In the beginning, Castlevania established itself as a franchise that was known for a lot of particular things. It took the classic monsters from horror and Greek mythology and adapted them into a series of side-scrolling platformers. There have been some exceptions along the way with varying degrees of success. One of the more successful variations has been Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In this game, you get to explore the entirety of Dracula’s castle at your own pace. It was bold, innovative, and helped coin a brand new genre and it still holds up well today.
The Role You Play
You spend the majority of the game playing as Dracula’s half-vampire son Alucard. He can equip swords and armor to fight against Dracula’s army of monsters. He can also learn several magic spells that allow him to deal damage to enemies and/or absorb their health. As he travels through the castle, he can learn new abilities that allow him to double jump, transform into a wolf or bat, or acquire a familiar that can assist him in battle.
Dracula’s castle rises once every hundred years. When it does, a vampire hunter from the Belmont family normally comes to defeat Count Dracula and destroy the castle. However, only four years after Richter Belmont last defeated Dracula, the Castle has once again mysteriously returned. Also, Richter is nowhere to be found. It is now up to Alucard to defeat his father and put an end to the evil reign of his father once and for all.
Symphony of the Night would go on to be known as a major innovator for its gameplay. It featured platforming, action RPG combat, as well as a gradually expanding map. The map opens up more as you get more special items and abilities that let you access new areas. Each new area will require you to be increasingly more dependent on your abilities to double jump, turn into a bat and fly, or transform into mist to pass through a grate.
The game gets even harder when you access the reverse castle. Halfway through the game, you can travel to a new version of Dracula’s Castle where the entire map is inverted. All of the enemies are more difficult and navigating the areas becomes more challenging.
There are plenty of areas to explore within Dracula’s Castle. Not every area is strictly required to be visited to complete the game, but there are benefits to exploring the entire castle. This includes finding treasure, discovering new enemies, and simply uncovering more of the map. As you explore, you can also spend hours battling with enemies to grind for experience and rare item drops. A lot of this is optional though, and if you just want to finish the main game, it will take roughly 6-10 hours.
Any game that has the word ‘Symphony’ in the title should have good music, and Symphony of the Night does not disappoint. It makes full use of the Playstation’s CD quality sound. It produces an immaculate soundtrack to match every room of Dracula’s castle. There is gothic music to go with the cathedral, upbeat battle music in the coliseum and mellow music in the library. The music is as diverse as the rooms of the castle not just in melody and tone, but in production as well. Some are electric guitar-driven, while others sound more classical and are piano or harpsichord driven.
One of the main standout features of this game is the item drops. Most of the enemies in this game can drop special items like weapons, equipment, items, etc. These items vary in rarity, and they can have drastic effects on your attributes and abilities. They can include weapons with special types of attacks, accessories that massively boost your stats or armor that can absorb a particular type of damage. It can take a long time to get an enemy to drop any of these items, but if you choose to persevere, it can be worth it in the end.
The Talking Parts
Symphony of the Night has some of the most infamously bad dialogue ever. The lines are incredibly cheesy and don’t make a lot of sense. The tone is all over the place and is rarely consistent from one block of dialogue to the next. The words in the text boxes also don’t always match what is being said by the voice actors. There is a bit of that “so bad it’s good” charm to some of it, but for the most part, it’s just bad.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
There are different game modes that you can unlock after you finish the game for the first time. One mode allows you to play through the game as Richter Belmont. This allows for a more traditional Castlevania gameplay experience, and it makes all of the equipment and items irrelevant.
The other gameplay mode is the ‘Luck Mode.’ You can play through the game as Alucard with lower stats but maxed out Luck. This allows you to maximize your chances of getting rare item drops from enemies. However, this mode is also a lot more difficult as you have lower health, attack and defense.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a classic of the era. It helped define the Metroidvania genre and has become a cornerstone of the Castlevania franchise. It’s only bogged down by some of the more common flaws of the PlayStation era, but those are by no means a deal-breaker for this game. It is still a great game and a must-play for anyone looking for a good Metroidvania.