Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - Retroview

Chronicle Of The Vampyre


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

5-25 hours


Title Screen

   Being a hardcore and avid fan of Nintendo, I always loved the classics; Metroid, Kid Icarus, Zelda, Mario Bros.... But of all the early adventure games I played, Castlevania held a place of inevitable horror and dismay for me. I never considered myself good at any of them - by any means - in the side scrolling format; so, when I heard the rumor that the (then) latest addition to the well known Konami epic was under the guise of an RPG, I had to test it out. I was in for the most awesome surprise of my gaming life.

   The one thing, aside from Dracula, that carried over from the previous Castlevania game is the battle system. The game is basically a sidescrolling, platform, action RPG. Your equipment has various ranges and effects and combat is resolved by how well you dodge, block, swing, and recover. In much the same mode as Illusion of Gaia, you fight against enemies while moving around them in an environment similar to that in Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog (albeit much more gothic, detailed, and PSX-like).

   At first, the menu and equipment system was sorta hard to work through. Most decisions took time to discover and trying to sort items was almost more trouble than it was worth. Like a good number of similar systems, practice makes perfect. After you've played the game enough to see at least the 'bad' ending, you should have it down pat.

Alucard With The Other 'Dead'
Alucard With The Other 'Dead' 

   The soundtrack to the game is mild, mysterious, and mood setting. There is one thing that I didn't like about it, though; the best song in the game was removed from the US version. Unless you own a Saturn and are really into spending the average $100 that 'Nocturne In The Moonlight' costs on eBay, you're pretty much out of luck. That aside, you can always purchase the soundtrack to hear it if you're really desperate.

   Creatively speaking, the game isn't that great. Every 2D platform and jumping game that's possible has been done before. But, as far as RPGs in that format, it's a nice break in the typical pre-rendered 3D environs with (often crappy) 3D character models on top. For 2D, you don't get much better than this (except on the NeoGeo and that hardly counts in the RPG realm). 32bit sprite aliasing is awesome. Everything blends seamlessly and the effects that are complex and not bit-mapped are impressive (considering that the game is almost 5 years old, now).

   As with every other piece of the Castlevania saga, your quest is to defeat the accursed Dracula, Lord of Darkness and the first of the dreadful vampyrs. More specifically, you're his estranged son, Alucard, and you have come back to see your father perish once and for all... Alas, your quest is octupled in length when a chance encounter with Death leaves you armorless, weaponless, and penniless in the vast ruins of the outer casle. Good luck!

Where's A Giga-Elemental Circlet When You Need One?
Where's A Giga-Elemental Circlet When You Need One? 

   Any game that has vocalized nuance to the in-game dialogue is awesome in my book. Shenmue and Symphony of the Night are about the only two games I've played that pull that off. It's the true sign of a good translation.

   Yet another game in the pile that forces you to replay until you have managed to explore over 200% of the map. If you're the perfectionist type and are just mercilessly compelled to do everything, there are a couple well known bugs in the game that allude to what we missed out on from Nocturne in the Moonlight (the Japanese name of the game). I've played NitM, the parts we missed are overly glorified by hardcore fans. Simply a hard-knocks shortcut and a really depraved garden. The only real reason to play more than once is to see each ending and to play as Richter Belmont... The latter can be sorta hard to get though.

   The game has its' hair-pulling moments, as well. Most primarily of these is the Galamoth creature. There's no really useful reason to fight it and without knowing about another hard-to-find place, I'd have to say that it's not possible to defeat it with Alucard. With Richter, there are some things that are possible but just not really worth the effort. Spikes and the Belmont clan have never mixed and Richter - as powerful as he might be - isn't about to change that, now.

Sega Saturn Japanese Imports = Kewlies
Sega Saturn Japanese Imports = Kewlies 

   Although I may have accidentally slurred over into the topic of graphics earlier, I'd just like to rephrase my opinion that the PSX has really awesome 2D rendering capabilities... If only most of the 2D games didn't suck so bad, it would have replaced the SNES as the greatest system ever made in my mind.

   SotN isn't especially long. If you've been playing anything from Sonic the Hedgehog to Mega Man you've had enough practice in this type of engine to know what you're capable of. I'd say that a good amount of your time will be spent figuring out what the boss' patterns are.

   Overall, I'd have to say that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ranks among the most unsung of all the PSX RPGs (right up there with Wild ARMs... Now if only had some screens, I'd review that, too...). Compared to the grander scope of games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, it might seem laughable to even call it an RPG at all, but - as my grandparents are fond of saying - "Variety is the spice of life and it takes all kinds to realize that."

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