CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT
By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on September 11, 2015
Hello again, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome back to our little timemachine experiment. I am your very own personal time-guide this time around, because most of my in-house staff is, well, dead... So I had to ask my time-travelling crew to stay home and take over the deceased staff's duties. You might be wondering why and how something like this could ever have happened. Well, naturally, I'm not to blame! Instead of yours truly, the blame falls to all of you out there. Confused? Let me explain.
In my eternal quest to bring you the absolute best of vintage gaming, I only work with people who are at the top of their field. Everything less than perfect is expendable. After the latest string of 'incidents', I was convinced that some of my employees were not as good as they ought to be. So after a period of quiet contemplation, I decided that it was time to start, shall we say, culling the herd. Only my cleanup crew was excused, for a good reason, I might add. Being a fan of old Roman ways and movies like Battle Royale, the perfect idea just popped into my head: Gladiators. The rules of this battle were just like in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome: two men enter, one man leaves. Unfortunately, in our case, this meant: forty men enter, no one leaves. Normally, one would expect that at least one of them would make it out alive. But then again, when has anything gone according to plan around here?!
The victor was a young but very tough lady who worked as a security officer at our HQ. When she saw she'd won, she threw her weapon (a heavily modified chainsaw) up in the air in pure ecstasy. Now, as a number of us undoubtedly know, if you throw something straight up in the air, it's bound to come straight down. So at the top of its ascent, the chainsaw went into a nose-dive and plummeted blade first towards our victorious vixen and effectively cleft her in twain upon impact. Hey, I said she was tough, I never said she was bright... oh well, she should have moved.
After this spectacle, I thought it would be a good idea to look at a game that was also all about blood. Or at least, monsters that suck your blood. Yes, I was really in the mood for a game that I could sink my fangs in. Ahem... right... after this lame joke, let's move on to the game itself, which is everything except lame. Without further ado, I present to you: Castlevania - Symphony of the Night.
Released by Konami in 1997 for the Playstation and the Sega Saturn, Symphony of the Night is set after the events of its predecessor 'Castlevania: Rondo of Blood' and put players in the shoes of its main protagonist, Alucard. It is no coincidence that he's the son of the world's most famous vampire ever: Dracula himself! In a classic father/son struggle, Alucard has sworn to destroy his father's castle and put a stop to its evil from corrupting the world. And, oh yes, stop his father from being resurrected and bringing dark powers into the world of men once more. Once inside the castle, Alucard comes across his father's servant: Death. The grim reaper tells Alucard to stop his meddling and warns him of the consequences if he chooses to ignore this advice. Alucard, being the honor-driven hero that he is, tells Death where he can stick his warning and, as a result, is stripped of his equipment. Alucard is never one to quit, so he sets off to fulfill his quest anyway and makes his way through the castle to confront his father and destroy him once and for all.
Like most Castlevania games at the time, Symphony of the night is a 2D side scrolling action platform adventure, in which the player comes across legions of evil creatures, hell-bent on stopping him dead in his tracks. Unlike previous installments in the series, it features one giant non-linear map, rather than the level by level approach. At the beginning of the game, Alucard can only reach certain areas of the castle but as he advances through the story, he gains new abilities that let him access previously unreachable areas. These abilities let him transform into something else than human-shaped; a bat, a wolf or a cloud of fog. So yes, you will be back-tracking a lot throughout the story, in order to reach every damp and dark area of Dracula's castle.
Another thing that sets Symphony of the Night apart from previous installments in the series, is the fact that it features a lot more RPG elements and a wider variety of weapons. Where, in previous games, the protagonist would almost exclusively make use of a whip, Alucard can choose to either: slash through opponent's with a sword or knives, bash their faces in with brass knuckles, blow them to tiny smithereens with bombs or even impale them with a well-aimed throw of a javelin. By exploring the castle and defeating enemies, you can find items and equipment. These items can be viewed and equipped in your inventory screen and can boost your character's stats, making it a bit easier to survive. Other items may grant Alucard with new abilities, like a double jump. So keep your eyes open at all times!
Symphony of the Night looked fantastic! It kept the old school 2D feel and look, but intertwined it with pre-rendered 3D animations, resulting in really cool-looking game. And if the story, the graphics, the hard-ass protagonist weren't enough, Symphony of the Night also features one kick-ass soundtrack! This collection of awesome tracks features varying styles of music, ranging from classic to Metal music! All tracks complement the game-portion over which it is played, making the experience even more enjoyable. Originally, the game only featured Japanese voice-acting, but was dubbed to English a while later. Why, you ask? Well, mainly because Symphony of the night, and this is going to sound unbelievable to some of you, wasn't that popular when it was first released. Sure, Japan went nuts about it, but the rest of the world just didn't seem to care. But, as these things often go, word-of-mouth advertising did its bit and slowly, people became curious and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Some time later, BAM, Symphony of the Night is one of the more highly sought after classics in the retro gaming firmament.
While writing this review, I couldn't help myself and dug up my own copy of the game, popped it into my Playstation and played a few hours. What struck me the most was the fact that I don't remember the game being this hard. I remember playing it for hours on end, dashing through the castle like an over-active shadow in a disco and dispatching enemies left and right without blinking. I just gathered it would still be like that. Well, ladies and gentlemen it's not. Not even close! I stumbled through the castle and died quite a few times. But don't worry, I will not give up until my Castlevania skills are restored back to their former glory. If it takes me forever, so be it. Then I'll just have to find a vampire that will bite me and become an undead gaming creature of the Night myself. Come to think of it, apart from being undead, it wouldn't make too much of a difference. Oh well, I'm off to slay Dracula and his minions, and so should you. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is an excellent game that is guaranteed to keep you bashing your controller in a wild-eyed frenzy for hours on end. If you ever have the chance to play it, then do exactly that! If you're into cool-looking and great sounding action-adventure platform games that provide a more than decent challenge, then this is the game for you!
CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT