Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is not only considered by many to be the greatest 2D Castlevania game of all time, but also one of the greatest games to ever be released for the Sony Playstation. I missed out on this game, but I’m glad that I finally had the chance to play it.
Let’s talk about my experience with this game today!
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is an action platformer developed and published by Konami for the Sony Playstation. It’s a sequel to both the Japan-only Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (Turbografx-CD) and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES). Instead of playing as a Belmont, you take on the role of Alucard in this game, the same Alucard that was a supporting character in Castlevania III.
Similar to other action platformers and Castlevania games, this game employs a health meter. Unlike classic Castlevania games, you only have one life. This is not a problem, because the game has a save system with plenty of slots. When your health meter is completely depleted, you lose a life and you’ll need to load from a previous save.
A major departure from previous Castlevania games, Symphony of the Night adds JRPG elements like experience points, hit points (HP), magic points (MP0, and attributes like Strength and Constitution. He can now be equipped with different weapons, shields, armor, and accessories. He’s also got an inventory of usable items.
The amount of damage he deals and can be dealt to him is influenced by the strength of his armor and weapons, as well as his stats and level. I like this change because it allowed me to grind and become strong enough to deal with parts of the game that were too difficult for me.
Alucard’s Moves and Abilities
Alucard has your standard action platforming moves. He can jump, crouch, and walk to the left or right. He has the backslide ability, which can be used for dodging. Instead of having an attack button, you have one button each designated for his left and right hand. You can equip weapons or shields in his hands, but some weapons will require the use of both hands. This makes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night feel quite different from its predecessors.
However, this still feels like a Castlevania game. Most of Alucard’s weapons are swords that have the same reach as the Belmonts’ Vampire Killer. And this was a surprise to me, but the game kept the sub-weapon system. Alucard can use most of the Belmont sub-weapons like the Axe, Dagger, Holy Water, and Cross. There are new sub-weapons too, and to be honest, I didn’t get to try them all. I went for the ones that I was familiar with, sticking with the Axe for most of my playthrough.
Alucard’s Vampire Forms
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has a Relic System. As you progress in the game, you’ll find relics that can grant special abilities, like the double jump. Certain relics will allow Alucard to change into a Wolf, a Bat, or Mist. These abilities and forms allow Alucard to access new parts of Dracula’s castle.
His Wolf form allows Alucard to dash forward. While dashing, he can jump a little farther. Some platforms can only be reached via a dash jump. Other relics later on will allow you to deal damage to enemies while dashing, and even perform special moves. The Wolf form has an ability that I didn’t see get mentioned a lot – swimming, which is necessary if you want to explore all the areas of the castle.
In Bat form, Alucard can fly around and reach almost any corner of the castle, for as long as it is not blocked. This was Alucard’s special ability in Castlevania III, and it is as useful here as it was in the former. Later relics will allow you to shoot fireballs and perform special moves while in Bat form. I probably used this form the most, even fighting some bosses in this form.
Alucard’s Mist form was the most underwhelming for me at the start. When you get it, it only lasts a moment and you can only use it against grates and other blockages with small holes. Later relics will allow you to last in Mist form longer and even deal damage to enemies.
Monstrous Minions and Boss Battles
Because of it’s supernatural horror themes, you can consider monster design to be Castlevania’s signature. And Symphony of the Night surely does not disappoint. Normally, I reserve my comments for boss characters but even the regular enemies of this game are a sight to behold. In fact, it was hard for me to tell whether I was already fighting a boss or just one of the regular enemies because of the game’s structure (no longer separated into stages) and the detail put into some of the enemies.
I liked a lot of the boss battles, but the most memorable ones were against callbacks from the previous Castlevania games. Like fighting the Werewolf and Minotaur, two bosses from Rondo of Blood, at the same time. Or fighting the dopplegangers of Trevor Belmot, Sypha Belnades, and Grant Danasty – Alucard’s comrades from Castlevania III. And I can’t forget about Death and Shaft, Dracula’s lieutenants in Rondo of Blood.
The bosses, whether new or familiar, are all well-designed in terms of visuals and mechanics. My only complaint is that the difficulty doesn’t really scale well with how strong your Alucard is. Bosses, and some enemies in the later parts of the game, are extremely difficult to beat if you aren’t looking to explore all of the game’s areas and find powerful equipment. But if you’re a completionist, you can become so powerful, that not even Dracula can give you trouble.
I was used to previous Castlevania games where the boss battles in the later stages would involve a lot of nail-biting and hair-pulling, but they weren’t actually quite difficult. And again, I understand why this is the case. But I wish the developers could have found a way to handle this better.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
I am so glad that the developers of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night went for 2D pixel art instead of 3D graphics, because it really helped this game stand the test of time. And it’s even more impressive when you learn that they had to use 2D graphics in 3D models because 3D was what the Playstation was good at. Everything in-game looks great, from the sprites to the stages. You can easily identify what each of the monsters are supposed to be and what part of the castle you are in because of the detailed sprite work.
Konami also took advantage of the move to disc-based media because the soundtracks of these game are excellent. It is quite a treat for the ears to play this game. I also have to say that I liked how all the dialogue in this game had voice acting. The voice acting itself was quite good, which is notable because this era had terrible voice acting.
The presentation is also good, but a little lacking. I liked the inclusion of moments where you were able to talk to other characters which helped increase my immersion in the game. Fonts are quite readable and menus are easy to navigate. But the status screen looks a little bland and could have been made to look a little more better. My biggest gripe though is the lack of animated cutscenes that Rondo of Blood had. Symphony of the Night had a handful of FMVs, but they utilized 3D graphics and really didn’t look at that great.
Other Stuff – The Reverse Castle and Richter Mode
Of course, we’re talking about a really old game here so going into Symphony of the Night, I already knew that there was a second castle that you had to beat in order to get the game’s best ending. Even if it was no longer a surprising twist, I have to say that I’m quite impressed with the idea. And the execution makes a lot of sense – how could Richter Belmont be this game’s final boss? Konami certainly can’t subvert expectations completely and make a Belmont the villain and a vampire the hero, right?
I also have to applaud Konami’s inclusion of the Richter mode. I’m quite the purist, so even if I appreciate all the innovations that moved this franchise forward, I’m also too used to the traditional Castlevania ways. Richter Mode is there to appease that part of me. Being able to play this game and experience this castle as a traditional Belmont with traditional Belmont abilities is such a nice bonus.
I love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as a game. It is really well-designed and so much fun to play. Whatever complaints I have are really there because of technology restrictions of that era. I cannot and will not argue against the idea that this is the best Castlevania game of all time, and one of the best games in the Playstation 1 library.
But I am really sad about what this game did to the Castlevania franchise. Because of this game, the greatest hero of Castlevania will always be Alucard and will never be any of the Belmonts. This also was the last great 2D platformer Castlevania to be released on home consoles for years to come, with Konami moving the franchise to 3D and pushing 2D Castlevania games to the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. I’m glad I was able to play this game. If you enjoy playing video games, have an appetite for classic platforming, and haven’t played Symphony of the Night yet, what are you waiting for? Every gamer should play this game at least once.
If you want to read about other Castlevania games that I’ve played, click here!