Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (10 hours)

I was reluctant to write this review, because in my research after playing the game, I found out that there are four additional endings to the one I received. I beat the game, the credits rolled, but I could have done it four more times in four different ways. I will write about the game as I know it, and discuss multiple endings that I’ve recently learned about.

I am a big fan of the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS Castlevania’s, and Symphony of the Night is how this style of game got it’s start. It is considered to be the first Metroidvania game, a game that combines elements from the game Super Metroid, with traditional Castlevania gameplay. On the one hand, this is the first game in either series to include RPG mechanics, such as levelling-up and loot collecting. On the other, the game features a massive map like in Super Metroid, as well as moments where sections of the map are blocked off, usually until a specific item has been collected. Combine these things with superior combat from the Castlevania series, and you have a genre that has spawned a lot of copycats.

Unlike the Game Boy Advance and DS versions of Castlevania, Symphony of the Night doesn’t follow a progression where you enter a new area, and grind until the boss fight, at least not early on. Instead, the game is a lot about exploration, as well as loot collection. Your sword and armor can be upgraded, and these items are often dropped by enemies, if not hidden in a secret area. There’s also a “Life Max Up” and a “Hearts Max Up”, in addition to regular leveling. Loot collecting is a lot like Diablo, while RPG mechanics feel borrowed from Final Fantasy.

The combat is good. Really good. As a change of pace, you don’t bear a whip, but a traditional sword, and you can equip a shield if you choose to. I think this is because you play as the son of Dracula, Alucard, which someone had to point out to me, is Dracula spelled backward. Like in past Castlevania’s, combat is a lot about good timing. You also can swiftly move backward to avoid an incoming attack – actually, you can move faster backward than forward.

Still true to the Castlevania namesake, there are sub-weapons, such as an axe, dagger, and a cross, and all sub-weapons consume hearts. Beyond that, armor that you carry can work in your favor, such as a shield that restores hit-points. Finally, there are a number of one-time use weapons you pick up that can attack one foe or a group. And if you’ve been playing a little while, it can all look so graceful.

Around halfway through the game (leading up to the first ending), you come across a library. The head librarian is an old man who happens to be a salesman. In the library, this seems a bit odd – normally we borrow from libraries. He can sell you a Castle Map, which pretty much exposes all the areas you haven’t been to yet, as well as highlighting where you’ve already been. There’s some great stuff to see, such as a Colosseum, where defeating numerous powerful enemies leads to a boss fight, and the power to turn into mist, so you can glide through barred doors. There’s also an underground waterway, that leads to a special item and armor.

The sad truth is, you can “beat” Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in about an hour and a half, with enough time to gain levels for the final boss fight, as well as see the entire castle. Something I didn’t know till recently is that’s it’s just the first ending. There are five endings. The game is old enough (released in 1997) that it’s spoiler-free to say there is an entirely new castle after the third ending, which is the same as the main castle, but upside-down and backwards. Upside-down in the sense that you’re walking on the ceiling, and backwards in the sense that the entrance to the original castle where the game begins is at the far left, and in the upside-down castle at the far right, far from the beginning. I learned the enemies are much harder here, and the second castle is a lot like a New Game Plus mode.

I didn’t play Symphony in the Night until I was deeply entrenched in the portable games. That said, it’s really well made. The biggest downgrade is that the series had to take a resolution hit to work on Game Boy Advance and DS. It exceeded my expectations, and let’s not forget it started the Metroidvania genre. I will get all five endings. The game is tied to my Microsoft account, and I don’t have an Xbox to play on right now. In hindsight, if you’re looking into Metroidvania games, this is the best place to start.

5/5

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