A lot changes in four years.
After once again delaying the inevitable by defeating Dracula, Richter Belmont never resurfaces. Romania has rebuilt itself and has all but forgotten the man who had so recently staved their genocide. That is, until Castle Dracula appears in the air, signaling the impending return of Dracula himself, 96 years ahead of schedule.
The castle's sudden presence sends two very important lives into its despicable rapture. Maria Renard, who was saved by Richter in his quest, sets out to (hopefully) save him. Alucard, son of Dracula, has awoken from what he thought would be his permanent slumber. Hating his father, he sets out to slay him, only to return again to sleep with the prayer of ending his bloodline.
The real story revolves around Alucard. It is his game which takes center stage and it is his game around which the other stories revolve. His impossible struggle to kill his father and himself is why this Nocturne in the Moonlight is the basis for a decidedly different Castlevania.
Gone for Alucard is the whip and present is an RPG system of arming yourself, at first with whatever small arms you can obtain. A weak dagger/sword is all you'll find in the beginning, one you'll discard as you discover what the castle contains. Press onward and defeat enemies; soon you'll be able to wield the stronger weapons the stronger enemies will drop. The game progresses in this manner; the more you play, the more you can earn, and the more impressive your earnings will be.
Dracula-X welds this familiar RPG system of experience and item hunting with a 2D sidescrolling engine familiar in control and presentation to the Castlevania fan. Unfamiliar, though is the non-linear, abstract layout of the ''levels.''
Rather than string a series of levels in succession, Konami pieced this sizeable game together as a large castle, with distinct areas connected by hallways to each other. Theoretically, one can make his own way through the castle until all pertinent objectives have been met. Theory falls short of reality, though, as Konami has slightly different plans.
For Alucard, not the world is not at the fingertips. He must explore the castle and take note of what he can and cannot do. Once he's gained the correct ability (for instance, turning into a bat, thus enabling flight), he can return to that mysterious hole in the ceiling and open up an unexplored piece of the castle. This well-paced dispersion of possibilities and outcomes gives the game a depth immeasurably beyond any previous Castlevania.
Although retaining the fundamentals that made Symphony of the Night on the Playstation so astounding, the Saturn fumbles and obscures the overall package enough to corrode the product as a whole.
The gorgeous graphics, a 32-bit display piece along the lines of Darius Gaiden, are mostly intact. Understand that a 2D game looking mostly anything on the Saturn is inexcusable. The stellar animation, including true rotation for important enemies' limb movements, and effects such as the linescrolling chapel, remain impressively there. The game is still a colorful experience, with each separate area taking level design into an entirely different direction. However, unlike the slowdown-free PS version, the Saturn port slows frequently and frustratingly to a crawl. Cast aside your hopes for the ultimate delivery of the SOTN experience, as Alucard's game will disappointingly chug along a disappointingly often amount of time.
The music stays mostly the same, an unprecedented selection of brilliant pieces definitive of the areas they accompany. The composition of songs like Requiem of the Gods and Dracula's Castle ranks among the series' most elite tracks, and the brief Prayer and Transformation songs will generate a thirst for longer versions.
The Saturn port, though, arrives with a few bonus tracks to remind us that Japanese game companies love butt rock. Two butt rock versions of ''Bloody Tears'' each start with a brilliant pianist intro before descending into butt rock insanity. Two remixes of ''Beginning'' remind us that Japanese game companies love bad techno and two remixes of ''Vampire Killer'' remind us that they love different types of bad techno. Two more new songs accompany, one of which is an excellent organ piece, the other being a brief, plasticky loop.
Perhaps the biggest draw to this seemingly bastardized port is the addition of Maria as a playable character, as well as Richter's game being open from the very start. Playing these two games, though, makes the player realize that without the depth and involvement of Alucard's quest, the levels themselves do not hold afloat. Richter and Maria have no items to find, no skills to acquire, and no goals to achieve. It's sorely obvious that these two games are optional tack-ons; you could replace Maria with MegaMan and have the latter belong there just as much. Without the brilliant level challenges of the elder Castlevanias, the lack of reward for exploration murders the game.
Two bonus levels have been included, both of small structure and disjointed nature. Again, these are profoundly excessive, and their exclusion from the original is plainly understood. The Underground Garden, the entrance of which you can see at the very beginning of the standard PS SOTN quest, at least has a boss, while the short and trivial Cursed Prison doesn't last long enough for that.
While these extras, even after my inflammatory remarks, may still seem enticing, they aren't. It is Alucard's game which made Symphony of the Night so amazing, and it is Alucard's game that the Saturn port so expertly slows down. Forget the bonuses for a minute because you'll forget them soon after you've seen them. This disc suffers from a retardation of its inherited virtues, one for which its obtuse bonus features cannot compensate. Nowhere near a bad game by any stretch, it is simply rendered pointless by a much cheaper, better, and more readily accessible version.
Community review by sinner (March 14, 2004)
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