By Jeriaska . November 19, 2008 . 12:30pm
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is in several instances thematically tied to the NES title Castlevania II: Simon’s
Curse Quest, though the connections are oblique enough to lend the Nintendo DS title its own novel quality. In Japanese, the two games carry the subtitles of “The Accursed Seal” and “The Stolen Seal,” referring in both cases to the means by which to temporarily banish Dracula. What perhaps most closely links the two titles is the emphasis on action happening outside the castle, exploring the Transylvanian countryside and encountering its morally dubious country folk.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest departed from its predecessor by including role-playing game elements such as collecting clues from townspeople and purchasing items from merchants. The developers lent an element of the series’ darkness to these familiar conventions by making all of the townspeople deliberate liars, misleading Simon in his quest to lift his curse. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia features townspeople who, while not outright liars, are somewhat questionable, from the smarmy merchant to the complacent apothecary. While genial on the surface, the Wygol villagers you rescue during the course of vanquishing evil from the land seem ever so slightly tainted by the sinister atmosphere of their surroundings.
Both the activity of rescuing the abducted villagers and the flawed character of the Wygolians themselves produce interesting consequences for a Castlevania with a female protagonist. Koji Igarashi mentioned back at E3 that the main character’s sadness, a consequence of being robbed of her memory early in the story, is a central thematic element. In saving so many lives and restoring the domestic scene of Wygol, Shanoa can be seen as something of a nurturer, specifically in contrast to the inhuman aloofness of Alucard in Symphony of the Night. However, both her mental ailment and the unsympathetic portrayal of those she saves works against this characterization.
In terms of the story itself, Order of Ecclesia begins on the periphery of the familiar family drama that links many of the stories in the series. Rather than centering on sons of Simon or Dracula, the Belmont clan has lost favor in its eternal struggles against the Count. This is somewhere in the 19th century, when institutions begin arising for the purpose of replacing the vampire killing bloodline. The only order to produce results in this mission is Ecclesia. Led by Barlowe, research into glyphs proves the only effective measure outside the Belmont family’s magical whips in battling demons.
However, choosing Shanoa as the recipient of the order’s glyphs causes a split in the factions of Ecclesia. Resentful, head-clutching Albus—a peer of the female protagonist—believes himself worthy of the position of the bearer of Dominus, the force determined to vanquish Dracula. He interrupts the initiation ritual during which Shanoa internalizes the power of the glyphs, thereby undermining her potential as a vampire killer and traumatizing her memory. She proceeds through the game knowing that she must defeat Albus only because she has been instructed by Barlowe. Her direct experience of the violence he has caused her is obscured by the act itself.
Shanoa employs the training she received at Ecclesia whenever she encounters one of the glyphs found within the various stages of the game. Holding the up button, Shanoa pulls her hair back, revealing the markings on her shoulders and back, which absorb the power of the glyph. Rapier, lance and crossbow glyphs can be equipped to the X and Y buttons, allowing the player to alternate between these attacks. After completing the Minera prison stage, you are also given the option of alternating quickly between three sets of glyphs by pressing A and hitting the shoulder buttons. Upgrading weapons along the way lends an array of strategic depth to the title on the order of an RPG—a direction for the series that dates back not only to Symphony of the Night, but as far back as Simon’s Quest.
images courtesy of Konami