Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
- Platforms: PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PlayStation Portable.
- Suggested Platform: PlayStation Portable.
- Developer: Konami
- Genre: Metroidvania
- Release Date: 10/2/97 (NA)
- Why Play It?: Helped define a genre. Plenty to explore and find.
- Why Skip It?: Certain equipment and spells makes the later parts of the game laughably easy.
A few years ago, I knew little about Castlevania and the series. All I knew is that it was a cool and difficult NES game, and that’s pretty much where my knowledge ended. I didn’t bother trying to beat, or even give any of the Castlevania games a fair chance. Then, I became friends with a good guy who was (and still is) nuts about Castlevania. You could say he had CastleMANIA. (Okay, sorry.) Anyway, he really introduced me to the series, and goaded me to try his favorite Castlevania title: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. So eventually, I did. And honestly, on my first playthrough, I didn’t actually love it. I thought it was a good game, but I wasn’t exactly that impressed. I initially thought the event at the half-way point was lazy and I didn’t care for it. But since then, I’ve gone back and played it numerous times and I love it every time, even more, now. I now truely believe it deserves a spot on the list of best games ever.
As always in Castlevania titles, Dracula’s castle, Castlevania, has risen again and so Dracula must be stopped. Usually a Belmont, a family of vampire hunters takes care of the job, however, Richter Belmont has entered the castle and gone missing after defeating Dracula at the end of his last adventure (actually, Castlevanai: Symphony of the Night is a direct sequel to Castlevania: Dracula X: Rondo of Blood). So Alucard, son of Dracula, sets forth to drive his father from this world. Along the way he meets Maria Renard who is also looking for her old partner, Richter.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night helped define the genre known as Metroidvania. You are given a large map to explore, (which gets progressively more filled in as you proceed) but not the means with which to explore it. At least, not yet. As you explore Castlevania, you’ll find power-ups that allow you to reach more places, like a double jump to reach higher ledges, and the ability to turn into fog to pass by gates. SotN is borderline RPG as well. You have several stats and can equip multiple items to enhance those stats. There are many many weapons to find and use, each with a unique style, and many with a special ability. One sword allows you to teleport before striking, and another weapon allows you to fire a hadouken blast from your palms, for example. There are many weapons to find and experiment with, and that’s a huge part of the fun of SotN. There are also a few spells for you to discover (and abuse). Moving Alucard around the castle is a joy, and he flows really well with his movements. Freedom of control is major positive point.
The music is fantastic, as is par for the course with a Castlevania title. The artwork is stellar too. SotN is done in a pixel art style, and each monster (and Alucard himself) looks great and has plenty of animation.
There is only one real gripe I have with SotN, and that’s the difficulty. A few levels in, you can learn the Soul Steal spell, which damages everything on screen while healing you. It can make walking through the castle a breeze, as you’ll soon have more than enough MP to cast it constantly. As a matter of fact, the spells in general are pretty overpowered. Also, around the halfway point, you can get a couple of items that pretty much just break the game. There’s a shield and rod combo that makes you immune to damage, and merely touching an enemy will hurt them and heal you. Also, the Crissigrim is a sword you may have to grind a bit to get, but when you do, the rest of the game becomes laughably easy. One button press hits many times, and lays nearly every enemy, including bosses, to waste. That being said, it can feel good to be grossly overpowered.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came out for PlayStation, Saturn, and PSP (sort of). Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles was the title on PSP and while you have to unlock it, Symphony of the Night is on there, sporting different voices and translation compared to the cheesy lines of the PS1 version. That being said, there is something charming about the old lines, that you surely wouldn’t want to miss. After you beat the game, you have the option of playing as Richter, and if you beat that, the PSP and Saturn version let you play as Maria (although Maria mode is different between the two versions). The PS1 version only has Richter and Alucard. The PSP version adds an additional boss fight, and the Saturn version has some issues, from what I’ve heard (but never played), so it seems to me that the PSP version is the ideal version of SotN.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a great, stylish game with tight controls, an attractive presentation, and plenty to explore and find.
But enough talk! Have at you!