Castlevania: SOTN - Retroview

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

By: Castomel

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 8
   Plot 5
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 10
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Easy to Medium
   Time to Complete

10 - 15 hours


Title Screen

    You've just got to love Playstation classics. For 30 dollars(Canadian) you can pick up a game that will give you all the enjoyment of a game twice as expensive. In fact, this game is the one I've played the most for PSX, and has its own spot in my heart as one of the classics for that system. Released originally in 1997 by Konami, this is a truly excellent game that you shouldn't miss.

    Castlevania: SOTN doesn't waste much time with introductions, sending you into Dracula's castle which, being an evil and haunted castle, immediately pulls up the drawbridge, trapping you inside. This may seem ominous, but no worry- you're Alucard. Though you might've been skimped in the naming department, you've got a wide array of talents at your disposal - most of which are stripped from you almost immediately. This simple pretext allows you to start from scratch, fighting your way through a castle positively choked with hellish minions and nasty monsters, most of whom come handily equipped with money, equipment, and magical powers for the leeching(and if those aren't enough, you can always look in the various lighting fixtures for more of the same). These are the basic mechanics of gameplay, and they work well. It is noteworthy that your character also levels up rather than merely gaining various items and abilities, which can add even more fun to the carnage. Alucard even has his very own attributes, which change in accordance with various events, be it equipping items or a gradual increase due to levelling up. There you have the basics of gameplay, then- hack, slash, level up, get new weapon, get new skill, slice and dice some more. It's lots of fun, and the only major flaw with the whole thing is the familiars you acquire. To put it bluntly, until you become relatively invincible yourself, they're mostly useless, and can even pose a hindrance, in some cases(one uses up items from your inventory automatically, so it's unwise to use if you're concerned about maintaining your stockpile). Aside from that, though, everything works fine. The only other minor complaint I had was with the magic system, which was slightly weak by reason of the difficulty of acquiring spells. That said, however, everything else more than makes up for those two weak elements.

    SOTN is based largely around the gameplay, and so little attention is given to the menu screen. While very easy to use, it is fearfully simplistic, and has several irritating features. For one, you cannot use an item, but rather must equip it in your left or right hand, and then re-equip your weapon after using it. There are also several strangely useless menus, which I can only assume were something left out in the North American version. Other than that, the menu screen is adequate; if nothing else, blue is a really nice colour.

Skull Lord indeed...
Alucard lookin' cool  

    The music of SOTN is very well done; however, the sound overall has a few flaws. There are a number of atmospheric, well-composed tracks, and each piece fits well with its respective area. There are energetic, rock-sounding songs in some areas, and quiet, peaceful tunes in others. The sound effects are of passable quality, with all the expected grunting, smashing, and swooshing noises you can expect from an action-RPG. Some of these sounds are slightly low-quality, however, which detracts slightly from the overall sound. The major drawback here is the voice acting. While the sound quality is decent, the actual dialogue is truly awful, and read in the most artlessly melodramatic fashion imaginable. That said, most voice acting is like that, and really, none of the characters are quite as annoying as Nall or Ruby from the Lunar series. Ultimately, this doesn't detract from the game, but instead provides some unintentional humour. All in all, a decent-sounding game.

    Castlevania: SOTN is somewhat different from its predecessors in terms of the level-building aspects that have been added to the main character. Nonetheless, it retains some of the sidescrolling goodness that made the first few entries in the series popular, while at the same time advancing the game to a new level. Though nothing spectacular in terms of originality, it does manage to innovate to a degree, marking itself as an improvement over the games that came before.

    The game's storyline is fairly basic, and receives little advancement throughout the game. This doesn't really hurt the overall experience, however, since most of the fun results from running around killing monsters, and there's only so much storyline you can put into that before it becomes obvious that the plot is just lame justification for the gory activity. In that respect, SOTN has a reasonable balance of story-to-action- which is to say, very little story and plenty of action. While more in the way of plot might've been nice, it's not really necessary.

    SOTN was ported over fairly successfully from Japan, and most translations in the game are well done. In fact, there's not really any point in the game where you find yourself wondering what exactly was supposed to have been said by a character. The only gripe I have with this particular element of the game is the exclusion of playability of Maria and Belmont(This doesn't truly bother me, however, as my friend has an imported Saturn version of the game containing those characters).

And you thought walking on eggshells was bad...
The skull bone's connected to the... skull bone  

    This game is just a lot of fun, really, and I've replayed it on a more or less constant basis since I first finished it. This enjoyable nature doesn't really diminish after finishing the game, since the castle is large enough that exploration and fighting can take place in a wide variety of locations. To this day, I have yet to cover the entire map, and it is still fun to wander around slicing up the minions of the castle. Replay value is thus considerable.

As the game is primarily sprite based, it doesn't make full use of the graphical capabilities of the PSX. Additionally, what little FMV there is lacks any real spectacle. That said, the art has been carefully done, and many areas in the game have been carefully created. The monster graphics are all well conceived of, and the backgrounds are atmospheric. Really, then, the lack of 3-D doesn't detract, because a side-scroller should be in 2-D. In this respect, then, the graphics are more than adequate; that said, however, by the standards of their day, they are still not particularly stunning.

Though most parts of SOTN are relatively easy, there is the occasional battle that will cause some trouble. Whether a simple matter of mashing the right buttons, or the actual difficulty of the fight involved, there's the occasional hold-up in the fighting. Some of the puzzles are also a bit of a challenge to figure out, though usually this can be done without too much trouble. Overall, though, SOTN isn't terribly difficult.

Kee.. Kee..
SONAR power, baby!  

So there you have it. Though not a particularly long game(at 10 to 15 hours if you're lucky, it's substantially shorter than many RPGs), SOTN makes up for its lack of length with compelling gameplay and the all-around fun missing in many games today. It is this sort of game that there should be more of- based upon fun, rather than a boxed-in storyline sprinkled with FMV. I heartily recommend it.

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