The Castlevania series is one that I have been following since the NES days. I played most of them as I grew up, but one that I missed was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – arguably one of if not THE best in the series. When I started collecting PSX games, this was one of the first that I picked up because of the continued hype around the game. Suffice to say – the game lived up to the hype!
The story of the Symphony of the Night is quite a departure from the rest of the series in that you do not primarily play as a Belmont! The game takes place directly after Castlevania X where Richter Belmont defeated Count Dracula! A few years pass, and you enter the castle as Alucard with the plan of destroying Dracula and his castle once and for all! The story is not particularly strong, but it does have a few (expected) twists, that nevertheless are fun to see play out.
The core gameplay is the same as previous entries, and includes guiding the protagonist through a castle destroying the undead minions and monsters, and culminating with a battle with Dracula himself. You control Alucard with the direction pads, and have attack and jump buttons. You can also dodge enemies with a back dash. I found the controls overall quite easy to learn, and very responsive! Despite the core gameplay staying fairly similar, it has been significantly altered and transformed in terms of abilities, weapons, and explorable areas. The game also introduces a lot of RPG elements that allow Alucard to level up, equip himself with weapons and armour, and gain new abilities as he progressed through the story. As he destroys more enemies, he gains levels that increase his attack and defence that make encounters with enemies more reasonable.
In terms of weapons, gone is the whip of the Belmonts. Alucard has a whole arsenal of knives, swords, katana’s and other interesting melee weapons to get him through the game. The further you progress in the game, the stronger the weapons that are accessible. The weapon also played substantially different with some being faster, others with more range and arc. What weapon you selected had significant implications on the game which I really enjoyed. The game also brings back many sub-weapons from past entries like the throwing knife and axe, among others. Despite the changes in gameplay, keeping the sub weapons was a welcome callback to the previous entries in the series.
The new special abilities is where the game really departs from past games. As you progress through the story, Alucard gains tons of awesome abilities that allow him to draw on his vampiric powers. For instance, he gets some awesome jumping abilities, can transform into different animals like the wolf and bat to help explore the castle, and can even absorb the energy from living entities to help himself. My personal favourite however is unleashing a blast of hellfire at enemies! One of the only drawbacks is that a few of the special moves are a bit tricky to pull off as you need to input complex button combinations similar to street fighter games, which can be hard to do in the middle of battle! Alucard also gains the ability to have familiars as well, which are little entities that help you in battle! As seen below, there are a number of different options include fairies, ghosts, and bats! The addition of these new abilities really me feel more powerful as I journeyed further in the game, and it was really rewarding to be able to gain access to areas not previously accessible because of the application of my new abilities.
For the first time ever, Dracula’s castle is open-concept and free roaming, much like a Metroid game! I was specifically blown away by the variety of different settings, and the amount of hidden areas to be found! Some of the familiar areas you explore include the clocktower and catacombs, among many other distinct and interesting areas. I wanted to explore very nook and cranny! And just when you think you are about done the game, the entire castle gets flipped upside-down and you get to explore the mirrored castle literally from top to bottom all over again, but with different (harder) enemies and secrets!
The bosses were also a ton of the fun in the game, many of which as gigantic and screen-filling! What I loved even more was that many of the bosses were call-backs to previous game bosses like The Creature, Cerberus, and Death! Many of the bosses were really challenging too, which really kept me engaged! Many of the normal enemies were really challenging and fun to battle as well!
In terms of graphics, this game still looks beautiful today. The 2D graphics still look detailed and charming, and each and every sprite looks great and well-animated! Many of Alucard’s weapons and armor have distinct visuals styles which really showed how much the developers cared in making this game excellent. I am hard-pressed to find a better looking 2D game on the PSX! The environments all have very distinct visual styles and really help make Dracula’s castle seem vast! The music is also excellent with many tracks from previous entries returning! These tracks were classics in the 80’s and they are still just as good now. The sound effects were also fine. The only part that I was a bit disappointed in was the voice acting, but in some ways its so bad that it has some charm to it too!
In summary, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night still lives up to the hype. It has beautiful 2D graphics, a reasonably long and engaging story, and revolutionized the series with two sprawling castles to explore, RPG elements, and allowing you to primarily control Alucard instead of a Belmont. If you complete the game however and get one of the good endings, and then restart a new game with the name RICHTER, you can play through the game as him too! If you have never played this game, it is highly recommend and still enjoyable today. I give this game a final score of 10/10 and induct it into my All-Time Top 10! Get this game and play it!
Final Score: 10/10