siphillis's Castlevania: SOTN (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

(Old Review) Hack-and-Slash Dreams Come True

Please note: This is a reposting of a review I had written in 2006.  Its content has not been altered in any way.  Subsequently, it is in no way indicative of my current writing style, observational prowess, or critical standards and opinions.  For all we know, this was the zenith of my game critic career.

Above and beyond the standard for downloadable games lies Symphony of the Night, a PlayStation classic much more a timeless adventure than a casual title for the occasional hobbyists. Though it takes place entirely within one set of castle walls, you'd be wrong to think the game was short and linear. In fact it's far more free and open than any other game in its genre, and certainly a unique experience new to the Live Arcade library.

A combat based adventure that deviates from its predecessors, you play as Alucard, Dracula's rebellious son, as you storm into the count's domain and attempt to rid the world of your wretched bloodline. But quickly, you find that your shining armor and fiery blade have been stripped away, and you are left powerless, vulnerable, and locked within the confines of the mysterious, massive Castlevania. Working your way up to the top of the highest chamber may not sound like a cakewalk, but the real challenge lies in finding your way to get there. There are no obvious routes or directions in Castlevania, but rather hordes of enemies prepared to get between you and your monstrous father.

Legions of monsters and halls of illusions can do little stop this man's pursuit for his father's blood

Exploration is the highlight of Symphony of the Night. Throughout your journey you'll come across laboratories, galleries, clock towers, libraries, sanctuaries of Christianity, underground mines, and much more. What really delivers in Symphony of the Nights's favor is the overall design being similar to that of Super Metriod, vis a vis, backtracking. This is taken to a lighter, more approachable level in Symphony of the Night, but none the less a strong selling point. Think of it as similar to Super Mario 64. It truly is remarkable how well Castlevania rewards you for exploration.

The world map grows as you explore for hours on end, and eventually stretches across the screen. There seems to always be new areas that are waiting to be discovered. Walking across the entire castle would be a bore, but thankfully Konami have generously added shortcuts and teleporters, both unlocked throughout the game, as well as a map tool that shows you areas you've yet to cartography.

Not to be outdone by the world size are the weapons and relics lists, that extend to great levels. There are numerous weapons and item to collect, and over 20 helpful relics that aid in your travels. You'll also gain access to familiars, or partners to help you in combat or other tasks, creature-morphing abilities, and spells to smite your foes. These can all be collected and executed at your own pace.

This is one of the rarest occasions where graphics has its ass handed to it by the music. Both elements remain almost untouched, with a slight filtering gloss added to desperately improve the graphical quality of the game. Unfortunately, the graphics looked lackluster 10 years ago, and ancient by today's standards. Luckily, the art keeps the ship afloat, providing massive yet articulate areas all around the castle. There are hundreds of rooms to explore, and many are completely different in appearance. The enemies are also well crafted, being both eerie and beautiful at the same time.

All in a Day's Work


Getting back to music, I'm pleasantly surprised you can actually download the entire soundtrack, free of charge. It's spectacular work, ranging from rock ballads to religious chants and everywhere in between. This has aged much better than the graphics and is definitely worth a listen. A total of 34 tracks were written for the game, although only 31 of them were used in this release. I've yet to find a title with a better soundtrack than Symphony of the Night, which is a completely appropriate title for the game.

The only two noticeable warts on Symphony's immaculate offerings are its voice acting and difficulty, or lack there of either. To say the least, the first is embarrassing while the latter is disappointing. The acting, while not entirely abysmal, is far more corny than dramatic, and could have been removed, or better yet replaced. Some characters are treated better than others, Alucard and Dracula being the best, while Maria plays second fiddle (given she would need a few extra years of practice.) With regards to difficulty, I rarely found myself terribly challenged while versing bosses and powerful enemies, both of which are numerous. Dying in Symphony of the Night grows increasingly uncommon, even against some of the final bosses. These are minor upsets, but do little to offset the impeccable quality of the game.

What more can I'd say? I'd love to tell you more about this gem, but it's something that needs to be experienced first hand to truly appreciate. This is coming from a gamer who isn't much of a fan of Castlevania games nor games of this genre. Symphony of the Night excels in virtually every aspect it attempts and is quite possibly flawless in its execution. 10 years hasn't aged this masterpiece in any way, and it's a testament of the true limitless creativity of this rising medium we know as video games, as well as a constant reminder to why we choose to play games, and pity those who reject them.

Dracula's castle beckons for you.

Game Play: 10

Graphics: 7

Sound: 10

Value: 10

Bottom line: Buy it.

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    Casltevania as a series can be seen in three very different lights; a set of linear yet difficult and strategic 2D platformers, a side-scrolling Metroidvania, and a set of 3D hack-and-slash action games. The original iterations, which fall under the linear description, hold their place in history in the evolution of the series, but were basically halted production upon arrival of the fifth-generation of consoles. I have personally played the first four games on the NES and SNES to completion, an...

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