By TheManWithNoPlan 18 Comments
Now that we’re in the month of all Hallow's eve (Spooky ghost noise), I figured it was time to once again venture into Dracula’s castle and vanquish the ill needed savior of mankind. Game's like Alien Isolation and The Evil within are on everyone's minds right now, but those are still a few weeks out. So instead, let's talk about something that's a little more fun, but still appropriately themed for the current festivities!
To start out, I think we can all agree that Symphony of the night is pretty awesome, right? When you look back in the pantheon of gaming’s history it’s a highlight to say the least. It’s a game I try and go back to every now and then, and easily lands into the category of “fall back” game I know I’ll always enjoy. What exactly makes this Symphony of the night a great game though? Glad you asked.
(The fun of discovery)
Dracula’s castle is an expansive labyrinth of secrets waiting to be discovered. There are a ton of hidden paths, items and various other little gems to find throughout your journey to vanquish the evil Dracula. You’re pretty much always happening upon new and exciting things. Oh, a new room with a relic I've yet to find. Oh cool, I just found a sweet new sword that messes up those knights throwing their stupid scythe heads at me. What? I found a cool new piece of armor because I accidentally hit that wall and opened up a secret area. The game is riddled with little stuff like that.
The experience of running around, taking an unexpected detour and coming across something you’d have otherwise missed is always a delight. It’s that little tingle of satisfaction that we get in our brains when we find something we think we weren't supposed to that I love so much. Uncovering a path that wasn’t on the map - Reaching places that were once out of our reach - Obtaining an item that changes how we interact with the environment - It all works so well together.
The structure of progression is really well designed too. There is a linear path you can follow in Symphony of the night. A series of bosses to conquer along the way, but it never really feels like your being funneled through a specific path or destination. For a large part of the game you can pretty much decide what direction you want to go and what bosses you want to tackle first. It really gives you a lot of freedom to decide your own pace.
(Gameplay is great)
I truly appreciate when a game focuses on just being fun. Story is nice and it certainly has its place in the gaming space nowadays, but good gameplay is more often than not an essential element for a true classic that I know I’ll keep on revisiting for years to come. (For me, a fun game with a bad story is much more welcoming than a great narrative with boring interaction)
That’s where this game shines. The tight mechanics allow you to always feel like you’re in control of the moment. Whether or not you fuck up is all on you. Which is what specifically draws me into games like these. The puzzle mentality applied to gameplay and the knowing certainty that whether or not you can overcome and outcome is based solely on you. No matter how difficult a situation or encounter may be, as long as you can discern those AI patterns you can prevail. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a hard game, but it still employs the same ideas and logic you get with games like Mega man, Dark souls and Vulgar. Give the player a series of tools, drop them into a game world, and let them figure it out.
Just like in Metroid there are specific power ups required to progress, but there’s also relics, that enhance/modify your interaction with the game, familiars that fight alongside you, and spells (You activate with Street fighter esque button inputs) that can give you an edge against the enemy. So, on top of the basic mechanics there's a lot going on to benefit the player.
The game also employs a pretty cool rpg system. (You level up and everything) Finding items to bulk up Dracula’s son is both fun and rewarding. You’ll find that items do drop off enemies, but most of the time you’ll find your best equipment laid about throughout the castle. (Which encourages you to explore every inch of the megalithic structure.) The best part about it is that it’s in no way overwhelming or truncated. It’s probably the most simple, yet effective implementation of an rpg mechanic I’ve seen in a game. You can kind of ignore it if you want, but being able to basically go and grind your character, while gallivanting around your dad’s residence, makes it feel like you’re never really wasting time.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the music. Man, the music in this game is fantastic. The fantastical adventure of Castle Dracula sets a great tone right off the bat. Then there’s the playful, mischievousness of Marble Gallery. The wistful beauty of The lost painting stands out as well. Throughout symphony of the night you’re treated to a plethora of auditory goodness.
Here’s a few other highlights I couldn't think of any hoity toity descriptions to go along with, but still think are worth mentioning.
Reverse Garden (Probably my favorite track in the game)
Dance of Gold (Blood Skeletons! Now you remember.)
The music really establishes an atmosphere and theme that feels purposeful. There’s plenty of outright creepy/haunting tracks that go a long way in complimenting the Gothic themes.
A few examples…
Oh yeah! For some reason they included a 90's love song with a Kenny G saxophone in the end credit sequence that’s tonally divorced to every other aspect of the game. I am the wind
And before I end things here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly bring up another gem I played through earlier in the year. I was super surprised when I played through Aria of Sorrow (You know, that Gba game with the funny name), because it's probably the closest another game in the series has come to reaching the heights of Symphony of the Night. It’s pretty much identical in respect to the wonderfully tight controls, amazing soundtrack and creative level design that Sotn captured. Alucard himself’s even in the game! I whole heartedly recommend that anybody who’s a fan of the series check that out. I’d write something a little more comprehensive about it, but it was a while ago.