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Giving Buffy a Run For the Money
By: Stewart Bishop
I first heard about Symphony of the Night from a dear friend of mine a few years back and though it hadn't sparked my interest then, I eventually took a tour down to good old Funcoland and saw it sitting there on the shelf, beckoning me with its $11 sticker and cracked jewel case. I took it home with me and I can firmly say it was the best 11 bucks I'd spent that summer. It is without a doubt the best Castlevania game in the series and the most in-depth. Though not a full-bred RPG by nature, it has a few elements that just seem 'RPGish' with the whole HP/MP/Stats feeling. In Symphony of the Night, Konami brings a new meaning to the word 'Slayer.'
The battle system is akin to all the other older Castlevania games; it's a side-scroller with the standard 'Move, Jump, Attack, Special' layout, with a few twists. The control is very responsive; you shouldn't be blaming anything on that controller of yours, unless of course you're trying to do spells or special moves...that's another story. You hack, slash, beat, maim, whip, slice, and just about anything else you can think of in this game. You equip Alucard as you see fit with the items you've discovered or bought just like in those real RPGs. The types of different weapons are amazingly plentiful, almost every single weapon has a certain ability or look. Throughout the game, you collect hearts, which allow you to use special items, all having different effects and are useful in slaying the undead. Knives, for example, can be thrown directly in front of you, axes can be thrown in an arc, etc. All in all a pretty good system; I haven't played many Action/Adventure games that let you customize a character like you can in Symphony of the Night.
The interface is clean and simple; The controls are smooth and very slick, accompanied by a simplistic menu system which lets you to customize your controls, change your equipment, as well as a few other added goodies as you progress through the game. You are limited to the standard 2D environment as you traverse across Dracula's castle, which I might add, after seeing the whole map, is HUGE. I can't even imagine a structure quite that big.
The music here is superb, with slow, eerie tunes to heavy guitar riffs. It's a soundtrack that you can actually buy and fake that you're listening to Metallica. The sound is also very good, as well as the voice acting...Except for Richter. Even the first line that he says is poorly done, "Die monster. You don't belong in this world." It's not too terrible, but it did send a minor shiver down my spine.
There isn't much of a plot to the story, but notably, it wasn't quite as predictable as I had thought it would be. What I like about the Castlevania series' plot is that it has such a long history; With so many Castlevania games out there, it's easy to piece together elements of a plot; Symphony of the Night expands upon its own era of time, and very well at that. A bit of character interaction coupled with excellent voice acting helps move the story along, but why Maria and Alucard didn't band together from the beginning is a mystery to me.
You assume the role of Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards, how creative, eh?), also known as Adrian Tepes, the son of Dracula. Not to say that you're limited to this role; After completing the game you may also play through again as Richter Belmont. Extra castles, a secondary character and an endless supply of equipment to find will send you back to this game again and again, as well as trying to complete more of your map to get better endings. That's right, this game also sports multiple endings, all accompanied by the voice acting that we so love. All this in addition to a Sound Test after you complete the game, and interesting 'Tactics' movies that show how to beat the bosses with only 80 HP and a limited arsenal. Very, very interesting.
The visuals are the classic 2D side-scrolling view, with hand-drawn art. This I like in particular; It gives the game more of the classic, eerie, sorcish feel. Enemy art ranging from ugly to...uglier...are abundant during your long adventure.
Supposedly, the thing that will stop you from playing this game is that it's radically easy. Well, yes, in a sense. I suggest playing through the game with Alucard with bare fists, no cube of zoe, no spells, no mist against bosses and the like. It gets much harder.
The game was definitely a blast, and reigns supreme among all other Castlevanias. Even if you aren't really a fan of side-scrollers, that shouldn't discourage you from experiencing this marvelous piece. With great 2D visuals, an incredible soundtrack and an overall high playability factor, Symphony of the Night is one Konami game you definitely do not want to miss.
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