Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
|Castlevania: Symphony of the Night|
European box art by Ayami Kojima
|Developer(s)||Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo|
|Genre(s)||Platform-adventure, action role-playing|
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) is a platform-adventure action role-playing game developed and published by Konami in 1997 for the PlayStation. It is the direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and features Dracula's dhampir son Alucard as the protagonist. It marks a break from previous games in the series, which are action platformers. The game features more emphasis on exploration, non-linear level design, and role-playing elements.
Its initial commercial success was limited – 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. It has since been re-released on several gaming consoles and is now considered a sleeper hit, a cult classic, and one of the best video games ever made.
Like many installments of the Castlevania series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night uses a 2D side-scrolling style of gameplay. The objective of the game is to guide the main player character Alucard through the undead-filled castle as he sets out to defeat the vampire Dracula. The game uses a non-linear style of gameplay; however, at the beginning, Alucard can access only certain areas of the castle. By obtaining the three forms (wolf, bat, and mist) that he can shapeshift into, he gradually explores the castle. A map carried by Alucard is automatically updated to show the player's progress through the castle.
Protagonists in previous games of the series use whips as their main weapon. In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Alucard can find and use weapons ranging from edged weapons like swords and knives to brass knuckles and expendable items such as bombs or javelins. He can also obtain health restoratives, equipment and items that boost his attributes; these are located on an inventory. Relics found throughout the castle provide Alucard with abilities, such as the ability to double jump. A bestiary kept by the castle's librarian, who also functions as a shopkeeper, shows the monsters encountered by the player and the items they drop when defeated.
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 him 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. The original Japanese version also includes the familiars Nose Devil (functionally identical to the Demon but with a Tengu mask) and Pixie.
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 Richter, who uses a whip as his main weapon and various sub-weapons. Two alternative modes have Alucard as the player character with certain items and increased or decreased attributes. In the Sega Saturn version and the port included in the PSP game Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, Maria Renard is also playable, by selecting her before starting a game in the Saturn version, or by inputting her name in the save file naming screen after beating the game with Alucard once in the PSP version.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night begins during the ending of the previous game in the series, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont (Scott McCulloch; David Vincent in the redub) confronts and defeats Count Dracula (Michael G; Patrick Seitz in the redub). Four years later, in 1796, 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 equipment. He also meets Maria Renard (Kimberly Forsythe; Michelle Ruff in the redub), a seventeen-year-old vampire hunter who fought alongside Richter and is now searching for him, and the castle's librarian, who sells items and equipment to Alucard. Periodically encountering Maria throughout the castle, Alucard also meets Richter, who claims to be the new lord of the castle and forces him to battle with two monsters.
Alucard defeats the monsters, finds Maria again, and tells her about Richter. Upset, she leaves Alucard to confirm it for herself. Convinced that Richter is under somebody else's control, Maria meets Alucard again; she urges him not to hurt Richter and gives him an item that allows him to see past illusions. In the castle's keep, Alucard confronts Richter and learns that he plans to resurrect Dracula so he may battle the vampire for eternity. Alucard breaks the spell controlling Richter. Dracula's servant Shaft (Jeff Manning; Tony Oliver in the redub) appears and reveals that despite the spell being broken, Dracula will be resurrected soon. Shaft summons an inverted version of the castle.
Alucard leaves Richter to Maria's care and enters the inverted castle to find and destroy Shaft. Along the way, he defeats Death and eventually finds Shaft. Shaft admits 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. Alucard defeats Shaft, who reveals that Dracula's resurrection is complete. Alucard faces his own father, who vows to destroy humankind because Alucard's mother Lisa was executed as a witch. Alucard refuses to join his father in his revenge and the two battle. Alucard defeats his father and suggests he lost the battle because he lost his ability to love after Lisa's death. Dracula quotes the biblical verse Matthew 16:26 (in the dub) 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. Maria expresses relief 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 evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," (an attributed quote from 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.
The game was directed by Toru Hagihara, while assistant director Koji Igarashi had creative influence and was involved with the story-writing and programming. 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". His 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. The game was originally intended for the Sega 32X.
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 The Legend of Zelda series, which involved much exploration and back-tracking to extend the amount of gameplay. The development team used inspiration from Zelda and Super Metroid to make the 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. These illustrations were popular with the Castlevania fan base, prompting Kojima to produce similar designs for later titles.
The game is presented using 2D visuals, mainly sprites animated over scrolling backgrounds. Effects such as rotation and scaling are used liberally. Sprites range from small to filling an entire screen. Parallax effects attempt to simulate depth in backgrounds and can be seen throughout the game.
Occasionally, the 3D capabilities of the PlayStation try 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. 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. The game contains some short full motion video (FMV) sequences, most of which showcase the castle from different angles. This technique was widely used at the time of the game's production.
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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 – including thrash metal and black 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.
Versions and re-releases
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. It contained two more familiars than the subsequent English-language release. The game was re-released in Japan on the "PlayStation the Best" label on March 19, 1998, and in North America on "Greatest Hits" in 1998. In 2009, an English fan translation of the Japanese version was released.
The version released in North America and Europe contained new English voice acting. The localization and translation was handled by Jeremy Blaustein, although he was not present for the voice recording. The UK release experienced limited distribution and a basic print run. Despite its appeal, media ratings, and healthy sales elsewhere, the UK release sold sparsely and was discontinued within 2 months. The only available copies sent were sold through initial orders by UK retailers and some limited online sales of remaining stock. No further UK pressings were made and it became collectible shortly after release. 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.
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 start of the game. When playing the game as Alucard, a "third hand" is available for usable items. Alucard can use exclusive items, such as the Alucard boots, in the port. 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. Because of poor coding, 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 version 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.
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. 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 has different gameplay from her playable appearance in the Saturn version. Like the Xbox 360 version, "I Am The Wind" is replaced with "Mournful Serenade" – an English recording of the Japanese version's ending music – as the closing theme.
A version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night planned for the Game.com handheld console was canceled. In 2010, Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night, a puzzle game based on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, was released for the iOS platform.
At the time of its release in Japan, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night received critical acclaim; it was low-balled as a prospect for release in the United States and given relatively little Stateside advertising. Since then, it has developed a large cult following and copies of the original PlayStation version are considered collectors' 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.
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 well-established gaming franchises such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda to receive highly successful 3D installments and 2D games began to decline in favor with publishers because they speculated that they would no longer sell. Although it received limited funding for its North American production and was initially not a major financial success, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night eventually was a critical success, and the game later joined other popular PlayStation titles as part of the "Greatest Hits" line of re-released, best-selling PlayStation games.
The gaming press often draws comparisons between the gameplay of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and its 2D successors with the popular game Super Metroid, which led to the coinage of the term "Metroidvania" (portmanteau of Castlevania and Metroid). Igarashi considered himself "honoured" to have been credited for creating this genre.
In 1998, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was awarded PlayStation Game of the Year by Electronic Gaming Monthly. 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. It was named Game of the Year by PSM in its list of the top ten games of 1997. It has appeared on several other "greatest game" lists, notably 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. 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".
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