is identical to the methods used in exploring Dracula's castle in prior Castlevania action-RPG's however, especially as they each have a map and can be returned to by the player at any time.

   Not much time will have passed in the game before Shanoa starts locating villagers. A villager must be located and freed from a bizarre glyph Albus had imprisoned him/her in to return to the village, at which point Shanoa may begin conversing with the villager and making use of his/her services. Save for the shop owner and village head, all villagers require Shanoa to complete tasks in order to get anything from them, and these often boil down to lengthy fetch quests that depend upon an enemy dropping a rare item. Killing the same enemy fifty times to garner its dropped item is very repetitive, but none of these tasks are mandatory. They do result in many items being available for purchase, should the player feel upgrades to healing items and equipment beneficial.

Life under the sea really isn Life under the sea really isn't better than anything they got up there, sadly.

   Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia upholds the tradition of the series by being hard. Not insurmountably hard, but RPGamers without good reflexes will experience enormous frustration with this game. Regular enemies can pack a serious punch, and most of the bosses will require multiple attempts in order to successfully bring down (I hate Blackmore above all the others). The game's length will not top out at over 20 hours unless one wants to level-grind for a long time with the main game probably taking from 8-10 hours, but nearly half of the game can be missed if the player does not achieve the condition to unlock the largest area of the game (I will not name it, but any Castlevania veteran should know immediately what the final part of the game holds). As per Castlevania tradition, numerous incentives for replay exist from increased difficulties to other characters.

   The visuals in Order of Ecclesia illustrate just how good Konami's artists are at creating 2D spectacle. Most of the enemies have new sprites this time around, the variety in stages allows plenty of new backgrounds, and the animation quality is top-notch as usual. The music is likewise top-notch, with Michiru Yamane returning again with excellent compositions that fit the mood superbly. There seem to be a few tracks that are unmemorable however, and the best ones are back-loaded (in my estimation). Konami again applied English voice acting to its localization, and the battle cries of enemies and Shanoa are very good (though Dracula is voiced by Norio Wakamoto in Japanese, and the English voice is nowhere near that level). The villagers also have voice acting, and most of these voices are painful to hear.

   Order of Ecclesia represents a tweaking of the style handheld Castlevania titles have been using in recent years. I find the tweaks are not all for the better, but the result is still a title that deserves to be experienced by anyone who enjoyed previous titles in the series. Konami long ago learned how to do this type of game well, and nothing in Order of Ecclesia comes close to removing that quality from the company.

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