There is no shortage of evidence that Konami hates us. Not just a 'I wish to kill you and destroy anything you love' kind of hate either, but a much more sadistic rancor that permeates their very fiber of existence. Historically this evil has manifested itself in difficult titles like Gradius, Contra, and even Metal Gear, which are games that are known for their tough-as-nails core. However, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the latest demon-spawn to be offsprung(sic) from Konami and it ranks among one of the most challenging platformers I have had the privilege of playing.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia centers around the journey of gothic vixen Shanoa. As part of the Order of Ecclesia she has dedicated her life to preventing the return of Dracula. The game starts when Shanoa’s comrade, Albus, mysteriously steals powerful glyphs that were intended for Shanoa and razes a nearby town. Shanoa must stop Albus and find out why he has betrayed the Order all while overcoming her recent onset of amnesia. Quite honestly, I really wish that last part was a joke, but sadly it isn’t. This story really features a main character with amnesia. The story doesn't ever rise above this ham-handed start and never serves any real purpose but to add an impetus to continue playing and some mythology to the long-running series.
Other aspects of the presentation are handled much more competently than the story. The 2-D sprite animations are very fluid and stylistic. Konami also spent time detailing the backgrounds, foregrounds, and stage textures. Everything is perfectly “Castlevania” while not feeling used and stale at the same time. The same holds true for the music which is also very enjoyable. While this title sounds and looks nice, the most important feature is how the game plays.
First I would like to discuss the short list of negative gameplay traits this Castlevania possesses. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is a classic 2-D platformer and does nothing to change the formula the series is known for. There was no effort or thought extended in updating the platforming to current generation standards. In fact, a glyph is gained in this game that will completely make the platforming superfluous. In addition to the weak platforming, the series’ level design has been changed, resulting in a mixed bag. Ever since Symphony of the Night, Castlevania featured a very long and detailed Metroid-esque level design. This worked well with the style of game that the franchise embodies. With the latest release, the levels are divided into different areas that are represented on a world map with different icons. The variety of each area is staggering, and I don’t mean this in a good way. One area may be a great and deep level requiring hours of exploration while the next area may be nothing more than a straight line across two screens. It is truly confounding and disappointing.
The battle system however is a true joy to play. The battle system centers around different colored power items called glyphs. Each blue glyph imbues Shanoa with a weapon or elemental power, while red glyphs will give Shanoa statistical and physical changes. Shanoa can hold two blue glyphs and one red glyph at a time. With her glyph sleeve she can set-up 3 different configurations and switch trough them on a whim. This is where most of the game’s challenge comes in. There are literally hundreds of different glyphs and even more possible combinations. Each monster and boss encountered will have different weaknesses and it’s up to the player to set a decent trio of glyph sets that will make each area survivable. It is also nice to see that each class of weapons are vastly different than the others which breeds varied gameplay that has become rare in recent years.
Castelvania: Order of Ecclesia is renowned for its challenging nature. I can confirm right here that this game will, like a murderous Viking, kill your women, take your men, and rape your children; or something to that effect. When playing a platformer one would expect platforms and obstacles and deadly falls; not here, instead the creators have made levels with walls of monsters intent on destroying Shanoa. Most levels will feature at least one boss battle, each designed very well. Coupled with one of the most customizable battle systems available, this game will offer over 10 hours of hair pulling fun. The only existing downside is that power leveling yields far too much assistance. A couple of extra levels can make a difficult stage easy to pass. Despite that, the game always maintains a great pace.
When it comes to value, Konami executed one of the smartest strategies on the Nintendo DS. After beating the game once many options and new modes become available. Each option extends the game dramatically. Konami actually had the audacity to add a Hard Mode, yeah you read that right. In addition a “+” Mode is added which allows a second play through with all the collected glyphs and levels collected on the first play through. The “+” Mode becomes very helpful in completing the other value extender, collectables and side quests. This game has hundreds of collectables and side quests, my personal favorite being the collectible boss tokens which can only be obtained by beating a boss without getting hit once. For $29.99 Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the most complete package for a hardcore gamer on the DS.