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Chronological Challenge – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

November 23, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

1997 continues throughout this week for the Chronological Challenge. Today I am reviewing a classic game which I never played originally. To be fair, this game was apparently pretty rare in the UK at the time, and only a PSN release a few years back made it easier to get hold of, so let’s say that’s my excuse.

Castlevania: Symphony of The Night
Publisher: Konami | Developer: KCET | Released: March 1997 (Japan)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (PSN release)

Goal: Defeat Dracula

Actual Outcome: Dracula defeated!

Castlevania is one of those franchises I’ve never paid much attention to. The reason this game turned up on my list is because a friend of mine highly recommended it since I loved the Metroid games and said I should get it. Lo and behold, it’s on PSN, so I decided to pick it up and add it to my game list for the challenge.

This really does play a lot like Metroid (they don’t call the genre Metroidvania for nothing), and yes, I love it as a result.

Obviously, this isn’t exactly the same as Metroid, as this uses swords instead of guns and uses a gothic horror theme instead of a space theme, and you fight zombies and ghouls instead of aliens. But the basic principle is the same – this is a non-linear side-scrolling adventure where progression is based on items and abilities you acquire, not on simply running to the right. Blocked by a gate? Get the ability to turn into mist. Can’t quite reach that high ledge? Get a stone that gives you a double jump. Passageway blocked by spikes? Get armour that breaks spikes. That’s how it all works.

Where Castlevania differs from Super Metroid is that the latter game locked you out of a lot of places at the beginning and tended to have a relatively clear progression, SotN feels a little bit more haphazard and open, allowing you to stumble into places you probably shouldn’t be in because you’re not a high enough level.

And that’s another thing. SotN is Super Metroid crossed with a JRPG. Defeating enemies gives you EXP, you collect new swords and armour that boost your stats, and your survival is partly dependent on you making sure you level up as much as possible. And this adds a huge amount of strategy, and makes backtracking much less of a chore, as venturing through an area you’ve been to before often results in you slicing up previously tough enemies without a care in the world. The level progression makes you feel like a kickass vampire warrior, and that’s really what we’re all here for.

Speaking of exploration being a joy, exploration is a joy. The castle has a bizarre structure, clearly designed to show how messed up Dracula’s sense of décor is, but there’s a map on hand at all times (that clearly marks routes, save points and warp rooms, which is especially useful) and the castle isn’t as large as it initially seems, so you often find yourself moving around with ease and ending up where you need to be faster than you first thought.

Loading times avoid getting in the way too, as loading happens in specific “CD” rooms that you strut through while the game does some thinking. It’s a wonderful way to make the whole world seem seamless, and I probably wouldn’t have even realised if those room didn’t clearly show a CD icon at the top to indicate loading was happening.

If there is criticism to be had of SotN, it’s in the combat. There were times where the combat could be a little too unforgiving, and there were moments where I got frustrated with it and wanted to scream, but it managed to just stay on the right side of challenging to the point where I didn’t feel cheated or bothered by the difficulty too much. Plus once I got the Crissaegrim in the Inverted Castle, I stopped complaining entirely as that sword broke the game in the most wonderful way.

I had a blast with Symphony of the Night. It is a fantastic adventure game with a fantastic world to explore, and challenged me in all the right ways at every turn. The only bad thing I have to say is, why did it take me so long to realise this was such a great game?

Wonder what’s happening with the Castlevania series now?

Oh. Yeah. KONAMIIIIIIIIII!!!

Anyway, that’s my review of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I will have a Chronological Challenge review for you every day this week, so keep checking back to see what comes up. Until then, follow me on Twitter for updates, and keep an eye out for the start of Antarctica in my Tomb Raider 3 Let’s Play over on YouTube this week. If you like what you see, I would love your support over on Patreon. I shall see you tomorrow!

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  1. November 23, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    This is a fantastic game. And you’re right, backtracking in SotN actually makes you feel much more powerful since you’ll just slice your way through without even stopping. But you forgot another reason it’s cool to just explore: the slightly moonwalkish dash. Only Alucard is cool enough to Moonwalk his way to the next area!

    Awesome review. If you enjoy Action JRPGs, may I suggest the Ys series. Not many people care about the series, which is a damn shame!

    • November 24, 2015 at 1:11 am

      The dash is pretty cool, although I rarely used it while moving around, so that’s why I didn’t mention it in the review!

      I’ve vaguely heard of the Ys series but I know exactly nothing about it. What’s it about? How does it play?

      • November 24, 2015 at 1:28 am

        Depends really.

        The Ys series is old, so Ys I & II play the same way they did when first released in the 80s. You just run. The combat system is based on bumping into enemies. It’s pretty simple but very fun.

        Ys III and beyond have been remade and use 3rd person camera, hacky slashy control scheme. environments are in 3D but characters are in 2D. If you ever played Ragnarok Online, the style is the same.

        I’m doing a Let’s Play of the remade Ys III right now, you can check it out here if you like, so you can see the gameplay style:

  2. November 24, 2015 at 12:59 am

    Isn’t SOTN unlockable in a separate PS3 Castlevania game (so you can play it inside the game)?

    • November 24, 2015 at 1:12 am

      You’re asking the wrong guy, unfortunately. I know about this one and pretty much nothing specific about anything else! It wouldn’t surprise me if it was snuck in as a bonus somewhere though.

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