Reviewed: April 2, 2007
Released: March 21, 2007
In all of the history and lore surrounding videogames, few titles are as well remembered and revered as Konamiís Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Part platformer, part RPG and all incredible action, it took several different gaming elements and combined them into one superb and cohesive whole. This, along with rock-solid controls, visuals and sound helped to produce an unforgettable gaming experience and an adventure that would become the stuff of legend.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night appeared on the Sony Playstation back in 97í, and while the system was largely known for changing the face of videogames by introducing us to lush, richly detailed 3D environments, Symphony of the Night largely stuck with its 2-Dimensional roots. Perhaps Konami knew that fans have always loved Castlevania for itís great 2D action and believed that changing it too much could cost the series its legacy. Whatever the reason, thereís no denying the impact this title has had on gamers, especially my generation.
So when I first caught wind that this game was coming to XBLA well over a half year ago, I made my intension know to our editor-in-chief here at GameChronicles. I wanted to review it, I played and beat all 200.6% of this game back in 97í and loved every second of it. I so desperately wanted to experience it again. There are several games on the Playstation that I have fond memories of playing Ė and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is just one of them.
So here it is, at long last Ė and the honour is mine. I went into this review with a little bit of trepidation. After all, seldom are games that I played over a decade ago as cool as I remember. You always recall the graphics and sound being so much better, and when you get the chance to re-visit your past, you often find it hasnít withstood the scars of time very well.
So with experience under my belt and some intimate knowledge of the subject matter, the question remains. Does Castlevania: Symphony of the Night rekindle those old feeling I once had for this game, or is it like so many other XBLA releases Ė a way to quench little more than 10 minutes worth of nostalgic curiosity?
Symphony of the Night basically starts off where Castlevania: Bloodlines ended. In fact, you even get to play out the final battle between Dracula and the legendary vampire hunter, Richter Belmont. Inevitably evil it dissolved and castle Dracula is once more destroyed, that is until several years pass and the castle mysteriously re-appears. Along with this new evil (or perhaps the same evil returning time and time again), we also bear witness to the return of Draculaís son, Alucard. Alucard however is a vampire who doesnít exactly following in his fatherís footsteps, and after a long slumber has returned to rid the human world is his fatherís evil once and for all. A typically lame excuse for a fight and a pretty insignificant plot for a game, but really, who cares? Itís Castlevania.
As I mentioned, the gameís beauty comes from the fact that it incorporates so many great gaming elements into one title. It offers traditional platforming action with plenty of locations to discover and unlock. All of these areas are loaded with enemies. Like all old-school platformers, much of the gameís challenge comes from learning the different attack patterns of your opponents. Learn their movements and how to counter them, and youíre well on your way towards success in Castlevania.
The castle is created from dozens of rooms chalk full of enemies, traps and secrets. Like other games of this type, (Super Nintendoís Metroid springs to mind) you canít access the entire castle from the beginning. Rather, as you move through it you discover new items and abilities that allow you to enter areas that were previously out of your reach. For example, enhancements like the ability to transform into mist, a bat or to simply double-jump, play a huge roll in the exploration of the castle. As your character grows, new areas open up. Itís a simple premise that may require a lot of backtracking, but at the same time offers great reward.
Symphony of the Night also incorporates some light RPG elements. Experience points are gained from defeating enemies, and as such, your hit points and other vital statistic increase. So not only does acquiring new weapons, items and upgrades unlock the castle for your exploration, but enhancements to your stats make backtracking a breeze, as older enemies never get any tougher and new enemies only get easier.
As you move through this title, various statistics are recorded, like the number of enemies youíve killed, real-time hours spent playing the game and the percentage of the castle you have unlocked, but like any great game, Symphony of the Night rewards the diligent explorer with a continued adventure. While most players would near 100% game completion, defeat the final boss, and call it a day, one only needs to do a little digging online to know that with this game, the end is only the beginning. Thereís a completely different character waiting to be unlocked and a fully inverted castle that doubles the gameís length and allows you to surpass 200% competition. Itís a huge game, and a greatly rewarding title from start to finish.
Like icing on the cake, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has some great achievements to shoot for. Some are relatively easy to obtain early in the game; others as you progress through the quest, and some that will reward the player who desires to see it all. The achievements are spread out nicely, and while the game doesnít just hand them to you on a silver platter, they can be achieved with some work.
Overall this is a great looking game and appears very much as I remember it. Sure, side-scrolling gameplay may not have been in keeping with the technology of the time, seeing as 3D gaming was coming into itís own back in 97í, but it was, and is, a fantastic looking game.
Character animations are slick, especially those of Alucard who flows along smooth and beautifully with a fluttering cape and great tracer effects. The game does occasionally show off some nice 3D elements, for example the clock tower at the beginning, the cathedral hall and of course your save room, but overall, the game is pretty simple by todayís standards and primarily 2D from start to finish. Not that Iím complaining, the environments vary greatly in artistic design and look great, as do a majority of your enemies. The boss encounters are also impressive, with many of them taking up virtually the entire screen.
Castlevania can be played in itís original 4:3 pixelated glory, or in the all new enhanced mode that cleans up a little bit of the mess and gives the game a smoother, more visually pleasing appearance. You can also stretch the image out to fit your 16:9 high definition TVís. It distorts the image slightly, but I found it to be a nice addition that wasnít overly distracting. While it did look a little strange at first, in time I hardly even noticed.
Back in the day, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had one of the greatest soundtracks I had ever heard in a videogame. Thanks in large to the new medium of CD based videogames, players were finally able to experience beautifully scored music, booming sound effects and real-life vocal work. It was a giant leap for gaming and this title was a great example of this new advancement in technology. Fortunately for us, little has been lost through the XBLA download, as the audio seems nearly identical to what it once was.
Speaking of the music, its fully orchestrated themes are filled with rockiní electric guitars and melodic harpsichords that suit every facet of this game perfectly. Itís thoroughly modern, yet distinctly laced with the sound of the 1800ís. Itís a great piece of work and a real treat for the ears.
The sound effects are also great, in fact the only part of this gameís audio that suffers would be the vocal work. Most of it is akin to bad Japanese Anime, but it a way, these cheesy verbal offering add a strange level of charm to the game, and somehow it works.
800 Marketplace Points for a full-length game coming in with close to 12-15 hours of enjoyable gameplay. Thatís a steal. This isnít some rinky-dink classic arcade download; this is a full-blown Playstation legend. The price is fantastic and worth every cent. This should be one of the easiest download decisions a person could possibly make. It was an incredible game 10 years ago, and it still is today. Without a doubt itís totally worth the price of admission and sports my highest recommendation.
You know, I constantly go on about XBLA, and this release is a perfect example of why itís so great. Legendary game can be downloaded and played to our hearts content for a nominal fee, and while Iím always going to love the fact that XBLA is a forum for talented developers to get discovered, Iím well aware that classic games do and will always have their place on Xbox Live.
While I love original games, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is another in a long line of re-released classics. The big difference is this wasnít a rehashed old coin-op; this is a top-tier release from a prior generation gaming console. It's a complete game with hours upon hours of gameplay, excellent graphics and sound, and most importantly, immersive and addictive gameplay. For a mere 800 marketplace points, this game has it all. Itís easily one of the greatest downloads to hit Xbox Live Arcade since itís inception. Do yourself a favour and download it, itís simply an incredible game. Always was and still is.
Yes, we all know that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was the first XBLA game to breakaway from the 50mb size cap. And while the cap has been raised to 150mb, this one still comes in at under 100. This just goes to show you the level of top quality downloads we can expect to see in the future. We have a lot to look forward to. The future of Xbox Live Arcade starts here and today with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.