Reviewing a game like Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia feels pointless: if you’re a ravenous fan of Konami’s vampire-bashing franchise, you’ve probably already got your DS’ slot occupied with it. If you can’t get into Castlevania’s post-Symphony of the Night platform/RPG hybridization, then Order of Ecclesia won’t change your mind. So, for the sake of the argument, let’s play make-believe and act like you‘re someone who hasn’t made up their mind on this one (which is the gamer equivalent of a unicorn: you just don’t exist) and needs to know if it’s worth it.
Well, my fictitious friend, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (OoE for short) is the best Castlevania since Symphony of the Night, hands down. While the two previous entries on the DS were excellent, both Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin had one major flaw: tacked-on touch screen controls. Castlevania’s legendary difficulty is only compounded when you have to pull the stylus out at a moment’s notice to finish off an already punishing boss battle. It’s compounded even further when failing to draw the correct picture results in the near-death boss springing back from the grave to pummel you all over again. OoE mercifully bucks that obnoxious trend, using only the DS’ buttons for the action.
In addition to the “new” simplified controls, OoE’s new weapon system makes even the rusty old Castlevania formula feel fresh again. Your character, Shanoa, absorbs enemies’ weapons (called glyphs) into the tattoo on her back, which you then assign to your left and right hands. What this allows for is a lightning fast combo system, which makes the combat feel dramatically faster than games prior. Gone also is the sprawling single-level castle of the past, replaced with smaller, more manageable levels that you traverse between using an overworld map. Hardcore fans will be delighted to know that in spite of this new, simplified feel, the game still has its pedigree of vicious difficulty. Bosses in particular, always Castlevania’s strong suit, are positively terrifying this time around, taking up at least half the screen and consistently handing you your shapely ass until you finally figure out their weaknesses.
To top it all off, OoE is easily the best-looking Castlevania yet. It may be “only” 2D, but with silky-smooth sprite animation and some sparing but attractive 3D effects to add depth where it counts, like rolling waves and mangled ships. It plays the DS’ limited hardware on its strengths. Series composer Michiru Yamane also once again contributes her rock-infused scores and as usual, they’re fantastic.
So I say again, make-believe reader, OoE is as good as it gets. Its surgically precise controls, great graphics, and awesome soundtrack make it a must-buy for Castlevania fans…but you knew that already, didn’t you?