Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the Retro Game of the Week for 15 August, 2016

Released: 1997 (!)
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Platform: PlayStation
Genre: Platformer
Played on: Mednafen emulator, Playstation gamepad

Quality gaming didn’t completely dry up by 1995, of course.  While gaming was being bombarded with low-quality, high-polish dreck like Super Mario 64 and Metal Gear Solid, there were still games that knew what gaming was supposed to be like that were being pushed out with the insane amount of crap surrounding it fortunately not tarnishing it.  While the Nintendo 64 brought out a 3d version of Demon Castle Dracula (I’ve come to really dislike the English name Castlevania, even though I’ve titled this blog entry with it for recognizability), the Saturn and PlayStation received a solid 2d title that keeps the classic gameplay and expands on the exploration aspects of the second NES title (Dracula II: Seal of the Curse / Simon’s Quest).

Demon Castle Dracula X: Nocture in the Moonlight (come on, that’s a much cooler title than “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”, isn’t it?) starts at the ending of the PC Engine Super CD (TurboGrafx 16 CD) game Demon Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, with Richter Belmont fighting Dracula, and the player actually gets to control the action (while you can’t really lose the battle, the way you play affects your beginning stats for the main part of the game).  While the English version has the well-known “What is a man?  A miserable little pile of secrets!” dialog at this point, playing the translated version of the original Japanese game gives you a much more palatable and less cringeworthy exchange about the nature of humanity.    After the battle, we are told that only four years after this battle that Richter has disappeared and the castle, crumbled into nothingness afterwards, has returned, and that Maria Renard and Dracula’s half-human son Alucard are moving to the resurrected castle to investigate — Maria, to find Richter, and Alucard, to insure his cursed bloodline stays dead.

You play as Alucard, investigating the castle and fighting a series of enemies and bosses to find out the mystery of the castle, encountering Death (who warns him to turn back and removes all of his worn items), Maria, who asks him to help find out where Richter has disappeared to, and an old man selling magical items (initally unwilling to help because of his allegiance to Dracula, but quickly swayed when Alucard tells him he will pay him a lot of money for them).  Along the way can be found a large variety of equippable and usable items dropped from enemies or found, as well as magical artifacts that help Alucard on his way.  In the end, you will find that exploration is key, or — without spoiling anything — you might think that the game is a lot shorter and a lot less satisfying than it really is.

The controls are fantastic.  The gameplay is fantastic.  The game looks really good by not being a nightmarish early 3d mess like many 3d games of the era, but still using 3d enhancements and effects to further the solid 2d graphics and gameplay.  The sound effects and music are fantastic.  There’s really not much else I need to say; the game is an absolute classic for a reason, and completely devastates pretty much everything else around its time of release.  I have played through the game many, many times in the past, and I can play through it time and again.

Just avoid the horrible English voice acting.  You’ll thank me.