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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation) artwork

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation) review


"Whether as a loving tribute to the series' glorious past or a striking declaration of its subsequent revival, Symphony of the Night will make any 2D enthusiast shed bloody tears of joy. Thematically a sequel to the equally legendary Rondo of Blood, this nocturne in the moonlight takes its predecessor's newfound emphasis on nonlinearity to an entirely new level – a seemingly preordained marriage to Super Metroid, now laden with haunting gothic atmosphere and a ridiculous amount of character growth for protagonist Alucard, the outwardly delicate but incredibly potent dhampir prince first introduced in Akumajou Densetsu."




You like Castlevania, don't you?

Whether as a loving tribute to the series' glorious past or a striking declaration of its subsequent revival, Symphony of the Night will make any 2D enthusiast shed bloody tears of joy. Thematically a sequel to the equally legendary Rondo of Blood, this nocturne in the moonlight takes its predecessor's newfound emphasis on nonlinearity to an entirely new level – a seemingly preordained marriage to Super Metroid, now laden with haunting gothic atmosphere and a ridiculous amount of character growth for protagonist Alucard, the outwardly delicate but incredibly potent dhampir prince first introduced in Akumajou Densetsu.

The demonic abode of Count Dracula has been completely transformed from discrete stages to a sprawling map of connected but always distinctive miniature worlds that you're more or less given free reign to explore in any order, assuming you can successfully determine how to reach them; indeed, it's often necessary to revisit previously conquered corridors with new abilities in order to access additional areas and equipment. Wherever you may find yourself, there's always one constant: the PlayStation may have seized the 32-bit era largely due to its polygonal prowess, but Symphony is a masterpiece of gorgeous sprites and smooth animation.

Picture yourself tearing across the castle's decaying halls in the form of a speedy wolf, the looming windows snapping open and shut from the howling wind outside while a procession of shambling zombies begin wailing even louder with your passing as they're ripped asunder to spurt fountains of gore. Hundreds of unique monster designs have been resurrected from across the entire franchise or conjured from scratch, everything from the iconic legions of skeletons and axe knights endlessly patrolling the passageways, to massive ghostly skulls lurking high atop the clock tower whose pursuit can be divined by the ominous clicking of their ivory jaws. Traipsing through the crypts below offers hordes of winged gremlins that gleefully proceed to cover the entire landscape in fireballs until you can snuff out the both of them, in addition to nubile witches astride broomsticks who transform into fleeing felines should their magic missiles falter.

The level designs are excellent all on their own, as when leaping from one thunderous bell to another in the ornate chapel where a spectral cleric will hear your many sins from a spike-trapped confessional and the paintings depict fleshless undead slaughtering priests. But for sheer grotesque impressiveness it's hard to argue with hideous bosses like Beelzebub, a gargantuan corpse whose acres of rotting flesh hang from the rafters in chains unless you can dodge swarms of bulbous insects long enough to slice them off one by one and reduce this false god to nothing more than a puddle of putrescence. And just when you think you're nearing the end of your journey, a brilliant twist reveals you still have a long way to go by turning your whole world upside down – quite literally.

Of course you'll want to peel your eyes away from the monstrous multitudes' painstakingly detailed death throes in search of breakable walls and subtly concealed switches, as the entire time you'll also be amassing an incredibly diverse trove of weapons, armor, and supernatural powers scattered throughout the castle's diabolical depths. There's seemingly always something new to discover; in addition to offering elemental properties or otherwise increased effectiveness against certain enemy types, many items feature secret Street Fighter-esque special moves that range from suddenly teleporting behind your opponent for a series of surprise strikes, to summoning forth a wide variety of protective spirits based upon your currently equipped shield. It often seems as though your gravest challenge isn't overcoming the countless horrors of the underworld, but rather sorting through the chaotic mountain of cool junk they leave behind.

If there's a failing to this game it's that without going out of your way to do so it never particularly strains your abilities. Each wing of the castle is liberally dotted with save points that fully restore your health, and unlike the old days in which a starving vampire killer had to endure for over half the damn stage before stumbling upon a life-saving hunk of wall meat, a veritable banquet of storable healing goodies are free for the hoarding in practically every nook and cranny. While this fact won't be overly lamented by casual gamers and those who can recall little of the early installments other than their barely suppressed trauma of repeatedly falling through stairs, series stalwarts will welcome the ability to replay the entire game as Teutonic terror Richter Belmont, whose bone-shattering whip strikes and devastating subweapon crashes are offset by his old-school (read: virtually nonexistent) health bar to make for a far more traditional experience.

Should you have missed it the first time there are now several ways to experience the performance – a Saturn port, downloaded onto an Xbox 360, even on the go with your PSP – but rest assured that regardless of the form you're in for a timeless brush with greatness. It may be another hundred years before Dracula makes another appearance of this caliber, but for this symphony the night is very much still young.


Rating: 10/10

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Staff review by Sho (October 31, 2010)

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