Castlevania was in an odd predicament with the 5th generation of consoles. The series, like many, was having a difficult time making the leap to 3D. Primarily a 2D action game to this point, Castlevania needed a change. Series director Koji Igarashi, taking inspiration form Super Metroid, decided to try something different. And thus, the phrase Metroidvania was born.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a game that every gamer needs to play. Regardless of the version, be it the original or one of the many rereleases, this defined a not only a genre, but was the epitome of smart game design. Aside from being one of the first games to incorporate RPG elements, it played with expectations, with an entire second half that could easily be missed.
Symphony is a direct sequel to the previous entry in the series, Rondo of Blood. The game starts with the final stage of Rondo, where you play as Richter in a traditional action sense, ready to square off with Dracula. The story jumps four years later when Richter has gone missing, and Alucard, Dracula’s son, goes in search of him. Honestly, the story is the weaker element of game. Final Fantasy this is not, it’s all about the gameplay.
Nearly the entire castle is open for exploration at the start, with other sections opening upon acquiring new powers. Many sections will kill you if you venture in too early, when you’re too weak. Aside from solid gameplay mechanics, what makes this standout? Simple, this doesn’t hold your hand. Over that last decade or so games have developed the tendency for overly long tutorials or permanent guides. Fi in Skyward Sword, or the six hour unskipable opening in Assassin’s Creed III. This taught you through failure, and awarded you for trial and error.
Long before achievements, games had different ways to push you forward. In Symphony of the Night, it was exploring the map. A percentage would be shown, letting you know how much was left to explore, driving you forward. Many sections were hidden behind random breakable walls with no visible clues as to what lies behind. Only through trial and error, or a guide, were you able to get all 200.6%. What’s that? More than 100% you say? This is the true genius of Symphony of the Night.
Reaching Dracula’s chamber would result in a battle with Richter. Defeat him and the game is won. It is possible to explore the entire 100% of the map too. In truth, there is a way to spare Richter, allowing the game to continue. In a smart move, working inside the memory limitations of the system, the castle was inverted, doubling the size of the game. There was no hint to this through the game, only pleas from Maria, Richter’s girlfriend, to not kill him.
One element that has carried throughout the Castlevania series is the music, and Symphony has some of the best. Composed by Michiru Yamane, the score has some of the most haunting, but catchy gothic tones. Though the music is superb, the voice acting and translation were not, at least in the original version. But that’s what made it fun. This has been corrected with new dubbing in latter versions. Still, the charm of the original cannot be understated.
This is a game I’ve played through countless time on multiple systems. I confident I can still complete all 200.6% without a guide. There’s a bonus feature my friend discovered upon putting the PSX disc into a CD player. The player skips to track 2 where you’re greeted by Alucard and, give it a listen.
It’s sad that this, along with Super Metroid, defined a genre, and now neither series have seen fit to return to it in far too long. While there are plenty of games in the same vein (see what I did there), such as Shadow Complex or Guacamelee!, it’s not the same without these titans in the mix. Still, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night holds up as not only a crowning achievement for the generation, but a game that everyone needs to play.
Which version(s) of Symphony have you played? Tricked by the faux ending? Comment below!
Where are my DS digital releases?