Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Jan 22nd 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under konami, nintendo ds, castlevania, handheld, action, platform, rpg

In 2008, Konami released the newest game in their long running Castlevania franchise, Order of Ecclesia, for the Nintendo DS. This series is one of the last remaining relics of the 8-bit era that is still receiving new entries in a similar style to its original games. Castlevania started as a 2D side scrolling action platformer, and with Order or Ecclesia that same bedrock foundation is still present.

Since the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997, the series has been adding elements borrowed from role playing games, such as experience, levels, equipment, enemy drops, and some form of a secondary progression system. This formula was wildly successful early on. After the release of Symphony of the Night, similar games would primarily release on Nintendo's handheld consoles, with three Castlevania games each releasing for the Game Boy Advance and DS. A couple of 3D experiments with the formula were tried on the Playstation 2, but these did not have the same level of polish or fun factor the handheld games had. Order of Ecclesia would be the penultimate game in this style from Konami, and the last of its fully single player games in this 2D style. All of this ends up making Order of Ecclesia the swan song for one of Castlevania's two major eras.

The Order of Ecclesia is a research group founded to find a way to prevent Dracula's resurrection, or defeat him should he be resurrected. At this point in the Castlevania timeline, the Belmont clan that has produced most of the series' heroes has seemingly vanished. The void in the world and this lost knowledge is trying to be replaced by a new group that can figure out Dracula's secrets on their own.

In Order of Ecclesia, players take the role of one of Castlevania's few heroines, a young woman named Shanoa, after a splinter in the group fractures the small order apart. One of Shanoa's colleagues named Albus takes control of the Order's secret glyphs that are built upon the foundation of Dracula's power, Dominus. Albus takes Dominus during a ritual that would place the glyphs into Shanoa, but she soon loses her memories and emotions from this action. The head of the order, Barlowe, tasks Shanoa with catching Albus and retrieving Dominus. Albus escapes into the night with Shanoa in pursuit.

If the player has experienced Symphony of the Night or any of the handheld titles that came after it, then there are plenty of familiar mechanics and design decisions cooked deeply into Order of Ecclesia. Shanoa explores a 2D map where she fights enemies, who may drop weapon glyphs that can be equipped by her. One glyph can be placed in each of Shanoa's hands to allow for combination attacks. Unlike the games since Symphony of the Night, Order of Ecclesia features smaller areas placed on a world map to explore, that eventually lead to Dracula's giant, ominous castle. Shanoa soon stumbles across Wygol Village, and sets it up to serve as a sort of home base. She quickly learns that Albus has kidnapped the local residents and imprisoned them in different locations around the map. These residents have quests for Shanoa to complete before they get their full set of features. Animals can also be found and rescued, who will end up in the village as pets to the residents.

Order of Ecclesia is also one of the more difficult Castlevania games of its era, levels are harder to grind, bosses can shred you, and item drops are harder to farm. It's a great game for a player looking for some challenge.

Order of Ecclesia features some of the best 2D spritework in the Castlevania series, no small feat given the seemingly constant stream of near classics that came out in the series between 1997 and 2008. Shanoa's sprite is well detailed and finely animated, and enemies have a similar level of detail. Bosses are incredible to view; they take up most of the screen and are exquisite in their details. The backgrounds are also stunning, and really help to show off the much more varied locations in the game compared to previous entries. As usual, the music is outstanding, being composed by series veteran composer Michiru Yamane and series newcomer Yasuhiro Ichihashi.

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the exact type of game any series would desire to have as a swan song. It was not the final Castlevania game released, as two games in the Lords of Shadow subseries would release for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The 2D style would have one last gasp with the co-op title, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. But, Ecclesia would be the final single player game of its style to carry the Castlevania name. At the time of its release, this future was not yet determined. It looked like Order of Ecclesia had enough new ideas in the game to see the heavily Symphony of the Night inspired games live almost in perpetuity.

The last two DS games, Order of Ecclesia and the earlier Portrait of Ruin, both had some new and interesting ideas for world development. With Portrait having its cursed paintings that served as exploration zones and Order having a traditional world map with various locations. With its world map system, Order of Ecclesia actually feels more like a classic Castlevania than any of the other Symphony inspired games in the series; it really feels like Shanoa must go on a journey to get to Dracula's castle, not just start the game being dropped off right inside the gates.
Thankfully, even though this is the last of the single player 2D Castlevania games, series producer Koji Igarashi would leave Konami in 2014. He would go on to help found ArtPlay and continue developing this style of game under its own name, Bloodstained. So far, Bloodstained already has two games in its series, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, and Ritual of the Night.

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I first played this last summer and really enjoyed it. I gotta agree about the difficulty, as this is the toughest of the bunch that I've played so far. The glyph system was really cool to play around with, although I do prefer using traditional equipment like in SOTN. Good writeup and reminder that I need to get back to and finish playing through these games.

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