Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castlevania SOTN PAL.jpg
European box art by Ayami Kojima
Developer(s) KCET (PS), KCEN (SS)
Publisher(s) Konami
Director(s) Toru Hagihara
Producer(s) Toru Hagihara
Artist(s) Ayami Kojima
Writer(s) Koji Igarashi
Toshiharu Furukawa
Composer(s) Michiru Yamane
Series Castlevania
Platform(s) PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Tiger Handheld, PlayStation Network, PSP (Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles), Xbox Live Arcade
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Action role-playing, Platform-adventure, Horror
Mode(s) Single-player

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Japanese: 悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲 Hepburn: Akumajō Dracula X: Gekka no Yasōkyoku?, Devil's Castle Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight)[1][2] is an Action role-playing game developed and published by Konami in 1997. It is the direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and features Dracula's dhampir son, Alucard, as the protagonist.[3] Its initial commercial success was limited[4] – particularly in the United States where it was not strongly publicized – but it was critically praised, gained sales through word-of-mouth and eventually became a hit; GameRankings and Metacritic list its approval score for the original PlayStation version at or above 93%. It has since been re-released on several other gaming consoles and is now usually considered a sleeper hit and a cult classic of video gaming.

Symphony of the Night was an important milestone of the Castlevania series. It steered the series away from the standard level-by-level platforming formula of older titles and introduced a new style of open-ended gameplay mixed with role-playing game-like elements that would be emulated by most of its successors; although a similar, earlier form of this type of gameplay existed in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest already.

Gameplay[edit]

Gameplay in Symphony of the Night, with Alucard, the primary character, in the center

Like many installments of the Castlevania series, Symphony of the Night uses a 2D side-scrolling style of gameplay.[5] The objective of the game is to guide primary player character Alucard through the undead-filled castle, as he sets out to defeat the vampire Dracula.[5] Symphony of the Night follows a nonlinear style of gameplay; at the game's beginning, Alucard can only access certain areas of the castle, but by obtaining the three forms (a wolf, bat, and mist) that he can shapeshift into, he gradually explores the castle.[6] A map carried by Alucard automatically updates to reflect the player's progress through the castle.[6] While previous protagonists of the series have traditionally used whips as their main weapon, Alucard can find and use weapons ranging from edged weapons—typically swords and knives—to knuckles and expendable items, such as neutron bombs or javelins.[7] He can also obtain health restoratives, various equipment and items to boost his attributes;[7] all located on an inventory.[6] Relics found throughout the castle will provide him with different abilities, such as being able to double jump.[8] A bestiary kept by the castle's librarian, who also functions as a shopkeeper, shows the different monsters encounted by the player, and the items they drop when defeated.[9]

Additionally, Symphony of the Night incorporates elements found in role-playing games. Alucard's hit points determine the maximum amount of damage he can withstand before dying, while his magic points decide how often a magical attack may be cast. Additionally, he possesses four other attributes: strength, the power of his physical attack; defense, his resilience to damage inflicted by the monsters; intelligence, the recovery speed of magic points; and luck, the frequency of items dropped by enemies. Defeating monsters provides him with experience points, and he will level up after reaching a predetermined amount, increasing his attributes in the process.[6] Alucard may cast eight different spells, which requires the player to input directional combinations and will use up varying amounts of his magic points.[6][10] Over the course of the game, Alucard can acquire the ability to summon familiars: they function as complementary entities, aiding him in battle and exploration. The North American version of the game includes the Fairy, Demon, Ghost, Bat, and Sword familiars. The original Japanese version of the game included the Nose Devil (functionally identical to the Demon, but with a Tengu mask) and Pixie familiars as well.

Alternative modes of gameplay can be unlocked after the completion of the game. By inputting Richter Belmont's name as the user name, the player can choose to play as him; Richter uses a whip as his primary weapon and various subweapons.[7][11] Two other alternative modes see Alucard as the player character, but with certain items, and increased or decreased attributes.[7]

Plot[edit]

Symphony of the Night begins during the end of Rondo of Blood[12] in which Richter (Scott McCulloch; David Vincent in the redub) fights and defeats Dracula (voiced by Michael G.; Patrick Seitz in the redub). Four years later, Alucard (Robert Belgrade; Yuri Lowenthal in the redub) arrives at the castle. Inside, he meets Dracula's servant Death (Dennis Falt; Travis Willingham in the redub), who warns him to stop his quest to destroy the castle and strips him of his weapons; Maria (Kimberly Forsythe; Michelle Ruff in the redub), a seventeen-year-old vampire hunter on a quest to find Richter; and the castle's librarian, who sells him various items and equipment. Periodically encountering Maria throughout the castle, he meets Richter, who claims to be the new lord of the castle and forces him to do battle with two monsters. Alucard defeats the monsters, and finding Maria again, tells her about Richter; upset, she leaves him to confirm it for herself. Convinced that Richter is under the control of another, she meets up with Alucard again, and urging him not to hurt Richter, gives him an item which allows him to see past illusions. In the keep of the castle, Alucard confronts him, and learns that he plans to resurrect Dracula so that he may battle the vampire for eternity. Alucard breaks the spell controlling him, and Dracula's servant Shaft (Jeff Manning; Tony Oliver in the redub) appears; he reveals that despite ending his spell on Richter, Dracula will be resurrected soon, and summons an inverted version of the castle.

Leaving Richter to Maria's care, Alucard enters the inverted castle to find and destroy Shaft. Along the way, he defeats Death, and eventually finds Shaft. Shaft admits that he planned to end the threat of the Belmont clan by controlling one as the master of the castle and forcing them to fight each other. As Alucard defeats him, Shaft reveals that Dracula's resurrection is complete. Alucard then faces his father, who vows to destroy humankind because Alucard's mother, Lisa, was executed as a witch. Alucard refuses to join him in his revenge, and the two battle. Alucard defeats him, and suggests that he lost the battle because he lost his ability to love after Lisa's death; Dracula then quotes the biblical verse Matthew 16:26, and learns that Lisa's final words were of eternal love for him and a plea not to hate, or at least harm, humanity. As Dracula vanishes, he asks for Lisa's forgiveness and bids his son farewell. Escaping the crumbling castle, Alucard rejoins Maria and Richter outside. Maria expresses relief that he escaped, while Richter blames himself as the reason for Alucard's fight with his father. Alucard reminds him that "the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," and resolves to disappear from the world because of his "cursed" bloodline. Depending on how much of the castle the player has explored, Maria will either resign herself to his fate and leave with Richter, or chase after him with Richter's blessing in the hope of changing his mind.

Development[edit]

Although the game was directed by Toru Hagihara, assistant director Koji Igarashi is said to have the most creative influence over the game, as he was also involved in the story writing and programming.[13] From the beginning, the game was to represent a fresh, new direction for the franchise. According to Igarashi, Symphony of the Night started out as "...something of a side story for the series, we were able to break alot [sic] of Castlevania conventions and introduce a lot of new elements that we still use today."[14] His primary motivation for the abrupt design change was seeing dozens of Castlevania games in the "used" bargain bin in Japanese video game stores, as linear Castlevania games offered limited replay value after completion.[15] A noted fan of 2D games,[16] he was instrumental in refining the game's control scheme.

For Igarashi, regular action games were too short, so he wanted to create a game that "could be enjoyed for a long time".[13] Consequently, the development team abandoned the stage by stage progression of the previous Castlevania games, in favor of an open castle that the player could freely explore. Igarashi personally looked to the The Legend of Zelda series, which involved a good deal of exploration and back-tracking as to extend the amount of gameplay.[17] The team used inspiration from Zelda as well as from Super Metroid to make most of the castle areas initially inaccessible to the player. The player would gradually obtain various items and vampiric powers that opened up more and more of the castle. The idea was to reward exploration while retaining the hack-and-slash action from the previous games.[13]

Role-playing mechanics were also added because Igarashi felt the classic Castlevania games were too challenging for average players.[13] In order to change that, the team implemented a leveling-up system with experience points, which rewarded players with better attack and defense statistics as they beat enemies. This system, combined with a variety of items, armors, weapons and spells, allowed the exploration to become less difficult for unskilled players.[13]

Symphony of the Night marks the first appearance of artist Ayami Kojima in the video game industry. Kojima's role in the game's production was that of character designer, specifically tasked with conceptualizing the game's main and supporting cast in a unique way. Her designs for Symphony of the Night borrow heavily from bishōnen-style art. These illustrations proved popular amongst the Castlevania fan base, which prompted similar designs to be done by Kojima for later titles.

Symphony of the Night is presented via 2D visuals, mainly sprites animated over scrolling backgrounds, with effects such as rotation and scaling being used liberally. Sprites range in size, from quite small to filling an entire screen. For backgrounds, parallax effects attempt to simulate depth, and can be observed in many areas throughout the game.

Occasionally, the 3D capabilities of the PlayStation attempt to embellish the largely 2D world. For example, cloudy skies in the Royal Chapel area are rendered as 3D textures moving towards the player's perspective, and a polygonal clock tower visible from the Castle Keep rotates as the player moves. Enemies and spells also sometimes render 3D elements as part of their special animations. As was popular at the time, the game contains some short full motion video (FMV) sequences that mostly showcase the castle from different angles.

Audio[edit]

The music in Symphony of the Night was composed by Michiru Yamane, who had previously composed the soundtrack for Castlevania: Bloodlines. The soundtrack contains elements from multiple music genres, notably classical, but also including techno, gothic rock, New Age music, jazz and many variations of metal, in particular more extreme genres such as thrash metal and black metal. "I Am the Wind", a vocal ending theme written by Rika Muranaka and Tony Haynes, performed by Cynthia Harrell, is played during the credits.

The soundtrack contains a few tracks that are remixes of pieces from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, particularly "Dance of Illusions", the music that plays during Rondo of Blood's last boss. There is also "Blood Relations", a variation of the piece heard in the first stage in Rondo of Blood, "Bloodlines".

The original PlayStation version of Symphony of the Night includes an audio track featuring an arranged version of the tune "Dracula's Castle" called Alucard's Vengeance, which can be played on an Audio CD player after listening to Alucard's warning.

Voice actors[edit]

Like Rondo of Blood before it, Symphony of the Night makes use of voice acting. The game was originally recorded in Japanese, and then dubbed into English. When the game was re-released on the Dracula X Chronicles, It was given a new English voice cast dub due to complaints about the original English voice actors.[18][19]

Role Japanese PS1 English PSP English
Alucard Ryôtarô Okiayu Robert Belgrade Yuri Lowenthal
Count Dracula Norio Wakamoto Michael G. Patrick Seitz
Maria Renard (Adult) Chisa Yokoyama Kimberly Forsythe Michelle Ruff
Maria Renard (Young) Hekiru Shiina
Richter Belmont Kiyoyuki Yanada Scott McCulloch David Vincent
Succubus Rica Fukami Barbara Whitlow Wendee Lee
Death Masaharu Satō Dennis Falt Travis Willingham
Master Librarian Kyle Hebert
Lisa Farenheights Rica Fukami Alison Lester Wendee Lee
Shaft Kiyoyuki Yanada Jeff Manning Tony Oliver
Faerie Familiar / Half-Faerie Familiar Hekiru Shiina Kimberly Forsythe
Demon Familiar / N Demon Familiar Jôji Yanami Dennis Falt Brian Beacock

Versions and re-releases[edit]

Symphony of the Night was released in Japan on March 20, 1997, in North America on October 2, 1997, and in Europe in November 1997.[20] The Japanese release was packaged with an art book (which also contains a small manga based on the game), and a soundtrack compiled of most of the Castlevania games released before Symphony of the Night.[21] It contained two more familiars than the subsequent English-language release.[10] Symphony of the Night was re-released in Japan under the "PlayStation the Best" label on March 19, 1998, and in North America under "Greatest Hits" in 1998.[20] It was also re-released as a "PSone Classics" title on the PlayStation Network store on July 19, 2007 in North America, December 16, 2010 in Japan, and December 12, 2012 in Europe for use with the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation Portable and the PlayStation Vita.[20]

The UK release also suffered somewhat in limited distribution from a bare basics print run and press. Despite its appeal, media ratings and healthy sales, the UK release sold sparsely upon its release and was discontinued within 2 months. The only available copies sent were via initial orders by UK retailers and some limited online sales for remaining stock. Although HMV had it still listed as available to order – no further pressings were made. Thus making it a collectable shortly after release.

I understand why fans who've never played the Saturn version would be interested in those features, but I really, really don't feel good about them. I couldn't put my name on that stuff and present it to Castlevania fans.

—Koji Igarashi, June 2007, on the Saturn port[22]

In 1998, Symphony of the Night was ported to the Sega Saturn in Japan. Maria Renard is a fully playable character, and Richter is available to play as at start of the game.[23] When playing as Alucard, a "third hand" is available to usable items.[10] Alucard can also use exclusive items in the port, such as the "Alucard Boots".[10] Two new areas can be visited: the Cursed Prison and the Underground Garden, which has new bosses.[10][23] The game also contains remixes of previous Castlevania songs.[24] Due to poor coding, loading is more frequent and takes longer in the Saturn version.[25] Since the Saturn has limited hardware transparency support, transparency effects, such as the mists and the waterfall, were replaced with dithering effects.[26] Rather than take advantage of the Saturn's increased resolution, the graphics are stretched to fill the screen, which causes some sprites to be distorted. The overall quality is said to be lower than the PlayStation version due to it being a simple port handled by another team, and not being recoded to take advantage of the Saturn's technically superior 2D capabilities.[27] Igarashi has expressed disappointment with the Sega Saturn version.[22]

In 2006, Konami announced an Xbox 360 port of the PlayStation version of the game to be distributed via Xbox Live Arcade. The port was handled by Backbone Entertainment.[28] It was the first Xbox Live Arcade title to exceed the 50 MB restriction placed upon Xbox Live Arcade games (the limit has since been increased to 2 GB). The exception was made for Symphony of the Night to "ensure that the gameplay experience is the best it can be".[29] Symphony of the Night for Xbox Live Arcade was released on Wednesday, March 21, 2007.[30] As with most Xbox Live Arcade games, it features leaderboards that track players progress throughout the castle and features 12 achievements worth 200 points. To save on space, all FMV sequences were removed from the North American version of the game. They have been added back to the Japanese version, which is approximately 25 megabytes larger. While the unpatched version still features "I Am The Wind" as the ending music, a later patch replaced it with "Admiration Towards the Clan," the ending song from Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. In 2009, Konami released Symphony of the Night alongside Super Contra and Frogger on the Konami Classics Vol. 1 for Xbox 360.

A port of Symphony of the Night was included as an unlockable bonus content in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PlayStation Portable which was released October 23, 2007 in North America, November 8, 2007 in Japan, and February 18, 2008 in Europe. The English translations outside of the Japanese release features a redone script and new voice acting, with the option to use the original Japanese voices.[31] It is a port of the PlayStation version, but contains some additions and changes. Maria Renard is also a playable character and a boss in the PSP version, who has different gameplay from her playable appearance in the Saturn version. Like the Xbox 360 version, "I Am The Wind" is not played over the credits and is replaced by "Mournful Serenade", an English recording of the Japanese version's ending music.

A version for the Game.com was cancelled.[32] In 2010, Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night was released, a puzzle game for the iOS which is based on Symphony of the Night.[33]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 93.41% (PS)[34]
89.58% (X360)[35]
Metacritic 93 / 100 (PS)[36]
89 / 100 (X360)[37]
Review scores
Publication Score
1UP.com A (PS)[38]
Allgame 4.5/5 stars (PS)[39]
4/5 stars (X360)[40]
Electronic Gaming Monthly 9.25 / 10 (PS)[34][41]
Eurogamer 9 / 10 (X360)[42]
Game Informer 9.5 / 10 (PS)[43]
GamePro 5/5 stars (PS)[44]
Game Revolution B+ (PS)[45]
GamesRadar 4.5/5 stars (X360)[46]
GameSpot 8.9 / 10 (PS)[47]
8.5 / 10 (X360)[48]
IGN 9 / 10 (PS, X360)[49][50]
Official PlayStation Magazine (US) 5 / 5 (PS)[34]
Official Xbox Magazine UK 9 / 10 (X360)[51]
TeamXbox 9.5 / 10 (X360)[52]

At the time of its release in Japan, Symphony of the Night received a great deal of critical acclaim, yet was inexplicably low-balled as a prospect for release in the United States – and given relatively little Stateside advertising. In the time since, however, it has developed a large cult following, and copies of the original PlayStation version are considered collector's items. It is most notable for demonstrating the continued popularity of 2D games during the fifth generation of video game consoles (the 32-bit era, which saw rapid advancements in 3D gaming).[53]

During the game's release in 1997, the overwhelming trend in console video gaming was towards 3D graphics. Thanks to the powerful new hardware found in fifth generation consoles, well-established gaming franchises such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda received highly successful 3D face lifts, while 2D games began to fall out of favor with publishers as it was speculated that they would no longer sell. Although it received limited funding for its North American production, and was initially not a major success from a financial perspective, Symphony of the Night eventually proved to be a massive critical and public success, and the game later went on to join other popular PlayStation titles as part of the "Greatest Hits" line of re-released best-selling PlayStation games.[53]

The gaming press often draws comparisons between the gameplay of Symphony of the Night (and its 2D successors) with the popular Super Metroid,[54] which led to the coinage of the term "Metroidvania" (portmanteaux of Castlevania and Metroid).[55] Igarashi considered himself "honoured" to have been credited for creating this genre.[17]

In 1998, Symphony of the Night was awarded PlayStation Game of the Year by Electronic Gaming Monthly.[56] It was also ranked 4th place on EGM's 100 greatest games of all time, and the highest PS1 game on the list. It was also named Game of the Year by PSM in its list of the top ten games of 1997. It has made a number of "greatest game" lists, notably GameSpot's "The Greatest Games of All Time" list, being one of the first inductees.[54] It also placed 16th on IGN's "Top 100 Games of All Time"[57] and 24th in Game Informer's "Top 200 Video Games Ever" (down six places from its 2001 ranking[58]).[59] GameZone ranked it as the best Castlevania title ever made.[60] GamePro listed the discovery of the inverted castle as the twenty-sixth greatest moment in gaming.[61] GamesRadar named Symphony of the Night the 2nd best PlayStation game of all time, losing only to Metal Gear Solid.[62] Edge ranked the game No. 35 on its list of "The 100 Best Games To Play Today", stating "When you get to that moment when the castle turns on its head, you see that it's a work of genius."[63]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]