Sunday, January 8, 2012

Castlevania - Order of Ecclesia

Is it worth it to hit Dracula in the head while healing life threatening injuries with haute cuisine that came out the ground? Find out in this review.

Ah, good old Castlevania. Jumpin’, eatin’ and whippin’ never gets old. And since Konami went with the amazing effort of doing absolutely nothing for the game’s 25th anniversary, I’m gonna go ahead and write a review of my personal favorite Castlevania title. 


A little history.

Castlevania is one of those gaming franchises that defined the NES library when the console gaming was taking its first steps. With its take on relentless, slow paced action platforming in an immersive monster movie setting, the game gained notoriety for being so different from other fast paced, easier platformers. Over the years, the franchise changed its basic formula when developer Koji Igarashi (Or IGA) joined the Castlevania development team and helped the making of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which core design was heavily based on the Metroid games. The game ended being so successful (Rightfully so) that it coined the term “Metroidvanias” which refers to 2D open world action adventure games. IGA eventually became the main figure of the franchise and worked on pretty much every other Castlevania game since. However, the franchise became more and more niche over time and doesn’t create nearly as much buzz as it did before but the franchise persisted and games kept coming. Order of Ecclesia is the last Metroidvania to come out at this point (I’m not really counting Harmony of Despair here since it’s a very different game at the end of the day) and the game is a culmination of IGA’s take on the problems and strengths of the Castlevania franchise and the whole genre as a whole. Let’s check it and see how it went, shall we?


Well, there’s not that much to tell really. Recent Castlevania games tend to somewhat drift away from the simple yet effective “Dracula and Belmont kill each other” and complicate the setting with Japanese priests sealing Dracula’s castle in the moon, random people being elected to become Dracula 2.0 and some other nonsensical shit. Order of Ecclesia doesn’t feature any Belmonts and goes about making a backstory for the new group but it still stays pretty simple. 

So the Belmonts are taking a vacation for whatever reason and now the average joe has to figure out a way to fight Dracula. The Order of Ecclesia was eventually founded out of this need. They devise something called “Glyphs” which compose the “essence” of any object or supernatural power meaning that they can implant whatever the hell they want into a person and make a super awesome Jack of All Trades badass.  In this case a Jill of All Trades. Shanoa, the main character, was the warrior chosen to use the most powerful Glyphs in existence in order to confront Dracula which doesn’t make Albus, another member of the order, very happy. He disrupts the Glyph ritual which ends up royally screwing Shanoa up to the point of making her lose her memories. Albus enters the Order’s shit list and Shanoa is ordered to hunt Albus down and figure out what scheme he’s cooking up. 

The most cheerful cast of characters you'll ever see in a video game.

There are some twists here and there but nothing that will make you gasp in awe. The story keeps itself simple and it works for the most part, there’s nothing storywise Order of Ecclesia does particularly bad or good. Still, by the end, you’ll probably feel for Shanoa since the story doesn’t do her any favors.  Simplicity aside, this game probably has the most bittersweet ending of the franchise.


Here’s where Ecclesia gets interesting. This time, you don’t actually carry and use items for offensive purposes. You use Glyphs, which act in different ways and manners, such as active Glyphs which come in weapon and spell form and passive Glyphs which can empower attributes/overall damage or summon monsters to help you in battle. The individual use of any active glyph (Or the activation of a passive one) spends energy meaning that you actually have a limit to the number of hits you can dish out in succession although it’s nothing too noticing since energy replenishment has increased quite a lot in order to compensate for this new mechanic. 

Starting from a certain point in the game, you can use 3 sets of Glyphs total, composed of two active and one passive glyph, enabling for a wide room of variety considering the huge number of Glyphs the game has, variety which is even more increased since you can actually combo your 2 active glyphs for a special attack. Depending on the active glyphs being used, you can get some flashy and explosive effects. It’s some pretty cool stuff.

In Japanese standards, this sword is actually medium sized.

The bosses are great. The absolute highlight of the game. They come in so many crazy shapes and forms that most of the time they manage to feel fresh and new even when they aren’t. There’s even one boss with a Contra vibe to it, in both size and gameplay perspective, it’s probably the biggest boss I’ve seen in a 2D Castlevania, even bigger than Legion. And I personally like how this time around Dracula seems much more reminiscent of how he was described in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he summons bats and wolves, goes up and personal, sucks your blood and doesn’t transform into a monster taken out of a Death Metal cover.            

Remember that shitty, generic anime artstyle the last games had in order to call for a wider audience? Well, kiss that crap goodbye and say hello to Masaki Hirooka, the new illustrator for the game. With a pseudo-realistic, stylistic and detailed artstyle, Masaki Hirooka outdid even Ayamo Kojima, mainly because his male characters actually look like men. And Shanoa, as the first female protagonist of any Castlevania game manages to look both attractive and imposing in her artwork as well as her detailed in-game sprite. 

The game still recycles a lot of models older games as usual, you still see that retarded skeleton moonwalking around throwing his own bones but there’s a lot of new additions in this game which are either taken from all kinds of mythologies or are just made up on the spot. My favorite is the “Bitterfly”, a weird grinning skull with butterfly wings. That said, the new monster models are very detailed for regular enemies which shows how much work they went into making the game pleasurable to the eyes but it also contrast the older, much simpler models which almost feel out of place at times.

Trust me. When you play the game, this image will make perfect sense.

And what I said earlier about the bosses being awesome? One of the main reasons is because of how monstrous and horrifying they look. Always thought the Man Eater was a simple looking regular monster? Well, he’s a boss this time around and he looks like a giant demon skull on acid that ate a bunch of other demon skulls, regurgitating giant laser shooting tentacles. It’s awesome.


Castlevania has become so niche recently that it doesn’t really gets much spotlight nowadays, especially if you count the fact that Konami wants to turn it into yet another generic DARK AND MATURE 3D action game and that’s really not fair. Whether it’s a classic Castlevania or a modern Metroidvania, you’re set up for a great game despite whatever flaws it may have. And Order of Ecclesia focuses on everything that’s good in a Metroidvania game and condenses it into a neat little package. It’s smaller than the average entry in the series sure, but it’s because it doesn’t relies on filler mechanics to extend play time. It’s the Castlevania with the biggest replay value of the franchise. It doesn’t matter if Konami doesn’t care about 2D Castlevania anymore, you should care. And you should get this game.

1 comment: