The original PlayStation had so many gems that have gone down as some of the best games in gaming history. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those games. I played the original Castlevania on the NES but didn’t have much interest in the series beyond that. A friend of mine in high school tried to get me into Super Castlevania IV on the SNES, but I just didn’t see the appeal. But when I played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the first time, I became engaged by Castlevania in a way that I never thought possible. For the first time, a Castlevania game had my full attention. And I not only would go on to spend multitudes of hours with this game. It is also one of the few games that I’ve completed multiple times.
Symphony of the Night casts you in the role of Alucard, the son of Dracula who enters Dracula’s castle on a quest to stop his father. The castle is bigger than anything that had been featured in any prior Castlevania prior. And even after you explore every nook and cranny of it, you discover an inverted version of the castle that you can fully explore. Everything about this package was excellent for its time (and in my opinion, even today). The graphics were beautiful, the gameplay was tremendous, the music was sensational, the sound effects fantastic, and the voice acting superb. At this time, Konami games were known for their excellent audio and soundtracks. Suikoden I & II, as well as Metal Gear Solid, were great examples of this.
I never imagined the impact that this game released in 1997 would have on the gaming industry. While the term “Metroidvania” comes from the merging of Metroid and Castlevania gameplay, many people who have been gaming for a long time immediately think of Symphony of the Night when thinking of a Metroidvania game. Games within this genre have huge maps with lots of exploration and secrets to find. Then there is the inclusion of RPG elements such as the ability to equip the character with weapons, abilities, armor, and accessories. Your character’s health is displayed by “HP” units and abilities/magic consume “MP” or “SP.” Metroidvania games typically are side-scrollers with a mixture of action and platforming. And then there are multiple bosses spread out throughout the large map. All of these elements were in Symphony of the Night and you’ll also find them in many of the Metroidvania games today.
There are many Metroidvania games on the market these days. It’s become one of my favorite genres and a genre that many indie developers are choosing to explore. Perhaps the one game that bears the closest resemblance to Symphony of the Night is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Developed by ArtPlay with former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi as the team lead, Bloodstained was released in 2019 to a favorable reception. Rather than the story centering on Dracula and ending his reign of destruction upon humanity, Bloodstained’s narrative focuses on stopping the ones who are responsible for summoning a demon-infested castle. Bloodstained did a fantastic job of creating its own identity while still paying tribute to Symphony of the Night. I had a terrific time with the game and seeing it all the way through to its completion was very satisfying. Miriam is a wonderful protagonist who wishes to help others while simultaneously suffering from a curse that is slowly crystallizing her body. It’s an excellent game.
Other Metroidvania games I’ve enjoyed include Timespinner, Touhou Luna Nights, Iconoclasts, Dust: An Elysian Tale, and Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. Most of these games are typically indie developed and published. This genre has grown so much over the years and it has been a joy to see. The games provide a lot for the individual player. For those who like to explore, it’s packed with secrets that reward searching every part of the map. Players looking for achievements will find multiple bosses to battle and can take on the challenge of leveling up their character to the maximum level possible. For those who are into progression, the main character typically begins the game very weak with few to no abilities. By the time you reach the end of the game, the character is a powerhouse with many abilities.
One game that has evolved the Metroidvania formula to include another genre simultaneously is Dead Cells. When you play the game, you can see the Symphony of the Night’s influence all over the game. Yet developer Twin Motion took a different approach to the genre by implementing Rogue-lite mechanics. This means that rather than looking to go through the full game in one continuous run (with save points scattered throughout the map) on your first try, the point of the game is to do multiple runs from the beginning with each death allowing your character to grow stronger.
This merging of two styles of play produced phenomenal results for Dead Cells. It is an excellent title that provides a challenge for those players who love Metroidvanias but find them a bit too easy. And after enough deaths and enough upgrades, you’ll finally be able to make that one great run to complete the game. Another great twist is that each run is procedurally generated so your memory of your previous run serves no purpose. You have to play Dead Cells with a focus on adapting to your present circumstances. It is not a surprise that Dead Cells has “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews on Steam.
Every time I see a new Metroidvania game released, I always think back to Symphony of the Night. Before then, I had never played a game like it. The impact of the game is one I still feel to this day. Similar Castlevania games were released on the Game Boy Advance, but I’ve never played them. Since Symphony of the Night, I haven’t played one Castlevania game that can match that experience. This is not to say that none of the Castlevania games since have been good. But are anywhere near what I would call “excellent.” And none of the other Castlevania games are considered to be a defining game for a whole genre.
I’m glad that there are so many ways to play Symphony of the Night today. It even is available for Android and iOS. I can remember when it was playable only on the original PlayStation or SEGA Saturn. Symphony of the Night is a game that should be treasured. It is a masterpiece that has inspired so many games and the best Castlevania experience I’ve ever had.