Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
At the time of it's release Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (titled Akumajo Dorakyura Ubawareta Kokuin in Japan, translated as "Demon Castle Dracula: The Stolen Seal") did not seem particularly special. As one of the many Metroidvania titles to come out since the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Order of Ecclesia seemed like just one more of a growing genre of games. Sure, they were fun, but at the time it didn't feel like there was anything special over previous releases, especially on the Nintendo DS (like Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin).
Considering the yearly release cycle, it felt like Order of Ecclesia was just another entry to come out, the continual perpetuation of the franchise. And then, suddenly, Order of Ecclesia became the last of its kind, the final, full-fledged Metroidvania game of the era, and one of the last games under series director Koji "IGA" Igarashi. With sales slowly declining, Konami decided the Castlevania saga needed to go in a different direction, one that could refresh the series and usher in a new audience for this flagship series. Igarashi would eventually leave to go make Metroidvania games under a new IP, and the series we figured would reliably crank out endless Metroidvania titles suddenly dried up.
If we ignore the eventual history that would surround the game though, Order of Ecclesia is decent, even pretty solid, game in its own right. It's not a last hurrah for the 2D series (that would come soon with Castlevania: Harmony of Despair) and it's not technically the very last Metroidvania game produced by Konami (that distinction would technically go to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate). No, Order of Ecclesia is just a solid, very pretty, rather unassuming game that looked to continue evolving the series without being an ostentatious climax of all that came before.
Set in the 1800s after the sudden disappearance of the Belmont clan, the game focuses on Shanoa, a member of the titular Order, who has to quest through the open world of Dracula's realms to gain power... and her memory. After an attack that left her without any knowledge of her past (or powers), Shanoa has to use the quest to Castle Dracula to regain herself and find the power to stop the ultimate evil. Dracula, of course, always comes back and only the hero of a Castlevania game can stop him.
While this game has a lot going for it -- a new, open-world format, along with improved graphics, sound, and refined game play -- it's not a big evolutionary step for the series. Built on the same engine that powered Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, this was very much an iterative game in the series. It's a solid effort, and fun in its own right, but it is yet another Metroidvania title in a series that had recently been packed full of those titles. Sales were fine (exact numbers are hard to find, but it did sell close to 20,000 copies in its first week in Japan, which is a good debut in that country for a hand-held title), but they weren't up to the numbers Konami kept hoping for, and expecting from, Castlevania.
No, what's special about Order of Shadows is what happened afterwards and what it meant for the series. Perhaps if the games had done more, or gone farther with the formula, Order of Ecclesia may not have been the last Kojirashi-led Metroidvania in the series. But it's also just as likely that the yearly release schedule that the series had seen since, essentially, the release of Symphony of the Night could have caused fatigue with the fans. Perhaps the series simply needed a break to build interest for the games going forward.
That's a supposition seemingly supported by fact: although the games continued to come out for another couple of years, the next three titles (Castlevania: Judgment, Castlevania: The Arcade, and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair) were all non-conventional releases for the series. It wasn't until Castlevania: Lords of Shadow that the series would see its next "mainline" entry (such as it was), and also its biggest sales success in some time.