Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a 2D Action/exploration game and the first in the series to break away from linear level design. This time around you will play as Alucard, son of Dracula, on a quest to defeat whatever evil lurks in the newly emerged castle. We start off with the best gear and weapons, easily able to dispatch dangerous foes but will soon be mugged by Death and have nothing but our fists. Alongside introducing nonlinear level design, Symphony of the Night also introduces an RPG system that allows you to collect different weapons, upgrade your stats and use consumable items.
We will still have access to the series iconic secondary weapons such as the knife, bible and holy water to name a few, that use up hearts found throughout the castle. These hearts are found by breaking random objects in the environment and just generally spiting the lord of the castle by breaking all his stuff. In an odd turn of events we face Dracula at the very start of the game and as a Belmont instead of Alucard. That adds a neat twist to not knowing who is your new enemy and further separating itself from the rest of the series.
It now features fully voiced dialogue but it is so bad it’s comical and thankfully few & far between to avoid it becoming a nuisance. The story is nothing to write home about but it’s serviceable. The real star of the show is the enormous mansion that you will be exploring. This place is huge, featuring unique enemies and music for every area of the castle to avoid repetition. You will not be able to explore every nook and cranny from the get go. In a smart move to avoid overwhelming the player, you will have to unlock new moves such as double jumping and turning into mist to reach previously inaccessible areas so you will always have an idea where to go.
Secrets are everywhere as well, from finding a wall chicken to gaining a new ally, you will definitely want to keep your eyes peeled for anything unusual and keep on exploring every inch of the game. Exploring can quickly turn into an addiction and Symphony of the Nights greatest asset. The combat has received quite a bit of new features from previous games. You will now be able to dual wield weapons, use a shield to block attacks or use magic spells. Using spells can be a bit obscure and if it wasn’t for the menu, one wouldn’t even know it existed. To use them you must insert an input combination similar to Fighting game and once discovering it will be saved in your log.
Using spells takes up Mana which is also used up when you use your other powers such as turning into a bat or mist. Items such as food, potions and your gear can be carried around in your inventory that stores infinite items though that presents a minor problem. The menu system is extremely disorganized, making it difficult to find exactly what you need and most items become near useless with no way to get rid of them. You must then equip the item that you wish to use in a hand, disarming yourself of a weapon or shield then go back into the menus the re-equip it. In my opinion it is a necessary evil to avoid you easily spamming health potions during a fight but the disorganized menu makes it more of a pain than it should.
Unfortunately, it will be extremely rare that you have need for one since the game does not balance well to its new RPG mechanic. It simply becomes too easy after a while of leveling up by killing foes and acquiring more powerful weapons. This puts the combat second to the exploration and it feels wrong to be easily able to take on most of the bosses. They are grand, all unique and numerous, making it a bit of a shame that they won’t pose much of a threat. Many of the bosses are optional though killing them will grant you an item that increases your overall health by a bit to motivate you to face them. They are usually near save points so it’s best to take advantage of them while you can.
Save points are numerous and will refill your health along with saving your progress. It is one of the few times Symphony of the Night uses polygons aside from the CGI cutscenes. This decision to make the game solely 2D sprites has immeasurably helped it age well, unlike many PSX games. Nearly every song is amazing as well as icing on the cake and expected of the Castlevania series. Changing Alucard’s cape, weapon and shield is reflected in game but not changing his armor or helmet. The amount of enemies at any one time is impressive and makes certain boss fights that much better.
There is a shop in here too from who you can purchase various items with the money you find from breaking stuff around the castle. Aside from one certain item this shop is completely optional and the best items are found not bought, though a nice addition nonetheless. If you are observant you can find an item that allows you to have a familiar accompany you throughout your journey. There are a few to choose from and level up separately from you. They can be pretty handy but not much of a loss if you never find one. One thing that you should be aware of is that you can beat the main villain fairly early on but in doing so you will be missing out on a very large portion of the game.
I highly suggest looking up how to get to the “Inverted Castle” since it is an easy thing to miss and not be aware of. It essentially gives you a “new” castle to explore by turning the previous one upside down. While the environments may be the same all the enemies have been replaced by far more dangerous ones and there is a whole slew of new bosses to slay. It tweaks the environment enough to make it feel far different than the original version though it is obvious some areas where not meant to be played this way, causing some annoying navigation and constant use of your bat form.
This inverted castle idea is an amazing addition to the game. While the original castle was far too easy this one packs quite a punch and in turn makes it that much more fun. There is a ton of cool stuff to find as well as a new ending to the game. The amount of content here is impressive and there attempt to change the series so drastically was a huge success. Whether you find it better than the previous entries of the series will depend largely on personal taste. It being praised to kingdom come by fans may cause those who never played it to be skeptical, however it is definitely still a must play title nearly 20 years after its release.