Seminal action-RPG celebrates its 25th anniversary
Note: this article contains minor spoilers for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
“What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.”
These words, uttered by Dracula Vlad Țepeș during the opening exchange with Richter Belmont in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, have become completely synonymous with the Castlevania franchise. Referenced and parodied by multiple other games in the 25 years since — perhaps most recently by Drinkbox Studio’s Guacamelee! 2 — it’s a phrase that has been mocked and revered in equal measure. However, despite how iconic such a simple phrase has become, it pales in comparison to the impact and legacy that Symphony of the Night itself has left on gaming.
Hot take time: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the greatest ‘Metroidvania’ ever created. Yes, that includes the likes of Hollow Knight, Metroid Dread, and Dead Cells. It’s even leagues ahead of Super Metroid — sorry, but that’s the truth. [Hmm, we’ll discuss this on Monday – Ed.]
Released in 1997 for the PlayStation and directed by Toru Hagihara, it serves as a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (though you might not have known this at the time, since Rondo of Blood was a Japanese exclusive for a good 15 years or so), opening where Rondo of Blood ended with Richter Belmont’s final confrontation with Dracula. Reviews at the time called it “spectacular” (Next Generation Magazine) and “easily one of the best games ever released” (GameSpot).
A truly iconic opening — Image: Konami
We’ve seen so many homages in recent years, yet Symphony of the Night stands head and shoulders above them all.
Shortly after the introductory sequence with Richter, you’re thrust into the shoes of the game’s primary protagonist, Alucard, and it’s here that Symphony of the Night sets itself apart from previous Castlevania entries in dramatic style, casting aside linear levels for a sprawling, interconnected castle complete with numerous sections and countless secrets. Although we’ve seen a plethora of outstanding Metroidvania games since its release, Symphony of the Night still stands as the most sublime example of the genre; a perfect blend of exploration and combat that has yet to be bested, even by its own successors.
Looking at Symphony of the Night today, you’d be forgiven for thinking it to be an authentic, yet altogether more modern take on a ‘retro’ 2D platformer. We’ve seen so many homages in recent years — both good and bad — yet at 25 years of age, Symphony of the Night stands head and shoulders above them all. The beautifully detailed environments; the deadly, yet mesmerising enemies and boss characters; the way Alucard’s movement briefly leaves behind a trail of energy. It all comes together to produce one of the most stunning video games of all time, a textbook example of the continued validity of 2D gaming in an age of photorealist 3D sandboxes.
Imagine! — Image: Nintendo Life
Dracula’s castle itself remains a marvel of game design and is the key to Symphony of the Night’s status as a true pioneer of the genre. It’s a beautifully intricate maze that astounds at every corner. But it’s when you get to the middle portion of the game that you truly begin to appreciate its ingenuity; just when you think you’ve beaten the game, Symphony of the Night pulls one of the greatest tricks in video game history by literally flipping the castle on its head.
As you navigate the ‘inverted castle’, the sheer amount of effort required for its creation begins to hit home; not only did it need to work as a fully explorable environment with interconnected segments, but every room, every corridor, and every spire had to also work upside down. It’s an unbelievable feat in game design.
Alucard faces off against the game’s first boss encounter — Image: Konami
So, what gives, Konami? When are you going to port such a masterpiece onto the Switch?
As it stands, Symphony of the Night is playable on both the PlayStation 4/5 and the Xbox One/S/X via Castlevania Requiem and the Xbox Live Arcade release respectively. You can also play it on the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita via the ‘PSOne Classic’ re-release and even on Android and iOS thanks to a recent port of the Dracula X Chronicles version. Just be aware that some versions of the game contain reworked dialogue and voice acting, which is arguably inferior to the original.
So, if you want to play Symphony of the Night (and just in case it’s not clear, we really recommend you do), there are plenty of options available to you already. But we’d argue that — like many, many games — it would perhaps be best suited to Switch. 2D pixel art looks great on Switch (especially if you’ve got that beautiful OLED screen) and, coupled with the console’s namesake ability to switch between TV and Handheld modes, we reckon Symphony of the Night would find considerable success on Nintendo’s platform with new audiences. At 25 years old, there’s an entire generation of gamers who will have missed out on this classic, and there’s no more convenient system to play it on.
So if anyone at Konami is reading this… You know what to do.
“But enough talk… Have at you!”
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Would you like to see Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on Switch? (88 votes)
- Yes, Konami needs to release it immediately!66%
- Give it to me now!2%
- I’d love it on Switch!11%
- I can’t believe it’s not already on there, to be honest!16%
- Why are you even asking? Of course!5%
Have you already played Symphony of the Night? (86 votes)
- Yes, I played it on or shortly after its release back in 199738%
- I’ve played it more recently through one of the many re-releases35%
- I’ve not played it yet, but I would certainly like to!24%
- I’ve never played it, nor do I care to2%