Well now, this week’s Retro Showcase game was always going to be a big hit. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the most well-regarded games of all time, let alone just on the PlayStation. I played the game when I was 12, at a friend’s house, so I knew what I was going to be experiencing for the most part.
However, my memory is infamously bad. So, I didn’t expect to remember where to go or what specifically to do. I was right, as we all found out on stream due to me failing over and over.
That said, we’re not really here to talk about how bad I am at Metroidvania games. So, let’s sit down, take a look at Symphony of the Night and ask ourselves; “what is a man?”
Returning to Dracula’s castle and donning Alucard’s shoes once more, I jumped straight into the game, completely forgetting at first that there is a short “prequel” section of the game. Specifically, because Symphony of the Night is a direct sequel to the previous game in the series, you start off by replaying the final battle of the last entry.
During this fight, you get to play around with the controls and figure out the main button layout whilst fighting against Dracula. Since you can’t actually die and lose the fight, you are free to use that time to get used to the game controls.
Since this section manages to both set up the plot whilst also acting as a tutorial, you get to learn how to play the game without having to read or worry about an actual, traditional tutorial. Or rather, that’s what is supposed to happen – I still had trouble playing the game, but that was really just me, not the game.
I was actually blown away by the level design and aesthetic of the game, as it somehow managed to be better than my rose-tinted nostalgia glasses remembered. Between the gothic aesthetic and the haunting soundtrack (especially during the title screen), I felt drawn into the game instantly.
Then, when I finally got to play as Alucard, the initial feeling of just tearing through enemies was incredible. However, very quickly, you get all of your gear and abilities taken away, leaving you to navigate the game in a “weakened” state compared to the first couple of hallways.
That leads us nicely into the gameplay of Symphony of the Night.
As Symphony of the Night is a Metroidvania game (and is widely considered the reason for the “vania” part of that word), it’s pretty obvious what the basic gameplay is. You move through a location, in this case, Dracula’s castle, finding new items and abilities whilst also levelling up and growing stronger.
This mix of exploration and RPG mechanics really add a level of detail and customisation to Alucard that the Belmonts of previous games simply didn’t get. For example;
- You can get different animal forms that you could turn it.
- You can equip a variety of different weapons, rather than just using a whip throughout the entire game.
- Alucard levels up, growing in strength throughout the game.
- There is a shop in the game, unlikely the majority of other Castlevania games.
Basically, Symphony of the Night really changed up the gameplay from the rest of the series. This is why it is the most commonly mentioned Castlevania when it comes to the origins of the terms “Metroidvania”.
However, it also features the common gameplay elements of other Castlevania games where you have to explore a large area, including a bunch of backtracking. Then you defeat a boss and gain access to more abilities which allow you to access more areas of the game’s location.
This cycle of exploration, boss fight, new ability and more exploration sounds rather dull when written down in a blog post. However, I can assure you that it really isn’t.
Even if you are terrible at these sorts of games, like me, there is a lot of fun to be had. Trying to figure out the puzzles, find all of the hidden rooms and survive against the various standard enemies along the way is exhilarating.
So, I’ve kind of just spoiled this section in that last paragraph, haven’t I? Oh well.
It needs to be said that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is not an “easy” game. You can’t just steamroll through the game. It involves a lot of exploration and paying attention to enemy habits and tactics in order for you to progress.
That said, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable experience, especially when you manage to beat a boss. The ambience of Dracula’s castle will envelop you as you become lost in the visual presentation and musical score. Then, as you start to focus on the enemies and search for the various hidden locations, you’ll almost certainly become engrossed in the game.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the games that is so entertaining that you’ll sit down for a short 30-minute session and then realise that 6 hours have gone passed.
There are a few issues with the voice acting, which have seen become meme-worthy, but they only add to the charm of the game. So I really don’t have any complaints in terms of entertainment.
And That’s All Folks
Being realistic, I think we all knew how this Castlevania: Symphony of the Night review was going to end up. After all, when a game is still talked about (especially in meme-culture) in a positive manner 22 years after it was released, there’s a reason for it. Symphony of the Night’s use of 2D graphics with just a touch of early 3D means that it ages extremely well visually.
On top of that, the gameplay format is implemented brilliantly, meaning that the game is extremely enjoyable to play, even today. Then, there’s also the whole thing about it being the main inspiration behind Bloodstained, as well.
Basically, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is an amazing game! If you haven’t played it yet, for whatever reason, you are doing yourselves a disservice.
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