REVIEW: Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
A Castlevania without the Belmonts nor the Morrises nor the famed Vampire Killer whip? What kind of Castlevania game is this? Actually, it’s arguably one of the best Castlevanias ever.
You play as Shanoa, a black magician of sorts (though the game never comes out and says it) that has been tasked by The Order of Ecclesia (one of many organization that have arisen in the absence of the Belmonts) to take down Dracula. Ecclesia has found a way to combat Dracula with a glyph (spell) called Dominus. Shanoa is the only one in the organization with the skill to wield it. However, Albus, Shanoa’s long-time acquaintance within Ecclesia, seems to have a bit of a jealousy fit and ends up interrupting a ritual to enable Shanoa to use Dominus and takes off with the glyph. Your ultimate task of taking down Dracula now routes through stopping Albus from doing whatever it is he intends on doing with Dominus.
From the start, you will find one key twist to this game is that all of Shanoa’s attacks are actually spells which take a toll on your MP. While you can burn through your MP rather easily, it also refills rather quickly if you simply stop using magic. (Think Sisters Mode from Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.) This aspect alone makes a huge shift in game play from previous Castlevanias. While running out of MP usually is a rare occurrence outside of boss battles, you will no longer be able to sit back and mercilessly wield a weapon in defense. You must focus more on timing, defense, and evasion. Another shift in strategy is that, since Shanoa can absorb glyphs, Shanoa can also steal an enemy’s magic spell while that enemy is casting. This is a welcome detour from the typical “whale on a magic caster for as long as possible while he’s casting” play of previous Castlevanias.
This Castlevania marks the first time in a long time that a Castlevania game largely takes place outside a castle. As evidenced by 2006’s Portrait of Ruin, the Symphony of the Night castle idea was running a bit stale and Konami was looking for a way to revitalize the game play a little bit. The biggest stage in this game is the Transylvania countryside, which you must progress through linearly to open new areas. Thankfully, you can warp to any endpoint of a particular area once cleared, saving a lot of back-tracking. You’ll also have access to Magical Tickets, which instantly warp you back to the village. While you’ll lose progress in clearing an area, at least you won’t lose a rare find or have to re-earn that level-up you just got.
Also new to this Castlevania is the addition of strike and slash attributes in addition to the typical fire, ice, lightning, light, dark, and curse attributes. This gives rise to the Glyph Sleeve, which allows you to store three configurations of glyphs. This gives a nice break from the standard equip-the-most-powerful-weapon routine that has been prevalent since Symphony of the Night.
(While some people think Shanoa’s weapon glyphs are either striking or slashing, I found that some weapons like the sickle seem to be a combination of both as it worked equally well on skeletons — which are weak to striking weapons — and Cave Trolls — which are weak against slashing weapons. Extrapolating that, it’s probably a safe bet to say that there are others that are a mix of both as well.)
All’s not perfect in Ecclesia, however. For the most part, despite the huge variety of spells at your disposal, you’ll mostly get by with a heavy-blow weapon and a slicing weapon. The times you will need a specific type of attack, however, becomes a drag when you have so many at your disposal. A couple of bosses push the envelope on the trope of having a move that requires you to have them off the screen lest your get hit. Another envelope is pushed on other bosses that have rather powerful attacks for your progress at the time. And the main problem with all Castlevanias since Symphony of the Night is that Dracula can easily be defeated if you’ve stock-piled enough potions to restore your HP and MP during battle.
All in all, Ecclesia is definitely worth the while.