Hey readers! Last week, we looked at a stylish action game, really the first of it's kind.
This week, we keep the Gothic castle theme going. Folks, this is one of my Top Ten games ever.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, developed and published by Konami, came out way back in 1997 for the Playstation. As basically every gamer should know, you play as the half-vampire (dhampir) named Alucard (you're gonna want to read that backwards). As Alucard, your task is to explore Dracula's castle and kill your own father, which of course happens to be Dracula himself.
Much like almost every Castlevania title after Simon's Quest, SOTN plays in a "Metroidvania" style (is that even a fair title? Metroid came out long before Castlevania III. Oh well.) This essentially means you explore Dracula's castle in a 2D side-scrolling view, defeating bosses and finding items which enable you to reach previously unreachable areas. For example, you'll find a particular area gated off, and you won't be able to pass through that gate until you gain the power to turn into mist.
Naturally, this also means combat with tons of increasingly tough enemies. SOTN features what I believe to be the pinnacle of combat in regards to the 2D Castlevania series. Alucard uses a variety of swords in lieu of the usual Vampire Killer whip, which enables you to move faster at the loss of sheer range. Alucard can also use the usual 'Vania sub-weapons like the Cross and Holy Water, in addition to a surprising variety of spells. There's a dodge move, and speaking as a long-time 'Vania fan, it makes all the difference.
So, pretty standard fare as far as Castlevania games go. At least, that's what it seems like, at first. But what makes SOTN such a celebrated title in the series?
Simply put, there's really not that many games that add up to the sum of it's parts. Shadow of the Colossus, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past, and EarthBound are examples of this.
As is Symphony of the Night.
The combat is more fluid than it has any right to be. The lite RPG mechanics are deeper than you'd expect. The graphics are a nice blend of Japanese and European art. The music, long a major point in Castlevania titles, is just as strong here, or really, even more varied that usual.
You know I had to post this screenshot, right?
The voice acting is fun. It's famously bad, but you can still enjoy it in a kitschy way.
The story, though. When I was a much younger WingZero, I enjoyed the story, but largely dismissed it as a typical Castlevania tale. You know, invade the castle and kill Dracula. I didn't really care for Alucard's reasoning here; I assumed Alucard was the good guy and Dracula was the bad guy, and that was good enough.
Later in life, I realized SOTN's story was deeper than I realized. I'd understood the whole "paradox," that Alucard was in a sense trying to destroy his creator. And yet Alucard could by no means accomplish this task without Dracula, the man Alucard was trying to kill, having gave Alucard his powers in the first place.
And then I read Clipping Through, by Leigh Alexander (which I reviewed here!)
And in her book, Leigh puts it this way: "It's a game about taking ownership of your father's house, of addressing the mantle of your parents' expectations — both Dracula and your human mother, burned as a witch."
I'd never thought of it that way. About how SOTN is about you, the player, either living up to your parents' expectations, or going in a different direction-your direction. About-again, as Leigh phrases it-"the act of engraving your name on your father's house, of subverting your destiny."
And really, that's why SOTN continues to be a personal favorite. The fact that, years and years later, you can still be confronted with a different view, a different interpretation of what seemed at first to be a simple game. That sort of thing catches you off guard; the thought burrows in your mind and grows. That thought grows ever larger, more omnipresent, until you have to drop everything and have to go replay that game you knew backwards and forwards.
Reasons like that are why games like Symphony of the Night continue to demand your attention, almost 20 years after release. That's what I mean by "more than the sum of it's parts." There's tons of games in the world these days, but how many occupy so much space in your mind? For me, Symphony is one of those games; realizing what it's about changed my way of thinking, and it's one of the games that continues to inspire me as a writer (and aspiring developer-maybe).
Play Symphony. Hopefully you'll see what I see. Of all the games I've written about over this year-plus experience, this masterpiece might be the greatest of them all.
Thanks for reading! Hit the comments section as usual! Suggest games for me to cover! And Tweet me, if that's your scene, @WingZero351
Next week-Let's have some fun. Let's tackle the game that every first person shooter owes a debt to. Make sure your watch is set.