Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia review.

It’s kind of like your old dog: You love it, but don’t you wish it’d learn a new trick sometimes? If the answer is “No, I love seeing my dog do the same trick for several years”, then you’ll love this game.

A little over a decade ago, a man named Koji Igarashi saved a 10-year old platformer series which was becoming repetitive and falling behind its competition. That series was Castlevania, and the game that marked the huge turning point was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It was a complete overhaul of the series which had grown stale over time; yet, the new gameplay and aesthetics felt exactly like the old Castlevania. Now, eleven years later, Igarashi has produced several Castlevania games - most of them being 2D games in the same vein as Symphony of the Night. Not surprisingly, the game which started it all has been surpassed, and the series has still seen many innovations.

However, it’s now been eleven years since then, and the newest installment, Order of Ecclesia, gives me a strange feeling. Way back before SotN, Castlevania had fallen into some pretty severe repetition, and wasn’t giving its fans many new innovations to write home about. They were still fun, no doubt; but they were going nowhere after a while. I’m sure this is probably what was going through the minds of the brains behind SotN. Now, I wonder if the same thoughts are crossing their minds, because Order of Ecclesia reminds me of all the thoughts and feelings I just shared - a fun game, but an act that’s growing tired after all these years.

That’s not to say the game is bad, by any stretch - it’s hard to dislike a 2D Castlevania game, cos they’re so simple and addicting. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (as well as almost all of its predecessors for the last eleven years) plays like a 2D action platformer at its core. On top of that, you gain experience points to level up the character you use, much like any normal RPG. As your main character - a lady simply named Shanoa - you just trek through dungeons, fight bosses, and learn new abilities on your way to find Dracula and kill him, as you always do in the Castlevania games.

…Well, sort of. Order of Ecclesia’s story unfolds as Shanoa is sent out by an organization called Ecclesia to reclaim a stolen spell called ‘Dominus’ - the only thing which can stop Dracula from being reborn again. The story isn’t all that great, but the game never has any such delusions in the first place. It’s simply a means to creating a gothic 2D platforming with horrifying monsters.

Another point of aberration between Order of Ecclesia and its ilk is the game’s level (as in, the locations you go to, not RPG levels) system. Most of the games take place entirely in Dracula’s castle (or a likeness of Dracula’s castle, in one of the games). While Order of Ecclesia’s second half takes place there (Spoilers? Yes. Big surprise? No.), the first half has you going through different locations, like mountains, rivers, and other weird places to find demons.

Strangely enough, while this is technically a new thing, the levels that appear outside of Dracula’s castle look mostly like places from previous games, i.e places that you visited in Dracula’s castle at some point in the series. For the most part, it feels as if the gameplay idea of NOT being in Dracula’s castle the entire time was wasted due to that aspect. Nevermind that about 1/4 of the ‘outside’ dungeons are laid out in a straight line. How interesting!

The big innovations to gameplay are the Glyph system and the Combo system. The Glyph system is simple: Shanoa can equip three Glyphs - abilities that you get from monsters after defeating them. There are two slots for attack Glyphs, and a third slot for miscellaneous Glyphs, which allow you to raise parameters, summon/transform into monsters, and even supplementary abilities like walking through walls. Each of these take a certain amount of MP, but that’s pretty irrelevant, as your MP recharges absurdly fast. You have a separate type of MP called Hearts, however, which you use to perform special attacks with your equipped Glyphs. If you equip specific pairs of Glyphs together, you will get a Glyph Union - a highly damaging special attack.

The Combo system is even simpler: Your attack Glyphs are each assigned to different buttons, and you can quickly alternate attacks between the two. Big whoop. What keeps this from being completely broken is that your Glyphs take MP to use, preventing you from just spamming attacks at light speed for as long as you want.

“So, this sounds cool, actually. What’s the big problem?” Well, they aren’t big problems, actually. There’s two small things that grate on my nerves:

  1. In most 2D Castlevanias, you equip weapons to supplement your spells/Glyphs/Souls/whatever they’re called in that particular game. In Order of Ecclesia, though, your weapons ARE Glyphs. What effect does this technically have on the game? Not much. I’m sure no one else will be bothered by this, but it seems like this takes away from what could have been a lot more super-cool magic Glyphs. Instead, about 40% of your Glyphs are actually just weapons. As an added annoyance, the status effect ‘Curse’, which slowly drains your MP, renders you unable to attack as soon as your MP runs out, since even your physical attacks are magic! Curse was in other games, but this problem never existed before.

  2. The Glyph system is a less-developed ripoff of the ‘Soul’ system in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Again, this isn’t SUCH a huge deal - for one, you’re allowed to rip your own ideas off; and, it’s a damn good system. The problem is, this makes the game feel a lot more like a step backward. Aria of Sorrow originated the idea, and Dawn of Sorrow perfected it. Since then, new innovations have sprung up in the series that have yet to fulfill their full potential, so why go back to something that seriously could not get any better?

But, overall, these are trifling complaints. The game plays very well, and a lot of minor problems from older games have finally been fixed, so there is a certain degree of polish to the game in comparison to the other recent installments. The game is fairly challenging, has cool music and graphics, and it’s a lot of fun to go exploring all the various locations of the game.

Still, something about this game just keeps nagging at me. It feels like - besides the very minor polishes that most people probably won’t even notice - I’ve seen it all before. It’s one thing to revisit an old idea if you think you can do it better - Dawn of Sorrow proved this by taking the amazing system of Aria of Sorrow and realizing it to its fullest potential. This, however, feels like a step BACK from Dawn of Sorrow, or maybe even like a step back from Aria of Sorrow. Other than that, all the nice things I have to say about this game? You can say that for about 90-95% of all Castlevania games created since 1997.

All this adds up to one thought: What’s next for Castlevania? Probably nothing new - they’ll probably just keep going down this route, since it’s making money for them. However, I think the time is nigh for either a second drastic overhaul of the series, or a better realization of Castlevania in 3D. Honestly, I’ll take the latter, since they’ve already got the most important part - excellent core gameplay and controls - down pat. All they need to do now is make a game that doesn’t have such a horrid cast of characters, and maybe make the environments look a bit less repetitive - not because they need it, but because haters of the 3D Castlevania games won’t stop complaining about it. The irony is that the 2D Castlevania games not only have equally repetitive environments (similar-looking rooms, and some dungeons are merely pallete swaps!), they even go the extra mile and reuse the same ideas for dungeons from game to game(Yeah, I went there!).

Let’s see where Castlevania goes from here.

What I liked in OoE is how it felt closer to the pre-SOTN games of the series for a big part of the game, while still taking advantage of the better controls (and character advancement, of course):

The first (straight) levels were reminiscent of Super Castlevania and there was more emphasis on the battle with normal enemies. You had to swap glyphs to proceed, you could die if you didn’t pay attention and, compared to past Castlevanias, the enemies were aggressive, so you had to be on your toes. (The platforming elements were toned down though; no weird jumps for most of the game)

This more or less ends when you reach Castlevania (Drac’s castle), as you can go through the first two areas with Felix Arma (the cat transformation) and use Nitesco, almost uninterrupted, until the end. The only enemies that required thinking after that were in the hidden areas. However, I liked the curse condition, because it was the first time it affected me. I never cared for the curse when I could cleave through everything with the Sword of Funny Name. If you are forced to dance around while you wait to reclaim your attacks, you learn to give the ectoplasms and cursed divas their dues.

I much preferred Order to Portrait of Ruin (though the stylus-only Sisters mode in the latter was greatly executed and I’d like to see that road followed), but I agree that it was fairly linear (that would annoy me, were it not for its older-school style) and that they should explore new avenues. A new twist in the formula in 2D would be nice.

I thought Curse always left you completely unable to attack?

But I think I’m going to pass on this one after reading this.

No, Curse made it so you couldn’t cast magic, because it drained your MP. In this game, your ‘physical’ attacks take MP, so after a while, you just can’t attack until it wears off, or if you cure it - not worth it usually, because if you’re near an enemy that inflicts curse, chances are there’s a whole shitload of them and getting hit by them will be inevitable.

And don’t be fooled by the tone of the review - it’s a good game. It’s just like…I dunno, a new Mega Man X game. If you like Mega Man X, you’ll probably like the next one; it’s just nothing new. Sometimes, that’s okay, and sometimes it’s not.

I know in Circle of the Moon, Curse would make you unable to attack at all. Not sure about the other games, but in CotM, it’d screw you over much.

CotM wasn’t even made by the same dev team, so I’d believe that.

In any case, it DEFINITELY just drained magic in Aria and Dawn of Sorrow. For that reason, I’d have no problem believing that Potrait of Ruin worked this way, too.

Curse is such a pain in the ass. Aside from a boss fight in Mystery Manor, whose curse attack has like five seconds of telegraphing before it and is absorbable (sure it’s a word), it’s not even so much a danger as a sheer annoyance. Most rooms with cursing enemies are small enough that you can just run to an exit safely if afflicted. And it’s not a lot of fun to stand in a safe doorway for a long time and wait for it to run out because you already used up all your uncurse potions. One assumes.

Thanks, Sohee, I had forgotten you can get cursed too when hit by acerbatus. Being hit so rarely by it surely didn’t help.

I know Curse in SOTN rendered you unable to attack. But it wasn’t inflicted very often.

I’m in Drak’s castle now and I’m really annoyed at the lack of save points/teleportation. I can literally go through half an hour of very, VERY tough enemies and then die ignominiously.

I haven’t tried the cat transformation yet, though… is it really that good? I’m annoyed at having to keep swapping glyphs back and forth since every second enemy has different strengths and weaknesses.

As for the actual review, I’ve said this before: they can keep making exactly the same Castlevania game and I’ll keep buying it. I can’t get enough of this sort of gameplay. I love it.

Cat transformation makes you friendly to cat monsters, they no longer attack you AND attack enemies for you.

Win win.

As for swapping, well, I had an A setup of Holy, B setup of physical (usually blades or scythes) and C was my double-Acerbatus setup, didn’t have to shuffle too often, save for bosses sometimes.

Cid, play as a cat during Castle Entrance, Library and then double Nitesco (draw it from the Nova Skeletons and Forsaken Cloister) and Sapiens Fio (double jump and kick the Stone Rose in the room right after the boss is Oblivion Ridge to reach a high ledge to the right) can get you through the rest of the game, with the occasional switch to Strike + Lightning. A third setup with Vol Luminatio is sometimes handy for its autoaiming function.

Send me a PM or check out the wiki if you need anything, though I haven’t revised Drac’s castle (no separate section for forsaken cloister, I’ve turned 4 HP Max Ups to MP Max Ups and haven’t added some secret drops yet) and linking throughout the pages is still lacking, the walkthrough is pretty much done. I’ll probably revise the castle tomorrow.

You mean you can get up to those places without the equivalent of a bat or kick boots? O_o I thought I’d have to come back later…

What’s this Acerbatus thing? Don’t think I’ve come across it yet…

It’s just as I said, too. I just think it’s lame that they downgraded for this game. It was fun enough - like playing a new MMX game if you like MMX - but it was disappointing.

Acerbatus is a glyph absorbable from the boss of Mystery Manor. It’s the only place in the game to get it, so if you’ve passed it already (which you have, being in the castle), it’s lost forever.

Dangit. I saw a glyph there but it appeared so quickly I assumed I couldn’t grab it and didn’t even try.

[QUOTE=Cidolfas;619811]You mean you can get up to those places without the equivalent of a bat or kick boots? O_o I thought I’d have to come back later…/QUOTE]

Yep, and Sapiens Fio is certainly worth it.

It’s pretty much the second best glyph in the game, too. Nitesco is better for anything with more than about 200 hp, though. Nitesco + weapon makes a giant fuck off lightsaber that can be made to do upwards of 1500 damage to dracula at level 60. I literally stood in one spot spamming that and got the medal before he finished his first attack.

I’ve heard about these medals but have yet to encounter one. I’ve never been that good at Castlevania. 8p

I’m now nearing the end of the game and am getting my ass brutally kicked by regular monsters, particularly one room full of Cave Trolls, whom I hate. Also, those two new areas that got opened up via the secret exit in Dracula’s Castle? I get murdered by both of those. X-X I wouldn’t care if there’d be more save points or I had a crapload of cash to buy potions. Or maybe I just need to grind levels, though I’ve never needed to do that in a Castlevania and would be very disappointed if I had to do it here.

As for Nitesco, I have to say I find it incredibly hard to use. Maybe if I can stand in one place for more than a second it’d be awesome, but trying to use it whilst moving around or jumping invites very large pain. And the damage is severely curtailed if the enemy moves around (right now it’s doing about 40 HP damage per hit as opposed to 80-100 with the sword/mace glyphs).

I think I’m taking a break from the game now… too frustrating at this point.

Nitesco stays up while jumping or backdashing and utterly murders pretty much anything you can keep it on. It’s not 100% useful, but it’s still the best glyph in the game by miles, the only thing that even comes close being acerbatus. It’s used in one of the best grinding spots in the game, the room with 6 lizardman blades in misty forest road (2175 xp, 72 fire, 72 light per run with heirophant and master rings, can be done about 5 times a minute with nitesco+rapidus fio).

Cave Trolls are really nasty without acerbatus, as it does heaps of damage and curses them. If you have the bone spider summon you can poison them, and they take lots of damage from ignis if you spam the hell out of it.

Large Cavern is pretty much impossible without either flight or being level 70+ due to the crazy monsters there. Training Hall requires you to be very good/patient with platforming and generally a high level to survive errors.

I learned the hard way that there’s no invincibility after getting hit by fire traps in the Training Hall, and just got whacked back and forth between fire plumes till I died.