Written by  :  Satoshi Kunsai (2093)
Written on  :  Oct 10, 2001
Platform  :  PlayStation
Rating  :  4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars

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It was not by my hand that I am once again given a disc...I was called here by...HUMANS...who wished to play a kick-ass Castlevania.

The Good

Let's just start at the beginning: I never liked the PlayStation very much at all. Lack of decent 2D support, too many sports titles, not enough variety in other genres, and no RPGs at the beginning pretty much told me to wait and perhaps get a Sega Saturn. Then, came the announcements: Final Fantasy VII, a possible Metal Gear game, the remakes of the Lunar games, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That settled it: I now had to get a system I didn't even want. So I went, got a PlayStation, and waited for Castlevania. It came, I bought, I played, and I thought this game kicked plenty of ass.

Now I'm glad that I own a PlayStation. Read on to find out why.

Anyone who's familiar with old-school Castlevania knows its formula. The CV games were all platform-style games, in which you moved from left to right, and maybe down to up, attacking enemies, grabbing items and weapons, and then killing Dracula in the end. BUT...Konami decided that their 32-bit CV debut should be something special. And indeed it is! Now, instead of just a simple platforming experience, Konami went and took a nod to one of the best games ever: Super Metroid. Instead of set stages, you have one HUGE (or two if you beat the game a certain way) castle to make your way through, with all of its areas being connected in some way or another. This means you can explore the castle as you wish, but in some cases you have to visit a certain area to find an item that'll help you explore another area (again, Super Metroid). Now people must be worried as hell that the PSX can't keep up with loading a castle like this, but never fear. Before entering a new area, you always will pass through a small hallway with a CD icon in the ceiling. These special "loading" rooms will load the next area before you pass through the other side, meaning that you barely have to wait before entering the next area. There are also a TON of secret areas, usually hidden behind walls, under floors, and above ceilings. That means that those players out there (and you know who you are!) looking to get a perfect map percent are going to have a lot of fun!

Ok, so the premise is covered...what about gameplay? Well, to compliment the massive castle and your constant wandering, SOTN mixes some RPG elements into the classic formula. Alucard can gain experience and levels from defeating enemies, and he can find a whole slew of weapons, armor, accessories, helmets, cloaks, items, etc., in order to aid him on his quest. He can even get money in this game, which he can use to purchase items and hints. Some weapons seem useless, while others, like the Crissaegrim (GRIMMY!!) can be cheap as hell, but with such a massive variety of weapons, it'll be fun just to try them all out to see what they can do! And about the experience system: as you gain levels, weaker enemies deal less and less experience points, meaning it's going to get tough trying to reach Level 99 (the highest level). But since there's so much to do and find, you'd probably want to try and reach Level 99 anyway! As for the rest of the gameplay, it's tight and perfected. Controls are easy to remember: one button for the left hand, one for the right hand, a jump button, a "slide" button (Alucard dashes backwards with it, really), one to bring up the map, and the shoulder buttons are used for the three transformations Alucard can find: the bat allows Alc to fly and use sonar to find his way in darkened areas, the wolf allows him to charge and dash very quickly, as well as attack enemies, and the mist allows Alc to pass through vents and grates with ease. Alc also moves with extreme precision; he moves when you press the D-pad, and he stops when you let go. There are no pits in this game where you can die instantly, so you don't have to worry about cheap deaths.

Now, onto the graphics. For being a system with crappy 2D capabilities, Konami really managed to squeeze a ton of 2D effects and cram a HUGE amount of detail into this much-misaligned little beast. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is drawn with the most exquisite and tiny detail, and the whole entire game is so beautifully animated and drawn that if it weren't for the PSX pad and the green light on the PSX being on, I would've almost thought that I was playing my Saturn! (small plug: yes, the Saturn IS the better 2D machine.) There are a ton of special effects used in this game, like transparency, scaling and rotation, and much more!

Sounds and music: DON'T, under any circumstance, be stupid and turn off the volume of your TV to put on some outside music. Absolutely DON'T!! You'll be missing out on one of the best soundtracks composed for ANYTHING. Simply put: SOTN has one of the most beautiful, moving, riveting soundtracks of any game ever, with many different styles throughout. Period. From "Dracula's Castle" (the entrance hall theme) to "Wood Carving Partita" (the Long Library theme), from "Festival of Servants" (the boss theme!!) to "Wandering Ghosts" (the Colloseum theme; and my favorite!), it's just...I can't even describe it. The soundtrack for the game is a hell of a purchase, I'll tell you that much. The sound effects are the perfect compliment to the action, with plenty of crisp clangs, crashes, screams of dead zombies, fwooshes, and a whole ton of other effects. And then...there's the VOICE ACTING!! YES!! If you've got the Japanese version, be prepared to be treated to some of the best voice acting you'll ever hear in your life! It's perfectly chosen, acted, and fits in with the game like a glove. If you've got your PSX hooked up to a stereo system, crank that sucker up to max!

Another cool thing about the game are the tons of Easter eggs and references to previous CV games and Konami games. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but I will say to keep your eyes peeled.

The Bad

Konami's treatment of the English version. They ought to be lynched.

First, the voices in the English version are terrible. Absolutely terrible. Alucard had probably the best voice in the Japanese version, but his English voice is just...ARRGH!! What is this damn obsession with making all the heroes have to sound like John Wayne!? Even his grunts, yells, and saying spell names are terrible! Richter is even worse: his Japanese voice sounded an awful lot like his voice from the first Dracula X (the U.S. never got that particular chapter, though), but in the U.S. version, he sounds like he has a damn cold! What the hell!?? Dracula is simply a joke: his English voice actor sounds like he gargles gravel. Maria's English voice sounds like the actress either sleeps too much or sleeps too little...constant sighs and breaths, plus the immortal "Do you know the name....HHHHHHRRRICHHTAA Belmont?". ARRRRGH!!!

And besides the voices, several cool items from the Japanese version were removed, namely the Halfling Faerie and the Nose Goblin. Even if they weren't entirely useful, they still completed the collection! There were also a couple of weapons I found in the Japanese version that I didn't in the U.S. version, but they were just tiny variations of existing weapons. As for censorship, perhaps? Surprisingly, not much. The succubus is still in the nude (except where her wings connect to her body; she's wearing a little leather strap there), as are the Venus Weeds. But I've noticed that some enemies that were SUPPOSED to bleed in the Japanese version don't in the U.S. version. For SHAME, Konami!!

The Bottom Line

Despite idiotic localizing of this game, Symphony of the Night is still one of the best PSX games in existence. Buy, play, enjoy, and play some more!