Posted on May 3, 2020
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲
Castlevania, on an RPG-focused website? You might be asking yourself why a series that’s renowned for being a side-scrolling action/platformer would get reviewed on here. Well, to put it simply, Castlevania is a series that seemed to occasionally pop out an RPG hybrid here and there, starting with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night!
As far as I know, all previous games in there series were pure side-scrolling platforming action games, but with the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (known as Devil Castle Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight in Japan), various RPG elements such as leveling up, raising stats, and collecting different abilities and gear that influence said stats were introduced to the series for the first time.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was Konami’s first attempt at shifting a series known for being a fairly difficult, high skill ceiling action series to an action/RPG hybrid with what I felt had an emphasis on the RPG elements. Were they able to pull it off, or did the lack of experience cause them to miss the mark? Let’s find out!
Score – 38/40
Story – 8.5/10
Gameplay – 9.5/10
Graphics – 10/10
Music – 10/10
Style: Metroidvania/Side-scrolling Platforming/Action RPG
Platform: PlayStation 1/PS1
Release Date: JP: March 20th, 1997/US: October 2nd, 1997
Length: 8～20 Hours
Table of Contents
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night PS1 Review
Before I get into the review, i’d like to thank my buddies DJ and Pablo for sweet-talking me into finally trying out a Castlevania game!
First and foremost, this review is going to break a lot of molds set on this site so far. The handful of users that check my website every now and then know that I have a rule of starting a series as far back as possible (as of now, the furthest I go back is the 16-bit era, so for example I started with Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV instead of Final Fantasy 1 due to there being no way to play 1-3 on a 16-bit console). As I mentioned in the introduction, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night isn’t the first game in the series – there are actually quite a few games Castlevanias released before it.
In this case, to my knowledge, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the first game that can pass as an RPG in the series, therefore i’m willing to consider it the “beginning” of the RPG games within the Castlevania series for the purposes of this site. The next mold i’m breaking is that I haven’t really reviewed anything on the site that was mainly a side-scrolling platforming game. If any of you have already checked out my Valkyrie Profile/ヴァルキリープロファイル review, you probably know that I was extremely hard on the side-scrolling platforming part of the game and condemned RPGs with side-scrolling platforming added for no real reason. The reason for that is because the platforming and stuff felt extremely tacked on in my opinion. Valkyrie Profile’s platforming was basically part of the dungeon puzzles at all times, full of trick jumps and relying on pinpoint timing/accuracy to get anywhere.
In Symphony of the Night’s case, the game being an actual action game means that the side-scrolling and platforming are integral to the entire game, rather than just being used strictly for movement-based puzzle purposes like in Valkyrie Profile. This means that there had to be a lot of thought and effort put into the controls and how movement works in the grand scheme of things. The platforming isn’t used as a way to trick you or draw out playtime – the platforming is a core part of the game, and in this game it’s done EXTREMELY well!
Before I get into the actual review, I do want to admit that I know choosing this game might get me a few dirty looks. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night isn’t your traditional JRPG – you don’t walk around, going from town to town doing quests and buying new gear, all while going on some grand adventure. This game is still a platforming action game at heart, but in my own opinion there is definitely enough RPG stuff going on here to warrant a review on the site. Hopefully by the time you’re done reading the review i’ll have you convinced, too!
This section will be kinda difficult for me, considering i’m jumping into the series right smack in the middle. As far as I know, the Castlevania series has an overall ongoing story. The games leading up to Symphony of the Night all seem to be short games that can all be cleared within an hour or two each, so i’d be willing to guess that they aren’t filled with particularly deep stories or lore, but I could be wrong…
To my understanding, each Castlevania game covers a story of Dracula’s castle appearing, which happens once every 100 years or so. Every time Dracula and his castle appear, a descendant from the Belmont family, a long running bloodline of Vampire Hunters, heads to Dracula’s castle to defeat him and seal his castle away again.
In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Dracula’s castle appears just a mere 4 years since its last disappearance. Dracula’s son, Alucard (“Dracula” spelled backwards!) suddenly awakes from his slumber, well aware of the fact that the castle shouldn’t be materializing yet. Wondering what’s going on and why he was awoken so soon, Alucard sets out to explore the castle and find out what caused the sudden reappearance.
I think that’s about as far as I want to go with the story summary. I personally felt like a lot of the character interactions, while sparse, gave quite a lot of hints as to what was going on, so covering them here would spoil some stuff. Not only that, there are a few BIG twists that happen, so going more in-depth would ruin a lot of the cool stuff in the game.
One extremely cool thing Symphony of the Night does is it actually begins the game at the end of the previous game! I’ve heard of another game, Lufia, doing something similar, but i’ve never played it before so this game is the first time i’ve seen anything like that. The game starts you out at the final battle of the previous game, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood – I believe at the time (maybe even still) Rondo of Blood was a Japan-only exclusive, so not sure how much sense any of that actually made to Western players who just came off of the SNES games…
Either way, you spend a couple of minutes killing Dracula as a Belmont, and then get to see Dracula and his castle disappear, which sets the pace for the opening of Symphony of the Night which takes place just 4 years later. This was a really cool way of recapping the story for new players of the series (ME!), while also showing the differences between the past games and Symphony of the Night (no RPG elements as far as I know).
Considering i’m a new fan of the series and I started at around the half-way point, I don’t know how important the overall story is to older fans of the series. To me, even as a new fan, I gotta say I was looking forward to the cutscenes and story bits throughout the game. Sure, it wasn’t some grand story that was 60 hours in the making like you’d usually expect from RPGs, but there were enough twists and cool reveals to make me happy and wondering what would happen next! Never thought a side-scroller would do that to me!
Next up, we’ll cover some of the characters you’ll find in the game. There isn’t a huge roster, and you don’t really spend more than a few minutes with each character, but we’ll check them out anyways!
Character interactions in Symphony of the Night are few and far between. I’d compare it to old-school Resident Evil games, where every once in a while you run into someone, kinda talk about the current situation, wish each other good luck, and then go on your way. That means there isn’t too much room for character progression – I felt most interactions were there to provide more of Alucard’s backstory, to introduce his character rather than to change his character. Therefore, i’ll only introduce the characters that are included in the instruction manual – there’s only 3 of them!
アルカード (Arukaado, Alucard) – The main character of the game. The son of Dracula and a human woman, Alucard also possesses a “human” side allowing him to feel compassion, which separates him from Dracula and his evil underlings who feel nothing but hate and a lust for death and destruction.
リヒター・ベルモンド (Rihitaa Berumondo, Richter Belmont) – Not quiet sure why the equivalent of “Belmond” in Japanese became “Belmont” in English (or why they didn’t just make it “Berumonto” in Japanese from the get go). Anyways, Richter is the current vampire hunter in the Belmont lineage. Richter goes missing at just around the same time Dracula’s castle suddenly reappears.
マリア･ラーネッド (Maria Raaneddo, Maria Renard) – Here’s another character with a completely different name in English and Japanese (these are far more common than they need to be…). Maria is also a vampire hunter who also happens to be friends with Richter Belmont. After learning of him going missing, Maria sets off towards Dracula’s castle, hoping to find some answers.
These are the 3 “main” characters you’ll be seeing the most of throughout the game. There are some other characters that you’ll meet a few times (some of Dracula’s henchmen), but they don’t seem to serve a deep purpose story-wise (“they did bad stuff so you have to defeat them” kind of characters).
I personally liked not having too many characters to worry about in a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In typical JRPGs you’ll have anywhere from 20-60 hours to get to know lots of different characters and develop their own personal stories. In a game like Symphony of the Night that can be “100%”ed in around 12 hours, however, I felt that there wasn’t really enough time to stuff anymore characters into the game.
While the story was interesting, there were only a handful of interactions with Richter and Maria. This is definitely a game where you can sit back and just enjoy playing without having to worry about keeping up with the story and keeping track of tons of different characters. That’s a big plus for me!
Next, we’ll take a look at the games gorgeous graphics!
Alright, here’s one of the sections i’m really going to enjoy (gonna enjoy the “Music” section, too!). I didn’t really know what to expect when I first booted up Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I did understand that back in the SNES days, some side-scrollers were praised for their cool effects/moving backgrounds, but I never really played too many myself so I didn’t have much first-hand experience. All I gotta say is, Symphony of the Night had me blown away by the first 3 screens.
Hate to go back to talking about Valkyrie Profile/ヴァルキリープロファイル again, but it’s the closest game style-wise that i’ve reviewed so far. While I hated the dungeon experience and stuff in Valkyrie Profile, I did gush over the visuals. Up until that point, Valkyrie Profile was the absolute best looking 2d sprite-based game I had seen on the PS1 (it even rivaled some PS2 Nippon Ichi stuff, honestly). I did play Legend of Mana back when it was released though, which means I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I can’t remember it vividly, but i’m sure it probably beats Valkyrie Profile. I’ll find out soon because Legend of Mana is the next game in the Mana series that i’ll be reviewing…
Anyways, i’m sorry to any die-hard Valkyrie Profile fans, but Symphony of the Night’s visuals are on an entire different level – it’s not even close. Both games run silky smooth, but the flow of Symphony of the Night’s animations, the sprite work, the environments, I can’t think of a single game that I ever played back on the PS1 that rivals it. The attack animations, the dodges, the jumps, hell even the regular running is just BUTTER. If you’ve ever just melted butter on a stove before, you’ve played Symphony of the Night. The game just moves and plays like a dream. Almost to the point of making me rethink my feelings on the entire genre.
Castlevania games seem to be known for their cool background animations, and Symphony of the Night is no exception. Right away, you’ll encounter rooms with a mix of 2d and 3d background elements, such as streaks of lightning in the distant sky, to doors flying open and closing, clouds racing across the sky, and tons more. Certain areas have backgrounds that while being 2d, have a certain style to them that add depth to them, which make them look like they’re really far off in the distance.
Not only do backgrounds and areas look great, there’s a wide variety of environments in the game. While this is leaning more towards the “Gameplay” side of things, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place in one big castle, but the castle is divided up into more than 10 separate “areas”. You’ll encounter ancient libraries, sinister-feeling churches, frozen underground waterways, laboratories full of undead experiments, and much much more.
Most areas have anywhere from 10-20 maps associated with them, and with the movement speed you have in the game, you’ll be flying in an out of areas really fast, which means you’ll never get bored of the different areas from spending too much time in them at once.
One thing though (kind of a gameplay issue, but it fits here), which could be a positive or negative depending on who you ask, is that areas don’t seem to have much connectivity. By that I mean on one screen you could be in a library, and then two screens over you’re in some kind of colosseum, then if you walk a few screens over you’re in a type of church/chapel. Go over a few more screens and you’ll be in a fancy looking marble hallway, which then connects to a frozen underground water channel, that connects to some catacombs, which lead to a laboratory.
While for me personally, I enjoyed the fact that I never knew what to expect next, I could see how the randomness of the map design could turn some people off or at the very least cause them to get lost quite a bit early on.
The game has tons of different monsters you’ll encounter. While there are a small amount of recolors that appear later on in the game, there’s so much variety going on that you’ll hardly notice. Each different “area” in the game has its own separate monsters, each with their own walking, attack, and death animations! I don’t know the exact count per area, but i’d estimate that each one has around 7-10 unique monster types, so you’ll get to see lots of cool stuff each time in addition to the awesome environments. The unique monsters also give an individual identity to each area – there are some areas I like solely because of the monsters!
Symphony of the Night has something really cool going for it – Weapons, Shields, and Cloaks have individual in-game models! I’ve always loved games that show your equipment on your characters (sadly, that was basically non-existent during the 16-bit era and almost impossible to find during the 32-bit era). Symphony of the Night goes above and beyond what any of us deserved at the time!
Right away I assumed that weapons would just increase your stats in the background, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only does each weapon in the game have its own in-game model, each weapon has its own attack animation, with some weapons even having their own special attack style! For example, the weapon you start out with does a basic frontal slashing attack. The next weapon you’ll most likely find is a “knife” type weapon, which instead has a quick frontal stab attack.
There are some different types of weapons you’ll find in the game – Swords, Daggers, Flails, Staves, and Two-Handed Swords to name a few. Even weapons within the same category have different attack animations sometimes (whether it’s attack angle, particle effects, or attack reach). This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the game. Even if I didn’t like the stats on a certain weapon, I always made sure to use it for a few minutes to check out that weapon’s specific animations. Here’s a quick video of some of the game’s different attack styles and animations!
Shields also have individual models. Shields are used manually by holding the Circle button. This might have just been my personal play-style, but except for dealing with a certain monster at the end of the game, I never actively used my shield throughout the whole game (the stats are always added just by being equipped). They definitely look cool, and there are a decent amount of shields to collect in the game, but I personally always found dodging to be way more reliable than blocking (I feel like I still always took damage while trying to block…).
Cloaks are the last equipment type with separate models (I couldn’t imagine having models for each piece of armor, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself…). The great thing is, Alucard’s cloak is visible all the time, so you’ll always be able to see the cool effects. I didn’t “100%” the game (missing 4 or 5%), but even then I believe I only picked up 5 or 6 different cloaks.
Some of them are just solid color cloaks, but a couple of them have some cool effects. One of them is called “Invisible” and the name almost checks out – it doesn’t make the cloak invisible, but it makes it a transparent purple color. Another one pulses between red and black every other second or so. They definitely add flair to Alucard’s already kick-ass sprite.
Speaking of Alucard, his running animation is probably my favorite animation in the entire game. I don’t know who thought of it or why they would even think about doing it, but Alucard’s running animation has him almost “phasing” in and out. It’s such a random thing do to (maybe there’s some lore reason for it?), but it’s the coolest thing in the entire game to me. The second I saw that in the first minute of the game I was already hooked.
There are also some spells in Symphony of the Night. I think i’ve been doing something wrong since I still only have just 1 even though I cleared the game, there are some bosses who have spell-like attacks. The spell I have is a straight line fireball attack. The animation has quite a long cast time, but it looks really cool when Alucard’s charging it up. I recorded some gameplay footage that i’ll link a bit further down in the review, I cast the spell once or twice in the video so if you have some time definitely check it out!
All in all, I was honestly blown away with the graphics in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I don’t just think it looks amazing as a 2d game or as a side-scrolling game – I think it looks amazing not only just as a PS1 game, but just all-around. I’ve never been a graphics whore and i’ve always appreciated games regardless of their age, so for me something like a 2d sprite-based game from 1997 is just as awesome now as it was at release. This game is 100% sprite-work done right – you need to do yourself a favor and at least check out a gameplay video to see what i’m talking about!
Next we’ll move onto the Gameplay section. This will be a fun one, too!
Luckily, as Symphony of the Night is a pretty straight-forward game, there shouldn’t be too much stuff to cover here. Not to say that the game doesn’t have any content, but since the gameplay loop is a lot simpler than some JRPGs that have separate screens for overworlds, towns, dungeons, menus, battles, mini-games that all have different things to go over, Symphony of the Night is lean and gets right to the point from the second you start the game.
As you could probably tell from looking at the screenshots so far, Symphony of the Night’s main gameplay takes place on side-scrolling 2d maps. Movement is very simple – if you’ve ever played any of the old Mario or Megaman games then you’ll have no problems getting around in Symphony of the Night (yeah I know, I should compare it to Metroid for obvious reasons, but i’m sure tons more people have played the 2 games I mentioned instead).
Like I mentioned just a while ago, Symphony of the Night plays like butter. The game doesn’t try to screw with you by purposefully placing next to impossible jumps or things like that – traversing the maps is as simple as it gets. There definitely are some places that are impossible to get to at first, but that’s done on purpose because those are rooms you’re not meant to access without progressing far enough to get items or abilities that allow you to reach them yet.
Movement isn’t the only thing that feels silky smooth. Combat in Symphony of the Night also feels great. Since the series up to this point has been strictly side-scrolling action with an emphasis on difficulty, the combat had to be precise by design. Things such as weapon attack speeds, hitboxes, and enemy attack patterns are all extremely well designed and feel like they should.
Here’s a video showing off the basic gameplay in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s only around 10 minutes long, but it shows off what you’ll be doing for 95% of the game!
Except for two or so annoying bosses, I always felt like hits that should have hit hit and hits that didn’t feel like they should land didn’t land, for both me and the enemy NPCs. Symphony of the Night also has “sub weapons” that you’ll pick up randomly, things like Throwing Daggers, Throwing Axes, Holy Water, ricocheting stones, among other things. These all attack in different ways and feel like they have separate hitboxes and stuff too, but even the sub weapons all felt great to use. They did an absolute fantastic job on making sure combat felt great, which is a good thing because it makes up 95% of the game!
Here come the RPG elements. After defeating monsters, Alucard will level up which increases his stats. Hopefully, anyways. There seems to be multiple different stat increase patterns that are chosen randomly, and some of them have extremely low gains. If you’re a min/max type of player, definitely be prepared to save-scum (keep reloading) until you grab some nice gains.
Alucard has several different stats – HP, MP, HEARTS, STR, CON, INT, LCK, ATT, and DEF. HP is your standard Hit Points, if you run out you die. MP is used to cast spells and to maintain transformations. HEARTS are a resource that’s used to attack with sub weapons. STR is attack power that gets added to your ATT. CON is a stat that increases your DEF, while also increasing your resistance to status effects. INT increases spell and sub weapon damage. LCK increases rare item drop rates from monsters and your critical hit chance. ATT and DEF are your Attack and Defense totals after calculating all stat bonuses.
Stats play a big role in Symphony of the Night. As you level up, monsters that used to take 3 or 4 hits to kill will eventually get killed in a single attack. Likewise, monsters that used to take off 20% of your health per hit will eventually hit you for 1 damage. While this is a no-brainer for RPG fans, this change seemed to piss off a lot of Castlevania fans at the time because it essentially “nerfed” the game. While you had to rely on your own skill to beat the older Castlevania games, with the introduction of the RPG elements in Symphony of the Night, even bad players could just grind levels and eventually beat the game.
Symphony of the Night has an interesting level-up system. Another game I happened to play right afterwards also has a similar system (i’ll be reviewing that game next). When you go into an area with monsters that are a higher level than you, you get a ton of experience for killing them – it’s not uncommon to go to a new area and level up after killing 4 or 5 monsters for your next few levels. You’ll go from needing 4,000 experience to level up and getting 1,200 experience each for skeletons that you 1 shot, to only getting 1 experience from the exact same monster 4 minutes later after you leveled up 2 or 3 times.
I guess this is a system that’s designed to get you up to speed whenever you get to a new area so you can have a fighting chance at killing the boss right away, while also putting measures in place so you don’t over-level and outright stomp the boss. While this is pretty cool when you’re still in the progression phase, later on it grinds the leveling to a halt.
While I will point out that you absolutely don’t need to level up past 60 to beat the game, 60 seems to be the level where all experience in the game drops to 1. There are some monsters outside the final boss’ room that give consistent levels until 60, at which point they start giving 1 experience. This means that at that point, every single monster in the game is worth the same amount of experience. Instead of fighting really powerful knight guys 1 at a time (took me about a minute to kill one, but I suck), you’re better off going to the 2nd room in the game and killing the continuously spawning level 1 zombies, since at that point quantity is much more important.
Here’s a quick video showing a fight with one of the stronger monsters mentioned above. I still can’t read his attack pattern 100% yet…definitely easier to just go back and kill early-game mobs for experience!
Like I said, you don’t even need to hit 60 to beat the game, but for completionists who want to hit level cap in their games (99 in this I believe), I can’t imagine even hitting 65 in Symphony of the Night. At 60 I think I needed 13,000 experience for a single level. Most rooms have less than 10 monsters in them, so i’m sure you can get an idea of just how insane the grind would be to do something like this…
If you’re not a completionist, however, then the leveling system is really well thought out. The fact that you can pretty much always tackle whatever area you’re in means that there’s never really a pause in the action. With the way the game is designed (needing certain stuff before being able to get to certain areas), you’ll never suddenly reach some area where everything is unkillable. At worst, you just gotta grind for 5 or 10 minutes to pick up those quick levels and everything is smooth sailing again.
Aside from leveling up, gear also increases stats when equipped. Alucard has Main-hand, Off-hand, Headgear, Cloak, Armor, and 2 Accessory slots. The equipment in Symphony of the Night has a good variety of uses, sometimes a piece of equipment is a straight up stat or damage upgrade, while other times it had some sort of passive abilities on it. Passive abilities are usually found on Armor and Accessories. For example, there is an accessory that passively increases MP regeneration, then there is a certain piece of armor that gains more DEF relative to the amount of rooms you explore within the castle. The game provides you with a lot of equipment with actual useful passives, so I usually found myself taking them over equipment with higher stats.
Next up are relics. Relics are special one of a kind items that you’ll find spread out around the castle. These items provide you with special effects that you can toggle on and off at will. With the exception of a few effects that don’t really matter much, relics are what will allow you to progress further and further into the castle. You’ll gain the ability to do things like double jump, transform into different creatures, summon several different familiars who will attack things for you or find entrances to secret rooms, plus tons of other stuff. There’s also a relic that I personally call “The RPG Relic”, which simply allows you to see your damage numbers to appear over an enemy’s head.
Since things like being able to double jump are locked behind finding the corresponding relic, the castle isn’t truly “open” right from the beginning. The castle is definitely non-linear in the sense that you have different paths you can take to get from Point A to Point B, but it’s not 100% open to the point where you can go wherever you want right away, even if you’re good enough at combat to take on super strong monsters.
One thing you’ll notice while playing the game is that you’ll start finding money after killing monsters or breaking things. There’s a shop that you’ll find later on in the game that sells some equipment and I believe a relevant item or two. In my opinion, besides the relevant items, there wasn’t much reason to farm up any money to buy something. Maybe I missed some secret items or something, but the game throws more than enough money at you, so I never really payed too much attention to the prices of stuff.
In terms of actual important game mechanics, that mostly sums it up. The only other thing to mention is that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night places a strong importance on completion percentage. When loading your save file, you’ll see a timestamp of how long you’ve played and a XX.XX% completion rate. For reasons I won’t go into, the completion rate dictates some pretty important stuff in the grand scheme of things.
While you don’t need to get every last percent possible, you definitely should try to get it as high as you can. I’m nowhere near a “gotta get the platinum trophy/all achievements” 100% completionist type, but even I eventually got the point where I wanted to get my percentage as high as I could, even going out of my way to backtrack and make sure I got all of the rooms filled on my map. I mentioned it above, but at the time of writing this, i’m still missing around 5% or so from the percentage cap (legit cap anyways, the game supposedly has some bugs that can be abused to get out maps and stuff). To get some rooms to register on your map, you gotta make some pixel-perfect jumps and stuff, so I decided I was able to live without those.
All core game mechanics aside, there’s something that I want to briefly mention without going into any detail. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has the absolute coolest gameplay-related twist i’ve ever seen in a game up until now. It came so far out of left field that I never would have believed it if a friend told me about it in school way back in 1997. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, depending on your completion percentage (told you to get it up there!) the games does something else you’d never expect. There’s so much cool stuff going on in Symphony of the Night, you just gotta experience it yourself!
I guess I ended up covering a lot of stuff even though I said the game was “simple” up at the top…common occurrence on my site. I just want to end by saying something kind of weird, and i’m not really sure if I can convey what I want to convey, but i’ll try anyways.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night feels cool to play. By that, I mean I felt cool as hell while playing the game. I don’t mean that in a Final Fantasy “look at me, all my characters do 9999 damage with auto attacks” kind of cool, I mean it in a “it doesn’t matter if you suck or if you’re godlike, you look badass on screen by just playing the game” kinda cool. I don’t think i’ve ever felt that way about a game before. I’ve definitely felt that way about time-sink games like I mentioned above with FF, where you grind your characters to hell and back and they’re all unkillable gods. I’ve definitely never felt that way about a game where something as simple as running across the screen makes you look like a god among men.
Maybe it’s just because i’ve never really played a Castlevania-type game before (if we wanna be brutally honest, i’ve played Maplestory and gameplay-wise Maplestory is basically just a cute, grindy slow korean MMO version of Castlevania – Fight me), but this game honestly took me by surprise, and scratched an itch I never knew I had. The graphics, the animations, and atmosphere coupled with the melty butter controls and fun combat was just way more than I was expecting. As if that wasn’t enough, the game threw one of the best soundtracks i’ve ever heard right in my face…
This game is the gift that keeps on giving. I’d assume that you might have caught on by now that the Castlevania series has some darker, occult influences. This not only leaks into the aesthetics of the game, it also leaks big time into the OST. If you’re into anything ranging from Classical, Gothic, Metal, or even just atmospheric music, you’re going to fall in love with Symphony of the Night’s OST. Take one look at the game’s name and you’ll get an idea of exactly what to expect.
This is another OST that won’t have justice served by just linking a few select songs. I won’t even wait until the bottom of the section to say “You definitely need to listen to the entire OST” like I usually do, i’ll just say it here. You definitely need to listen to the entire OST. You also need to understand that even though the OST by itself is amazing, it’s even better hearing it in-game with all of the attack sounds and monsters screaming/exploding as you kill them. The sound effects in-game don’t get in the way of the OST, they enhance it!
By the way, the version of the game I got has na OST included, so after posting this review, eventually i’ll get around to uploading the OST and i’ll replace the videos I linked to with my own videos if the same tracks are on it.
Since I do have to post some separate songs (I wanna post way more than I will), i’ll post a song called “Prologue”. What a way to start a game! Oh and as a heads up, Black Metal is my favorite style of music, so while I do think pretty much anyone would love this game’s OST, maybe i’m particularly drawn to it more than usual…
Next up is a song that you’ll run into within the first few screens of the game. Now, I want you to go into the game, and go kill a few “Bloody Zombies” while listening to this and tell me i’m a liar when I said the sound effects enhance the OST!
Up next is one of the many “majestic” sounding songs in the game. “Majestic” is definitely the right word when describing this game – majestic in every sense of the word…
This next song is majestic as well, but it’s full of atmosphere. Similar to Parasite Eve/パラサイト・イヴ, everything in Symphony of the Night oozes atmosphere…
Hopefully I had you convinced by now – if you’re into any type of “dark” music then you gotta give the entire OST a listen. Since most of the songs are under two minutes, it’s a fairly short OST all things considered. Trust me on this – it’ll be an hour well spent.
In addition to the music, one thing I want to point out is that all dialog in the game is voiced! With the small amount of dialog in the game, they were able to voice everything in the game, which is extremely cool for a game from 1997! I’d rate the game high from a music/sound prospective even without the voice acting, but it’s definitely icing on the cake!
East vs. West
Since i’ve only played the Japanese version, for most of the differences i’ll have to go off of what i’ve found after searching around online.
- First and foremost, the series is called “Castlevania” in English, but in Japanese it’s called “悪魔城ドラキュラ” (Akumajou Dorakyura), which means Devil’s Castle Dracula. In this game’s case, the sub title is “Symphony of the Night”. The Japanese version, however, is “月下の夜想曲” (Gekka no Yasoukyoku), which is a completely different name – Nocturne in the Moonlight. Both are equally as cool, though both give off a bit of a different aura (I feel like SoTN sounds more “Majestic”, whereas NoTM feels more “Gothic” or “Occult”, again both are really cool). One thing to note though, is that “Symphony of the Night” wasn’t some translation error. “Nocturne in the Moonlight” is written in plain English in the ending credits of the Japanese version, so if they wanted to keep it that way in English they definitely could have.
- A fair amount of monster names are different. One example is a late-game monster being called a “Guardian” in English, but a “Final Guard” instead in Japanese.
- The Japanese version seems to add 2 extra familiars. They don’t appear to be broken or anything, but extra content is extra content!
- Rather than an English and Japanese difference, there was a Japan-exclusive Sega Saturn version of the game that included some extra content, including new areas, new music, and a new playable character.
Should you play it?
I think even if you just barely skimmed this review, you could probably tell that i’d tell you to play the game. Even if you don’t like side-scrollers or platformers, you have to give Symphony of the Night a shot! I’ll be the first to admit I basically never gave side-scrolling games the time of day if I didn’t have to (besides super old-school stuff where 95% of games were still side-scrollers), and even then this game had me by the balls the entire time.
Depending on how much of the map you want to uncover and how high you wanna get your completion percentage, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night can be an extremely quick game. If you do an absolute minimalist playthrough you could probably finish the game in around 4 or 5 hours. With my 5 or 6% below max percentage playthrough, it took me around 13 hours (that includes wasting an hour or two trying to find secret rooms and failing). So you don’t have to commit much time to fully enjoy the game – even if you’re on the fence, just a few minutes in game will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect during the rest of the game.
If you’re not really familiar with the genre and think that’s going to cause you any issues, like I mentioned throughout the “Gameplay” section, you can always fall back on the gear and level-ups to sort of carry you through the game. This can definitely be a negative for the Old Guard, but it’s definitely something that will help ease newcomers to the genre! It really helped me, there were a lot of times where I would have gotten game-overs had there been the usual “few hits and you’re dead” system in place instead.
Which version should you play?
Aside from monster renames and the 2 extra familiars I talked about above, there doesn’t seem to be any real big differences in gameplay among the Japanese and English versions of the game. In my own opinion, if we’re going to compare the front cover artwork, the Japanese version wins by a mile, bar none.
Price wise, I believe the English versions of the game go for quite a bit. I picked up the Japanese PS1 version here in Japan for 4,400 yen, which is about 40$ USD at the time of writing this. The version I got has the and OST included, as well as a small art book. In Japan, regardless of what game it is and how common/rare it is, a game’s OST is always going to cost AT LEAST 1,500 yen, so if you take that out of the equation, you’re looking at around 3,000 for the cheapest Japanese version of the game.
I did see Japanese versions without the OST included, so they do exists if you for some reason felt it was okay to grab the game and skip the OST (you DID listen to the stuff I linked above, right!?). I’m not sure if the English versions have different versions with the OST and versions without, but I know the English versions fetch a pretty penny due to the game not selling a whole lot back in the day.
I did mention there being a Japanese Sega Saturn version of the game, but even the main guy behind the game, Kouji Igarashi, supposedly said that he didn’t want his name to be associated with the Sega Saturn version of the game due to what he considered to be a poor quality port. So I don’t know if it’s worth picking up on purpose over the PS1 version, though there is some extra content if you just gotta have as much of the game as possible.
Other than that, I believe the game has been ported to stuff like the Vita, PlayStation Network, Xbox 360, and even recently this year to iOS and Android. I haven’t really heard any negatives about the ports, but you probably know that i’m a “Physical Copy Elitist”, so I always have to recommend picking up a physical version of the game. I’m sure the ports probably cost 1/10th of the price you’d have to pay for a physical copy of the game this time around, though…
Now for the final score! You probably guessed it, but it’s gonna be big!
Final Score – 38/40
Story – 8.5/10
Gameplay – 9.5/10
Graphics – 10/10
Music – 10/10
In-case you felt like watching the credits and listening to the ending song, I went ahead and recorded the credit roll. There aren’t any spoilers or anything and it’s just a plain black screen, so don’t worry about ruining the ending or anything!