Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Game Review

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I first learned about Symphony of the Night from a preview of another game in the series: Lament of Innocence. Symphony was mentioned there as the greatest game of the series. I tried to find more information about this game on the net and found the official LOI website, which published the timeline of the series. At that time, it included only games that came out after the Symphony, including the Circle of the Moon … But that’s a story for another time. Anyway, for a while I forgot about this game and concentrated on Castlevanias, for Sega Genesis, Game Boy and Super Nintendo. After reading a lot of great reviews about Symphony of the Night, I finally decided to play this game. And in 2007 I tried to do it…

Part 1: How I first played Symphony of the Night, or how I learned not to trust fan reviews.

In 2006, when I first set my sights on the internet, one of my main goals was to find as much information about my favorite game series as possible.  Thanks to this, I learned that Castlevania is much more than a few games on NES, Genesis and SNES, and, most importantly, that new games continued to be released in the series. Then I played a bit of Metroidvania on Game Boy Advance, but at that time they seemed alien to me and very different from the classic games in the series. So for a while I abandoned this series. The only “new” game that I liked was Castlevania 64.

The similarity in atmosphere to Super Castlevania 4 was not the only reason for this. A year later, in 2007, I decided to give Metroidvanias a second chance. One of the reasons for this was my visits to the forums dedicated to the series. In these places, many people praised and glorified Symphony of the Night as “absolutely the best game in the series ever released”, citing a number of reasons: “best graphics, best music, great gameplay, good voice acting, outstanding atmosphere and a deep and moving story” . Back then, I was extremely naive when it came to other people’s feedback on anything. I honestly believed that most people can’t be wrong. And after a pause, I decided to play Symphony of the Night and see with my own eyes, supposedly the best game in the series.

The beginning of the game, with a sparse CGI cutscene, wasn’t particularly impressive. However, as soon as it ended, I was immediately thrown into the famous tower of Dracula. The location just exuded atmosphere. Wonderful bright graphics, amazing 3D backdrop and moving clouds. Smooth animation and an overall immersive atmosphere…everything was great, with a capital B. I honestly believed, at that particular moment, that it really was the best Castlevania ever made…

After a bit of running around the turret and getting used to the controls, I finally entered Dracula’s throne room. There I was surprised… by the strange voice acting. I decided: “OK, voice acting is crap, but even the best games can afford to have a couple of flaws. Especially since I didn’t sit down to play for voice acting.” Having decided on this, I killed Dracula and got into the main game.

As soon as I got into the main part of the game, I immediately noticed that it is not as dynamic as the Prologue. A side note: I was already familiar with the metroidvania mechanics at the time, as I had already played Circle of the Moon. Back then, Krug didn’t impress me and abandoned the game without regrets. The beginning of the Symphony was atmospheric, although not very difficult. Nothing like the difficulty of previous games was even close. Even after losing “Alucard’s set of equipment”, I calmly ran through the castle at almost full speed, encountering mostly light resistance. The bosses, while visually impressive, were not difficult.

I was of the opinion that the “best Castlevania” should challenge the player. But I assumed that complexity would come later. After all, I was only at the beginning of the game and there was still an “inverted lock”, whatever it was.  Aside from the famous prologue dialogue, there was little to no character interaction in the game, and this was pretty much at odds with fans’ claims that the game had a “deep and moving story”. As with the difficulty, I assumed that the story would get bigger closer to the second half of the game.

So, I continued my walkthrough. After the first dialogue with Maria, I thought: “Finally!! That’s where the plot begins!!”. However, the more I played, the less hope I had that a “deep story” would just appear in the first castle. Indeed: random, and rather mundane dialogue here and there is not what I would call “deep plot”.

By the end of the first castle, my feelings were in turmoil. On the one hand, the game was very beautiful, and it had a wonderful soundtrack. On the other hand, everything seen was very far from how the fans of the series described it. The game was not difficult, the plot was… so-so. The gameplay was good, but already began to seem monotonous, since there were no really difficult opponents. All my hopes now rested on the “inverted lock”. And I paid dearly for it…

First, I killed Richter and got the worst ending. I liked that the game had a fake ending. After a brief consultation with the world wide web, I found out how to get to the second castle. After the already correct victory over Richter, I was positively excited: Yes!! I’m going to the Upside Down Castle!! Here it is!! This is where the game will really challenge and where the promised “exciting story” will be!! After teleporting Alucard, I took a deep breath and braced myself for the coolness…only to find that Alucard had appeared in a replica of Dracula’s throne room, which for some reason was upside down.

My first reaction was: “Wait a second… How? Okay, this should be just the beginning of the Upside Down Castle. Genius idea, actually: start a new location from an upside down version of the place I just left. Now I will exit the upside down turret and going to amazing places…!” When I left the upside down turret, things didn’t get any better, to put it mildly, “What?! What the fuck? Seriously…this can’t be true…What drunk monkey could think of making the second part an upside down copy of the first!?!