Castlevania – Symphony of The Night: RETROspective

written by Incognito

 

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Holy freaking crap this game is as good as I remember. Everything in Symphony of the Night is refined and polished to a gleaming shine even though it did look pretty pixelated on my rear projection HDTV. 2D platformers of this generation were a force to be reckoned with and pumped out some of the best of all time, including the Megaman X series and Super Metroid, a game which I’m going to be visiting for the first time soon, precisely because of how much I enjoyed my play-through of SotN.

SotN was actually my first introduction into the Castlevania series. I don’t even remember how I ended up with it as a kid but I did remember the lightning fast action, sweet 2D and 3D graphics and the fact that I got to be a sexy and bad ass vampire with luscious long hair as I fought my way through a castle of demons and monsters.

You start off as Richter Belmont, 300 years after the point in time where Trevor Belmont and Alucard worked together to fight and destroy Dracula. There is an anime on Netflix that takes place around this arc of the series story which is based on Castlevania 3, and I’m sure others, but my knowledge of lore for the series isn’t overly refined. Anyway, you meet Dracula where his bored ass sits on his throne and talks shit on the human race. He then throws his weak little glass on the ground and as the overpowered Belmont that you are, you quickly make short work of both of Dracula’s forms and send that ungrateful old bastard back to hell. Don’t mess with the human race! Richter ends up nowhere to be found and was believed to be gone with the castle when mysteriously 4 years later, the castle just pops up again with no rational explanation. Surely every other time a castle the size of a small city materialized however, it seemed normal to our protagonists.

 

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Well, like the rock star immortal half-blood that you are, you immediately descend into the depths of the castle to poke around for reasons as to why it came back so soon. And when I say poke around, I mean slash up mega-wolves and zombies for five minutes until you meet the entity known as Death who then robs you of all your stuff that made you cool and turns you into a pathetic weakling that can barely punch a skeleton to death. Once you punch a skeleton 20 times it drops it’s sword and then you realize that this game is also an RPG.

The blue pause screen and beeps are reminiscent of a Final Fantasy game. All of your stats level up when you kill enough enemies and you can equip different cuirasses, a one hand or two hand sword, dual wield or have a shield, wear a mask, gauntlet, rings… etc, etc. It sort of starts to feel like a collect-athon and you’re constantly looking for weapons to make yourself stronger.

 

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So let’s see, we’ve got a 2D platformer with 3D graphics, a collect-athon and an RPG. Only thing it’s missing is dating sim elements, but it alludes to Maria having a crush on Alucard at one point or another and I don’t blame her. Nevertheless, it’s basically a pioneer of a whole style of game design known as metroid-vania and it’s amazing.

So that’s about it, now it’s just you, a massive castle filled with mystery and monsters and your long luscious hair – and some drive to free the castle from bats or whatever. The areas are huge and diverse, and enemies are never repeated.

One thing you’ll notice with many games is that they’ll recycle enemies from earlier points of the game and change their color or some shit to save time in production. Like Breath of The Wild had me waiting 3 extra years to have me fighting bokoblins and the only bosses I get are 4 different types of Ganons that all look exactly the same?! Come on!

 

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Well, Castlevania doesn’t do that shit. All its enemies are unique, scary, fight differently and the same goes for its bosses. It’s a true work of art when you realize how much effort went into the character creation. I remember the first time fighting the mannequin marionettes absolutely terrified me; their voices were unbelievably unsettling. But what’s even more unsettling than a marionette monster is the voice acting. Have you ever seen The Room by Tommy Wiseau? It’s as if they hired Tommy to sit behind the voice actors and go “no, no, do i’liike dis”.

 

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So if you’re wanting to play this game, keep in mind you better have a good sense of direction. It’s very easy to get lost in Dracula’s castle and you’ll probably end up getting stuck more than a few times. But that’s sort of the magic of this game that leaves you with a sense of mystery solving too. What you didn’t think this game could be a puzzle? Oh my friend, ye of little faith. The entire castle is, in some ways, a puzzle. You have to figure out how to unlock certain places and parts, and it can get a little frustrating. To be totally fair, if I spent the hours searching every last nook and cranny I’d probably have solved the clock puzzle without cheating and using a walkthrough, but I was starting to feel like not a sexy vampire again so I decided to just cheat the one time. I won’t spoil it for you though.

 

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The music isn’t that memorable. That’s just my opinion but I personally, PERSONALLY,  think that they could have had much better music direction. It’s fitting in a lot of places and it’s not bad. I never found myself cringing, even during the credits, but I definitely noticed some amateur sound design choices. For example, either the metal guitar being played in The Tragic Prince is slightly out of tune or that player is bending his strings far too much, but either way I think it’s sloppy. I found that key components of the midi structure seemed like they were attempting to be memorable and following guidelines from past hit video games while making it a sort of black metal, but it just didn’t quite reach that for me. Some of the music was wonderful, but it was too much of hit and miss. It did do fairly well with capturing the atmosphere and I’ll give credit where credit is due, you can tell they worked really hard on it.
This game stands the test of time, with many different re-releases on its belt its very easy to say this is one of those retro games that can come back and be stunning even in today’s standards.

So that’s it. I had a really great time and this is now one of my all time favorite games. If you haven’t played it, please please try it. You won’t regret it.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night gets my RETRO Seal of Approval!

 

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