Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - Review

Dante would be Proud...

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 9
   Plot 7
   Localization 2
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Easy-Medium
   Time to Complete

20-30 hours


Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

   Few games are able to successfully cross genre lines and even fewer turn out to be real gems. Sure, we have our Metal Gear Solids and our Zelda's, but there are even more attempts that have failed. But if you'll remember back to the Playstation's humble beginnings, there'll be one game that hopefully sticks out in your mind in this regard. Not that it failed, quite the opposite, it was one of the first and finest examples of crossing genres at the time: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It successfully combines the classic side-scrolling scheme and combines it with an impressive RPGish system.

   If you've ever played one of the venerable Castlevania games before, you basically already know how the battle system works. You simply press the action button and your character attacks. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to describe this game as anything other than another Castlevania in the series in the battle respect. The one important difference is the fact that you finally gain something when defeating the ghosts and demons of the castle. While the basic formula has not changed, it is certainly more fun to kill zombies when you know that you'll become stronger as a result.

Actually, it has been 300 years...
Actually, it has been 300 years...  

   Another thing you'll notice that's different, besides controlling Alucard instead of a Belmont, is the fact that you now have equipable weapons and armor. Many different kinds in fact, and they all have different strengths and weaknesses to discover. An example would be that while a certain sword may be stronger, it might also have a slow attack and a bad range. Along with the attack itself, many weapons have a few special attacks that can be unleashed with Street Fighter-esque type button combos. It's a pretty balanced system and more or less easy for a casual gamer to figure out.

   The third thing you'll notice, especially if your last Castlevania experience was on the Nintendo, are that the visuals are simply beautiful to behold. Alucard is fluidly animated and so are the other numerous demonic inhabitants. Backgrounds and the like also pay great homage to the improved graphical power of the system, and make this one of the best-looking 2D games I've played. The castle is huge and diverse, with each section having its own look and feel.

Down boy! Down!
"Down boy! Down!"  

   Speaking of quality, one cannot simply describe the intense magnificence of musical score of this game. The Castlevania series had always had a fitting and interesting soundtrack, if somewhat constrained by the ancient architecture of the Nintendo. Released from its bonds, this is easily the best music I've ever heard for the series. The soundtrack even rivals such giants as Chrono Cross and Xenogears, the handicap being of course that C: SotN predates them by a number of years. Just trust me, it's very good.

   Despite being "another Castlevania," the amount of originality is remarkable. Konami did more than just add RPG elements such as hit points and equipment, they also went outside the normal storyline for the series. In this one, you play as Alucard, son of Dracula, a far cry from playing as a member of the Belmont family. This Castlevania also features a lot of exploration and even an auto-map feature ala Super Metroid, and it helps you often as you go from one end of the castle to the other. Little additions like these, along with the bigger ones, help make this quite a fresh breath of air not only in the series, but in the RPG arena as well.

   As mentioned above, the story line focuses on Alucard, the son of Dracula. This is the same Alucard that helped Trevor Belmont with finding and defeating his inhuman father once again in Castlevania 3. Since that time, Alucard put himself in a deep vampiric sleep, never to waken again. Fast-forward to the timeline during game, and it seems something woke him up. More specifically, the Castlevanian castle, which appears once every century, has reappeared 96 years early. This is in addition to the fact that the Belmont that defeated Dracula 4 years ago, Richter, has disappeared. Now it is up to Alucard to defeat his father one last time, and finally rid the world of his cursed bloodline for good.

Your fate awaits.
Your fate awaits.  

   The great plot is told through a remarkably little amount of text and spoken dialogue. Yes, you should worry about the spoken dialogue. Once again, a game company has proven that English voice actors are probably the worst actors ever hired, save for mimes. While Alucard's voice sounds cool and emotionless, as it should, Richter's voice is inexcusably out of character. On the bright side, I guess they are pretty funny, but laughing would pretty much kill the mood that the game would be trying to invoke at the time.

The major factor in determining the difficulty was the fact that in this Castlevania, there are no instant deaths. That's right, the reflex-impaired can breathe easy because falling does no longer mean a game over. Other helpful things are the fact that whenever you save your game, your HPs and MPs are refilled to max. This ends up making the game pretty easy, until you check out the replay value as well. C: SotN features a second, inverted castle, one that you can only get to by finding some well-hidden items. This inverted castle gives you another whole game to explore and the enemies are now twice as hard. It was a nice touch to add, and along with the four possible endings, makes for a long game.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night features no towns, one shop, three NPCs, and only two paragraphs of text, but it is still an RPG in every sense of the word. A fun experience all around, this is a great game for RPGamer looking for a fresh new RPG, and a definite must-have title to anyone who remotely likes the Castlevania series. This game has now been re-released as part of Sony's "Greatest Hits" program and it's an easy recommendation to pick this one up. Konami has produced an excellent genre-bending title that finally features only the best qualities from both types of games. Good luck, and happy hunting!

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