Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia ReviewJoe Shaffer
All eras must come to an end, even in gaming. Canons eventually become played out, concepts overstay their welcome, companies lose their edge, and franchises dry up. When eras fizzle out, the best we can hope for is a proper sendoff and not a rushed, forgettable product as a means to say goodbye.
...which brings me to the "Metroidvania" era.
The concept had run its course sometime last decade. I knew it was bound to happen, and I accepted it. I only hoped that Konami wouldn't muck up the concept's swan song and provide me with another reason to doubt their credibility. Thankfully in terms of fond farewell games, Konami delivered. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is a fitting conclusion to the Castlevania franchise's Metroid-like structure.
Unfortunately, it didn't seem like a fair sendoff at first, as I found plenty to bellyache about as I began the adventure. For instance, I didn't like that conventional weaponry and spells had vanished in this installment. Instead, Order of Ecclesia introduced a new system involving glyphs. By absorbing these glyphs I gained access to a plethora of phantasmal weapons and magical abilities, and even special combinations of weaponry and magic that lead to devastating attacks. Although this sounded neat, I wasn't very receptive towards it. I am unfortunately prone to slip into codger mode sometimes and resist change in my favorite brands. I decided early on to dislike the glyph system because it was new, and my illogical attitude prevented me from truly enjoying this game.
My complaints didn't cease with the glyph system, either. I bemoaned the game's lack of complex structure, its usage of multiple stages rather than a complete world, and the fact that I didn't start in Dracula's castle. I didn't particularly dig the prospect of exploring various external environs or real estate that didn't have Dracula's name on it. I grimaced at the notion of visiting a town, hearkening back to Simon's Quest--a game I'd come to dislike over the years. Most of all, though, I whined that the game wasn't "Castlevania enough." Deep down, though, I knew that Order of Ecclesia was quality material, yet I maintained the erroneous belief that the game's biggest flaw was that it had Castlevania in the title.
It took a second playthrough and a slight attitude adjustment to realize what I had been missing in Order of Ecclesia. Determined to give a more accurate critique of the title, I decided to shed the "if it ain't broke..." mentality and stop focusing overmuch on the game's brand. After achieving that, my enjoyment of Order of Ecclesia increased tremendously.
I grew to appreciate the glyph system and the awesome attacks that came with it. I loved hacking away at anthropomorphic spiders with a giant scythe or bludgeoning cave trolls with a ghostly hammer. Most of all, I dug how the game excised all of the unimportant weapons showcased in previous "Metroidvania" titles. I mean, really, why hide an inferior blade or an obsolete set of armor in a late-game room? In Order, you only find one short sword, and that's the short sword glyph. You don't wind up amassing a heap of useless cutlery, which makes the discovery of a new weapon glyph all the more meaningful.
When I'm wasn't ascending treacherous mountain paths or diving into predator-infested waters, I was rescuing imprisoned villagers. With each villager saved, I gained access to helpful side quests that begot excellent goodies, including powerful armor and accessories. True, the quests were of the 'fetch' variety, and that led to painful sessions of item farming, but the rewards were well worth the tedium.
Most of all, though, Order of Ecclesia was home to a slew of fantastic boss battles. Although I was a disappointed to see few classic bosses reappear in Order, the game's new lineup of rogues more than makes up for the absence of nostalgic villains. Gone was the giant bat of yore, replaced by Arthroverta: a tremendous demonic isopod with a humanoid face jutting from its carapace. Fighting this sucker was tricky, even for a first boss. The room it inhabited was dreadfully tiny, which made the creature's roll attack difficult to avoid. Later on, I entered a cave filled with loose sand. Dwelling beneath the grainy surface was a vicious sand fish called Gravedorcus. Not only did this brute pack a painful bite, but it also exuded a horrible toxin that weakened my character.
My favorite battle, though was against a titanic centaur called Eligor. Yep, you read that correctly. Though Order of Ecclesia showcases a challenging scuffle against Death, it pales in comparison to running along the armored back of Eligor, experimenting with the creature's frame in an effort to find a chink in his mail. Frequently did I feel the pierce of its bladed tail, the crush of its immense sword, and the killing crack of its mighty hooves as it bucked me. After a drawn out fight that involved destroying crystals all over its body, though, the beast succumbed to its wounds. Of course, not before reducing my HP to nearly nothing and taxing my healing item supply...
Now I'm not saying that Order of Ecclesia is a perfect Castlevania title. My biggest complaint with the game is the lack of exploration. Yes, the levels are fairly complex. Yes, there are a few regions that branch off and keep the game from feeling totally linear. Still, the stages are nowhere near as convoluted as they were before, and the exploration value is below that of Order's predecessors. Heck, you don't even arrive at Dracula's castle until the game's climax, and even then it's structurally less impressive than most of its earlier iterations.
It's kind of a shame that the era had to end with Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, because we'll probably never have another title like it. The game reinvented the franchise's systems and created a satisfying arrangement of ideas that I'm sure Konami will never revisit. I really would love to see another Order, especially if the game featured more fleshed out stages and a firmer emphasis on exploration. Perhaps one day the planets will align and someone at Konami will dream the notion up, and revive "Metroidvania" like a phoenix.
...and perhaps one day I'll ride a manticore to work and inherit a private island.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.