Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the third Castlevania installment on the Nintendo DS. This game follows the same gameplay style of 2D adventure platformers commonly known as metroidvania. This review assumes you either know about such games already or have at least seen previous reviews I’ve made in the series. Most of the main gameplay ideas are carried over here with abilities, exploration, relics and the like. The basic plot (which I will now butcher with terrible details of understanding) is that this group of people, the Order of Ecclesia, have been training two promising youths to be able to absorb these powerful magical symbols called glyphs. The idea is that one day soon Dracula will return, but the one with the power of the Dominus glyphs will be able to defeat him. During the training, you, Shanoa, are chosen to house Dominus. The other, Albus, leaves in a jealous rage and pursues the glyphs himself. So it’s up to you to track him down and find Dominus before he does so that you can defeat Dracula.
You’ll need to save villagers along the way that have been imprisoned by Albus in various locations in order to get leads on his whereabouts. These saved folks will show up in the main town on your map and offer you a number of optional sidequests to complete in your downtime. This is one of the differences. Similar to Portrait of Ruin, there are multiple different areas with their own maps rather than one huge map, although here you literally have an overworld map to pick where you would like to go. You unlock new areas by finding exits and defeating bosses within each area. The combat system is also quite interesting. All of your weapons, sub weapons, spells, and abilities are in the form of glyphs. You can get them from enemies, imprisoned villagers, special statues, and natural game progression points. You have a number you can pick from to equip to Y and X, which allows you to alternate attacks between two glyphs on the fly and fight faster than with just one. You can also equip certain other glyphs to R. Every use of a glyph consumes some mp, which will regenerate rapidly when not using any. By hitting up and attack you will activate a glyph union, which uses hearts. Depending on which glyphs you have equipped you can make all sorts of different types of attacks with said unions. You can level up like usual from defeating enemies, but there are attribute points this time around. Basically, every glyph has at least one attribute. It could be dark or fire or strike. It all depends on what the glyph is. By dealing the fatal blow with that glyph you will gain attribute points for that attribute. The more points you have in an attribute, the more damage glyphs of that attribute will deliver. So it’s another method of leveling and specialization beyond the standard levels.
Now this may be a bit of a spoiler, but you’ll probably want to know it. In order to get to the second half of the game, you’ll need to find and rescue all of the villagers BEFORE fighting Albus. Failure to do so will result in the bad ending. However, doing so will open up Dracula’s Castle. This level is the biggest map in the entire game. It is comprised of many areas and many new enemies to fight. If you find the secret exit, you can then access the two bonus areas. The Large Cavern is a test of your combat skills and endurance, putting you into a series of fights against some of the toughest enemies you’ll encounter. The Training Hall will test your platforming skills as you try to navigate trickily designed rooms of peril. The only reason I bring these up is because I think you should definitely experience these three areas to get the fullest experience of the game. Upon completing the game you will unlock hard mode, hard mode level 50 cap, hard mode level 1 cap, new game plus, boss rush mode, and Albus mode. This sounds like a nice place to start my praises.
I think the new game plus mode in this game is great because it allows you to continue not only with almost all of your items and glyphs, but it also allows you to carry over your experience and attribute points. So you can start the game over without losing all of your hard earned grinding and continue to grind your levels in a much less boring manner than in the usual endgame. I think it’s especially interesting because your attribute points probably won’t be maxed out for a long time, meaning multiple playthroughs can help you focus on other attributes and playstyles while also incentivizing the hard modes for the possibility of new rewards and challenges. I also like the way attribute points can constantly make you stronger even if you have your level maxed. It’s a way to make killing enemies feel even more rewarding than just working towards drops and levels. I liked the combat system in general as well. It was cool to switch between two different weapons and even be able to set up multiple different combinations of glyphs and equipment as presets to switch on the fly. I never took advantage of that… but it’s convenient nonetheless. The more involved nature of how all attacks consume mp and the fact that the lines between weapons, spells, summons, and sub weapons is blurred makes the combat system feel far more interesting than the other Castlevania games I’ve played. Plus, playing as a hot girl never hurts, right? I also think Albus mode is neat for a bit of a change of pace in replaying the game. I thought the Large Cavern and Training Hall bonus areas were pretty neat, and Dracula’s Castle was awesome.
The downsides start here, as these three areas comprising of some of the most interesting and fun content in the game shouldn’t be locked away from the player. I hate this tradition of hiding half of the game unless you meet some specific and unmentioned requirements. At least saving all of the villagers is rewarding and something you’ll most likely want to do on your own anyway, but it’s still annoying that you would be punished for not finding them all without proper understanding of what that would really accomplish. I also found that the difficulty spiked in a few places, most notably the end. This makes sense in the end, but I felt like I basically HAD to go grind to stand a chance at the challenges ahead. The Training Hall and Large Cavern were just far too perilous, requiring me to spend many hours grinding my level up. This was frustrating because I wanted to finish the sidequests at least before trying to go through everything again on new game plus to level up more, but I needed to go through those secret areas in order to finish the sidequests. There were also some sections earlier that were too tough for me and forced me to grind my level. This isn’t terrible, and I’m sure if I just got better at the game it wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but it made the pacing feel awful. I felt like a lot of things opened up to me at a time. I had fun finishing those things. And then I would hit a wall and have to grind slowly to overcome it. Also, unlocking the level 255 cap required you to beat the game on hard mode with the level 50 cap, which would mean you clearly don’t need that cap to beat the game anymore. Alternatively, you can connect it with Castlevania Judgement, I believe, on the Wii. A cheap sales tactic. Albus mode is neat, but it’s so barebones and limited that I can’t imagine anyone that was interested in the deep, complex nature of the main game would be very into playing as such a basic, set character.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia isn’t bad. It has lots of interesting spins on the conventions of the series and offers a deep, long experience. It’d be good for being the one game you play for a while. Fans of the series will probably feel pretty much at home here, but for me it was just too poorly paced. It dragged on in sections and previous titles in the series can scratch my itch far better than this. It’s worth experiencing, but it’s not one you’ll want to just jump into again right away. It’s probably worth the 20 bucks or less that you can find it for, so give it a try. Just understand that it might test your patience. But hey… you get to play as a hot girl!