the much-lauded castlevania: symphony of the night has long been on my list of games to finish partly because it’s so iconic and partly because i want to check out the rest of the series which has been a major presence on nintendo platforms. it’s kind of hard to believe that the last castlevania game i finished was the first N64 release (which i enjoyed) more than five years ago, but somehow the gothic theme of the series just doesn’t really appeal to me that much. i had gotten a fair amount of the way through SOTN years ago but had gotten stuck at the part with the wooden bridge in the caves, but this time with a little help from gamefaqs after a long hiatus i finally barreled my way through to the end.
i can see why the game has been well regarded. there’s a lot of polish (great enemy design; the overall aesthetic reminded me of classic sega games), and the coupling of the traditional action-oriented castlevania gameplay with the exploration of the metroid series is fairly successful (although as a long-time metroid fan the gameplay can’t help but pale in comparison). the RPG elements definitely help with the pacing. the upgrades include some pretty standard ones (e.g. one opens all the blue doors), but there are also some more-unique ones involving alucard’s three transformations. the other unique addition was the introduction of “familiars” who follow you around and generally help fight enemies and who also level up and gain new powers (although their development is much slower than yours). although there’s a lot of content overall, much of it falls into the “so useless you’ll never even bother with them”, such as the bevy of single-use items, spells that you can execute with complicated button sequences, and a bestiary that tracks the enemies’ item drops that you’ve encountered that could be a major time suck if you tried to complete it. i appreciated the little details that were put into the game, such as your bat familiar being confused when you change from a bat back into a human, and so i suppose you could think of all that “useless” content as extra details that help flesh out the game’s world.
the thing that made the game really worthwhile to me, though, was the huge surprise halfway through that by now probably everyone knows about but must have been mind-blowing at the time. like final fantasy 6 it comes just when you think you’re finishing up the game, and also like that game it still feels fresh today. the second half, again as with FF6, doesn’t completely fulfill the potential of the initial reveal, but it still made the game a unique and memorable experience for me.
in terms of putting the game into its historical context, jeremy parish’s write-up on gamespite was the most informative. he presents it as a game intended to be a swan song to the series, a 2-D game during a time when 2-D was shunned in favor of the new chunky, polygonal 3-D games. he writes that the creators “were crafting a game for love, not churning out an assembly-line product” and says:
That’s where historians get it wrong. These days, Symphony is seen as the first modern Castlevania, the moment where the franchise broke loose of its legacy tethers. … No, Symphony simply embraces some of Castlevania’s less familiar traditions, highlighting the series’ underlying concepts — and it does so strictly for the sake of creating the ultimate Castlevania game, the culmination of everything the games to that point had embodied.
In short, Symphony of the Night is a tour-de-force: the summation of a classic franchise, crammed with self-referential fan service yet bursting with new ideas. It strikes a perfect balance between old and new, faithful to the series’ essence while unafraid to forge ahead.
i definitely wouldn’t rank this among my favorite games of all time since the core gameplay is so familiar, but the game is significant as it marked a new direction for the castlevania series. the only problem there, though, is that it seems all the subsequent games of the series have strayed minimally from the formula of SOTN. i’ll have to see for myself if that’s the case since you could say that about pretty much all series, but i’m not too optimistic since parish says, “the series has limped along for more than a decade since Symphony’s arrival. … Igarashi managed to wrangle Symphony into a template, a formula, but the original game’s greatest success was that it so boldy defied expectation, that it so elegantly exceeded preconception.” stay tuned …
the sun rises over these castlevania: symphony of the night links:
– there’s certainly no shortage of links to info on SOTN. the section at vgmuseum.com and the entry at castlevania.wikia.com are a good starting point
– FAQ at gamefaqs and walkthrough at shrines.rpgclassics.com
– PDF of instruction manual at replacementdocs.com
– wallpapers at castlevaniacrypt.com