I have a confession to make. It’s an admission that pains me, but I can’t find any other way around it: I really hate Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.
This feels like a grievous personal failure. I’m the guy what registered metroidvania.com, darn it. I should love Ecclesia, the most recent installment of the games that inspired our stupid little name for the subgenre. But man, I have tried three different times to get into Ecclesia — before launch, at launch, and this weekend — and all three times I’ve made it about an hour into the game before sadly admitting to myself it’s not actually any fun to play.
It’s maddening, because by all rights it should be fun. Ecclesia is clearly riffing on Simon’s Quest, it’s designed to be less of a cakewalk than its immediate predecessors, and it features a seemingly deep character customization system. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that Konami managed to bungle each and every one of these ostensible successes and turn them into a terrible flaw. The most annoying of these is the increased difficulty level, which was accomplished by simply cranking up the stats of enemies. They hit harder and they take more attacks to put down. They’re not smarter, they don’t have more complicated attacks, they’re not placed more cleverly — quite the contrary, in fact. Enemies are placed in the most annoying places possible, hidden out of sight so that a simple jump to scroll the screen will leave you reeling from a free hit that you couldn’t possibly have known was there. It’s like the developers said, “Well, people always complain about our level design being big, boring boxes; let’s liven things up by making the navigation of these boxes as infuriating as possible.”
It’s hard to believe that this is the work of the same people behind Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, games that — while hardly perfect — at least seemed to have been developed with an understanding of what made them fun. To wit: Exploration, both of cool areas and of cool powers. So far, Ecclesia has made me work for every little bit of progress I’ve made, every ability I’ve acquired, and seems entirely too happy to halt my progress until I master the latest boss pattern to the pixel and microsecond. Having to hit a puny enemy three or four times when it would go down in a single hit in any other entry of the series isn’t fun, it’s tedious. I’ve never played a tedious Castlevania before. Even Legends wasn’t this annoying. And the glyph system is basically a reheated version of the Sorrow games’ soul system, except clumsier and less interesting. And the villagers are boring. And the graphics are pretty but ultimately look pretty dull and fit together awkwardly.
I really do want to like Ecclesia, but it seems to be resisting my efforts at every step. Castlevania should be challenging, but it shouldn’t be a chore. I criticized Portrait of Ruin for its pacing; the characters were so nimble that they breezed through the levels, forcing the designers to copy and paste more ground for them to cover rather than sculpting fewer, more interesting environments. “If only the game moved a bit slower,” I lamented. Ecclesia is apparently some sort of horrible monkey’s paw designed to remind me I should be careful of what I wish for. Well, lesson learned. I’ll never ask for anything of Castlevania again. I’m still wary of Lords of Shadow and its outsourced approach to the franchise, but if Ecclesia is all the old team has to show for a decade of work with the series, maybe it’s for the best we get some fresh blood.
I’ll keep plugging away at the game in my free time on the off chance there’s a point at which I break through the crap barrier and discover the wondrous masterpiece everyone else keeps talking about. And who knows; Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth has shown that it’s possible to redeem even the most mundane entries in the series. Maybe 20 years from now, we’ll all be downloading Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia ReBirth and loving it, too.