Release Date: Fall 2008
I've loved Castlevania since the moment I took Simon Belmont on his awkwardly difficult adventure through the castle to punch Dracula in the face, and while not every title in the franchise has been good, the 2-D titles remain some of the best offerings on their respective systems. The announcement of a new Castlevania for the DS brought joy and happiness to my heart. While I was a bit disappointed with the last DS title, Portrait of Ruin, it was still a great game, albeit a tad repetitive, so I had high hopes that the new Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia wouldn't let me down. Based on the E3 demo, it has the potential to be one of the better Castlevania titles yet!
For the first time since the now non-canon Castlevania Legends, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia stars a female protagonist. Shanoa is a member of the Order of Ecclesia, a band of demon hunters who sprung up in the wake of the disappearance of the Belmont clan shortly after the events of Symphony of the Night. Shanoa has lost her memory due to the machinations of a mysterious individual named Albus, but she retains her supernatural power and is determined to use it to figure out why Albus stole her memories. We can assume that not everything in this Castlevania plot is what it seems, but the demo was fairly scarce on the plot details and featured a number of gameplay mechanics instead.
One big change from the earlier games is that Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia doesn't take place in one set location, but in a variety of areas scattered across the world. You can travel between these locations at will by going to a world map and selecting the area, although there were only two locations available in the demo. One was the Village, which served as Shanoa's home base and could be revisited at any time with the help of a Magic Ticket. While the demo didn't go into any detail, one of the options on Shanoa's menu screen was the Villager's option, which claimed to let you view any villagers residing in the town; it's fairly safe to assume that this seemingly normal little town will house some pretty substantial gameplay features in the final version.
The second area, the Monastery, was a lot closer to your usual Castlevania dungeon. The inside was populated by monsters ranging from the classic skeletons to some new nasties, like a flying phantom that would unleash a massive area-of-effect attack if you let it survive too long. Exploration hadn't change too much, and Shanoa controlled as smoothly and easily as previous Castlevania characters. There were a few new changes, but they were fairly small indeed. Armor and usable items were found in treasure chests scattered around the monastery instead of just lying on the ground.
The most noticeable thing about Order of Ecclesia is that the combat has undergone a big change. Shanoa doesn't have any weapons at all, but she absorbs magical glyphs into the tattoos on her body. These glyphs fuel her attacks, including regular melee weapons and ranged magical abilities. The first glyph you'll get in the game gives Shanoa a long thin sword, and you can equip the same weapon on both of her hands. This may sound just like getting and equipping weapons, but there are a few twists that make it significantly different. First off, even your regular swords now take mana to use. A single sword swipe takes a small amount of MP, but attacking repeatedly can use up most of your MP bar without trouble. Luckily, Shanoa's MP regenerates incredibly quickly, and if you don't attack for a few moments, you'll get all of your MP back right away. This may not sound like much of a limitation, but this is where the second new system comes into play: combos.
As I mentioned above, Shanoa can equip a weapon on each hand, and doing so allows her to combo the attacks together. In the demo, we were able to equip a sword glyph on each hand, which allowed us to chain together attacks in rapid succession. This is actually quite important, as Shanoa hits a bit softer than previous Castlevania protagonists. If you try to play her like Alucard or Soma, you'll do significantly less damage, but by attacking with your left and right swords, she becomes a human buzz saw.
In the demo, Shanoa's damage output is reliant on speed, not pure damage numbers, and since she can only perform combos while on the ground, it became important to find locations where you could stand and still hit flying enemies. However, it is possible for Shanoa to perform some powerful attacks, but they're far more limited than her regular glyphs. By holding up and pressing either attack button, Shanoa will perform a Glyph Fusion, which powers up the glyph and causes it to do a special attack in exchange for hearts. If you don't have enough hearts, then you can't perform the attack, so it's best to not use up these attacks on weak enemies.
Not all of Shanoa's glyphs are combat-based. The demo also gave us a travel glyph that could be bound to the R button; pressing it created a large circle around her, which drained a small amount of MP while in use. If we came across certain magnetic hooks while this circle was out, then Shanoa would instantly grapple them, and we could use them as slingshots to climb higher and higher into the castle. The boss battle in the demo takes full advantage of this mechanic. The giant rolling crab monster took up almost all of the small room, and you had to use the two slingshot hooks inside the room to hover over his attacks before dropping down to unleash the hurt. While it isn't entirely clear what other sort of R-button glyphs will be in the final version, it's fairly safe to assume that you'll have quite a variety awaiting you.
As usual, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is a pretty nice-looking title. Longtime Castlevania fans will be glad to hear that the demo uses only a minimum of reused sprites, and what I did see new was very well animated indeed. The backgrounds were lush and beautiful, and the new world map mechanic means we'll probably see a tiny bit more variety than we're used to — hopefully without Portrait of Ruin's reused backgrounds. Shanoa herself is particularly well animated and had a few nice touches, such as her animation changing depending on which hand she was using.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia looks great. It's more of the great same action-RPG gameplay that made the last titles so much fun, combined with a few new interesting ideas that would have a seriously difficult time being anything but incredibly fun. Barring some sort of massive lapse of judgment, Order of Ecclesia should be a fine addition to the Castlevania legacy when it hits stores later this year. Considering that the last titles were both a heck of a lot of fun, it's hard to picture Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia being anything else.
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