“What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.”
Dracula, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, 1997.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls welcome back to the Videogame Shoebox. I’m Mike Notridge and this week, I’m heading back to the original Playstation for the game that put the Vania into MetroidVania, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Let’s unpack that word for a second for those that don’t know before we get started. MetroidVania is a word used to describe a genre of action platform games that are non-linear and require constant backtracking and acquisition of power-ups to reach new areas. Nintendo’s Metroid series had spearheaded the genre years earlier whereas previous games in the Castlevania series were traditional, level-based action platformers, start level, walk right, kill bad guys and a boss, next level.
The series centres around Dracula, lord of shadow, his followers and the Belmonts, a family of vampire hunters that has existed for generations to stop Dracula every time he is resurrected.
Symphony of the Night was the first game in the series to follow the Metroid blueprint closely and fans love the game so much that all games since then that share the same design are loving referred to as MetroidVania titles. Some more recent games that use this method of progression are Dust: An Elysian Tail, Shadow Complex and Guacamelee!.
The Castlevania timeline is actually very convoluted. Much like Metal Gear or The Legend of Zelda series, the overarching story of the series is not told sequentially with the releases of the games, some of the more recent games actually take place earlier in the timeline, filling in valuable plot-holes for fans of the series.
Symphony of the Night is actually a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, or Dracula X depending on where you live. It’s a direct sequel to the point that the opening of Symphony is actually the final showdown between Richter Belmont and Dracula from Rondo of Blood. Partially to give context for where this game sits in the timeline but also as a reference for some plot elements further into the game. It doesn’t just show you the boss battle, you have to do it yourself! You’ve only just picked up the controller and you’re already fighting Dracula! Quite the trial by fire, eh?
After Dracula is defeated in the Rondo portion, time passes and eventually Castlevania reappears, signalling that the vampire lord has returned once again but instead of a Belmont storming the castle, however, we take control of Alucard, and he’s powerful as shit! Chopping down the strongest of enemies with a single swing of his sword and strutting with his sick cape.
That is of course until Death rears his ugly head and removes all your powers because VIDEOGAMES!
This leaves you with basic everything, no weapon, no shield and barely any attack/defence stats. It’s up to you to level up find and equip new, more powerful weapons, items and spells to get strong enough to conquer Castlevania!
The game gets pretty tough as you progress and there is no checkpoint system, just a handful of save rooms scattered around the castle so be sure to save often. Too many times I passed a save room thinking “I’ve got full health, I’ll be fine” only to get completely decimated because I didn’t know the next room was a boss I was ill-prepared for so don’t make the same mistakes I did, kids!
I can’t talk about a Castlevania game without bringing up the music. It’s incredible, to be honest, most of the music in the entire series is fantastic. It’s very good at getting you amped and in the mood to chop down some monsters. A few foreboding piano melodies here and a smattering of awesome guitar riffs there add up to an amazing soundtrack that helps keep the action frantic and also assists in identifying the many areas you’ll be revisiting throughout your adventure.
Symphony is actually the easiest entry in the series to get into, you’re free to explore the castle at your own pace with no time limit so even if you’re not an epic speed-runner you can still enjoy this great game. It’s also the easiest game to access, too, since it has been re-released so many times. You can get Dracula X Chronicles, a 2.5D remake of Rondo of Blood on PSP or Vita which also includes Symphony as an unlock once you beat it so you get the entire mini-arc in one cool package. The original Playstation classic is also on the Playstation store for PS3, PSP and Vita and finally on Xbox 360 via the Xbox Live Arcade and handily, via backward compatibility it can also be played on Xbox One. This was how I went back to re-experience this game that is well regarded as one of the greatest in history for a reason.
Much like the castle itself, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has withstood the test of time, it stands as a testament to the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
That’s it for this visit to the Videogame Shoebox, join me next time when I’ll be dusting off some more cartridges. Be sure to let me know in the comments or on Twitter @MikeNotridge any games that you’d like to see get a retro-regression-session on here.
I’ve been Mike Notridge, and I will see you, next time.
What’s in your Videogame Shoebox?