As with the Mega Man series, the Castlevaia series has been rather visible in this 365//365 review project. Both series are timeless classics, spanning from one console generation to the next. While we have seen some of the best the series has to offer (Castlevania: Bloodlines, Super Castlevania IV), we’ve also seen the worst that the series has offered us (The Castlevania Adventures). We’ve even seen a admirable, yet flawed 3D incarnation of the series in Castlevania: Lamnent of Innocence. Although arguably the worst two titles have not been touched yet (and may not be at all), the polar opposite will finally be reviewed, in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, on the Sony PlayStation.
For those living under the same rock as the folks that may have never played Super Mario Bros. 3, here’s the skinny — mix one part Castlevania gameplay with one part RPG element, and pour in one quart of stylish visuals and memorizing musical scores. Konami took the well established as well traveled Castlevania series, and decided to change up a few things. While such drastic reinventions to the wheel could almost incapacitate a vehicle such as Castlevania, Konami did such a tremendous job, that they turned the wheel into rocket boosters, enabling their vehicle to reach heights never seen before.
The story is a bit deeper than previous titles. With some hammy voice acting and infrequent dialog encounters with various characters in the game, the sense of immersion, and an overall scope is increased quite a bit, furthering a sense of care to what unfolds through the game. This goes hand in hand with the RPG elements added into the gameplay. Enemies, as well as Alucard, have hit points, which must be depleted in order for them to be defeated. Add in an inventory system and transformations Alucard can acquire and full stats with a level up system that raises them, and you have the makings of a beloved series evolving to a higher state.
The artistic direction took a somewhat drastic turn, while still retaining its 2D coating of paint. Each enemy has increased somewhat in size, with some fluid animations and a wonderful use of the PlayStation’s color palette. The audio took a similar revitalization, featuring more complex compositions, which seem to broaden the scope of the game significantly. Each area Alucard enters is presented with a musical piece that fits like a glove, with the proper emotions emerging at the proper times. Boss fights emit a feeling of trepidation, while certain catacombs you’ll wander into will evoke certain emotions and feelings more so, thanks to the wonderful musical presentation across the board. Easily the most well thought out and executed soundtrack of the series.
Definitely the most rewarding aspect of SotN is the difficulty and gameplay. All of the artificial difficulty additives such as instant death spikes and pit falls, are just about nullified. While there’s a spiked section or you that you’ll encounter, you’re not supposed to pass through those section in the conventional manners. The castle layout is brilliant, although there’s an emphasis on back tracking through the castle, which became a staple in future installments. The size and scope of Dracula’s castle is tremendous, and for the first time in the series, you actually feel like you’ve transported to Transylvania, traversing through Dracula’s Castle in order to put an end to his treachery. With controls that don’t fight against you (although not as clutch as Super Castlevania IV), you’ll find little to nothing to be up in arms over.
Over the years, there’s been a debate on whether Super Castlevania IV or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the one CV title that should define the series. While you’ll never go wrong with one or the other, Symphony of the Night fits together several elements never seen to the series, and in turn, reinvents the franchise into the action/RPG themed experience it’s grown to today. With the linearity of your experience eliminated somewhat, you’re not totally restricted to going from point A to point B Like Super Castlevania IV, but rather the freedom to experiment, and some unfortunate back tracking. But with some of the best 2D graphics ever, the best soundtrack of the series, the RPG elements adding a new dimension to the gameplay and the fact that you can unlock an upside down version of the castle when Dracula is defeated, you’ll have a plethora of content and reasons to never leave Dracula’s Castle.