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   Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia - Reader Review  

The Stolen Seal
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

PLATFORM
NDS
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
2
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
4
CHALLENGE
Hard
COMPLETION TIME
Less than 20 Hours
OVERALL
4.0/5
+ Solid gameplay with plenty of variety.
+ Good music and graphics.
- Some bosses can be tough.
- Weak story, as usual.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Every time Count Dracula arose to threaten the world, a member of the Belmont Clan defeated him with the Holy Whip, although in the mid-1800s, the Belmont Clan vanished, and several organizations arose to research countermeasures against Lord Dracula, including the Order of Ecclesia, which created Dominus, a triad of magical glyphs based on Dracula's powers. A member of the Order named Shanoa is chosen to be a human vessel for Dominus, although her colleague, Albus, steals the glyphs, and she pursues him, unaware of his intentions. Konami's Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia continues the company's long-running franchise on the Nintendo DS, featuring some twists on the series' formula, not to mention a greater challenge.

   Rather than having a single large castle to explore like other installments, Ecclesia instead features a map where the player can instantly travel to one of many locations, including the initially-abandoned Wygol Village, whose inhabitants Albus has kidnapped and transported to various places. As Shanoa rescues them, they return to the village, where she can converse with them to perform various sidequests, such as finding certain items. One rescued villager will sell her equipment and consumable items, the latter of which will certainly see frequent use, although the player can save, heal, and recover lost Hearts in town, as well.

The real circle of the moon Glyph Unions can sometimes help against bosses.

   The real fun begins once the player selects one of many side-scrolling fields and dungeons on the world map. Many of these areas will ultimately have more than one entrance/exit that the player can select while on the world map screen. In dungeons, Shanoa naturally has to fend off many enemies, with Ecclesia's combat centering on the use of glyphs, which she can absorb occasionally from enemies and broken statues, that allow her to attack with a weapon or cast magic. The player can assign a glyph to the X and Y buttons and perform combos by alternating between them, and assign a special glyph to the R button, with R-button glyphs having effects such as increasing Shanoa's damage or defense, or creating a magnetic field that, early on, will help her advance through fields and dungeons.

   Glyph usage consumes Shanoa's MP, although it will swiftly recover when she isn't using them, and though there are items to more quickly recover MP, running out is at best a rarity. Shanoa can also perform a Glyph Union that combines the powers of the X and Y button glyphs for a more powerful effect that consumes Hearts. Shanoa gains experience from enemies she kills, and will level up occasionally, although special items can provide greater increases to her maximum HP, MP, and Hearts. Shanoa can gain money for buying new goods by breaking candles, torches, chandeliers, and so forth, but can rarely gain it from killed enemies, along with occasional items.

   Enemies can easily slaughter Shanoa if the player isn't careful, but the player can buy Magical Tickets that instantly take her back to town, perfect for when she's low on health and far from a save point. Also notable is that bosses are harder than in recent Castlevanias, having certain patterns that the player must be aware of in order to stand a chance against them (although healing items can somewhat help if the player isn't careful), and odds are that most players won't beat a boss without having seen at least one Game Over screen. Both normal enemies and bosses also have certain weaknesses to various kinds of glyphs that the player can exploit.

Shanoa kicking their butts The real reason dinosaurs became extinct

   Ecclesia's difficulty compared to other Castlevanias can certainly be daunting, with many bosses sometimes seeming like annoying walls preventing the game from advancing, although players can certainly try to counteract this by leveling, gathering money to upgrade equipment and stock up on healing items (with a cap of nine each), working on sidequests, and venturing into other areas of dungeons if unexplored. The abysmally-low drop rate of certain items from enemies, however, is perhaps the biggest fault of combat, although boosting the luck stat with certain equipment can slightly increase the rate of acquiring these items, with some being necessary for sidequests. Though the difficulty may be daunting at times, it is certainly manageable, and the battle mechanics help the game more than hurt.

   Control in Ecclesia is more than adequate, with an easy menu system (although the game clock stops in the menus, where the player will spend some time) and no problems with moving around dungeons and fields or battling enemies, with handy automaps further aiding the player, along with a decent sense of direction on how to advance the main storyline. Some consumable item descriptions, particular for food items, are somewhat uninformative, but interaction doesn't terribly detract from the player's experience.

   As mentioned, Ecclesia features several twists on the normal Castlevania formula, such as a hub town and a world map system, with the glyph system being mildly inventive as well, even if many of the game's elements are reminiscent of those in previous installments, with the town system being something of a throwback to Simon's Quest and the glyph system borrowing somewhat from the Soul system of the Sorrow dilogy. Still, this particular iteration feels reasonably distinctive from other entries.

   Story as usual is a nadir, with no major contributions to the overall Castlevania mythos or a major sense of mystery and excitement, although there are maybe a few decent plot twists, even if the plot tends to tell more than show. Still, the game's narrative is hardly a reason for purchase, with a greater emphasis on the gameplay.

Caption More like Wormeater

   The music, though, is nice as usual, with a nice variety of tracks of different genres fitting the various settings. There are also some occasional voice clips whose quality varies from character to character; a few characters are annoying, and it is a bit odd, for instance, for one particular character to greet "Yo!" in a game that takes place in the mid-1800s. The player, however, does get the option to switch to Japanese voices after beating the game. In the end, aurals have always been a high point for the Castlevania franchise, and Ecclesia continues this trend.

   The 2-D visual style resembles that in prior DS Castlevanias, not that this is a bad thing, as they still look nice, and series purists that dreaded the anime character designs of Portrait of Ruin and Dawn of Sorrow will be happy to know that Ayami Kojima returns with her gothic character art. There are still some odd effects, such as enemies exploding when they die, but the graphics nonetheless help the game far more than hurt.

   Finally, Ecclesia is short like its predecessors, albeit slightly longer, given the increased difficulty, about fifteen hours for an initial playthrough, although plenty of things exist to stretch out playing time, such as completing villager requests, finding every enemy drop, filling out all areas' maps, filling out the glyph and item compendia, a New Game+, and so forth.

   Overall, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is a solid addition to the franchise, given its fun gameplay and enjoyable music and graphics, although those fairly accustomed to contemporary iterations should certainly be aware of the increased difficulty. The story as usual leaves plenty to desire, although the Castlevania franchise has always been far more about its gameplay, and in that respect this latest iteration still doesn't leave too much to desire.

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