Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a game changer. It, along with the Metroid series, helped coin the term Metroidvania, which is now a way gamers will refer to games from Cave Story to Guacamelee to Axiom Verge. The formula has proven to be highly popular and Symphony of the Night (hereby referred to as ‘SOTN’) helped perfect what Super Metroid and Metroid helped originate. SOTN is held in high regard and considered a must-play in the minds of gamers everywhere – and there are some damn good reasons for its legendary status.
SOTN was already being considered a side-entry early in development and this meant that there could be more experimentation with the development process. This can be bad for a series sometimes but it can also produce some great changes and, in some cases, even create a new series altogether, like with the Devil May Cry series – but that’s a different story for a different time. Koji Igarashi deliberately wanted to push the series into a different direction after seeing so many previous Castlevania releases in used bargain bins at secondhand stores. These games were well received, financially successful and even adored by fans. They loved the games. They just didn’t want to keep playing them after they were finished. This isn’t a problem for sales. This doesn’t bother publishers necessarily since the initial sales are so great. It’s an artistic thing. It bothers the artist behind the game. It bothered Igarashi because he wanted gamers to continue to enjoy his games. Just like a painting is meant to be admired eternally, shouldn’t a game be as well? What artist doesn’t want his work to continue to be enjoyed? What artist doesn’t want their legacy to be cherished for more than a single playthrough?
Igarashi having these doubts about the series and aspirations for its future is one of the best things to happen to the Castlevania series. I’m sorry that statement is a bit misleading. Let me try again … Igarashi having these doubts about the series and having aspirations and wanting to improve the series is one of the best things to happen to gaming. SOTN helped morph, mold, and shape a genre that would inspire generations of developers to go out and attempt the same. SOTN helped leave an imprint on the industry and will always be one of the greatest games ever made. SOTN‘s legacy is not only intact but guaranteed.
Symphony of the Night is incredible. Many gamers had the privilege of enjoying Super Metroid as a kid. I, however, had a Sega Genesis, which allowed me to enjoy other incredible games, but my exposure to ‘Metroidvania’ didn’t come until I received a Playstation. I will admit that Super Metroid is also a wonderfully inventive game and definitely helped lay down the foundation but I do believe that SOTN helped lay the final bricks that perfected the formula. SOTN added additional RPG elements while maintaining the gameplay element of obtaining new abilities that Metroid introduced. SOTN added to the already wonderful formula that Metroid originally created.
The beauty of Symphony of the Night is rivaled by few. It has no excuse not to be but it still begs to be praised for its striking visuals. Despite everyone jumping on over to 3D releases and it being a bit odd to still develop a 2D game in the current era, Igarashi decided to go forward with a 2D game because he was a fan of that style and, of course, there was no reason to change to 3D at this point. It wasn’t an issue on earlier titles. In fact, now they could go above and beyond with the technology that was now available and just polish the 2D title in many more ways. The 3D effects enabled SOTN to feature things previously not possible or just have things look even more polished. Scrolling levels with parallax effects gave way for stunning backgrounds with beautifully detailed 2D sprites across the front of levels. It proved to be a wonderful idea as this game still looks stunning. The graphics are absolutely not where the beauty ends. It’s just the first thing that needs to be pointed out because this game looks incredible.
The sound design is probably one of the weaker departments here but that still doesn’t make them that terrible since this is such an incredibly designed game. The sound effects are good. There are no major issues at all here. They may feel repetitive if you play it long enough to complete it (more on that later) but they aren’t necessarily flawed. There’s just only so many times you won’t mind a protagonist grunting and huuahh’ing their way around a world driven by exploration. The only major issue here is the music itself. There are some great songs here. There really are. There are just some weak tunes here as well. Furthermore, some songs get recycled in areas where they don’t work as well – or just don’t need to be recycled. I’m sure that space started to get limited but we’ve got a whole CD to fill up with space here, Konami! I refuse to believe that space was the issue here. I’m sure everyone just got busy with other aspects of development and everyone decided the music department was good enough. The music is adequate but it’s just that it could have been so much better. I mean everything else here is simply incredible and then it just starts to fall a little short in this one department. Again, it doesn’t hurt the game that much. It’s just that this is when mediocrity begins to creep in and it easily could have been avoided in the midst of all the perfection surrounding it.
The story of Symphony of the Night is a simple yet effective tale woven in between addictive gameplay. It begins with you controlling Richter Belmont confronting Dracula in the final act of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood with the conclusion being Dracula’s demise. Well … for now … I mean, come on, it’s Castlevania. Anyway, it serves as a wonderful tutorial and let’s you play as an overpowered badass before truly starting as you take control of Alucard, son of Dracula, heading to the castle. He felt the evil re-emerging and wanted to be there to vanquish it. It’s a somewhat simple story but there are a few twists and turns to keep things interesting – especially the ending itself. I won’t spoil anything but let me tell you the conclusion to SOTN varies depending on how much of the castle you have explored and what items you possess before the final battle. This is where the gameplay comes in and where the game not only shines the most but also the reason this game influenced so many other games and why it will always remain a classic.
Symphony of the Night was intended to be more accessible and less difficult while still retaining some of its edge from previous entries in the series. RPG elements were added to allow players to level up and increase their strength as they take on the onslaught of the enchanted castle. In addition to the the new focus on leveling up, exploration is made into not only an emphasized gameplay aspect but also a requirement to progress in the game. You are given some loose directives here and there and there will be implications on where you should go but overall it’s up to you to figure out what to do. There’s a map and hopefully you have a bit of time on your hands to just explore and enjoy the journey ahead. It’s normally more intuitive and you’ll have a pretty good idea but there are plenty of times where you’ll just be exploring, leveling up, and collecting more items. It’s in the exploring that this game shines the most and it definitely makes me yearn for simpler times where the objective was a bit more fuzzy and not so cut and dry. SOTN leaves more in your hands and decides not to have you on any obvious rails. This non-linear adventure will captivate you and I’m pleased to report that there are many other games that attempt to replicate this experience seeing as this was the one that started it all.
Igarashi wanted to make sure that SOTN controlled well and I can confirm that this game controls like a dream, no matter what platform you play it on. This is an example of an older game that was built with a D-Pad in mind but controls perfectly with a joystick. I have played this on Playstation and Xbox 360 and enjoyed both experiences just as much. The game centers around choosing two items to map to two of the face buttons. These can range from potions to melee weapons to shields to many more possible items. You have items that can be equipped to impact your stats, like armor, but those of course are just equipped at the inventory screen. Transformations are mapped with a few other buttons and spells are done by completing sequences of button presses. It’s a simple control scheme and it controls perfectly. I’m especially happy that the controls translated so well to newer controllers so the experience feels just as good. The story is great but the real magic comes from the gameplay itself. You’ll find yourself trekking all over the castle, wiping out enemies, acquiring new items and getting to the bottom of the story – all while exploring every inch of the castle. If you ever start to get lost or aren’t sure where to go, just start exploring and you’ll figure it out – or you’ll level up and have a blast killing enemies. No matter what you do in this game, it’s fun. I think it’s actually most fun when you don’t know what you’re supposed to do or where you’re supposed to go. Even after you’ve finished the game, it isn’t likely that you’ll have the best possible ending so there’s another playthrough waiting for you immediately after finishing. It will get better and better with each and every playthrough and eventually you’ll find yourself speedrunning through the game like a pro.
The pacing feels perfect and if you work hard enough the game will reveal even more of its magic. There are so many possibilities and wonders to this game that it’s no wonder that so many people still love and cherish it. It won’t be long before you find yourself trying to beat previous completion times and scores. Gamers everywhere have been “breaking” the game and achieving map completion percentages that the developer didn’t even intend to be possible. This is done by exploring every crack and crevice and getting to corners and even rooms that require unconventional means to even get to. The replay value is high and the fun continues to rise with each playthrough.
Symphony of the Night is a classic game that features an undeniably large replay value with twists and turns strewn throughout a tightly designed game with a focus on exploration. What more could anyone ask for? If you’ve never played it before, you’re in for a real treat. If you’ve already played it then I’m sure, like me, you’re itching to go and play it again. It’s an incredible achievement that deserves to be recognized by gamers everywhere and is quite honestly an example of “required reading” as far as games go. There are many games like it but this is where it all started. All those that helped create games such as Cave Story and Axiom Verge once played SOTN on a dusty CRT with their Playstation – and you should too!
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a nearly perfect game and any hiccups in the game are absolutely forgiven due to the formula it helped craft and the games it helped inspire. It’s one of my favorite games and I’d love for everyone to experience this game. It’s available on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network or, if you’re wanting to be as authentic as possible, you can track down a physical copy. It was released on Playstation and Sega Saturn but the Playstation is the best version available. If you enjoy SOTN then I would highly recommend the Castlevania games released on the Game Boy Advance and DS, as these are basically copy/paste games inspired by SOTN. There may not be quite as much magic in these games but they are still fun games and worth checking out.
If you enjoy Symphony of the Night then make sure to let us know on Twitter! We’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on it as you play through and after you complete it! Tweet us at @bagogames or at myself at @mrjoshnichols. It truly is a gem of a game and I know you’ll enjoy it as much as I have on my many playthroughs.
[…] to the next level. My Retro Review cohort, Josh, reviewed one of the best games in the franchise, Symphony of the Night and despite being more accessible than some of the earlier games it still had quite a difficulty […]