"Evil has an address..."
For me its hard to write about this title without praising it to the point of being too biased in favor of how great this title truly is. SOTN was a unique experience when I played it for the first time on the PlayStation, which in turn was around the time I first bought the system and started playing various titles that truly stood out in said system at that time. I had read about this game in gaming magazines in the late 90s, wondering how a Castlevania title would be with a character that mainly used swords instead of the fabled whip to hunt down the creatures of the night. As I started playing it I found myself in a wondrous title, full of unique concepts and others borrowed from previous game I had played such as Super Metroid, and the fact that it completely redesign the gameplay and lore of Castlevania games for quite a while, changing its direction of straightforward play into a deep, exploring adventure which would be the theme for subsequent titles to come.
The story takes place after the events of its prior game in the series, Rondo of Blood where Richter Belmont defeats Dracula. Years later Richter disappears mysteriously and Maria Renard goes on in a search for him finding out that the demon castle has yet again appeared. With no Belmonts to defeat Dracula this time, Alucard awakens from his self-induced slumber and goes on to find out why he has been summoned as he himself storms the castle this time around. While he goes on battling Dracula's minions and other nightmarish monstrosities, he comes in contact with Maria who would often help him in various segments of the castle, all the way until Alucard finds the reason on Richter's disappearance and Dracula's latest reincarnation.
SOTN sports a very different mechanic that is dramatically changed from previous titles, such as the ability to use various weapons, armor, and items to help you through the castle, as well as RPG elements which raise stats and HP/MP to complete the quest. It also features an open-ended mechanic entirely new to the series, where you can transverse as you please without following a straightforward venture and revisit other sections equipped with the means to access them when you couldn't allowed to do so prior. Alucard can also morph into various forms like a wolf, bat, and fog which also help to access segments in said castle that were otherwise inaccessible in his normal form. As if this weren't enough, Alucard can summon the assistance of familiars, some which can aid him by recovering health and team up with some of his altered forms, as well as his own set of moves, some of which include being able to teleport and shoot fireballs from his cape the way Dracula often does. Indeed, Alucard seems to be pretty much overpowered, but this does not hide the fact that this version of Castlevania you must take advantage of all of his abilities and powers to face off against some of the most powerful enemies ever encountered before.
The look of the game retains its 2D atmosphere, along with limited CGI rendered graphics used in some cut scenes and on some areas of the castle, which do not clash with the flat, rich design of 2D sprites. This is quite a curious thing being that the PlayStation was launched in an era where 3D graphics in games were now common. To me however, this was a very welcoming feature. The designs of said sprites are lush and magnificently detailed. The game also sports a great soundtrack, some of which rocks the walls and others which are soothing and relaxing. Loading times are also pretty fast here, you find yourself walking in real time towards the next section of the castle as it loads in the background. Quite a feat being that sprite games often take longer to load than 3D rendered ones. You pretty much do not lose the rhythm and speed traversing the castle all around.
And just when you thought you had beaten it all, another castle looms over, its shape as massive as the one you just conquered and full of new items and enemies to conquer. That was one of the biggest reveals which made me gasp at the concept of prolonging gameplay on this title, something I was grateful being that I once thought this game was too short for its own good.
SOTN was released during Castlevania's 10th Anniversary on the series, but without much fanfare. Although it was hailed as a great title by mane, it did not do well in sales in America. However, it is quite a grandiose title to hold and one that is very difficult to purchase nowadays. You would be very lucky if you have a physical copy during the time it was out. Alucard himself is a change far from his initial appearance in Castlevania III Dracula's Curse, with his design completely redesigned and more abilities added into his repertoire. Quite arguably one of the best characters within its own lore. Even with RPG elements you don't necessarily need to grind to level up in order to defeat some of the most difficult sections in both castles, more often than not, it would require certain items, equipment, and skill to have the advantage. Once you have certain weapons like the Crissaegrim sword you find out it is quite a breeze to go through sections of the castle and defeat bosses with ease. You can add challenge by using other weapons or even go barehanded if you are adept at defeating said enemies. As wonderful as this title is, there are times when the game slows down once a multitude of enemies show up onscreen, but such rarely ever happens throughout the game. Also, if you are ill-equipped for a boss battle you will find out how frustrated it is to get past them at times. Again, this does not affect gameplay by much overall.
Other features include having a sound test and a bestiary depicting all enemies and bosses you've defeated throughout the game, as well as the ability to play as Richter Belmont in a separate game file. Richter himself lacks the means to level up and does not use any other weapons save for sub-weapons featured in the series, but makes up for it by having an impressive array of physical abilities which in itself makes it a joy to play through.
Symphony of the Night is a great title within the Castlevania series and one you should definitely add to your PlayStation collection. You will find out you cannot only play it once and come back to test yourself better using various ways in beating it. I highly recommend it.
Community review by CptRetroBlue (October 26, 2018)
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