Castlevania: Order Of Ecclesia

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is an absolutely incredible entry in the franchise. Part homage to its classic action adventure origins and part labyrinthine exploration of a massive castle, the game wisely abandons the format of its five portable predecessors to unearth a framework that feels wonderfully refreshing. In doing so, it establishes itself as the peak of the line of Castlevania games that graced both the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS. Understanding it could not topple the landmark that was Symphony of the Night by simply emulating its constitution and knowing the handheld titles that had come before it had already exhausted the formula, it sets out to discover its own niche and finds it. Order of Ecclesia is one of a kind; more important than that, though, is how its uniqueness is not vapid. It is there for a purpose, and in combining linear levels taking place in varied scenarios with the often visited Dracula’s Castle, it feels grand, it is stunningly fun, and it becomes a mandatory stopping point for both fans of the franchise and all gamers who value the power of originality.

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Castlevania: Portrait Of Ruin

As a game that desperately needed to find elements to separate it from its predecessors, Portrait of Ruin does a great job when it comes to uncovering these ideas. The fact the two big shifts it executes are not perfect, however, should not cloud the title’s greatness. Unquestionably, the mechanics involving its two protagonists could have been explored with more consistency; besides that, the standalone locations of its overworld, which are accessed through the paintings found in the castle, could have been more thematically varied and slightly bolder in terms of design. Still, not only is this an excellent Castlevania game with great visuals, a spectacular soundtrack, and a solid story, but it would not be absurd to look at it as a product that topples – or at least matches – Aria of Sorrow, which had set the standard for portable entries of the saga a couple of years earlier.

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Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Some may claim Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is excessively similar to Aria of Sorrow, and that is quite fair. In fact, the only truly new idea that Konami produces for this installment – the Magic Seals – ends up being nothing but a considerable design blunder. Yet, the base upon which the game is built is just too strong to crack. A gauntlet of monsters and labyrinthine halls, Dracula’s Castle remains a joy to be explored, and each of its areas plays like a challenging series of combats and navigation challenges. Moreover, the fact the protagonist can permanently acquire the powers of the foes he defeats leads his moveset to be incredibly customizable, adding a strategic degree to both regular combats and boss battles that makes the saga’s traditionally cool encounters against wicked creatures even more alluring. And with these weapons in place, Dawn of Sorrow could never have really failed. Because, yes, it may be a mere continuation of what was achieved in Aria of Sorrow, but that does not mean the greatness in design that tends to permeate the Castlevania series is absent.

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Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow

Thanks to localized improvements that work towards reducing both frustration and excessive backtracking, and due to a team of developers that knew how to look at the past in order to learn from mistakes that had been previously made, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow guarantees its place as the finest entry of the franchise for the Game Boy Advance. In addition, by implementing a very creative system of spells and magic that turn the soul of its many enemies into collectible and usable assets, the game carves out not only a personality of its own, but also a very noble place inside the long-running franchise of vampire hunters. Through those means, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is recommendable without reservation, for even though it does hold a few points that could have been smoothed out, it is a haunting quest that is fun and engaging through the entirety of its run, and a culmination of a three-year cycle that produced a trio of appealing Castlevania games.

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Castlevania: Harmony Of Dissonance

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance does have a couple of issues that make the size and complexity of its scope, which are undeniably its biggest qualities, not be as thoroughly delightful as they could have been. Still, by implementing punctual improvements in areas where Circle of the Moon was lackluster, and by embracing the intimidating value of its twin castles and turning the navigation of its map into its biggest source of challenge, the game succeeds in presenting a very satisfying and somewhat original take on the non-linear facet of the Castlevania franchise. Due to that trait, Harmony of Dissonance is bound to enchant anyone with a love for meticulously exploring a large map and using their wits to figure out a world that is itself one massive puzzle. To anyone else, though, its abundant intricacy, its frequent backtracking, and the long distances it sometimes forces players to traverse may be a bit too much.

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Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon

The punctual flaws that it displays in the main components of its fabric turn Circle of the Moon into a Castlevania installment that is good, but not great. The transplant of the Symphony of the Night formula into a portable is, in a way, a success, because the marriage of non-linear exploration and RPG elements makes traversing Dracula’s fiend-infested castle an appealing experience filled with discoveries, secrets, challenge, and unguided progression. However, the game could have certainly been more careful with the way it handled its elevated level of difficulty, its visual presentation, and the implementation of the central gameplay mechanic that it builds to call its own. With those problems in mind, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon cannot be universally recommended, as the Game Boy Advance itself holds a couple of entries of the franchise that are easily superior to it. Nevertheless, there is great enjoyment to be found in its imperfect Gothic quest if one has fondness for lack of linearity, is able to ignore its shortcomings, and can deal with some moments of grinding.

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Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D

Due to control issues emerging from hardware that is not entirely suitable for the game’s complexity, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D is a remake that does not, naturally, surpass the source material. Still, to anyone who has no alternative to get in touch with the Metal Gear franchise, it is certainly a must-buy. It carries an utterly flawless stealth component and level design that are both a maturation of the two stellar installments that preceded it. It has an ambitious cinematic storyline that is beautifully translated to a small screen with no visible losses and even some graphical improvements. And it covers it all with a survival ordeal that, while not as grueling as it could have been, gives the quest a lot of realism as well as character. As such, despite punctual problems, Snake Eater, in its grandeur, in its gameplay, and in its production values, still stands as one of the best implementations of stealth.

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