Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1) Review

So I finally gave up on the third GBA game and/or the DS games getting a digital re-release for now, so before I look into sneaky and murky emulation there is still one “Metroidvania” style Castlevania game I officially own and that’s the out-right classic Symphony of the Night. As mentioned in my reviews of the first two GBA games (which were a while ago now, thanks to the Scrolling Sundays marathon…), I had somehow never played SOTN until just now, but you’ll not be surprised to find out that it lives up to its lofty reputation. Let’s take a look!

Background:

Just in case you were wondering if it really was a Castlevania game…

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released for the Playstation on March 20th 1997 in Japan, October 2nd 1997 in the US and November 1st 1997 in Europe. A Sega Saturn version was released in June 1998 in Japan only, and since then the game has been ported to the XBOX360, PSP, PS4, Android and iOS.

The game was a hit with reviewers at the time but it took a good while for it to start selling through word of mouth. It did though, and it has since achieved the status of full-blown cult classic.

Gameplay:

This is not how I remember the Wizard of Oz…

Symphony of the Night was the first Castlevania game to depart from the linear, lives-based style game and instead embrace the Metroid style of save points, a large map to uncover with areas that you can’t access right away, health upgrades and hidden rooms. It was also a major departure as you don’t play as a whip-wielding Belmont and instead solely as Alucard, who uses a sword, mace, or staff, allowing you to actually pick between different weapons, though there are only a few differences in terms of gameplay like range, and speed there are different weapons that up your attack power. In fact I’ll mention the other major departure from the games that came before it: RPG-like stats. Health, magic, speed, luck, plus more are all upgraded by either levelling up by killing enemies or by equipping different armour and rings/pendants.

Alongside traditional sub weapons like the cross, bible, knifes, holy water and axes there are gems that shoot lasers all different directions, what looks to be salt you throw on the floor, and the stop watch to freeze time. You also have several transformations that you unlock as you go, namely wolf (handy for running long distances quickly), bat (handy for reaching high up places) and mist (handy to pass through steel bars, and dodge attacks to be fair…), combine this with spells you can purchase and then activate by pressing a Street Fighter-style directional input and button press and that’s a lot of variety in combat. To make things even more different is the familiars you can attain, who float around next to you and attack your foes and level themselves up while doing so.

There’s “intimidating rooms” and then there’s a literal mountain of skulls with a floating ball of corpses above it…

Otherwise you just run around the castle defeating enemies, platforming and defeating bosses. Half way through the game you face Ritcher Belmont and if you have a pair of special glasses you’ll be able to see a floating orb above him, destroy the orb and you unlock the second half of the game which takes place in an upside down version of the map you just played through. Some say this is unnecessary padding, but I really enjoyed it. That being said I did find the game became too easy about a third of the way through, with only two bosses needing more than one try after that, and only one of those multiple tries (that being Galamoth oddly, rather than Dracula) Still, sometimes an easy game to sit back and relax too is just what I want, and this game is so much fun to play and explore that I don’t know if I’d even call that a complaint.

There are a few bonus modes. If you put your name as “Ritcher Belmont” you can play as … well, Ritcher Belmont, complete with a whip being the only available weapon and the usual sub-weapons. In later ports you can also play as Maria Renard, complete with animal-based moveset from Rondo of Blood (which I will get around to playing at some point, it was bundled with this on the PS4 thing I have, but I just didn’t fancy an old school lives/continues game right now…) It’s also worth noting that the very start of this game sees you play as Ritcher and defeat Dracula in a recreation of the final fight from Rondo of Blood, which is a fun little Easter egg.

Graphics and Sound:

That line across the giant floating skull’s eye in the hit points indicator about to pop up, in case you were wondering…

The graphics are 2D sprites, but well animated and detailed sprites. There are a few uses of 3D graphics as well, mostly some stage hazards and stuff like the floating sword familiar that I used for most part.

The soundtrack is legendary, and rightfully so. So many full CD quality tracks that are catchy and varied, with Lost Painting being my personal favourite. The soundeffects are loud and arcadey fun and the voice acting is varies depending on what version you have. The one on the PS4 version I have is the updated voice track, which is better but not great still so really I’d prefer to have the classicly bad one instead, at least that’s funny…

Story:

I see I took this screenshot slightly too early, but I can promise you the rest of the line was “save you!”.

Four years after Ritcher Belmont defeated Dracula Castlevania has returned. Disturbed by this power Alucard, the son of Dracula and a human woman named Lisa, has woken from his self-induced coma and rejoined the outside world, heading straight to the castle. He has some of his power stolen by Death, but works his way around the castle anyway, defeats his father’s dark minions, regains his power and meets both Ritcher (who was under a curse) and Maria Renard. He eventually faces off with a resurrected Dracula, defeating him and seemingly making him see the error of his ways as he hears his departed wife’s last words.

Well, let’s face it, based on future games he doesn’t see the error of his ways at all, but there you go. While the cast of the Castlevania Netflix series is based on Castlevania III it’s clear to me that the whole Dracula / Alucard part of the show was entirely based on this game…

Thoughts Now:

The only part of the game where I got a bit frustrated and had to take a moment to cool down. Got there in the end though!

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those games I knew full well I’d love when I finally played it and sure enough: I loved it. Doesn’t matter if it’s 1997 or 2021 the game is still an absolute joy to play through, with top notch gameplay, visuals and audio. Hell, I could just as easily play through it again right now and enjoy it just as much. A must play, even if it’s been on your “to play” list for decades like myself…

5 thoughts on “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1) Review

  1. One Chilled Gamer March 30, 2021 / 9:07 am

    Don’t think I ever played this one but it looks fun. Will have to see if I can find it somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. erichagmann March 31, 2021 / 1:15 pm

    Fun fact: on the original PS1, this game required that you formatted your memory card in order to save. A young me didn’t know what “format” meant and found out the hard way when I went back to finish the last dungeon of Final Fantasy 8 only fo realize my save data was completely gone. Whoops!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Hogan March 31, 2021 / 1:32 pm

      I feel your pain, my friend accidentally saved his FF VIII save over mine when he came round once. I was so far in I couldn’t be bothered to start again. Still haven’t to this day, in fact….

      Like

      • erichagmann March 31, 2021 / 1:37 pm

        Oof! That’s awful! I ended up starting over on FF VIII the very same day – but I enlisted the help of a strategy guide and made it a personal goal to find every possible secret. I beat it a few weeks later. Sounds like you need to go back to it! Draw, draw, draw.

        Liked by 1 person

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