Symphony of the Night
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If you look back on the history of the original PlayStation you'll see that there are many games that are fan favorites yet never really went super mainstream for one reason or another. Of all these titles, Castlevania Symphony of the Night has to stand out as the greatest. After Konami released the amazing Dracula-X Rondo of Blood on the PCEngine Duo in Japan many US gamers were bummed that the title never would make it over here. However when the PlayStation was released upon the masses the follow-up to Dracula-X wasn't far behind and one of the most spectacular games to ever grace a console was born. Castlevania Symphony of the Night was a rebirth of the Castlevania franchise, tossing aside linear gameplay for an open roaming experience inside Castlevania. It was this game that the Gameboy Advance titles would build off in terms of play control and game design. Yet no matter how amazing the game would be it simply would not sell for one simple reason: it wasn't in 3D. When gamers picked up the PlayStation they were expecting polygon driven 3D gameplay experiences. A 2D game such as Castlevania simply wasn't all that appealing to the mainstream at the time. Of course that was just the blindness of technology since games like Klieak and Bubsy 3D were some of the worst games ever made for the PlayStation and Castlevania Symphony of the Night one of the best. I'll admit that even I passed up this game when it was released since it was 2D. I had just bought my PlayStation and I didn't want to play games that looked (at least from the case art) liked they could run on the Super Nintendo. This was a big mistake and after years and years of saying how I really should play Symphony of the Night I finally sat down and did so.
Description: The game starts with the final battle of Dracula-X Rondo of Blood with the player controlling Richter Belmont in the fight against Dracula. There's no way you can lose this battle as if you run out of health Maria pops in and replenishes it, however how well you do does effect your overall clear percentage later on. Once you defeat Dracula the real story of the game begins. Four years after the end of Dracula-X, Richter disappears and Castlevania materializes out of a thick fog. Maria is now fully grown and sets out to investigate Richter's whereabouts. At this same time Alucard, the son of Dracula, awakens to conquer the forces of evil once more and investigate why his father's castle has reappeared. The last time we saw Alucard was in Castlevania III Dracula's Curse where he sealed himself away at the end, however in this game Alucard is the character the player controls. Alucard enters Castlevania, is met by Death who takes all his gear, and the game truly begins. Instead of the standard point A to point B gameplay of previous Castlevania games, Symphony of the Night basically lets you loose in Castlevania, it plays a lot like Metroid with a giant free roaming maze like environment. New abilities allow you to reach different parts of Castlevania, gain upgrades, uncover secrets, and progress in the game. If you've played any of the Castlevania games since released on the Gameboy Advance then Symphony of the Night will feel familiar.
Graphics: This game features some of the most beautifully rendered sprites in the history of video games. It has yet to be surpassed even by modern releases and as more games move away from 2D, even on handheld systems, that title looks like it'll stick. Alucard is one of the most detailed sprites ever created and simply put looks amazing with some of the most fluid movement ever seen in a 2D game. The castle interiors are wonderfully detailed and when you're around the exterior walls you will notice changing conditions outside with realistic rain and fog effects that spill over into the castle itself. The fog, well, actually looks like fog. This doesn't seem like a big deal but remember that fog in most games is put there to cover up graphical limitations - in the case of Symphony of the Night it's put there for atmosphere. All the enemies are redone with new graphical polish, even over Dracula-X. The bosses are incredible, especially the larger ones which easily take up more than two screens, and just make the game even more visually stunning over all. There are also some neat effects in the sky outside of the castle but they're nothing super incredible. All in all, this is one of the most beautiful sprite based games ever created.
Sound: Compared to other Castlevania games that came before, the music in Symphony of the Night went in a different direction. Instead of mostly heavy electric guitar and rock anthems they opted for more dreamy orchestral goth music, which fits the series perfectly. Personally I miss the music from the earlier games but there is one battle in the game where a remix of the music from the first stage of Dracula-X plays in the background, which was a nice surprise. The music is different from the previous Castlevania games but it still suits the game well, I just like the old music. The quality of the soundtrack does not carry over well into the voice acting. Truthfully the voice acting is horrible for the most part. Dracula is decently acted but the only really well done voice in the game is that of Death. Richter and Alucard are both horrible but nowhere as bad as Maria - who only sounds decent when she says "Richter." This would usually lead to a mixed bag in the audio department but the music is so good and voice work so scarce that the bad voice work really isn't that much of a distraction.
Play Control: Excellent, simply put. Where as many earlier Castlevania games had somewhat stiff controls, Symphony of the Night feels much more free flowing and Alucard is built from the ground up with mobility in mind. It takes awhile to get used to using blade weapons as opposed to the traditional whip but after you get that down the control is smooth. The only complaint I have is in relation to the special moves Alucard can pull off. These require combinations similar to the special moves in fighting games and can be difficult to pull off in some of the boss battles. Granted you don't HAVE to use them to complete the game, in fact you can beat the game front to back without using them at all, but it still pulls you out of the game a bit. It's possible to unlock Richter after completing the game and play a slightly different scenario with him and he controls exactly as he did in Dracula-X.
Replay: There are four endings to the game (there is evidence of a fifth but you have to use a cheating device) and a full clear, the maximum clear rate, is 200.6%. Why over 100%? Simple, some people will only complete half the game and half the story. After you completely explore and defeat all the bosses in Castlevania and head off to the "final" boss you have some options. You can kill him outright and the game ends with either of the first two endings, with a maximum clear rate of 100%. If it said 50% then it would aggrivate a lot of players who think they completed the game. Well if you equip a certain item prior to the "final" boss then you fight the true menace of Castlevania who then creates a reversed version of Castlevania above the original. This is where the second 100% comes in. While it doesn't take as long to go through the reverse castle (you already have all your ability upgrades) it's still a different challenge and makes the game a longer experience. After completing the reverse castle you earn one of the two second endings. If you complete the game with at least 170% then you get to play an alternate scenario as Richter going through the game. Richter can't reach all the same areas Alucard can nor can he add new abilities so the gameplay is a completely different beast.
Final Verdict: Are you a Castlevania
fan? Well then you have probably already played this. If you're
like me and passed up this game for one reason or another then you owe
it yourself to play it soon. If you've played and enjoyed the Castlevania
games on the Gameboy Advance then you'd enjoy this title as well since
it's basically the first incarnation of the gameplay mechanic that was
carried over into those games. I still haven't sat down with a 100%
quality copy of Dracula-X Rondo of Blood on the PCEngine CD but I still
put Symphony of the Night right there with it in terms of best of the series.
It's time for a Castlevania compilation release, Konami. You simply
cannot go wrong with this game if you enjoy Castlevania.
Written on 05-06-05 by David, firstname.lastname@example.org
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