|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Konami||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
It's easy to pinpoint the rift in symmetry when it comes to the design blueprint for the Castlevania series; it's Symphony of the Night. Before that title, there was a straightforward, 2D expectation of Castlevania titles - they were supposed to be about side-scrolling action, punctuated by merciless difficulty. With Symphony of the Night, the Metroidvania genre was born. No longer was it just about action - exploration and RPG-like character progression became the norm for the series; the new surpassed the old, setting up its own dogma.
The never-look-back attitude of design has stuck for good reason: why side-scroll through a series of screens when you could explore an entire castle? Yet that freedom came at a price, in the form of level grinding and backtracking. This is why Castle: Order of Ecclesia (the third DS title) feels so fresh - by adopting a Metroidvania-light approach, it combines the best qualities of old Castlevania titles with those of the Symphony of the Night variety, resulting in a formula that isn't watered down, but rather a cultivation of series producer Koji Igarashi's past work.
In a mark of out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new, Order of Ecclesia doesn't star a cast made up primarily of the Belmont Clan. Instead, you play as Shanoa, a member of the Order of Ecclesia, a group dedicated to Dracula's destruction. Sure, the plot still pivots around Dracula - just like past games - but having a different focal point in the story provides a much needed injection of variety and actually encourages you to pay attention to conversations between Shanoa and the other characters.
Persona swapping isn't the only major change in Order of Ecclesia. Past games centered around Dracula's castle, but Order of Ecclesia hops the estate fence and allows you to travel around Transylvania using an over world map. This is much appreciated because, while the castle afforded depth, it sacrificed breadth in the process. Variety is no problem this time around. You'll visit prison islands, travel through woods, and venture across mountains. Yet, during this lengthy journey, rarely is there the specter of getting lost or not knowing what to do. Many areas are simple scrolls from the left-to-right (or vice versa) and you don't have to worry about finding that one secret switch or destroying a decrepit wall to move on. Secrets are still there (such as rooms with bonus treasure chests), but they're just that, "secrets"; not obstacles to progress.
In a nod to Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Order of Ecclesia features a village that functions as a central hub. When you first enter the village, you'll find it desolate - a sign of Dracula's handiwork. As you progress through the game's areas, you'll come across trapped villagers. Each one you release returns to town and re-assumes their dedicated role. For example, when you rescue the shopkeeper, he reopens the town store, allowing you to stock up on items. Later, you'll run into people from all trades; from an herbalist to a seamstress, as well as a blacksmith. Each one provides you with unique items, provided you complete their individual quests (which usually require tracking down ingredients for them to assemble into a product). This may have the air of a giant fetch quest, but most of the time you run across the items they've requested while playing through the game - you do have to make the occasional backtrack to find rare items, but you're rewarded with a special product in return, so the reward outweighs the frustration.
Since Shanoa isn't a Belmont, it means whips are out this time around. What's in its place? The Glyph system. Dead enemies leave clouds of their weaponry that Shanoa absorbs. Once absorbed, she can wield two attack Glyphs and one specialty Glyph. You can go for variety - for example, using a rapier Glyph and a bow Glyph - or head in the direction of weapon redundancy, equipping two rapiers. There's a trade off at play. Variety in Glyphs allows you do more interesting attack combos, but if you have two of the same kind of Glyph, then you can do a powered-up attack. For example, equipping two hammers allows you to unleash a giant hammer attack that does four times the damage of a regular attack. Specialty Glyphs - like Magnes - make for some interesting platform options. Using Magnes, attach to a hanging wall mount, pull back on the D-pad, and then slingshot Shanoa across the map - useful for climbing great heights or safely sailing over a bed of spikes.