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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PlayStation

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PlayStation

Castlevania: Symphony of the NightPlatform: PlayStation

Release Date (NA): October 2nd, 1997

Developer:  KCET (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo)

Publisher:  Konami

Genre: Action / AdventureRPG

Nerd Rating:  9.5 out of 10

 

 

Believe what you’ve heard and read about this game.  It is that good.

Nearly universally hailed as the greatest of all Castlevania games, Symphony of the Night is also regularly counted among the best PlayStation releases, often occupying the top 1 or 2 spots.  During the age of rapidly developing 3D graphics and gameplay, SotN took a different route and chose to use the improved technology to make one hell of a 2D game.  Fearing low sales, Konami did little to promote the game in North America but no matter; it just might be one of the industry’s first true sleeper hits.  This installment of Castlevania has gone on to become a fan favorite and critical success, as well as mark the decisive stylistic split in the franchise.  Gaming journalists were quick to point out Symphony of the Night’s similarities with the Super NES release Super Metroid, and thus the term/genre “Metroidvania” was coined.

Castlevania: Symphony of the NightSymphony of the Night is a direct sequel to the Japan exclusive Rondo of Blood (you could loosely equate it with Dracula X for the SNES), taking place 4 years later.  Richter Belmont, the protagonist of the previous installment, has gone missing.  Upon seeing Dracula’s castle suddenly materialize, a “man” named Alucard is eager to investigate.  Alucard is actually Dracula’s half-vampire son and wishes to put his father’s evil reign to an end.  Richter’s friend Maria is on the hunt as well, hoping to locate the missing Belmont.

Castlevania: Symphony of the NightWhat begins as a fairly straightforward adventure game soon turns into one of the most satisfying gaming experiences of all time.  The game starts at the conclusion of Rondo of Blood, with the player taking the role of Richter and slaying Dracula.  After some exposition, the game begins again with the player thrown into the shoes of a very well-equipped Alucard, soon to be stripped of his riches by Death himself.  Finally, Symphony of the Night proper commences.  Alucard must make his way through an enormous castle, slay a variety of grotesqueries, and gather a dizzying array of items from armor, to transformations, to relics with various uses.  Pickings are pretty slim to begin with, but soon the player can choose to fight with swords, hammers, maces, or even their bare fists.  Inventory slots exist for both hands, headgear, chest armor, cape, and two accessories.  Eventually Alucard can learn spells as well and subweapons are completely separate from the inventory, making for a very customizable experience.  Early on, equipping the most powerful objects in your inventory will be your priority.  As the game progresses, objects increase some stats more than others, certain combinations yield better results, and it can become a matter of using the right things at the right times for astute players.

Mere exploration of Dracula’s castle is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Symphony of the Night.  Even with its countless divergent paths, traveling each route never becomes tiring.  The game creates a map for Alucard as he wanders, tracking his movements and documenting visited areas as well as noting where Alucard is.  Backtracking and revisiting the same areas comes with the territory, but armed with a map for reference keeps frustration to a minimum.  The area is massive with multiple distinct sections and enemies.  As expansive as the environment is (and becomes), the designers have done well to circumvent excessive repetition.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

More clocks – Hint: this is an important room!

Castlevania: Symphony of the NightIn most respects, SotN plays like an adventure game, but it’s all the little machinations teeming under the surface that give the game such polish.  There’s no way to possibly describe the amount of variability contained within.  Just figuring out what weapons work best against which enemies could constitute a ream of charts and tables.  Complex calculations are behind everything from leveling up to dealing damage but it’s all hidden away quite neatly, culminating in a near-flawless implementation of RPG characteristics.  There are many, many things to discover in Symphony of the Night, from major stuff like the 4 possible endings to small bits like making Alucard’s wolf form swim.

Symphony of the Night is not an easy game, but part of it’s beauty rests in the simple concept that “you’ll get out of it what you put in.”  Explore, experiment, and execute and you’ll be well rewarded.  Speed through doing only exactly what’s necessary and you’ll get a…less than satisfying end-game.  Novice players may have trouble, but they’re also free to beef themselves up in easier areas before moving to tougher ones.  Spend time collecting money and you can upgrade your equipment even sooner.  Those desperate for relentless, unending combat have an unlockable second half to look forward to where the castle is turned upside down (actually it’s a second, separate castle coexisting alongside the first).  Literally, every room, every crook and crevice is inverted and a whole new set of ultra-tough baddies are waiting.  One word will forever afterwards haunt your video gaming consciousness:  GALAMOTH.  

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Fuck this guy.

The array of weapons and accessories may seem redundant to the untrained eye, but most of them serve a clear purpose.  Weapons can have all sorts of “abilities,” and enemies have a variety of strengths and weaknesses: holy, lightning, fire, cut, hit, etc. and every bit of it factors into every second of gameplay.  You don’t actually see a great of this explicitly, but it’s there, waiting to be discovered.  Moreover, special equipment lets you jump higher, absorb certain attacks, or even see hidden objects.  At some point, you’re bound to discover the “familiars,” little creatures that fly behind you and help you do…things.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

How cool is that?

It’s easy to get carried away with trying to describe all the intricacies of Symphony of the Night while still attempting to brush with broad strokes.  To harp on about this incident or that mechanic wouldn’t make any sense to those uninitiated and generalizing does little justice to the meticulous efforts poured into this fine creation.  It can and will be intimidating if you’ve never seen anything quite like it before, but be patient.  There’s no need to figure it out all at once, and the game is perfectly playable without memorizing every single detail.  Then again, that’s part of the appeal: you can come back to SotN next week or next year and have a blast with it all over again.  Doobs said it best in his review – it’s all about replayability.

So how has Konami done with the technical facets this time around?  In a word, superb.  The control scheme is laid out great.  Motion and combat is fluid and responsible.  You’ll barely notice anything about the controls at all; it’s a very natural and intuitive aspect except for perhaps the use of the subweapon, but anyone familiar with Castlevania beforehand will know exactly what to do.  Special moves and other tactics requiring specific button combinations can be pulled off with ease, a quality not always easy to find outside of fighting games.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Way cool.

Graphics are an absolute standout and provide the glue that holds it all together.  SotN has some of the best 2D animation out there.  Two things really push the visuals over the top: detail and variety.  Each and every sprite looks absolutely amazing, and most rooms or areas contain their own set of enemies so there’s always something new to see.  I was a little suspicious about playing the second, “inverted” castle as I figured it would be mostly a rehash, but to my surprise it’s filled with all new enemies and bosses.  Each area of the castle also has a unique tone and visual style and all of it is perfectly creepy.  Instead of picking one simple aesthetic and running with it, Symphony of the Night is imbued with several interpretations of what Dracula’s Castle might look like.  There are rooms with ornate decoration, exuding majesty, opulence, even royalty, contrasted with forgotten areas full of decay and neglect.  With SotN, we get a chapel, caves, catacombs, clocks (again!), and everything in between.

Symphony of the Night is aptly titled; music is an integral and superb feature.  Many Castlevania games have borderline amazing music, but this one takes the cake.  Orchestral arrangements, piano pieces, hymnal music, frenetic guitar-based riffs reminiscent of black metal, and minimalist, eerie, atmospheric tracks are all present and accounted for.  I particularly enjoyed the choir and organ music from the chapel; also, be sure to listen for the frog noises interspersed with the score during your time in the Underground Caverns.  Seriously, this stuff puts the average film score to shame.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Believe it or not, this may not appeal to everyone…

So then, why the 9.5?  I only hesitate to give Symphony of the Night a perfect 10 because of accessibility.  Not everyone will want to take the time necessary to fully appreciate this game as compelling as it may be, nor will everyone be into slaying monsters and acclimating to the more complex RPG elements.  However, the title stands as one of the greatest video games I’ve ever personally played and its praise is well deserved.  Any gamer owes it to him or herself to give over a few hours of time to Symphony of the Night whether they’re a Castlevania fan or not.

With SotN’s level of lasting popularity, a huge fanbase has sprung up that remains active even today.  It’s worth a mention that this is one of those games that’s been explored extensively, with entire websites devoted to glitches, very well hidden secrets, and the interesting pastime of pushing one’s map completion percentage beyond the normally obtainable 200.6%.  I’ve included a few links below.  The FAQ is not only an excellent walkthrough, but provides a wealth of information regarding how the game makes certain calculations, detailed enemy and item statistics, and even touches on some of the more bizarre aspects of the game.  The images are among the best I’ve found for complete maps of both castles.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Richter!

Finally, I do want to briefly touch on the issue of the PlayStation vs. Sega Saturn version.  Though the PS1 version was released worldwide, the Saturn port stayed only in Japan.  It’s widely known among American fans that the Saturn game contains 2 extra areas, a few extra enemies, and adds Maria as a playable character from the start (as well as Richter without having to input a special password), but are these changes worth the trouble of hunting down a (rather pricey) copy of the Sega Saturn SotN (often known as Devil’s Castle Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight or simply Nocturne in the Moonlight based on its literal translation) as well as a Japanese Saturn to play it on?  After a cursory experience playing the Saturn version, the short answer is no, though I intend to go into more detail about these differences in an upcoming article.  Of course if you have an Action Replay Plus you can get around the region lock on your Sega Saturn, and furthermore if you know how to burn your own games and know how to use either the swap trick or have a mod chip installed, you can check out the differences for yourself at minimal cost.  Know this though: if you’ve played the PS1 version, you’ve had the optimal SotN experience.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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