Seven years ago, when the Game Boy Advance was launched, one of the launch titles for the system was Konami’s Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. This title was designed to be a kind of portable version of the very popular Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a game that had taken the fantastic series in a welcome and open-ended direction. Circle of the Moon was all right, although it is the game most often pointed to when people want to criticize the dark GBA screen. I bought Circle of the Moon and Namco Museum (shut the hell up I love Galaga) with my GBA back in 2001, and slowly pecked my way through the difficult game. It was a confusing thing to me. On one hand, I hate the hell out of RPGs. The idea of experience points and leveling up was a foreign and annoying idea to me, and Circle of the Moon asked me to juggle spell cards and different weapons and various outfits. The thing was, it was similar enough to Super Metroid that I kept at it, and it was more and more engaging as I played. I finished it eventually, and moved on. At this time, I had no Sony systems, and thus I didn’t go and grab Symphony of the Night for more. I forgot about the series for a year.
In late 2002, Konami released Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. The reviews were quite positive for the game, and I picked it up. I was disappointed because the main character, Juste Belmont, looked like a douche, and the game was just a little too colorful and cartoony. Juste could dash around, and immediately I realized that walking was therefore rendered useless, and the music was so simplistic and terrible. From what I’ve read, this was because they didn’t have enough space on the cart for full orchestrations. It was still good, though! Still good.
The next game, released in 2003, was Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. It was fantastic. Soma Cruz, the protagonist in this modern day Dracula story, was a badass, and wielded multiple types of weapons. His ability to capture souls lended the game a pokemon quality. It was fantastic.
Ok, ok. I am only dragging you through the start of the history of the portable Castlevania titles to illustrate the fact that Konami listens to the fans. They make a game. The fans play it and say “I like this,” or “I don’t like this.” and then they release a new game, on time, where they directly address those issues. As fanboys, we always wish that our suggestions would be heard by a video game company. Guess what? With the handheld Castlevania games, they ARE. Each game in the series has offered new and interesting experiences, and while I’ve fought a hojillion goddamn Peeping Eyes, Axe Knights, and embodiments of Death, it’s still fucking fun, because each time there is some new twist. With the recent DS titles, the touch screen has been used in clever and unique ways. I just know that when I get the latest title in the series, I am going to have fun. I am not going to mind leveling up, or constantly coming into and out of a room and killing the same stupid enemy so that he drops Merman Meat or some other doodad. I don’t mind it!
The bottom line: People are always saying they wish that Nintendo made more Metroid games. There are a bunch of games. They’re just set in Medieval Europe, and instead of a blaster you have to use a sword. Deal with it.
The latest in the series is Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, and my one line review is : Order of Ecclesia is the best handheld Castlevania game. The previous games in the series have all been a training ground for what this game offers. Do you want mini-areas? They’re here. Do you want a giant Castle to explore? Also here. Do you want interesting bosses? Yes, please. Attractive Female Protagonist Who You Can Ogle In Tiny Sprite Form? Ogle away.
There is a storyline to the game, but that’s not the part of these games I give much of a shit about. In the end, it always comes down to killing the same dude, so whatever. You are a lady, named Shanoa, who is the member of some secret society dedicated to killing Dracula and then this dude betrays you zzzzzz whatever. Kill the monsters.
In this game, the clever twist is that there are no direct weapons you collect. Instead, enemies (and sometimes statues) drop glyphs, which can be absorbed (with a sexy little animation of Shanoa lifting up her hair to expose her back) for the spells. Some spells are the typical fare, but others provide the Castlevania assortment of weapons, from knives to lances to hammers. Each glyph requires magic points, which recharges as Shanoa runs around. At first, this is actually an issue, but once you pick up some MP boosts, it’s not a big deal unless you spam the spells. Glyphs can be mapped to the X and Y buttons, and by alternating between the two, you can use them in a quicker fashion. One more spell can be mapped to R, but these are your kind of specialized glyphs, like Magnes, which allows you to magnetically attach to special spots in the levels. It’s quite well done, and only gets better by the addition of a relic that allows for three different sets of glyphs that can be swapped on the fly. The glyphs are actually quite different, and unlike in other games in the series, I’ve used pretty much every set for a time. There are even glyphs that transform Shanoa in a cat-lady, a bat-lady, and a robot-lady. Think about that, people with bizarre masturbation fantasies. Think about that. The level design is typical Castlevania fare, but they’ve polished the style to the point where I actually did stop a few times to take in the scenery. One of my personal favorite spots to visit was the library, where stacks of books spilled out pages as I battled. One beautiful boss fight takes place in a room with flickering candlelight. It’s the same gothic scenery as in the usual Castlevania titles, but they’re done as well as they ever have been.
The bestiary hasn’t changed much through the years on the handheld, and it’s always fun to see enemies from previous incarnations of the series. I chuckled when I saw the Owl Knight freak out when I killed his pet. Screw you, Owl Knight. Oh, and there is a hoppy little bone dinosaur, so this game has my vote. The bosses are some of the finest in any Castlevania game, and while I won’t fully spoil things, there is a boss late in the game that is almost Shadow of the Colossus inspired.
When I was first hearing previews of the game, the word was that it was difficult. It is, but nothing too bad. As is usual with the Castlevania titles, judiciously leveling up and making sure you’re stocked with health recovery items makes it a lot easier. Also, there are some broken glyphs, like Ignis (I bet you couldn’t tell that this was a FIRE spell) early in the game, or the ridiculous Nitesco (actually, I would have thought this would have been dark magic, but it’s fucking light AND fire) later on. So, intelligent play is rewarded, but I did die a few times early in the game.
A set of side quests involve villagers you save, and while these are generally just stupid fetch-type deals, there aren’t enough to annoy me totally. Also, if you pay attention as you play through the game, you’ll generally be able to help out the villager and complete their quest without even knowing that you had by virtue of having already collected X silver ores or whatnot along in the main quest.
Altogether, the game is very, very good. If you don’t like the Castlevania style of game, I don’t know if this will convince you, since your heart is already a hard stone. If you do like the series, go get Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. Konami has been doing such good things with the series, and listening to fans, and they should be rewarded for this behavior.
[!/mrface5.jpg "Mr. Face say this game AWESOME. Mr. Face never wrong!")
*Mr. Face say this game AWESOME.
Mr. Face never wrong!*