Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PlayStation
Platform: Sony PlayStation
Release Date : October 2, 1997
Nerd Rating: 10 out of 10
I might as well go and get my super rare 10 rating out of the way. Just because my first review is this high, doesn’t mean my credibility should be questioned. You won’t see another review with this high of a rating from me, probably, ever. I honestly can’t even think of another game that has the quality to compare. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is by far the greatest game ever created, especially for the re-playability, even now, with this generation of gaming consoles. Nothing. Else. Compares.
If you aren’t into the chain of Castlevania games, this wouldn’t be the best place to start. Not because the story has too much history from all of the others in the franchise, or that it’s too hard to play, but because this sets the bar too high. Way too high. Every Castlevania is a joy in their own unique way, but this one is superior, by far.
- 100 years pass
- Dracula returns along with his castle. (Castlevania)
- Main character fucks shit up
- Wait another 100 years and do it again
Doesn’t seem like it could be all that great, but it really is. In most of the other games, the protagonist is usually an ancestor of the Belmont family, regular old normal humans, which seem to have this uncontrollable urge to kill Dracula. This one is a bit different. The main character, in this one, is actually Dracula’s dhampir son, Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards…I know, mind=blown). There is a whole bunch of mumbo jumbo as to why he wants to kill his father, but, to be honest, the entire Castlevania timeline is lost on me. There is so much complexity to the background of Castlevania’s stories and plots that I don’t even have the desire to try and learn it all.
That being said, SOTN starts off with you playing as Richter Belmont as he is about to fight Dracula. After you knock him out, there is a short video that explains what the deal is and you begin the actual game as Alucard. You start off pretty badass, but you lose all of your shit within the first few minutes of the game when you confront Death. He bitches and tells you not to bother fucking with your own dad and to go home. You tell him you won’t, he takes all of your shit. Now you have to go through the rest of the game using shit you find to aid you in advancing to the end. Long story short, you complete the game, and that’s the end.
Or is it? If you were one of those old school gamers, like myself, who had to explore every nook and cranny in one area before advancing to the next, you will find yourself revisiting places in the castle, quite a lot. This leads to the discovery of the holy glasses from Maria. These glasses, when equipped, allow the game to have an entire second act to it. I didn’t know there was an ending that most others had received after fighting Richter. I must have just been lucky that I had those glasses equipped because they allow you to not kill him, but the orb that floats around controlling him. If you don’t wear the glasses, your final battle is with Richter, this orb is invisible, you kill him, end of game, credits and all. I found this ending on a second playthrough, because I was wearing other head gear, which didn’t have the same effect. I didn’t realize that the glasses had a crucial part in the “ending” of the game. With them equipped, keyword, you save him, and the inverted castle is unlocked. My head exploded. I hadn’t even explored every single spot in the first castle, now I have to do it again, upside down??
That’s where the greatest thing, about this Castlevania, in particular, emerges. The re-playability factor. In reference to the above situation, it’s more of a continuation of the story that you didn’t even know was there, not an actual replay. But even afterwards, there is still oodles of re-playability. How many times can I say re-playability? There are numerous ways you can go about completing the game, and exploring the castle to its fullest will lead you to unnecessary, but awesome, battles with bosses, extra pieces of the story, or sweet-ass gear.
Speaking of gear, this is the second Castlevania that I’ve played where the game has RPG elements in it, first one being Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (that will be a review I do at a later time). There are multiple types of items to find and equip, each having their own pros and cons. Some items, such as, the Ring of Ares, gives you the “strength of 24 men” or +24 damage (24 weak-ass men), but also “gives” -24 defense. My favorite, and also one of the hardest to acquire, is the Crissaegrim. The huge disappointment with this weapon, it’s a game breaker. It is strong and fast enough to use that it actually makes any battles from then on, pretty much a cakewalk. The reason I don’t feel like it’s worth deducting from my perfect score, you ask? Well, you have to farm for it, for quite some time, in the inverted castle, and at that point, you’re almost done with the game, anyway. It’s a super-rare drop from the enemy “Schmoo” inside the Forbidden Library. When I say super-rare, I really mean, don’t bother wasting your time. There are also food items that you can find and eat, which restore HP. This is where the Japanese make me laugh. You can find items such as the traditional Castlevania Pot Roast, to the very odd ones like Peanuts and Ramen Noodles. Eating a shiitake mushroom restores HP, while eating a toadstool actually poisons you. Pros. Cons.
The ability to find “familiars” (flying buddies) who, each, have their own advantages and disadvantages, was something I never found on my first playthrough. There are 5 of them, hidden throughout the castle. They can help you find secret areas that aren’t on the map, heal you, or press buttons that Alucard can’t reach. The sword familiar is the most useful, and can be equipped as an actual weapon after it levels up to 50. The way it shouts, “SLICE” as it attacks enemies really makes me chuckle. The demon familiar sounds like it’s retarded. The faerie is retarded. The ghost is meh and the bat could be useful, but I’d rather just level up the sword, since they only level when active. Overall, they aren’t necessary to complete the game, but they are an awesome “extra.”
Then there is the music. Oh, the music. As, per usual, Castlevania does not disappoint in this area. I’ve always thought the music in every Castlevania game was stellar, amongst every other music in video games. The change from the chiptune genre to the high quality recorded instrument genre has been done well. The music seems to always fit the scenario. Then, the lack of music, in certain situations, helps to build your anxiety and lets you know, some shit is about to go down.
In contrast to the music, the voice acting is…horrific, in a wonderful way. Sound effects, in general, are awesome. The Castlevania series, as a whole, has always had superb sound effects, but the voice acting, well, it sounds…odd. The script definitely screams, “Japanese written” although, I feel like it’s fitting for the era that it takes place in. You’ll understand what I mean when you play it. If there is anything that could’ve brought down my rating, this would be it, except I can’t help but to oddly enjoy it.
The thing that, I think, kept it from becoming mainstream when this game first released was the fact that they stuck to the 2D side-scrolling effect during a time that all games were blooming in the 3rd dimension. But the quality of the sprites in this game really goes above and beyond what I could ever expect. Details are not lost and the blood and gore are not overdone, either. I can appreciate a game that took the time to not attempt 3D, but at least pull the 2D off, exceptionally well.
Overall, the story is pretty kick-ass. Vampire nuts should have no reason to not absolutely fall head over heels in love with this game. The amount of detail that was put into this game keeps it amazing. The fact that it has been ported onto numerous platforms (Xbox 360, PSP, PS3 and PS Vita) with a re-released version on Dreamcast allowing Maria to be a playable character (wish I had a Dreamcast) shows that it is worthy of your love. Still, I feel like the amount of actual gameplay hours, put in from someone with no previous experience, would be long enough to feel like it’s worth purchasing. Especially now that you can download it on Xbox as an unaltered port with the ability to enhance the graphics for when playing on a big screen (OK, semi-altered). It costs $10 on there (as of September 2013), but I’d rather spend that money on this game than some of the other lame games they offer. The best part about this, I know that I’m forgetting to mention so many things and I still wrote a novel about it. So if you have no desire to play any other Castlevania game, this is definitely the best one, hands down.
Be sure to check out Nerd Bacon’s other Castlevania reviews!
- Castlevania (by Doobs)
- Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (by The Cubist)
- Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (by The Cubist)
Reviewed by Doobs
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