Last week I began playing the PlayStation 1 version of Castlevania Symphony of the Night on PlayStation Vita. After a few hours I was starting to understand what I was doing, but couldn’t really see why the game is still regarded as one of the best Metoridvania ever. At the time of release SotN got incredible reviews from a large number of outlets. After playing for a few mores hours, delving deeper into Dracula’s castle and developing my thoughts further, I’m sad to say that I’m still not sold on Symphony’s iconic status.
Symphony of the Night is part of an important blueprint, the one that all modern metroidvania games adhere to. It is undeniably a founding father of the genre and for that at least, it deserves respect. As I wander the halls of Dracula’s sprawling castle it’s impossible to not see how it inspired recent games like Guacamelee and Axiom Verge in many aspects. Contemporary creators were obviously inspired by there time spent playing Castlevania, however today the Symphony doesn’t hold up. Something I’m sure many would disagree with, but allow me to explain.
For myself one of the most important part of game design is how a character feels. They should play like their characterisation suggests but hero Alucard doesn’t. Alucard feels heavy and stiff, he’s a vampire hunter who lacks any sort of elegance in movement or combat. I noted last time that Alucard’s movement feels cumbersome and it continued to annoy me this time. Konami tries to create an illusion of fluidity using silhouettes – a trick that might of worked then but certainly doesn’t now. I pointed out that Samus felt similar when I spoke about Super Metorid, perhaps this is a reality of the time when these games were made. Could the hardware not support more graceful movement? Maybe not. But it’s hard to ignore the fault when so many modern games make the act of traversal feel awesome. In retrospect Symphony doesn’t feel all that impressive.
Combat too is severely lacking. Even compared to Super Metroid, which launched three years earlier. Monster design is simple and each doesn’t offer much challenge. Most foes simply walk toward Alucard flailing whatever ability they have in his general direction. The same can be said of smaller boss-like enemies that occasionally patrol the castle’s halls – only difference is there flailing is more powerful and the can take more damage. Alucard’s ability to equip a range of dropped weaponry and armour is a nice touch, and the element I appreciated the most. Customization is nearly always a bonus when done right, and here Konami succeeded.
It’s worth mentioning too that the castle aesthetic is marvellous. The halls feel haunted, dark and forbidden. Each area of the colossal fortress is exciting to look at, if not overly thrilling to explore. In a bid to keep players constantly moving Symphony’s level design is peculiarly vertically obsessed. There are some horizontal area’s but most of the castle’s rooms are tall and thin forcing me to jump around for seemingly to reason. It is a small gripe. But then I did keep noting it, which isn’t good. The castle’s layout as a whole is pretty dull compared to the visual design.
Overall Symphony of the Night bored me. I could continue talking but I fear I’d repeat many of my points from last week. After a few hours I packed my bags and gave up. I simply wasn’t having fun in Dracula’s castle. The place wasn’t without it’s merits. The boss fights are great, but too far apart. The music is spectacular, so good that I named in my soundtrack of the week. And the mood inside the castle is wonderful. For me though the negatives are too plentiful: boring exploration, uninspired enemy design and an incessant obsession with vertical traversal. In the end it was too much.
This weeks version of Adventures in Gaming is pretty short. Sorry about that, I don’t have much more to say. Let’s just close out by saying this: I think Super Metroid is the better game of the two. In my eyes there’s a reason why Metroid is the first half of the word Metroidvania – because it’s the more enjoyable series.