4 out of 5. A more linear approach allows Order of Ecclesia to straddle the line between Igavania and its Classic-vania roots, making it a challenging swan-song for the DS Castlevania titles
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How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Order of Ecclesia is about 50% a game about traveling and chasing, therefore many locations you’ll visit aren’t “Metroidvania” at all. But there are still enough structures that fit the bill to count it in the genre, at least as a Medium Fit overall.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~10 hours
Review Info: This game was played on the Nintendo 3DS using an original North American Release DS Cartridge.

More Info

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Sub-genre: Igavania
Features: Map System, Leveling System, Equipment System, Multiple Difficulty modes, 2D Platformer, Melee Combat, Ranged Combat, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Environmental Storytelling, Narrative/Cutscenes Story Telling, Level-Based, Bonus Character Mode
Difficulty: Medium, High
Linearity/Openness: Linear Guided
Platforms: DS
Release Date: 2008/10/21
Available Languages: English, Japanese

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Buy Castlevania Order of Ecclesia if you like…

  • A more gothic, meloncholy Atmosphere
  • More emphasis on spellcasting over big weapons
  • New and interesting Lore for the Castlevania universe
  • Emotional Story Beats
  • Difficult bosses

▼ Review continues below ▼

I’ve heard a few accusations in the past that the Castlevania games were getting stale and needed a change up, which is something that sort of had me confused because Order of Ecclesia most certainly tried that on all fronts – without losing the Igavania identity that is. You don’t even play as anyone related to the Belmonts or Dracula in this game – just a woman who happens to have the ability to house magical glyphs. The adventure here is also much more linear, more focused on the challenge, hearkening back to the original Classic-vania games, and it ends up being a fantastic summation of the series as a whole – which is appropriate since it may just be the final Castlevania game where any of the original teams are involved.

The titular Order of Ecclesia is a group of researchers seeking to find ways to defend against Dracula without the help of the Belmont Bloodline. Their secret weapon lies in magical glyphs etched into the user’s body, allowing them to summon weapons, or fire, or lightning, or other useful energy forces directly into their hands. Shanoa is a hand-picked prodigy, the only person capable of housing the most powerful of all the glyphs – the power of Dominus – which is supposed to be the only power that can kill Dracula. Of course even stopping the resurrection of Dracula is no easy task, and your fellow order member Albus in an apparent fit of jealousy steals the Dominus glyphs and forces an injured and memory-lost Shanoa to chase him across the land to retrieve them. Of course being a Castlevania game post Symphony of the Night, not everything is as it seems, and what starts out as a typical Saturday Morning Cartoon plot takes some admittedly predictable twists and turns, but ultimately ends off with something actually pretty sweet and emotional.

Order of Ecclesia is really the first Castlevania game that let’s us see – for real – the world outside of Dracula’s Castle when it’s not just overrun by Skeletons and Bats. Castlevania has always brushed with having a deeper, more meaningful plot, especially with Alucard’s and Soma’s adventures, and once again with Order of Ecclesia its giant fingers scratch the surface of something grand; teasing a Castlevania epic that could have been. I’m not really saying that the plot is a major draw here for general audiences, but for Castlevania fans, I don’t think it should be missed.

One of the central focuses of Order of Ecclesia is a village that acts as sort of a hub when you’re not out in the world chasing down Albus. Each villager has a personality quirk to make them stand out – whether they be a sassy journalist, a weird eats-anything butcher, or a buxom gem-obsessed gypsy. I’ve seen this concept of saving villagers reused in some modern Metroidvania games, and I can’t emphasize how important it is to write these characters with these kinds of quirks – making NPCs like Order of Ecclesia is the right way to do it. Each townsperson has quests of varying degrees of quality that you can seek out and solve for them, and their reactions to your success are a major part of the reward. It helps to balance out some of the more boring tasks like “Go kill 10 Werewolves” – which frankly I’d recommend avoiding adding to your game at all, but if you’re going to have them a fun NPC banter most certainly helps to mask the grind. Finding each of these villagers is actually extremely important to the overarching story, even if the reason why is a little contrived. Unfortunately some of these villagers are stuck behind “How could I without a guide?” walls which diminishes their value somewhat, but it does add a rewarding exploration aspect to the otherwise linear first half of the game.

Since the plot is really about chasing down and catching Albus, most of the game you’ll be moving from location to location (via a map select screen) either meeting with Albus or finding clues on where to look for him next. Like with Portrait of Ruin, each “biome” is essentially visited twice along your way top the game’s finish, making some areas just a samey palette swap. There are some great areas, especially the last area where it’s the most important, but there are also a lot of places that just have you moving from right to left in a straight line, wading through armies of enemies. The weakness of the actual level design in some of these locations is compensated somewhat by one of the side effects of the linearity; Shanoa is likely going to be a specific level as you go through them unless you intentionally kick back and grind for a while.

Order of Ecclesia is easily the most challenging of the Igavania games because it regulates your power level so strictly. Fights therefore MUST go beyond stand-and-deliver my-level-is-bigger-than-yours-tactics that you might have used in the previous games. Thanks in part to some new dodge mechanics and the versatility of the glyph system, Bosses are also easily the best designed in the whole series – and I’m counting the Classic-vania games on that list as well. You still have a lot of choice in how you face your foes however, which can allow you to use strategy to mitigate the “git gud” factor from a dexterous skill standpoint, but again without intentionally going back and just slashing enemies for a while you’re likely not going to beat a specific power curve just from exploring around and playing the game.

While the Igavania games since the Gameboy Advance have relied on the “Up-B” special weapon control scheme, the Glyph system is something of a return to the “Weapon in each hand” system that Symphony of the Night used, except with more depth. Once again you have Hearts and a Mana Bar, except this time your Mana Bar is drained with every attack – it’s actually similar to souls-like games – while hearts are reserved for “Super” attacks that provide a burst of damage. The cool thing about the Glyph system is you can now spam whatever spells you want if you have them equipped. The mana bar acts as a universal cooldown timer with more powerful spells taking longer to recharge, balancing out your options. Equip two of the same glyph and you can fire them off more rapidly – at the cost of draining your cooldown faster.

Most of the time the choice of what glyphs you should use is based on enemy weaknesses, though occasionally there are some attack pattern strategies. The same is true with the heart-based attacks. For many bosses, just firing off your hearts until they’re gone to start off the battle with a shorter enemy health pool is a legitimate strategy – albeit an uninteresting one. However, those select few bosses that change up that status quo, making you regret blowing your resources early on, they make the entire system worth it. The most important bosses in the game do this, making Order of Ecclesia the king of Igavania combat at the point of its release.

In order to elevate a game from good to great, it doesn’t necessarily have to do everything right. In fact, it only needs to get one thing right. Order of Ecclesia certainly has its flaws; there’s some boring level design, some of the quests are tedious, and because of its more linear focus it lacks the same quality of exploration enjoyed in the previous titles. But where it doesn’t compete with its predecessors is in the quality of its combat, and perhaps by not trying to compete with Symphony of the Night in with its castle, Order of Ecclesia sets itself apart as the most relevant of the sequels for keeping things fresh. I still hesitate to elevate Order of Ecclesia to the absolute highest tier of gaming – I definitely think there are enough legitimate arguments for liking Portrait of Ruin or Dawn of Sorrow more. But at least for my opinion, it’s my favorite of the Nintendo DS trio.


Final Score

4/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 5

The pinnacle of the Igavania games in terms of combat - Offers the most challenging bosses and interesting scenarios

Platforming
– 3.5

While still not a huge focus for a Castlevania Game there are a few more tricky platforming areas than previous games, including an entire location dedicated to that

Exploration
– 3.5

As you progress through the game things get more open, but in the game's first 2/3rds there are a lot of straight shot hallways

Puzzle
– 2.5

Not a focus - no major puzzles that come to memory

Story
– 3.5

Seems very generic at first, but as usual the plot twists come, and this time end off with something actually pretty emotional

Graphics
– 5

The best looking of the DS games in so many ways - unless you just prefer the Anime aesthetic

Music
– 4

While there is still a good share of amazing tracks, a lot of tracks are mostly ambient or not particularly interesting

Replayability
– 3.5

Like the previous DS titles there are a lot of ways to customize your character


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