Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Release Date: October 2, 1997
Platform Played On: PS1
2018 Placement: #6 (+2)
What It Is:
The game that basically put the genre of “Metroidvania” on the map, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was the first of the Castlevania games to break away from the standard level progression and instead give you a giant Dracula’s Castle to explore freely (sort of). You play as Alucard, the half-vampire son of Dracula, who is investigating the return of Dracula’s Castle after his defeat by Richter Belmont in the previous game. While Alucard had been a supporting character in Castlevania III, the plot of Symphony of the Night is all his own.
This game introduces a lot of features that became standard in later Castlevania games – from full equipment (instead of just a whip and secondary weapons) and RPG stats to the interconnected map, Symphony of the Night became a blueprint for success despite initial sales being not great in the West. It also has one of the biggest surprise second halves in gaming history, as when you get to the top of Dracula’s Castle you discover Richter Belmont is the “villain” and “final boss.” Except once a special item is acquired, you find out he’s being manipulated by a wizard named Shaft (Shaft!) and there’s a whole ENTIRE SECOND UPSIDE-DOWN CASTLE TO EXPLORE and the map completion goes from 100% to 200% on your save file. The game goes from big to massive and it’s phenomenal.
Why It’s Important To Me:
This game sealed in the Metroidvania-style gameplay as one of my favorite genres. Coming off Super Metroid on the SNES, playing Symphony of the Night was a delight. Not only were there plenty of unique abilities, items, weapons, etc. to find scattered in nooks and crannies in the castle, but then you got an entire SECOND castle to fine MORE abilities, items, weapons, and so on. Like the previous entry, as a kid I just fucking loved a second map that was a twisted version of the first. Symphony of the Night’s upside-down castle is probably one of the more poorly designed map extensions if I’m honest – it’s literally just the main map but upside-down and with harder enemies, which makes traversal a little weird and awkward in some cases. But the sheer joy I experienced when I first got to the second castle and having that much more game to play was unparalleled.
It also has some great tunes that stick in your head (of course): the Colosseum theme is probably my favorite banger from the entire soundtrack. And then there’s the Clock Tower that just drops heavy metal guitar on you out of nowhere. The boss theme is incredible and gives crazy energy to every boss encounter. And the main Dracula’s Castle theme is another earworm that is perfect for Alucard’s introduction in the game. The game is just stellar from gameplay to music to boss fights to everything, what more can I say?
My Strongest Memory:
“Why don’t I press it and SEE?” Throughout the game you can acquire familiars, and one of them is the devil familiar. There’s this one area in the game that is only accessible by a switch you can’t possible reach – but if you equip the devil familiar he will press it for you. However it is paired with an incredible voice line reading that buried into my brain at a young age and refuses to leave. It is just unmatched in the voice acting department. I don’t remember Dracula’s voice, but I do remember that stupid little devil familiar.
The other strongest memory is actually a more recent one – the game was rereleased alongside Rondo of Blood as a collection within the last few years. I immediately got it and started playing through in on the PS4. Playing this game really, truly, felt like going home. I knew the map, the bosses, where all the items were, how to progress to the second castle – all of it was second nature to me. It was relaxing and nostalgic and peaceful and just pure joy and happiness. But the funniest part was that I was playing it and apparently regressed even further to a child-like state because my girlfriend pointed out I was so absorbed that I had been talking to myself/the television for the entire time I was playing it. Thankfully she thought it was cute – but arguing with myself/the television while playing a video game is a pasttime of a younger self and that was how strong this game was to me.
Why It’s #4:
Recency bias. Yeah, when I made this list I’d played the rerelease relatively recently. That’s why it jumped to #4 over Tetris Attack and Link to the Past this time around. But honestly, Symphony of the Night is another perfect game to me. Despite its flaws, despite the awful, garbage, no-good very-bad boss design of Galamoth (who, to be fair, is optional), this game is still just 200% the best Metroidvania. Nothing since, not even other Castlevanias, has come close. After all, none of them have an upside-down castle, and really that’s the key ingredient here.