Welcome to week two of Re-Play! A ten-week series where we go look back in time to visit some of the greatest games of the past, give them an honest review, and see how well they still hold up today! This week we are looking back to 1997 and taking a turn to the dark side to revisit Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Castlevania: SOTN is widely touted as one of the best games on the PlayStation 1. This was during an era of gaming when most game developers were venturing into the early days of 3D graphics. The PlayStation 1 had more powerful technology that any game system before it, which did allow for some impressive 3D graphics for the time. However, instead of following the 3D trend, Konami decided to use the new and powerful(for the time) hardware of the PS1 to create a 2D action/platforming game titled Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This allowed for a massive game, while also helping create beautiful sprite graphics which moved smoother than ever before due to the PS1’s upgraded hardware. These are just a few of the advancements which helped create a haunting and gorgeous gameplay experience like any other at the time, and arguably like none other to this day.
Starting at the beginning, literally, SOTN opens with a playable prologue which sets the stage for the remainder of the game. Vampire Hunter Richter Belmont ventures throughout Castlevania to defeat Dracula, and save his love: Maria. After, it seems that all is well until Belmont disappears and Dracula’s son, Alucard, is awakened by a dark power which is calling him back to Castlevania. It is not often that platforming games have much of a story, which is all the more reason SOTN separates itself from others in its genre.
This masterfully written supernatural story leads the player through about a dozen hours during the main story. However, once the main story through the haunted Castlevania “ends”, a second more challenging castle opens up for the player to conquer. This does not just exist as extra padding for the playtime, as the true ending of the game is only accessed by completing this dangerous second castle.
One of the fantastic things about Castlevania games is that they are simple to learn, but hard to master. The controls of SOTN are quickly learned by the player in around 15 minutes, and there are very few additions to learn as the game goes on. However, Konami added a few RPG elements in this platformer which constantly keeps the gameplay fresh and entertaining. There are dozens of items, weapons, and relics to acquire throughout the game, most of which drastically alter the style of how the game is played. These upgrades are fed to the player at an excellent pace, often granting Alucard new abilities which are then in turn used to access areas of the castle which were previously inaccessible.
In addition to the multitude of gear to acquire for Alucard, there are 146 different enemies and bosses to encounter throughout Castlevania. Most monsters are unique from each other, having different attacks, patterns, and requiring various strategies to defeat them. However, this rarely feels like a slog because this frantic ever-changing gameplay is amplified by one of the most unique and powerful soundtracks of the time.
Rather than creating a soundtrack using the console’s synth hardware, as most games had done in the past, Konami decided to utilize the PS1’s ability to play CDs for SOTN’s music. Konami hired and recorded a live orchestra for the many tracks played throughout the game. They incorporated multiples genres into this soundtrack, including classical, techno, rock, jazz and thrash metal to create a unique and haunting audio experience which no other game had done before it.
All of this comes together to create a gameplay experience that is constantly evolving and changing along with the main character. From the monsters, gear, music, and castle itself, Symphony of the Night is constantly fresh and engaging whether you are killing your first skeleton or your thousandth.
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
Not many games do not age well, but Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is not most games; it has aged like a fine wine. It truly is a masterpiece with its beautiful graphics, intricate gameplay, and its gorgeous and haunting musical score. Konami has created a truly fantastic gothic gameplay experience which should be experienced by every gamer at least once in their lives. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has most definitely made its mark on history, as it helped define and create the Metroidvania genre. Many new games still try to reach the pinnacle of this genre, however, none have yet been able to rout Castlevania: Symphony of the Night from its throne as the king of the genre. It’s not like Dracula would give up the throne that easily anyway.