In 1997 Konami released Symphony of the Night (known as Devil's Castle Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight in Japan), the 10th game in the Castlevania franchise. Not only did it go on to sell over a million copies it also rejuvenated a stagnant franchise.
15th January 2014 KingofMetal79
The game see's you play as Alucard (Dracula's dhampir son) as you attempt to infilitrate Dracula's castle and destroy the most powerful vampire that has ever lived and his kingdom once and for all. It is also a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood and the game begins with a recap of the game's final battle between Richter Belmont and Dracula....
This element was the true *ahem* 'game changer' with regards to this franchise and platform adventures as a whole at the time. Up to this point Castlevania had been more of a traditional 'A to B' platformer with conventional level based structure. While the first 3 games in the franchise (released on the NES in the late 80's/early 90's) are 8 bit classics (and some of my favourite NES games), the arrival of Super Castlevania on the SNES and Rondo of Blood on the PC Engine saw this style of gameplay fine tuned to near perfection with little room for improvement. Therefore when Konami announced it was bringing Castlevania to 32bit consoles it looked to breathe new life into the classic Vampire hunter game. What followed was a game so different, innovative and well received it created a blueprint that has been followed for almost two decades.
This iteration steered the series away from the aforementioned standard platforming formula of older titles and introduced a new style of open-ended gameplay mixed with role-playing game-like element. The games calls for the player to explore the castle and collect items with the goal to hunting down and destroying Dracula. The player is required to regularly revisits parts of the castle following upgrades/aquisitions that allow the player to explore areas that were previously inaccessible.
The game world/map is huge and there always seems to be new areas and rooms presenting themselves. The environments are errie and the enemies hugely varied. Fans of the previous games will enjoy the atmosphere, weapons and some beautiful (read gruesome) looking bosses (that are challenging as always!)
*Spoiler* In addition to the reinevention of the series gameplay the most notible addition is the inclusion of a 'second' castle for the player to explore if certain critiria are fulfilled before battling Richter. If these requirements are met then the player is asked to explore the castle once again but this time it is inverted! Furthermore the castle is littered with more enemies and the difficulty is ramped up. I only discovered this add-on content, as it were, when the game came to what seemed a very premature end following an encounter with Richter Belmont and the abrupt destruction of Dracula's castle. However, after a quick internet search it would seem that this was not the proper, full ending. To be privy to such ending I would need to unlock the inverted castle and destroy Beezlebub, Death and finally Dracula - no mean feat.
Music - Like other entries in the series the music is incredible and very varied. While I prefer the chip-tune brilliance of the soundtrack for the first Castlevania, this soundtrack offers up a lot more in terms of variety and quality purely due to the hardware and media on which it was created. - ranging from the synth rock of "Prologue" to the epic orchestral "Moonlight Nocturne" or the haunting vocal piece of "Prayer". While it may lack the shear number of hooky classic of its predecessors (Vampire Killer, Wicked Child, Heart of Fire etc) some of the signatures and motifs still remain and it is still a stand out video game soundtrack. That said the soundtrack is a brilliant mash of japanese synth rock and baroque gothicness that fans of the series will love nonetheless. PS. if anyone wants to send me a copy on vinyl then feel free!
If you are a fan of the series (and I guess you wouldn't being reading this if you weren't!) then you know that a Castlevania can be HARD. I am happy/unhappy (delete as appropriate) to report that the now legendary difficulty spikes are alive and well in this game. However, unlike some previous games, with a bit of trial and patience most sections can be navigated safely while sustainingly little damage. However, that said, i did find sections of the second, inverted Castle to be very punishing so prepare to die... a lot...
Gamespot desribes a Metroidvania game as "A style of 2D action gameplay revolving around exploring a labyrinth with the necessity of locating new items and equipment to progress beyond otherwise impassible obstacles. The concept is named for its common usage in the Metroid and Castlevania".
As discussed previously, once Konami decided to move away from the traditional level based formula of the NES era and employ a gamestyle similar to Metroid they set the standard for pretty much every Castlevania game that has followed. While Symphony of the Night is not the first example of this genre, it is in many peoples eye's the game that crystallised the genre and thrust it into mainstream consciousness when it was released on the PSX in 1997.
Like the name of the sub-genre suggests, there are many similarities between this game and the Metroid franchise. That said, while Castlevania goes for a hack and slash, supernatural horror vibe Metroid plumps for a more sci-fi shooter slant resulting in a tonal difference between the two respected franchises. While Nintendo beat Konami to the punch with the release of it seminal Super Metroid (3 years earlier for the SNES) it was Konami who really embraced this style of gameplay with its future releases while Nintendo looked to move the franchise into FPS territory (with its Metroid Prime games).
In recent years while the Metroid series has partially returned to its roots with Metroid: Other M it is still Castlevania that is the flag bearer for RPG tinged, 2D, adventure platformers. With Konami seemingly having the 'genre' sewn up with a slew of Castlevania games in the vein of Symphony of the Night (Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, Circle of the Moon etc etc) I would personally like to see Retro and Nintendo return to the FP world of Metroid Prime as I am (and surely Nintendo as well!!!) aching for a bone fide classic Metroid game for my Wii U.