In the last year, its fair to say that Konami has lavished plenty of attention on Castlevania, one of its most famous franchises, attempting to take it in new directions, including the leap into 3D. The results of its endeavours have been mixed, consisting of two ambitious but flawed Nintendo 64 games, an aborted Dreamcast title, and a couple of PlayStation 2 entries that were just a tad monotonous despite their intriguing plots. The gaming giant even found time to go back into the series’ past for a couple of remakes.
Soaring high above all of them is the delectable Symphony Of The Night, which left the strongest imprint on the series by adding RPG elements, a vast castle to explore, and utterly beautiful visuals and audio. This is the third DS outing and the sixth on a portable Nintendo console to draw influence from the highly praised classic, retaining the light RPG elements that require you to trade items found on your quest for better weapons, armour and other supplies that will aid your progress.
You take the role of Shanoa, a young woman in the Order who is being moulded into a fighting machine to take on the dark prince. Add to this a tale of jealousy and betrayal from a comrade out to scupper the plan, and the scene is set for an interesting journey towards fulfilling the heroine’s destiny, crossing paths with your traitorous friend along the way.
A map screen forms the hub of the game, allowing you to revisit areas and reach previously unattainable items as Shanoa’s skills develop. Rather than being a dab hand with a gun, her speciality lies in magical glyphs that appear throughout the game. Kill enemies and they’ll occasionally leave behind glyphs for you to absorb and acquire new weapons such as swords and, more exciting, spells that cast lightning, balls of luminous light and all manner of other magical effects.
On your travels you’ll also encounter inhabitants of the local village who have been trapped by glyphs. Absorb them and they’ll briefly pause to thank you, then flee back to the village, where you can visit them and take on small quests in exchange for the reward of new items.
Aside from the map screen, the basic structure of the game has changed very little. As you’d expect from the series, many of the same adversaries reappear – including the highly annoying mermen – and they respawn when you re-enter a room, which allows you to slay them all once more and build your stats in order to level up.
The more notable enemies are the game’s bosses, which are interesting right from the start of the game. Some can be downright frustrating, however, especially the crustacean that appears early on in the game. It took me several days to beat it, not because it’s attack pattern was difficult to deduce, but more because the battle is drawn out to such a length that I got too impatient and made stupid mistakes. Castlevania requires as much patience and perseverance as ever if you’re going to reach the end.
Patience is also required when dealing with level design, which is woefully unimaginative at times, especially in the early levels where you’ll encounter rectangular rooms with a top and bottom route, each lined with similar enemies. It seems that the shift in style introduced in Symphony Of The Night left behind the more intricate designs found in Super Castlevania IV and Dracula X, which was bearable in the first few games to follow the template. In 2009, it’s looking terribly tired and it’s as though Konami is resting on its laurels, failing to impress with tricky jumps and stunts and wonderful background scenery. Order Of Ecclesia has its moments, but they’re few and far between. I can’t say the musical score is particularly memorable, either.
So here we are, more than a decade after the series hit its peak, and it seems that Konami has settled on a tried and tested formula. I doubt that Castlevania can survive another iteration with only minimal changes grafted onto its skin, which is looking as pallid as Dracula himself. Order Of Ecclesia is a decent enough game, but it’s not an exciting addition to the series. Perhaps it’s time to lay it to rest and take time to put a new spin on the game.