The Belmont family has held Dracula at bay for centuries, but what happens when the noble family disappears? The newest Nintendo DS spin on the classic Castlevania formula introduces a few new characters to counteract the nasty moods of the vampiric count. Factions to fight against the undead have sprung up all over; you are fighting with the titular Order of Ecclesia to finally shove a stake in Dracula's heart. As Shonoa, you have to fend off Dracula until the Belmonts finally surface from wherever they've gone off to. We went hands-on with the beginning of Order of Ecclesia today, and found a few gameplay twists along with a rather large graphical overhaul.
Visually, Ecclesia looks quite different from the previous two NDS Castlevania titles. The lighthearted style has been replaced by a dark and gritty (though still anime-based) look. Coupled with some fancy 3D effects, this game looks much better than prior offerings. Floating ghosts and bone-chucking skeletons still try to torment you, but the experience looks much sharper this time. Enemies stand out much clearer from the background, and the environments have much more variety.
From a gameplay perspective, Ecclesia actually borrows from Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest. You can travel from haunted forest to haunted monastery to other haunted places using the map screen, so you'll no longer be restricted to just one castle. When you come across towns, you'll have a number of necessary quests to partake in as well as a few optional tasks for extra treasure and items. For instance, one quest has you searching for potion ingredients, which, when obtained, will let you make a more potent drink. Another has you scouring for hidden cats; these are accompanied by a loud, mournful meow so they are difficult to miss.
Item collection borrows a page from Dawn of Sorrow. Each enemy drops a glyph, which you can equip with either of your hands. These serve as basic weapons such as rapiers and daggers, as well as magic attacks. Every weapon requires a certain amount of energy to pull off, so though you can rapidly slash with your sword for a few hits, you'll be stuck without any way to attack if you don't pace yourself. The subweapons are also tied to whatever glyph you currently have equipped. You'll no longer be able to pick up holy water or throwing knives and use them whenever you please, but having a unique subweapon tied to every attack glyph will ultimately mean more attack variety.
Details about a two-player mode are still unclear, but we were told that there would be some sort of connectivity. The quest should take as long as previous Castlevania titles--mixing the backtracking sections with more optional quests and environmental diversity to keep things fresh. Stylus controls, like symbol-drawing aspects found in Dawn of Sorrow, are nowhere to be found.
Order of Ecclecia is shaping up nicely for fans of the RPG-infused Castlevania adventure games. It will be interesting to see how many different environments are in the final version and how much travel between them is required. We'll find out soon enough, as this game is scheduled for release this fall.