Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night
Genre: Adventure Game (Side Scrolling 2D Platform Game)
Cost: Castlevania: SOTN debuted at around $60
Platform: Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn (this review regards the Playstation edition)
The game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the best side-scrolling action games written for the Playstation platform. It features great music, incredible artwork, and some of the worst voice-acting ever performed.
The game stars Alucard, the half-human son of Count Dracula. In the game, the castle of Dracula - "Castlevania" appears mysteriously in some unspecified locale. Then, the star of a previous Castlevania-series game, Richter Belmont (Dracula X) disappears. Maria Renard goes to the castle to search him out. Alucard mysteriously has knowledge of the castle’s reappearance and heads toward it to put it to rest, as he is one of the good guys. To do this, he must battle through the horror-filled castle where he grew up, and defeat his father in battle, because when he does so, the castle will stream up into the sky in a festive spectacle of dancing lights. Are you confused yet? If so, I am pleased to inform you that this is nothing unusual, as the storyline for this game is extremely thin and makes very little sense.
The player’s role in the game is to control Alucard, and navigate him through the myriad puzzles and hazards of Castlevania, and take him to Dracula, whereupon the player must slay the heck out of him. Over the course of the game, Alucard must face various weaker enemies, and must vanquish them in order to get Alucard the experience he needs to improve his ability in battle.
The user interface for this game is very straightforward and easy to understand. The player controls Alucard and the interface using the D-pad (directional pad) and the ten buttons of the Playstation controller. Most moves (e.g. jumping, attacking) are invoked by button presses, but there are “moves” that are composed of a sequence of presses on the D-pad and the buttons.
The gameplay is, for the most part, side scrolling platform hack-and-slash. Alucard can use a variety of weapons, armors, relics and one-use items in battle. The player can save Alucard’s progress along the way using save points, which take the form of coffins which he can use to rest. The gameplay is spiced up greatly by the various special moves that can be done with some of the weapons and relics in the game.
Scoring is measured in several ways. One thing that one can measure score by is the money total that Alucard picks up over the course of the game. Another is by measuring the percentage of the Castle that Alucard has explored. It is possible to explore, all told, over 200% of the castle, by the game’s metric. Another way is to try to obtain all the various weapons and powerups of the game, a task that results in an inventory of several pages in length. Yet another way to measure scoring is by Alucard’s level, which increases as a result of killing enemies. All of these are used together to give the player a good sense of reward for their playing time.
The artwork of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is by far the most impressive aspect of the game. There are around a hundred enemies and about twelve different areas to the game, all with their own unique artwork. Many of the screens have multiple layers of parallax scrolling, sometimes in both the x and y directions, resulting in backgrounds that look very three-dimensional. The sprites are varied in size, and most of them are unlike anything this reviewer has ever seen in another 2D game, novel, or fantasy illustration. The creativity and scale of the artwork in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is sufficient to consider it a considerable advancement over the state of the field of 2D games of its time.
Sound and Music
While the sound effects are just fine, and the music is very, very good, the voice acting for Castlevania is among the worst ever. This has something to do with the voice actors being pretty darn horrible, but the translation has something to do with it. Here is an example (emphasis added as per the voice acting.) (transcript corrected as per Millenium's writeup ^_^)
Richter: Die, monster! You don't belong in this world!
Dracula: It is not by my hand that I am once again given flesh. I was brought back by HUUUMANS, who wish to pay ME tribute.
Richter: <whine>Tribute? You steal men's souls and make them your slaves!</whine>
Dracula: Perhaps the same could be said of ALL religions!
Richter: <smug>Your words are as empty as your soul!</smug> Mankind ill needs a savior such as you!
Dracula: (bad animation of dracula throwing a wine glass to the floor, where it shatters): What is a man? A miserable pile of secrets! But enough of this, have at you!
When beginning the game, the player may enter a name for their save file. Choosing specific names for this save file can have various effects on the game.
These are names that have special effects on the game:
RICHTER - This lets you play as Richter. Things are much harder this way.
X-X!V''Q - You'll start with 99 luck, and a Lapus Lazuli item. All of the rest of Alucard's stats are terrible, though.
AXEARMOR - You'll start off with the Axe Lord Armor in your inventory.
In addition to these codes, beating the game with around 196% of the castle discovered will allow the player access to a secret item, as well as a sound test for the game.
The manual for Castlevania is relatively spare. It tells the reader about the basic cast of characters, and describes the controls of the game, and how to improve your character’s status and powers.
What is good/fun about the game and why?
The good things about the game are that there are a variety of weapons and armors that Alucard can win from enemies and find stashed throughout the castle. One of the fun things about the game is trying to find all the different secrets throughout the castle. Another fun part of the game is the variety of the enemies and areas of the game, and the artwork for both is incredible. In addition, very few sprites are reused during the game (e.g. with color changes), and each of the monsters have several frames of animation, and are very unique in appearance and behavior. In general, the level of creativity that went into the game is apparent in many of the scenes.
What is bad/not fun about the game?
One thing that is bad is the difficulty of the game, and the sophistication of the ending animation and endings themselves. After one gains a few levels with Alucard, the game will no longer provide a real challenge for better gamers. The endings are ok, but when contrasted against the incredible detail and complexity of the game, seem very weak. Also, there is no difference between the animation used for the worst ending possible and the animation used during the best ending possible; the only variation between endings comes during a scripted dialog carried out using sprites from the game, and these are not particularly compelling.
That said, it compares well to similar games in the genre, the only truly comparable game being Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo.
The appropriate audience for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is core gamers age 13 and older. This is due to the violent nature of the game, and the graphic representation of violence.
Here are the ratings as far as the “Top 10 Design Sins” go:
- Boring Levels - The levels for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are all different, but several of the types of puzzles are repeated throughout the game.
- The Sin of Repetition - Graphics and obstacles are not recycled. However, once one gets relatively far along in the game, it becomes more and more easy to blow through the obstacles, and eventually it gets to the point where merely one method of attack is needed to destroy even the most difficult enemies of the game, and in order for there to be variety in battle at all, it is necessary to choose not to use the most powerful tactics and weapons.
- Not Entertaining Enough - The only problem under this category is that of “When you win, you still don’t win.” – The “worst” ending for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (if you do everything all wrong) and the “best” ending for the game are almost exactly the same, forcing one to wonder why one went to the effort of discovering the best ending for the game in the first place.
- Production Value - Voice acting hired for the American version of the project was HORRIBLE, and sounds as though it could well have been performed by the programmers on the Konami USA project. The lines could have been done better if they had been read into the mic using a deadpan, monotone voice (apparently the japanese voice acting is good to the point of being ethereal). All other aspects of the game are excellent.
- Conflicting Aspects of Production - There are no problems as far as I can tell.
- Licenses left unfulfilled - This game lived up to the Castlevania license very reasonably.
- Counterintuitive weapons and special moves - The moves were great and intuitive and excellent! They just make the game too easy.
- Difficulty - Optimal strategies exist and are obvious. Bosses are too easy. Only one or two tactics are needed against them, if that. Basically just either the Crissaegrim, the Holy Cross, or the Shield Rod & Alucard’s Shield combo are all that are required to defeat any enemy in the game.
- Execution – this is all good.
- Replay value – This is good, except that there is no way to change the difficulty.
Overall, I found Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to be an excellent game. The game is a little less challenging as one progresses through it, but this is only a real problem for replay, the first time through the challenge of navigating the castle and solving the puzzles is difficulty enough. All that being said, none of the flaws in this game were sufficient to keep me from fully completing it (200% area explored) three times over (once as Richter).
Highlights: The art and music, and the spooky gothic castle mood
Low Points: Unimpressive game balance, mediocre storyline and ending animation