Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
|Castlevania: Symphony of the Night|
|Developer(s)||Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo|
|Genre(s)||Platform-adventure (Metroidvania), action role-playing|
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night[a] is a platform-adventure action role-playing game developed and published by Konami in 1997 for the PlayStation. It was directed and produced by Toru Hagihara, with Koji Igarashi acting as assistant director. It is the direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, taking place four years later, and is the 10th entry into the Castlevania Series. It features Dracula's dhampir son Alucard as the protagonist, rising from his slumber to explore Dracula's castle which has re-appeared after Richter Belmont vanished. It marks a break from previous games in the series, re-introducing the exploration, non-linear level design and role-playing elements first experimented with in Simon's Quest.
Initially, the game's commercial performance was mediocre – particularly in the United States where it was meagerly publicized – but thanks to praise by critics, it gained sales through word-of-mouth and became a hit. It has been re-released on several consoles and is considered a sleeper hit, a cult classic, and one of the best video games of all time.
Symphony of the Night uses 2-dimensional side-scrolling gameplay. The objective is exploring Dracula's castle to defeat an entity who is controlling Richter Belmont, the self-proclaimed lord of the castle and hero of the events which took place in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. The entity can only be seen with a particular item obtained during gameplay. Once it is defeated, the second portion of the game is revealed, eventually leading to the final battle with a newly awakened Dracula.
The game is non-linear, but most of the castle is inaccessible until various items and abilities are collected, including shapeshifting into a bat, wolf, or mist. As the player uncovers more of the castle, a map is updated to show progress.
Castlevania: 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 frequently a magical attack may be cast. Alucard has 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 that items are dropped by enemies.
Defeating monsters provides Alucard with experience points and he will level up after reaching a predetermined amount, increasing his attributes in the process. Alucard may cast eight different spells, which requires the player to input directional combinations and will use up varying amounts of his magic points. During the course of the game, Alucard can acquire the ability to summon familiars, which 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.
Alternative modes of gameplay can be unlocked after completion of the game. By inputting Richter Belmont's name as the user name, the player can play as Richter, who uses a whip as his main weapon and various sub-weapons. In the Sega Saturn version, the port included in the PlayStation Portable game Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, and in the PS4 port, Castlevania Requiem, Maria Renard is also playable.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night begins during the ending of the previous game in the series, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont (Kiyoyuki Yanada / Scott McCulloch; David Vincent) confronts and defeats Count Dracula (Norio Wakamoto / Michael G.; Patrick Seitz). Four years later, in 1796, Richter goes missing and Dracula's castle reappears. Alucard (Ryōtarō Okiayu / Robert Belgrade; Yuri Lowenthal) arrives at the castle to destroy it, meeting Maria Renard (Chiwa Saitō / Kimberly Forsythe; Michelle Ruff), who once fought alongside Richter and is now searching for him. Alucard also meets Richter, who now claims to be the new lord of the castle. Convinced that Richter is under somebody else's control, Maria urges Alucard not to hurt him and gives him the Holy Glasses, which allows him to see past illusions. In the castle's keep, Alucard confronts Richter and learns that he plans to resurrect Dracula so the two can fight for an eternity. During a fight, Alucard breaks the spell controlling Richter, and Dracula's servant Shaft (Dai Matsumoto / Jeff Manning; Tony Oliver) appears and tells them that Dracula will still be resurrected soon.
Alucard leaves Richter and Maria to confront Shaft, venturing into an upside-down duplicate of the castle to seek him out. Shaft reveals he planned to end the threat of the Belmont clan by controlling one of them and forcing the clan to fight one another. After defeating Shaft, Alucard faces his father, who vows to bring an end to humankind because Alucard's mother Lisa (Rika Fukami / Alison Lester; Jessica Straus) was executed as a witch. Alucard refuses to join his father in his revenge and he defeats him. Alucard tells Dracula that he has been thwarted many times because he lost the ability to love after Lisa's death, and that Lisa's final words were of eternal love for him and a plea not to hate – or at least harm – humanity. Before Dracula dies, he asks for Lisa's forgiveness and bids his son farewell.
After escaping the collapsing castle, Alucard rejoins Maria and Richter. Maria is relieved that he escaped while Richter blames himself as the reason for Alucard's fight with his father. Alucard tells Richter, "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," (a quote attributed to Edmund Burke) and resolves to disappear from the world because of his cursed bloodline. Depending on how much of the castle the player has explored, Maria either chases Alucard in the hope of changing his mind, or resigns herself to Alucard's fate and leaves with Richter.
Development started on a Castlevania game slated to be released for the Sega 32X. Sometimes using the title "The Bloodletting", this game had a playable version but Konami decided to move away from that console, and put its focus on the PlayStation, so the game was cancelled. Changes were made to these initial ideas and the project became Symphony of the Night.
The game was directed and produced by Toru Hagihara, who had directed the previous entry, Rondo of Blood. Igarashi had creative influence and was involved with the story-writing and programming. Part way through production, Hagihara was promoted to head of the division. He then asked Igarashi to finish the game as the assistant director. From the outset, the game was intended to represent a new direction for the franchise. According to Igarashi, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night began development 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". Their primary motivation for the abrupt design change was the sight of dozens of Castlevania games in bargain bins of Japanese video game stores; linear Castlevania games offered limited replay value after completion. A noted fan of 2D games, Igarashi was instrumental in refining the game's control scheme.
For Igarashi, regular action games were too short; he wanted to create a game that "could be enjoyed for a long time". 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 looked to The Legend of Zelda series, which involved much exploration and back-tracking to extend the amount of gameplay. Igarashi also was able to use the critical reaction from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, which was more focused on exploration than action, to pitch Symphony of the Night to Konami. The development team used inspiration from Zelda to make most of the castle areas initially inaccessible to the player. The player would gradually obtain items and vampiric powers that progressively opened up the castle. Their idea was to reward exploration while retaining the hack-and-slash action of the previous games.
Role-playing mechanics were added because Igarashi felt the classic Castlevania games were too challenging for average players. 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.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was artist Ayami Kojima's first appearance in the video game industry. She worked on the game as a character designer, conceptualizing the game's main and supporting cast. Her designs for the game are heavily influenced by bishōnen-style art.
The game is presented using 2D visuals, mainly sprites animated over scrolling backgrounds. The PlayStation had no hardware for scrolling, which lead to the developers using the same methods for displaying character sprites to display the backgrounds. Occasionally, the 3D capabilities of the PlayStation are utilized. The game contains an opening and ending cinematic, which was done by another group at Konami. This was a disappointment for the developer team, as it featured flat models lacking textures.
During the game's release in 1997, the console video gaming market was trending towards 3D graphics. The powerful new hardware in fifth generation consoles enabled both well-established gaming franchises such as Mario and new series such as Tomb Raider and Twisted Metal to receive highly successful 3D installments. 2D games began to decline in favor with publishers because they speculated that they would no longer sell.
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The music used in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was composed by Michiru Yamane. The soundtrack contains elements from music genres classical, techno, gothic rock, new-age, jazz, and subgenres of metal – specifically elements of thrash metal. "I Am the Wind", a vocal ending theme written by Rika Muranaka and Tony Haynes, and performed by Cynthia Harrell, is played during the credits.
The soundtrack contains arrangements of pieces from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, particularly "Dance of Illusions", the final boss theme in Rondo of Blood. There is also "Blood Relations", a variation of the piece heard in the first stage in Rondo of Blood. There are a total of 34 songs within the game.
Versions and re-releases
PlayStation and Saturn
Castlevania: 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. The Japanese release was packaged with an art book containing a small manga based on the game and a soundtrack compiled from most of the previous Castlevania games.
The North American and European version's localization was handled by Jeremy Blaustein, although he was not present for the voice recording. Blaustein added the lines "What is Man? A miserable little pile of secrets," which were taken from the novel Man's Fate by André Malraux. Other changes made in localization included AI improvements, the addition of a sound test, and the correction of a game-crashing bug found in the Japanese release. The game was low-balled as a prospect for release in the United States, given relatively little advertising, received limited funding for its North American production, and was initially not a major financial success.
—Koji Igarashi, June 2007, on the Saturn port
In 1998, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was ported to the Sega Saturn in Japan. In this version, Maria Renard is both a fully playable character as well as a boss fight (she fights Alucard before giving him the Holy Glasses item), and Richter is available to play at the start of the game. When playing the game as Alucard, a "third hand" is available, but only for usable items and not weaponry. Alucard can use exclusive items, such as the Godspeed Boots, which grant Alucard the ability to run like Richter. New areas – the Cursed Prison and the Underground Garden, which had new bosses – can be visited. The port also contains remixes of previous Castlevania songs. However loading is more frequent and takes longer in the Saturn version than in other versions. Because the Saturn has limited hardware transparency support, transparency effects such as the mists and the waterfall were replaced with dithering effects, though partial translucency does exist in a few areas such as with Saturn exclusive enemies and one of the final boss fights. Rather than taking advantage of the Saturn's increased resolution, the graphics were stretched to fill the screen, causing some sprites to be distorted. The overall quality of the Saturn port's video is said, according to Igarashi, to be lower than the PlayStation version because it is a simple port handled by another team and was not recoded to take advantage of the Saturn's 2D capabilities. Igarashi overall expressed disappointment with the Saturn version.
In 2006, Konami announced an Xbox 360 port of the PlayStation version of the game would be distributed via Xbox Live Arcade. The game was ported by Backbone Entertainment. It was the first Xbox Live Arcade title to exceed the 50 MB restriction then placed upon Xbox Live Arcade games. The exception was made for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to "ensure that the gameplay experience is the best it can be". A version of the game for Xbox Live Arcade was released on March 21, 2007. As with most Xbox Live Arcade games, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night features leaderboards that track players progress through the castle and features 12 achievements worth 200 points. To save space, all full motion video sequences were removed from the North American and European versions of the game. They have since been returned to the Japanese version, which is approximately 25 megabytes larger. While the unpatched version still features "I Am The Wind" as the game's closing music, a later patch replaced it with "Admiration Towards the Clan" – the closing song in Castlevania: Lament of Innocence due to licensing reasons and a distorted background image was fixed in one ending. In 2009, Konami released Castlevania: Symphony of the Night alongside Super Contra and Frogger on the Konami Classics Vol. 1 for Xbox 360.
It was also re-released as a "PSone Classics" title on the PlayStation Network store on July 19, 2007, in North America, on December 16, 2010, in Japan, and on December 12, 2012, in Europe for use with the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation Portable, and the PlayStation Vita.
A port of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was included as unlockable bonus content in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PlayStation Portable, which was released in North America on October 23, 2007, in Japan on November 8, 2007, and in Europe on February 18, 2008. Except for the Japanese release, the English translations features a new script and newly recorded voice acting, with the option to use the original Japanese voices, which is unchanged in this port. It is a port of the PlayStation version but contains some additions and changes. Maria Renard is a playable character and a boss in the PSP version, who plays similar to her Rondo of Blood appearance. Like the Xbox 360 version, "I Am The Wind" is replaced with "Mournful Serenade" – a completely new piece composed by Michiru Yamane – as the closing theme. It also adds an English-recorded version of the song "Nocturne", which was before that point unheard in territories outside Japan, thanks to the reinstatement of the familiars that had been previously removed when the game was originally localized. The Dracula X Chronicles versions of this game and Rondo of Blood were rereleased for the PlayStation 4 on October 26, 2018 as part of the Castlevania Requiem compilation. Android and iOS ports of the game were released on March 4, 2020, based off the version in Dracula X Chronicles.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night received wide critical acclaim at the time of its release. Critics lauded the massive, free-to-explore game world with its numerous secrets to uncover, and praised the game for integrating RPG elements without compromising the series' basic gameplay. Multiple critics also made mention of the ingeniously designed enemies and the story's many plot twists. GameSpot hailed it as "easily one of the best games ever released and a true testament to the fact that 2D gaming is not dead by any stretch of the imagination." Computer and Video Games commented, "This may be old-skool style, but it feels like the freshest thing of the year." Next Generation stated that "Symphony of the Night has classic written all over it" and called it "spectacular" for a 2D side-scrolling platformer in the age of 32- and 64-bit games. GamePro gave it a perfect 5.0 out of 5 in all four categories (graphics, sound, control, and fun factor), calling it "one of the best games of the year."
Despite the popular consensus of the time that 2D had become outmoded, critics also highly praised the game's graphics for their smooth animation, impressive effects, and evocation of atmosphere. John Ricciardi of Electronic Gaming Monthly wrote that "everything is animated with an amazing attention to detail, and the special effects used throughout provide an atmosphere that just begs to be experienced." However, there were a few detractors of the use of 2D. Entertainment Weekly said that the visuals were dated and flat, when compared to Nightmare Creatures which featured 3D environments. and IGN commented, "The graphics are initially similar-looking to SNES and Genesis incarnations of the game, the character animation isn't particularly smooth and 3D is resigned to limited background effects and the odd special effect." A few also criticized the voice acting, though GameSpot instead praised it. The music was met with almost unanimous approval, with IGN describing it as "sometimes daunting, sometimes rousing and always doing what music should—enhancing the action."
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was awarded "PlayStation Game of the Year" by Electronic Gaming Monthly, as well as "Best Sequel". It was named "Game of the Year" by PSM in its list of the top ten games of 1997.
The game has developed a large cult following and copies of the original PlayStation version are considered collector's items. It demonstrated 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.
Since then, the game has continued to receive critical acclaim, and it has appeared on several other "greatest game" lists. The same year it was released, it was ranked the 12th best console video game of all time by Electronic Gaming Monthly, which said it "is not only the best 2-D game on the PlayStation, it's one of the best, period." It appeared on GameSpot's "The Greatest Games of All Time" list. It was placed 16th on IGN's "Top 100 Games of All Time" and 24th in Game Informer's "Top 200 Video Games Ever" – down six places from its 2001 ranking. GameZone ranked it the best Castlevania title ever made. GamePro listed the discovery of the inverted castle as the 26th-greatest moment in gaming. GamesRadar named Castlevania: Symphony of the Night the second-best PlayStation game of all time, behind Metal Gear Solid. It was also ranked 4th place on EGM's list of 100 greatest games of all time, and was the highest PS1 game on the list. 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".
The gameplay of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and its 2D successors is often compared in the gaming press with the popular series Metroid, with both Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid seen as pioneers in the genre, leading to the coinage of the term "Metroidvania" (a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania), used to describe video games that share some of their elements.
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