Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2014. Please disregard this original review.
Well, I’m nearly done with Metroidvania Month, so let’s take a look at the vania part of the title, with the game that pretty much coined the term, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I juggled around the idea of doing a review of a handheld title, but I decided that if I was only going to do one, it should be the first. But can this title live up to the series it is imitating? Hit the jump and get your answer!
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Review
Platforms: XBLA(Reviewed), Playstation, PSN
Release Date: 21/3/2007
Price I Paid: $9.99
For those not in the loop, Castlevania’s most basic plot centers around Dracula hosting a rad party for all the non copyright ghouls and demons in iconic fiction once every 100 years in his teleporting castle, Castlevania. But the guests need to keep out party poopers, and they have failed every time due to a family of Vampire Hunters, the Belmonts. But this time, Dracula’s party came back too early, and there is no working Belmont to stop them, and his son, Alucard, must go in, tell him to stop hosting parties when he only does so to blackmail the Cthulhus, Death, Mermen, flying Medusa Heads and Lion-men to do his bidding when he wants to take over the world. But Death is the Bouncer who will let Alucard in, but only if he throws away his rad gear and storms the castle to grow even greater in strength.
There is more to it, but all I care about is the voice acting, which is horrible, but very enjoyable due to the buckets of ham and cheese the ten minutes of total voice work holds. Besides, this was back in the day where games did not need much of a story. So Alucard needs to go through what is probably the largest map of any of the Metroidvania games I’ve done, mostly due to its warp function being very much needed.
Unlike the other stable of games that went into this theme, there is selectable weapons and armor, a leveling system, and far fewer areas that need an upgrade to enter just for an item expansion, in fact, there are none of those either. But you are still gradually upgrading, visiting colorful locals, and filling out a map, which is thankfully fully brought up by the LT button.
However, you still get unique items known as Relics, which show things like damage dealt and received in the form of numbers, allow you to collect hearts. Which are used for a series of interchangeable secondary weapons, it is a trope of Castlevania that never made any sense, or let Alucard transform. Alucard can become a Wolf, who can run through hazards if you double tap left or right just right, and not really anything else. A Bat who can fly through the skies, shoot fireballs, and use a sonar that is only helpful in one single room. Or a cloud of mist that can avoid damage, go through barriers, and eventually upgrades into a toxic cloud that harms enemies by being near them.
But the main thing you will be doing is slashing your sword against baddies until they fall, or until you are knocked back and just throw an axe at them, since it is the most useful secondary weapon. Or you could shake the controller and accidentally use a spell, or special attack, that I guess is useful, but executing them is a mystery in and of itself. It is nice to jump around enemies or drain their health, but it is always by accident, never by intention. This is actually my only major problem with the game. If you want to get to the second half of the game, the Inverted castle, which is the old map flipped upside down for the most part, you need to search everywhere.
You need to know that there are destructible walls in this game, even though there are not a lot, go through one to a secret area where you fight a boss and get a bit of backstory to get the first item. For the second item, you need to go to the one section with the Bat sonar, use it, get an armor set that destroys spikes by touching them, warp to the other side of the castle, go through a spike filled room and get the second Macguffin. Then you need to read the descriptions of the two items to learn that you need to equip them and go to the clock tower, which is not where you should go, it is really the clock room. In there, you learn that the final boss is not the final boss, equip the third Macguffin, fight the fake final boss, and then you get to explore the castle with a bunch of new enemies in what is pretty much the same map, but flipped 180 degrees.
And while the Inverted castle is where the game does get more rewarding by a difficulty increase, some moments are a bit cheap. Like how a lot of the time, you are fighting floating enemies, and then you fall, climb up, land a hit, then fall, land your final hit, killing them, and then you fall. But that is excusable, since you can float as a bat, or just avoid them as mist. Also, it is not like they even give a bunch of experience, since the leveling system gets a bit wonky, with 45 hit points being given after the second to final boss, which brought my health up to 668. It makes sense since that boss is by far, the hardest in the game, but the entire Inverted castle is like plowing through a bunch of level ups and health increases. It only took me about half as long to go through, but my health near the end of the first castle was about 328, and you start with 70. Although, I do tend to prefer the inverted castle, because they do not give you any direction, and you can go anywhere from the get go. This was done somewhat in the first castle, but it really just was deciding whether to do the Clock Tower, the notorious pain filled center of the series, earlier, or later.
But as much as I enjoy the gameplay, I cannot deny just how wonderful the game looks. Instead of attempting a 2.5D look, the game just settled on making itself look like one of the best sprite based games ever. While there is some 3D with stationary objects, lovely background animations, and the save room’s odd animation, the game focuses on making the most of the PS1 by having fluent animations, a great sense of color, and an insane amount of sprites. From Alucards cape, shield and sword all having unique sprites based on your equipment, to the staggeringly large roster of wonderfully animated baddies, Alucard’s hypnotic stride, and amazingly detailed backgrounds, the game is as much a joy to look at as it is to play.
I also need to give props to the music, I am a sucker for music that would sound good outside of games, but not so much ones that have ambiance to them, but Symphony of the Night does both at once. From beautiful tracks that mimic the scope and feel of an orchestra, to their very memorable melodies, to how they manage to fit in very well, without me noticing how great they are outside of the game unless I am not playing it. The only thing I do not like about it is how it does not play while i am in the menu.
As a whole, Symphony of the Night is still a wonderful game. From the smooth and fluent controls, lavish visuals, bombastic score, and memorable set pieces and locals, I struggle to find a very concrete complaint. While It can get annoying at times, you can just come back to pretty much every difficult area later on. And the combos enemies can get you in just makes me feel like I was not using my arsenal of one time use weapons, back dashing, and transformations. The healing items should not need to be equipped, and sometimes health is hard to find outside of the save room. But it never gets overly frustrating, and instead encourages you to play it safe so that your progress can be maintained. There is a certain elegance and poise to the very design of this titles that I have trouble finding in the great majority of newer games. I would have liked more clear instructions, but once you get past a handful of nits, you are left with an absolutely fantastic title.
An exceptional product that merely suffers from a few nagging issues that do not distract too much from this experience.