Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

Although the role-playing game formula of Castlevania games known as “Metroidvania” or “Castleroid” began on the Sony PlayStation, these particular titles would find a home on Nintendo’s portable systems, beginning with the GameBoy Advance and then the Nintendo DS a console generation later. The third of these types of titles released for the Nintendo DS, after Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, is Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, which provides an experience on par with its predecessors.

As with most of its predecessors, the third Nintendo DS Castlevania mixes up things a little in the gameplay department, with protagonist Shanoa able to wield a number of Glyphs from enemies that she can absorb through a gradual process commenced by holding the up button, with these abilities assigned to the X, Y, and R buttons. The player can alternate pressing between the X and Y buttons to perform combos against the enemy with weapon Glyphs, their deaths resulting in an increase of a weapon’s affinity by one point. Shanoa also has magic spells whose affinities also increase by a point when she kills foes with them, although it takes several hundred points for the power of different Glyph types to actually increase.

Shanoa can further combine the power of her equipped X and Y Glyphs to perform Heart-consuming moves against the enemy. Using Glyphs also gradually drains her Magic Points, though they begin regenerating quickly after a second or so, and this isn’t too big an issue. Shanoa occasionally levels up from experience obtained from defeating enemies, and there are special items throughout the game granting permanent increases to HP, MP, and Hearts. At any time, even in the middle of boss fights, the player can access the menus to use items if necessary. The game mechanics work well for the most part though Ecclesia is one of the harder games in the series, but bosses are beatable if players keep plenty of healing items. It can also be hard to get specific enemy drops necessary to complete quests from the hub town, but otherwise, the game mechanics help the third DS Castlevania more than hurt.

Rather than taking place in one giant castle like previous Metroidvanias (although there is one within the game), Ecclesia takes place around a hub town and several different fields and dungeons with the typical convenience of automaps. The player must rescue the town’s residents throughout the aforementioned fields and dungeons, and saving them all is in fact necessary to completing the game properly and getting the standard ending. They also offer sidequests that yield decent rewards, such as more powerful healing items unlocked in the main store. Although Ecclesia features save points, if the player is low on health and far from one, they can use a special Magical Ticket to zoom immediately back to town. In the end, the game interfaces well with the player.

As usual, the story is a low point as it was in previous Castlevania titles, although there is a decent twist partway through the game; the translation helps, although there are some occasional glaring errors.

Musically, however, Ecclesia definitely doesn’t disappoint, with a nice variety of tracks that fit the mood alongside some voice clips for characters, though it is odd, for instance, for one of the townsfolk to greet Shanoa “Yo!” since the game takes place in the nineteenth century.

The graphics are close to perfection aside from faceless character sprites, with nice environs and foes, and character designer Ayami Kojima returns for Ecclesia, her designs definitely standing out.

Finally, finishing the game takes a little under ten hours, although there are plenty of things to boost playing time such as a New Game+ and a mode where the player can play as one of the main villains.

All in all, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is a nice swan song for the Castlevania franchise on the Nintendo DS, what with its solid mechanics, excellent control, great aurals, and nice visuals, with not a whole lot of room for improvement aside from the story. The series would go in a different direction after Ecclesia with the Lords of Shadow subseries, leaving the fans of the Metroidvania/Castleroid line of titles wondering if the franchise would ever return to the acclaimed role-playing game formula.

The Good:
+Excellent gameplay and control.
+Great music and graphics.
+Plenty replay value.

The Bad:
-Bosses can be hard at times.
-Some noticeable localization errors.
-Plot could have been better.

The Bottom Line:
A great Castleroid/Metroidvania in spite of its difficulty.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: Less than 10 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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