Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
GREETINGS! ANNOUNCER! I'M THE ANNOUNCER FOR THE CASTLEVANIA
SERIES, AS SELECTED BY WALTER HENFIELD! CATS! MOTIF! RED OCTOPUS
INK! AS YOU MAY HAVE DISCERNED - GREASE OIL GOES "CLUCK!" -
I SUFFER FROM MILD COPROLALIA, WHICH - HAUZER! - CAUSES ME TO
SAY RANDOM, SOMETIMES INAPPROPRIATE THINGS ON COMPULSION. NEVER
MIND THAT PEOPLE WITH TOURETTE SYNDROME VERY RARELY EXHIBITION
THIS CONDITION, BECAUSE THE MEDIA SURE HASN'T! THIS EVENING'S
GAME - GAME, WHAT'S YOUR NAME? - IS 1997's CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY
OF THE NIGHT FOR THE PLAYSTATION!
HAPHAZARDOUS EXTRAPLORATION! AND: STUPID HECKLER IS LAME!
So what, exactly, does it take to reinvent a classic series with an established formula while maintaining the vibe and honoring the legacy of what came before? From 1996 through to the early 2000s, many video game series were going 3D - and gamers would argue that a lot was lost in the translation. But certainly there's more to Symphony of the Night's faithfulness than its being restricted to a flat plane? Was it the whippable candles? The smorgasbord of Halloween-themed enemies? The feeling of isolation in a castle ruled by Dracula and his minions? Could the game's immense quality have had something to do with its being a Castlevania game in all that this entails?
Along with Super Metroid, Alucard's solo debut for the series sits regally at the top of the Metroidvania canon. And successfully exemplifying both a given series as well as a whole new genre is no small feat.
Before you say anything, I just wanted to point out that your
voice is very, very loud and dumb and lame and -
Here the Castlevania series took a new path. Well, several - a whole lot of paths, really. But all within the same game. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest before it had featured the mentioned Metroid-like non-linear travel and an RPG level-up system, but Simon's Quest to Symphony of the Night was an even greater leap than that of Metroid to Super Metroid. (Aided, of course, by the double jump.) This game's map is clever and interactive; you might say it's a "creature of Chaos" with a mind of its own. There's even an alternate castle, for all you kinky folks who can't attain your thrills through traditional means.
And that RPG system seldom distracts your attention, since Alucard gets tougher as enemies do the same. If you enter an area and are completely obliterated right off the bat (heeheehee…), you'll know you've done something horribly, horribly wrong. You then have the option of training against the strongest enemies you can handle, until your experience hits its current plateau. What sucks (heeheehee…) is that it's extremely inconvenient to get to the coveted Level 99, though the plateaus are relative to progress such that there's not much at stake (heeheehee…) in heading into the latter parts of the game without such intense training. By the time Alucard reaches level 50-or-so, he'll have undergone a total revamping (heeheehee…). Alucard - awakened from his centuries-long slumber to investigate the reappearance of his estranged father's castle and the disappearance of the current Belmont heir - controls so seamlessly, his catchphrase might as well be "I Am the Wind". Richter's also available as a reward for destroying Dracula with all the right paperwork signed. You get to play the whole game over (sans story, experience, item accumulation, and everything else that subversive Alucard tainted our sweet innocent series with) as the Belmont himself!
No, not that one - the Belmont. The one after the other one?
Spiky hair, blue body, moves really slowly?
Heckler: Okay, I got an answer for "spiky hair" and "blue body" which isn't a Castlevania character at all, and an answer for "moves really slowly" which covers the entire Belmont family.
I'm afraid you're going to have to be more specific, Hecks. I for the life of me can't understand what you're trying to say. Moving on.
HECKLER DOESN'T EVEN KNOW WHAT A "METROID" OR A "VANIA" IS!
NEVER PLAYED LUIGI'S MANSION BECAUSE HE WAS AFRAID IT WOULD
BE TOO SCARY! NEVER FIGURED OUT HOW TO GET A STARTING POKEMON
IN RED VERSION AND USED HIS CHRISTMAS MONEY TO BUY THE BLUE
VERSION BECAUSE HE THOUGHT IT'D BE EASIER! ALAS, NO DICE!
If the previous generation's Castlevania offerings achieved the perfect grim-and-gritty Halloween video game atmosphere, Symphony of the Night handles things on the stylish-and-flashy front. Think about it this way: when the devil shows up to deceive you, he's not going to appear as the very thing you imagine evil to be. No - he's going to be, on the surface level, everything you find attractive and presentable. Such is the case here - at least, if you find dark corridors and gigantic, fly-ridden corpses attractive and presentable. Some of us do. But you get the idea - the sprites got style, the artwork's got class, the whole castle's got mojo, the music's got dipplyfoo, the sound effects got sneersolblé, and that dashing Axe Lord's just got IT.
AT PRESENT WE TURN TO CONTENT WHICH DOESN'T FIT INTO THE OTHER
You know those branching pathways in Dracula's Curse and Rondo of Blood? For the Castlevania fanbase, that would be Symphony of the Night. The game indeed honors the series' legacy, and even many fans preferring the straight 2D platforming agree on this, but the change in direction for the foreseeable future created quite a rift.
The thing is, when you repeat a simple formula like straight-forward platforming, there's a lot of room to tweak the basic gameplay elements. With something continuing in Symphony of the Night's legacy, every little detail is automatically filled out so that whatever big variation on the formula you can fit in has to fit said formula and not the other way around. It's a one-way street, with our Metroidvaniacal series director driving the buggy in question.
It's also a break story-wise, as you're not playing as a Belmont, nor with a whip, nor with relative autonomy from those parasitic "dialogue" things. This is a heart-wrenching tale of a family of three separated by the loss of its cornerstone, the husband and son heading in separate directions (get the Metroidvania theme already??) until converging for this final conflict. The game's dialogue can be over-the-top, of course, but you'll learn to love it - in fact, that's one of the Relics you need to get past one of the obstacles later on in the game.
SOME FINAL WORDS ON THE MATTER FOLLOW!
Symphony is a successful reinvention of the series (if owing a bit to Simon's Quest) and a superb game in its own right. It offers a large, haunted castle or two to explore freely, RPG elements which add depth and a feeling of growth to the experience (heeheehee…), gorgeous, stylish visuals and a haunting multi-genre score which together creates an engrossing Halloween atmosphere, a more involved story about a non-Belmont with no respect for his father, and a legacy we'll not soon be rid of - like when you used to eat gum drops in preschool and have yet to shed the nickname "His Sternumlessness".
Symphony of the Night just so happens to be the reviewer in question's favorite Metroidvania of all, and that's saying a lot given the record of quality the genre has.
IS AN EMOTIONAL MESS WHO ATTEMPTS TO CIRCUMVENT HIS CRIPPLING
SELF-LOATHING BY TARGETING THOSE TOO MEEK TO CALL HIM OUT ON