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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS)

Adding another chapter to the long-running gothic platforming franchise, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is another solidly entertaining installment on the DS. It's deep, balanced gameplay should satisfy gamers with its mix of classic action and role-playing elements. Ecclesia's big change this time around is the addition of a glyph system. This allows for magic spells, special attacks and other enhancements when combined. Additionally, this installment adds multiplayer, wi-fi modes that allow players to compete head-to-head. It's classic form mixed with innovative aspects makes this an interesting title and one fans of the series will probably love.

Taking a bit of a breather from the long-running saga of the Belmont family, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia offers some noticeable changes from the last two DS installments. Unlike Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, which had some cool ideas, this is a much more traditional installment in the Castlevania saga in many important aspects. It follows the adventures of a mysterious woman named Shanoa who is a member of a mysterious organization named the Order of Ecclesia. She has been granted magic powers and that she can use to destroy Dracula. The most important of these is a special glyph system that she can use to enhance her powers. Instead of merely collecting power-ups, these magical spells can be collected throughout the game to induce special powers. This allows her to perform a special attack or move by using hearts. There are many types of glyphs in the game, each one gives the player a specific ability, such as throwing knives, jumping higher or other attacks. Performing these moves requires the player to pause and create a force field around Shanoa, which she can then use the moves. You can set the glyph moves on a secondary menu where you can choose which ones to use and create different combinations of glyphs, or combinations to make for even more powerful moves. This system can give you plenty of advantages, especially in the boss battles where your survival usually depends on which glypth you've equipped. There are several types of these and each one has a unique effect on the main character. As usual, the long dungeons offer plenty of room to explore and navigate, and the onscreen map located on the upper gameplay screen helps you to chart your progress and see where you're headed. Just as in previous games, numerous save rooms are scattered throughout each level, where you can not only keep your progress but gain an instant health boost.

Each level is structured so that you can progress quickly through each room, though you will probably find yourself backtracking from time to time when you earn items, which allow you to pass through areas you previously couldn't access. Ecclesia's gameplay is fairly standard for Castlevania games, and most players will have little trouble with the basic controls. You'll face off against many foes including familiar enemies like the skeletons, banshees, zombies and axe wielding monsters to name a few. Much of the game is spent in these dungeons, killing foes while looking to find items and powers throughout. One interesting technique is to use Shanoa's force field to propel you upwards through the levels, letting you dash quickly to areas that can't be reached by her regular jumps. In addition to these styles of play, you can also call on a number of creatures to aid you and fight at your side when you've earned the right glyphs and special powers. Your character's abilities can be upgraded quickly and easily using the menus to navigate and equip various items in your inventory, which makes the game much easier. While this sounds fairly typical for the series, one interesting aspect is the level menu which allows you to jump to a specific area in the game. You can also earn special tickets which allow you to warp immediately back to the safety of your village, which can come in quite handy. The single player game is fairly solid and well done, but Konami has added a few multiplayer options in this installment as well, which helps to add to its overall sense of quality and depth. Using the Nintendo DS' wireless connection, you can challenge other players to compete against you in Race mode, where the player who completes the level fastest wins the game. This is a good idea that's been successfully implemented because it fits in nicely with the style of play Castlevania has become famous for without adding unnecessary gimmicks that detract from the overall experience.

From a visual standpoint, Ecclesia does a fairly decent job with decent backgrounds, good character animations and the usual gothic soundtrack. It doesn't break much new ground, but the familiar look and feel is appealing and stays true to Castlevania's heritage. While there are many areas where the game breaks some new ground, the thing most players will probably notice is how traditional it is. You don't even have to draw symbols on the screen. This streamlined isn't a bad thing however. Despite the fact that its basic gameplay mechanics don't diverge greatly from the previous Castlevania titles, Order of Ecclesia is a solidly entertaining title. In many respects, it's blend of the familiar with new elements makes for a natural evolution for the series. The role-playing elements first introduced in Symphony of the Night are evident in the glyph system which adds magic and spells to the mix. It's slightly less linear than previous games thanks to its world map menu, though the adventure still must be completed in order to progress. Order of Ecclesia's wi-fi modes are fun and entertaining, working well to create a multiplayer experience with credibility. Previous DS installments featured drawing and other gimmicks, but this one feels more straightforward with very few frills - the surprising thing is that Ecclesia proves they weren't needed in the first place. Konami has been surprisingly consistent with the Castlevania series over the years in Order of Ecclesia is another solid installment in the series that delivers the classic gameplay, music and depth that players have come to expect from Konami.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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