Symphony of the Night automatically deserves extra credit for being, even in its own time, a rather brave anachronism. A 2D adventure released at a time when classic franchises had largely switched over to 3D control, SotN was - and remains - a loving ode to classic gaming. I’d heard the accolades over the years, and as a PS1 owner and 2D fan myself, was sorry to have missed its original release. With high expectations, I set out to play what many consider the pinnacle of 2D adventures. (Also: I kind of just want to rename this feature “Go Play PS Classics Now!” Although Sony isn’t my sole source for retro gaming, they certainly have the most impressive library. At least, until Nintendo finally gets around to installing a SNES on my iPhone.)
As with FFVII, this was a PSVita download. I really don’t see much issue with the conversion, since this style of 2D gaming really lends itself to the Vita’s screen and on-the-go personality.
Playing as Dracula’s lost son Alucard (groan), you slice-and-dice your way through a beautifully designed castle and its 1,890(!) interconnected rooms (link: map porn). Beginning with no more than a sword, you quickly acquire weapons and abilities that grant access to more areas and more means to dispose of foes - skeletons, killer octopi, etc. - who earlier proved challenging. The magic has some interesting variants, and the game’s unusual religious undertones come through in powers like “Holy Water.” Some of the bosses are pretty amazing, and the sense of exploration is unrivalled. If you’re prone to gaming addiction, the dangling carrot of “just one more room, just one more ability” will keep you playing a long time.
This is the first in these reviews to really suffer from poor voice work, but at least the translation is so-bad-it’s-funny. “WHAT IS A MAN BUT A MISERABLE PILE OF SECRETS”, indeed. Otherwise, the game feels remarkably up-to-date. The combat is balanced, save points graciously allocated, and it remains one of the best-looking 2D games ever made.
Great, great game. Sure, there are more recent titles that have done well with the genre, but most lack the charm and style of Castlevania. Any gamer interested in 2D adventures owes it to herself to try this out.
The Nintendo DS Castlevania titles are theoretically just as good, but no one is going to be talking about them in a decade. Other games that have done well by this formula (known as Metroidvania, after its origins in Castlevania and Metroid series) include Shadow Complex, Outland, and Guacamelee! But Symphony is probably still the best.
Re-releases and sequels
It’s available on the PSP “Dracula X Chronicles” but only as an easter egg hidden inside another, inferior game. Which is seriously the most bizarre thing ever. Download this on PSN/XBLA.