T (Teen)Release Date:
October 21, 2008 Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
Christian H.May 5, 2009
- At some point in the Castlevania mythos, the Belmont clan—the family famous for defeating Dracula time and again, generation after generation—faded into obscurity. In its place arose various organizations dedicated to carrying on their work. Ecclesia is one of those organizations. In its efforts to defeat Dracula, Ecclesia created a spell called Dominus, which can only be wielded by the game's protagonist, Shanoa. Shanoa's fellow monster hunter, Albus, steals Dominus in a fit enraged jealousy, disrupting the ceremony to attach it to her and leaving her without memories or emotions as a result. The now amnesiac Shanoa is re-recruited to hunt Albus, retrieve Dominus, and defeat Dracula.
Plot has never been a significant drawing point for the Castlevania franchise. Across the series, it's very simple: Dracula returns, someone has to fight him off again. Likewise, Ecclesia itself won't be winning any awards for story. It falls on the convenient plot device of robbing its main character of her memory but takes this a step further by also robbing her of all emotion. Shanoa never has to serve as much more than a narrator as she is incapable of developing as a character; she literally has no personality.
Ecclesia does something interesting in how it bridges the gap between the “classic” Castlevania and the post-Symphony of the Night “Metroidvania” games. Ecclesia starts of fairly linearly, sending players from one location to the next with the use of a world map. These locations range from the extremely linear to the more labyrinthine, progressively becoming more and more complex, until concluding with the final, massive dungeon: the titular Castlevania itself. Explorers can still be satisfied in those early levels by finding buried treasure and hidden areas but some early levels that literally involve running from left to right feel like filler.
One major component of Order of Ecclesia is Wygol Village. The village serves as a home base for Shanoa, as players can use it to replenish health and hearts, save, and purchase items and equipment. To do most of this, however, players must first rescue the 12 villagers who are scattered across other levels in the world. These villagers will also send Shanoa on various quests, which reward the player with money and open up new items for purchase. Most of these quests are simple fetch quests, ranging from finding X number of a certain item or killing X number of a certain enemy, to slightly more interesting ones such as photographing a rare monster or making a sketch of a specific area of a level. Even the more interesting ones, however, basically just boil down to pressing a button and it doesn't take long for the villagers' many requests to feel just like what they are: chores.
The basic “Metroidvania” gameplay remains intact. Ecclesia is a 2D action platformer with heavy RPG elements. Players will navigate Shanoa through the game's various environments, killing things, exploring, and collecting items, stat-boosting armor and accessories, weapons, spells and experience points.
Ecclesia introduces a new “glyph” system in place of typical weapons. In practice, this doesn't differ much from the usual routine of finding and equipping better weapons, but it does feature some key differences that make it unique. Glyphs are rarely straightforward upgrades of each other. Therefore, weapons rarely feel obsolete. A more powerful glyph will feature different properties and combat becomes more about exploiting your enemies weaknesses to different elements or finding the best weapon to counter their attack pattern, than simply attacking them with the weapon with the highest attack stat. Glyphs can also be stolen from enemies and leveled up as you absorb more of the same type, though such grinding is never a necessity. Don't worry though, the hardcore can still be tempted by super rare glyphs and items and grinding those glyphs to their maximum potential.
Ecclesia never skimps on action. Glyphs can be assigned to the X, Y and R buttons. X and Y represent Shanoa's left and right arms and R represents the glyph on her back. Glyphs are used as weapons, attack spells, support spells, summoning monsters to aid Shanoa in combat, transformations that grant completely new attacks, and special glyph union super-moves. Combined with jumping, dashing and dodging, action in Ecclesia can become quite hectic, utilizing intricate combos and maneuvers that are oh-so-satisfying when they pay off.
You'll need to learn the ins and outs of that combat system, too, because this game is tough. I don't shy away from saying that Order of Ecclesia is old-school Castlevania hard. Bosses can be absolutely punishing, many “regular” enemies pose a very real threat, and save points and warp points are few and far between. However, this difficulty manages to be achieved without resorting to typical cheapness. Ecclesia is hard but if feels justified. Like any good old-school action game, if you can learn your enemy's weaknesses and patterns, and respond accordingly, you'll come out on top. Dying and having to replay a fight never felt artificial; this isn't a ploy to make the game feel longer but is instead genuine challenge. When you can't beat that boss, it's often because of something you aren't seeing, and the sense of satisfaction for making it past that one part that keeps getting you is very satisfying.
Oder of Ecclesia's presentation is also a welcome return to form. Gone is the wide-eyed anime-inspired aesthetic that the DS entries have become known for. Triumphantly returning is the more detailed, classical/gothic look that became a trademark of the series so long ago. The game's varied environments are rich and detailed, though there are a few cases of cut-and-paste palette swaps. The soundtrack also stands out with it's fast paced, gothic-inspired melodies. It's nice to see some importance placed on music in an action/platformer outside of the indie game development scene.
Ecclesia is simultaneously a departure from past installments and a return to form. By bridging the gap between the classic, linear, action-heavy Castlevania games and the new school of RPG-influenced, exploration heavy entries, Order of Ecclesia stands as a prototype for a whole new approach to the series.9/
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