Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation) review
"I remember when I wasn’t a hardcore Castlevania fan. I enjoyed the first one on the NES, but I never really thought much of it. A couple of years ago I came into contact with Circle of the Moon for the GBA. Needless to say, I enjoyed it a lot. The game had a perfect mix of combat and role-playing game elements. I became determined to seek out Symphony of the Night, which is deemed the pinnacle of the Castlevania series. Eventually I was able to get my hands on a copy, and the rest is histo..."
I remember when I wasn’t a hardcore Castlevania fan. I enjoyed the first one on the NES, but I never really thought much of it. A couple of years ago I came into contact with Circle of the Moon for the GBA. Needless to say, I enjoyed it a lot. The game had a perfect mix of combat and role-playing game elements. I became determined to seek out Symphony of the Night, which is deemed the pinnacle of the Castlevania series. Eventually I was able to get my hands on a copy, and the rest is history.
On a full moon night, Dracula’s castle rises from the depths once again. Sounds like the other Castlevania games, but this one this one does not star a Belmont. Richter Belmont is now a supporting character and Dracula’s son, Alucard, is the main man. Alucard feels it is his duty as a half-human/ half-vampire to end his father’s reign of evil himself. Along the way he meets up Richter’s sister-in-law, Maria, who is a vampire hunter like her brother. There are only a few scenes with actual story progression in them, and for the most part those rare scenes are cheese. At least there are a few good lines. But this is a 2D platformer, so the plot is largely inconsequential. Gameplay is always the main draw in this genre.
Symphony of the Night revolutionized the Castlevania formula. The most radical change is in the level design. Levels in the past titles have usually been simple where all you need to do is get from one side of the screen to the other. In SotN, the level design is almost exactly like that of Metriod. The castle is huge and nonlinear but certain items need to be acquired to advance into new areas. Secret areas, traps, and various horrors litter the castle. Occasionally there is some backtracking that must be done, but it does not hinder the game at all.
In addition to the heavily overhauled level structure, various RPG elements have been included in SotN. Alucard gains experience when he defeats an enemy. Eventually he levels up, which improves his stats. The classic whip is gone in favor of a plethora of other weapons. Alucard can equip a weapon on both hands, or a shield on one and a weapon on the other. Some weapons even require 2 hands to use. Since there are a variety of staffs, shields, swords and daggers to use, killing monsters never gets boring. I found myself always experimenting with different weapon combinations. However, there is a design flaw with equipping. In order to use health potions, you must go to the equipment menu to equip it, and then you must actually use it in the battle. It takes too long and usually ends up being too late to be effective.
The items needed to advance can be something as simple as or key or something as cool as the many power-ups. Alucard can transform into three different things: a bat, a wolf and a cloud of mist. These bring about many different gaming possibilities. You can turn into a wolf to pass through areas quickly, turn into a bat to fly over enemies or turn into mist to avoid an attack. Each one has to be used properly to be effective and that adds depth to the game.
If having 4 different forms (three animal forms and Alucard’s normal form) wasn’t enough, you can equip one of a few familiars to help you out. A familiar is a creature that attacks enemies, finds secret areas or does various other things to assist you. They also have the ability to level up and learn new moves. Having different familiars at your disposal adds even more variety to the game.
The game clocks in at about 8 hours, but if you did things right the overall playing time doubles. After the “final boss,” a second castle becomes unlocked and the game time nearly doubles. The amount of replay value this adds is exceptional. There are 4 different endings to see and if you input a special code you can play through the game is Richter Belmont. While there isn’t a storyline or anything, playing old school-style Castlevania on the PSX is great.
Graphically, the game is solid and at some moments nothing short of breathtaking. Alucard and all the other characters are very well animated and detailed, but the backgrounds and bosses is where the graphics truly shine. Most of the bosses are enormous, and a few of them are delightfully grotesque. My personal favorite is the 100-foot tall rotting corpse who is surrounded by large flies. Most of the backgrounds are polygonal and they fit the game’s “gothic” mood splendidly. From the grand chapel to the dank caverns, each area looks great.
The music is probably some of the best I have heard in a Playstation game. The tunes are synthesized, but some of them really sound as if they were performed by a symphony. The music ranges from grand symphonic pieces, hard rock and the occasional peaceful piano piece. The only song in the game I did not like was the end title theme. This sappy, poorly performed tune pales in comparison to the rest of the soundtrack. SotN is one of the oldest games on PSX that has voice acting, but don’t think is a good thing. While the voice acting on Alucard and a few other characters is passable at best, the voice of Richter is simply abysmal. He sounds like the geeky kid in my school who always gets beat on. No offense to the geeky kid, of course.
Overall, Symphony of the Night is not only an excellent Castlevania title, but a fine game in its own right. The ability to morph into different forms, equip 2 weapons at once and the many RPG elements are great. The multiple endings, additional castle, and secret playable character are just icing on the cake. While some may see this game as blasphemy to the Castlevania series due to all the changes, I see it as one of the last great 2D platformers we will ever see on a console. Damn 3D, damn it to hell!
Community review by djskittles (January 16, 2004)
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