Genre: (the) Metroidvania
Developed by: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Published by: Konami
Platforms: PSX, Sega Saturn, PSP, XBox 360
Feeling Like: Good Night
By default, I love Metroidvanias. The fundamentals will never be unappetizing; 2d (mostly), a giant maze of a world to clamber through, discover new abilities to help traverse formerly impossible challenges, a colorful backdrop, sparsely placed allies along the way and a focus rarely seen in other genres. You can always access the map and get your bearings. Experimentation and exploration are encouraged. There’s often multiple paths to take, particularly later in the game when your strength allows you to venture into all corners unhindered. You start off weak, but eventually you’ll grow to be the apex predator. A power fantasy. Or, a video game.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is considered one of the best, and what inspired the phrase “Metroidvania”in the first place. It’s also viewed as one of the best games ever, and while it didn’t land that perfectly for me, it was so easy to see why it’s still revered. It’s dripping with style. The music is unforgettable. The Castlevania stamp is everywhere, with all manner of classic monster and horror mythology being utilized to decorate the castle you’ll spend your entire playthrough in. Even typing about it makes me want to say hi to Alucard again.
It’s not often you’ll run into a half naked woman/wolf/octopus demon, but you will end up in a lot of bizarre scenarios at least once. You’ll turn the world upside down, you’ll morph into a bat, you’ll farm fish-men for experience. You’ll try to be the menacing son of Dracula with a wooden stick, at first. Logic be damned, I know Death doesn’t just steal your items and trash talk you but here, it makes perfect sense.
The gameplay may be timeless, but the voice acting is hysterically bad. It’s beloved by all due to how cheesy and amateur it sounds, but that’s part of the fun. If Konami was trying to emulate the feel of horror movies, they certainly leaned towards the “B” side.
I played it much later after release; I couldn’t resist. Game Informer had it in their top 100 of all time list, I kept hearing endless praise and who am I to forgo a good time? It’s always a risk going backwards in this regard, I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of the previous Castlevanias and Playstation games never age well.
Except for a very select few, entry 270 included. Naturally.
The controls are air-tight. The animations are gorgeous. Enemies explode when you kill them. In addition to the classic exploration emphasis, Alucard can equip accessories, weapons and armor to increase his stats. Cracking a wall may lead to a new hallway, a new boss, a new sword or all three. Flying around means there are very few horizontal platforms you can’t reach, which means the castle turns more into menu of choices rather than a pre-determined set list.
Really, though, I just wanted to see what the buzz was. When it comes to pop culture, I’m heavily influenced by others. I succumb to peer pressure faster than a wayward teen in a D.A.R.E commercial. I’ve had FOMO since I was five, and am still at its mercy. I have my limits, mostly financial. The Playstation 5 is out and, despite no real killer app yet, I’m still sweating at the notion that supplies are limited due to scalpers, Covid and other factors. I may not get it. I might miss out! The price is insane! I won’t have any frame of reference when the What’s Good crew are covering it, or what Jeff means when he makes a joke during Giant Bomb’s Game of the Year festivities. I can’t have that!
It can also be fun to dive into something with a ton of preconceptions. I usually like being first in line, but if years have gone by, I can actively take advantage of hindsight. Has it aged well? What were people going crazy about in 1997? Didn’t they find the loading times annoying? Was it too much of a deviation from the formula? Going back to play a classic like Symphony of the Night is like reading a history book where you get to influence the outcome. Plus, I got to feel smug about it. Just think, all those people who played this in 1997 have NO idea what’s coming!
There’s limits, and as technology and quality of life updates get ingrained into the video game zeitgeist, my patience grows thinner for older games. Most of the time, it’s contingent on the hardware itself; good music rarely turns sour over time, and there’s no expiration date on a great art style. Load times and graphics, however, are typically the first casualties of time and entry 270 has some hiccups on both. Loading times after death are intolerably slow – sure, it made death that much more punishing, but it also meant I played as an overly cautious wimp. I can’t possibly waste 30 seconds – I have absolutely nothing to do today in my parent’s basement on my day off!
This one will never be any higher for me; no special memories attached, and as a Metroidvania goes, it’s actually near the bottom of my list. That being said, the kooky dialogue, Castlevania atmosphere and massive world are unforgettable. It’s easy to see why it’s a fan favorite, years later.