Anyone who’s played a Game Boy Advance or DS Castlevania game would find themselves at home with the 1997 PlayStation classic Symphony of the Night. Ever hear the term “Metroidvania”? You can thank Konami producer Koji Igarashi for helping co-create the concept for SotN. Up until its PlayStation debut, the series was known for intense, linear 2D platforming. SotN maintained the core combat and setting of Castlevania, but threw linearity out the window in favor of a sprawling, open world. Inspired by Nintendo’s Metroid games, the abilities you unlock as you progress through the game allow you to explore parts of the environment that were previously inaccessible. Like peanut butter and jelly, the marriage of Metroid and Castelvania was a match made in heaven and would forever alter the series.
Merging types of gameplay wasn’t the only trick up Igarashi and company’s sleeves. SotN gets a lot of praise for embracing Samus’s style of exploration, but what it also did was take ques from the very first Castlevania sequel, Simon’s Quest. The RPG elements from Castlevania II were (fittingly) resurrected in SotN, including buying items and the use of EXP to level up your character. Alucard can be equipped with an array of weapons and items to maximize his abilities. Combat is further tweaked with the inclusion of spells and familiars, elements that follow your character and assist during battles. You might be thinking this all sounds like overkill, but Igarashi and his team did an exceptional job of implementing these changes without cluttering the gameplay. SotN gradually introduces each facet of its gameplay and never leaves the player floundering.
If you just want to analyze SotN as a pure Castlevania game, there’s a lot to love. The music by composer Michiru Yamane spans multiple genres and is simply awesome. This game also introduced fans to the beautiful art of Ayami Kojima, whose design work perfectly transitioned the series into the 32-bit era and beyond. Let’s not forget about the main hero, Alucard. While Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was Alucard’s first appearance, this game really thrust him into the spotlight and made him a beloved part of Castlevania lore. Graphically, Konami pumped out some great sprites using the PlayStation’s hardware. Enemies and environments are large, detailed, varied, and among some of the best in the series. In an era where most game series were transitioning into 3D (Castlevania included!), SotN clung to its 2D roots and delivered some breathtaking visuals.
SotN sadly didn’t muster the sales it deserved, but its legacy has inspired a number of sequels and re-releases. The three Game Boy Advance and three DS Castlevania titles are all formed from the mold of SotN (some might argue a couple of those games give SotN a run for its money) and are all the better for it. The PSP game Castelvania: The Dracula X Chronicles includes SotN as an unlockable (yes, that’s a heck of an unlockable, haha) and it also saw re-release on PSN and XBLA. You really can’t go wrong with any of the versions out there, but I’d say play the PSN download for the most authentic experience. SotN is a great game and well worth your time. If you enjoyed games like Order of Ecclesia or Circle of the Moon, you’re going to love Symphony of the Night.
Released 1997. Developed by Konami, published by Sony.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is available on PlayStation, PSN, XBLA, and PSP.