Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the first Castlevania title in the series to introduce some RPG elements into the series. It was also the first to bring the Metroid style exploration into the mix. Thus, it is the game that coined the term “Metroid-Vania.” I decided for this review to pull out my old PlayStation disc copy. The PSP Castlevania Chronicles has this game included, as well, with a new translation, and Maria as a playable character, but I still like the classic version the best. The translation may not be as good as the new one, but it is far more entertaining. “Die monster, you don’t belong in this world!” Plus, the original voice actors just sound better to me, but this could just be because I played it like this first, and I’m just used to it.
The story picks up right where Castlevania: Dracula X left off. Four years after Richter Belmont defeated Dracula, his castle has once again appeared. Alucard, Dracula’s very own son, enters the castle in hopes of defeating his father and destroying the castle once and for all. He is greeted by hordes of his father’s minions and Death, who steals all his good equipment, leaving Alucard to fend for himself. You encounter another hunter named Maria along the way who is searching for the now-missing Richter Belmont, who is said to be lord of the castle. Has he became one of Dracula’s minions, or is there some evil sorcery afoot? Yeah, the story is a bit thin, but it is still enjoyable, and has a few different plot twists to look forward to.
The sound in this game is really one of the best parts of the entire experience. The sound effects are great from the clank and bangs of your sword destroying enemies to their haunting death wails. This really does add to your feeling of being right there in the game. The soundtrack was composed by Michiru Yamane, and is probably one of the best in the entire series. The hard rocking themes will get your blood pumping for combat, while the more somber themes make you feel like you’re in a classic vampire movie. This soundtrack is the personification of perfection, and, in my mind, has never been topped.
The graphics have held up pretty well, shockingly enough. I expected this to look horrible on my 50” LED TV on the PS3, but really it looked pretty good. You can tell it is older and not HD by the blockiness of the sprites, but, overall, it still looks very nice. I forgot how detailed some of the backgrounds were as I moved around the castle this time. You can notice several paintings and an eyeball thing moving about outside of the windows. This is all a nice touch to immerse yourself into this world.
The sheer amount of different enemies and bosses found throughout the game is staggering. Each one has a different design and is very unique. There are some monsters that may only appear in one room of the entire castle. They come in all different shapes and sizes, as well. Some of these enemies are huge and very intimidating – one boss takes up the entire screen! It really makes you feel like you are exploring a castle filled with horrible creatures where anything could kill you at a moment’s notice.
The gameplay is mostly that of a side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slash game, but, with the ability to equip Alucard with many different weapons, shields and the use of magic spells, the action never seems to get old. You will have to search the castle for many different relics along your journey. These have various effects, from allowing you to double jump to showing damage done to your enemies. Last, but certainly not least, you can find a few different familiars to accompany you, as well. Some these are for attacking such as the Sword familiar, while the Fairy will hit you with healing items as you need them in combat.
There are many different RPG elements found in this title. This is a vast departure from the previous games in the series that were more action-oriented. Personally, I like this setup better. Then again, I like RPGs better than action games, so this is all a matter of your personal taste. You will gain experience as you defeat monsters, and then level up, which will improve your HP and basic stats. Enemies will drop tons and tons of different items as you dispatch them. These will include weapons, armor, shields and other consumable items. Some weapons and shields will have special abilities, and you may have to experiment to figure out what they are, because the game doesn’t really tell you. For example, if you have an Icebrand sword equipped, if you perform a quarter circle motion on the D-pad and press Attack, you will get a charged attack, or if you have the Shield Rod equipped, and press the button for the equipped weapon and shield at the same time, it will trigger various effects depending on the shield you have equipped. There are so many different pieces of equipment and items in this game that, if you wanted to collect them all, you would be playing for a very, very long time.
The castle itself is huge – there are tons of different areas to explore and secrets to find. You have a very Metroid-like map to use when you press the Select button, and this is invaluable. This may be considered a SPOILER so, if you have not completed this over 15 year old game, you might wanna skip the next few lines. As a part of the story, when you complete one castle, if you obtained certain items, you will have access to a reverse castle. It’s just as big as the first one with all new items, enemies and bosses. This doubles your playing time in a sense. END SPOILER
In the end, this is the first of the Metroidvania-type Castlevania games, and I think it is still the best. From the perfect soundtrack to great-looking graphics and gameplay, this one is still wonderful even after all of these years. It will take you anywhere from 12 to 40 hours to complete, depending on how many of the drop items you want to get. If you haven’t picked this one up, I would highly recommend you do so. You can pick it up on PSN for $9.99 on PSone Classics, or it is included in the PSP Dracula X Chronicles version, which is Vita compatible for $14.99. The PSP Dracula X Chronicles version does feature a brand new dub and Maria as a playable character. Whichever version you decide on, this is one of the best games of its type ever made and should be played by everyone.
Game is from the reviewer’s personal collection.