Treasure Chest: Castlevania – Symphony of the Night Review
I love games! I can’t deny it, I like to play lots of games, especially if they have cheerful characters or good stories. It’s a shame to say that due to my geographical location and outrageous prices gaming wasn’t something I could do as often as I wished; most times not being able to do it at all. Now that I have been able to get my own stuff, I am buying all the classics I missed and playing them to see if going back was worth the time. To begin I thought I’d review a game that stands as a huge stepping stone for one of my favorite franchises: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Castlevania: SOTN was a huge leap for many gamers due to the radical changes in gameplay style, departing from a traditional, linear adventure into a map-based system where leveling up, multiple weapon choices and the option to go back to places you had already been got lead you to the ending. SOTN also marked the first time a Belmont wasn’t hunting after Dracula. Instead, it was Dracula’s son himself, Alucard (Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse), who would go after his father to stop him from taking over the world. This game also received the nickname “Metroidvania” as it borrowed the map system and level design from the Metroid series.
The premise of the game, despite being basic (kill Dracula, again!), plays a major part in the overall Castlevania story as it moves forward. Continuing 10 years after the events of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, SOTN is a fast-paced game that actually forces you to think your way through certain areas rather than simply hacking and slashing. Backtracking becomes essential as some places or items are only reachable after a certain special ability has been acquired. Experience points are also necessary in order to progress. Overall, the scale of SOTN dwarfs every single Castlevania game before it. Not only is the castle massive and full of traps and enemies, but it also turns upside down for you to travel through it a second time and face new enemies and bosses!
The developers of SOTN made several changes that would later become hallmarks of the series such as: weapon equipment, special attacks, spells and familiars – all of which evolved in further games. Here, it was the first time that you got a new feature that would be used in all the upcoming 2D games, which I personally find annoying: re-playing the game again with a different character. I’d love the idea if Konami would let you have new weapons or different inventory items, but instead you control one of the side characters in the original plot that levels up but doesn’t enhance the character or the plot. That’s just plain boring.
What I love most about SOTN are the new boss battles which became more difficult and creative thanks to the new arsenal Alucard can acquire and the greater stage freedom. The Creature, Medusa, Minotaur + Werewolf combo and Death itself come back big time, but there’s also new bosses who make an appearance like the Doppelganger, fake Trevor, fake Grant + Fake Sypha combo and Scylla, making SOTN one of the most jam-packed boss battle line-ups in Castlevania history. There are also quite a few smaller enemies, from the classic skeletons to new hindrances like Lions, Dullahans, Evil Tomes, Alura Unes, Spectres, Lvl Ax Armor… the list goes on.
On the down side, there was a lot that could have been a bit more polished, like the spell system or the level-up system, both of which I found particularly painful to understand and use. The extra content wears out fast and not getting the Chaos Dimension featured in the Sega Saturn game was a big downer. Enemies tend to be repetitive in terms of difficulty and patterns and with most players not being able to play Rondo of Blood, the story really loses its charm since almost no one knows which Belmont is the side character and who the hell is Maria.
Beyond all that, I say that SOTN is a hidden treasure that I can truly appreciate. I understand how it became a hallmark for the PS1, with a legend of its own that makes it part of the natural evolution in a series that was soon to find a creative collapse. The game took the series to bold new terrains without forgetting what made it big in the first place… overall a gaming classic.
I give CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT a 9.2/10. As someone who has played both the predecessors and the successors to SOTN I was definitely not dissapointed.