Symphony of the Night Retrospective

No Idea what Item this Is

Orlox's fountain turns blood red

Featuring amazing Platforming technology

Freaky background images are everywhere

So I recently replayed SOTN after a fairly long time. Unlike Super Metroid, which I can emulate easily whenever I want (before I go further let me state I absolutely do own Super Metroid and SOTN, but I like playing games on my computer. Also my SOTN disk is pretty trashed), extremely easily and PS1 era games are more finicky to get up and running with all that bios and plugin nonsense. Conversely, if I want a castlevania fix, theres the hand helds. So finally I got sick of this, set up EPSXE and replayed the game again. Oh my goodness, my memory of it was quite different from what it was. I remembered it as ‘The Metroidvania that was actually good’ and associated it with being like Super Metroid. It’s more like the OPPOSITE of super metroid.

Why is it different?

Symphony of the Night is probably the most nonlinear Metroidvania (at least commercially). Super Metroid is more broken open with sequence breaking, but SOTN lacks much sequence, especially in the second castle. After you get the blue key from the library, you have no direction. You can wander. Sure, you have to get a bunch of stuff, but there isn’t the flow like there is in Super Metroid. You’re pretty much guided in Super Metroid all the way to the grapple beam before you to make a leap of logic to return to the surface. And this is probably intentional, since going back up allows you to get loot you couldn’t get the first time through. Early in Symphony of the Night, you’re free to just do whatever. The clock tower is off limits, but you can literally -skip the clock tower- and the boss in there. Or skip Scylla, or Granfaloon, or if you’re an asshole with a good memory, Orlox. You can skip all the ferrymen BS. You can also do a bunch of stuff relatively out of order. The inverted Castle? Forget about it. You have to kill 5 particular bosses out of the 9 available there. You literally just do whatever you want.

So whats also rad? Little detail EVERYWHERE. People pumped love into this game. Not only does the game have some of the best background art in the series, little touches are everywhere. Why the hell is there a telescope room under the outer wall? Whats up with the confessional booth? Orlox’s fountain suddenly turning red? …. Infinite peanuts? The one way barriers each have a little memorable thing about them, the backgrounds are multilayed and filled with little details and oddities (The dead Behemoth in the Colosseum, some of the crazy paintings in the background, all of the catacombs). The game is filled with rich little graphical effects that are nothing but nice touches. Enemies have awesome death animations. Backgrounds often just somewhat hokey but still atmospheric 3d effects for clouds and such. Enemies do neat things, like the mourning Owl Knight, or silly things like drowning the pikemen. Also god damn, the items in this game. There are so many cool items with so many cool effects. Crissaegrim, sheild rod, sword of dawn, jewel sword, fists of tolkus, chakrums, nunchucks, the Marasama or any of the other QCF katanas, RUNE SWORDS…. Even some of the neat details on those. The Runesword writes out VERBOTEN when swung, which is ‘forbidden’ in German as an example.There are weapons that are trash but just contain a bit of fantasy lore in their names. Atop that you have the card familar system, Alucard’s spells, bullshit accessories and a bunch of other crazy nonsense, such as all the unique one time use items and such or capes you set the color of for some reason…. or shoes that make you taller!?! Where Super Metroid tried to be elegant and flowing, SOTN is maximalist and generally insane.

I also absolutely love how things are laid out. Right from the Alchemy labs, areas have platforming personality. There are some ‘straight corridor of enemies’, but MUCH less than in other Castlevania’s. Areas feel like mini stages, something Super Metroid does excellently. I also didn’t realize it when I wrote my little ecology rant, but SOTN I think has the castle with the most personality. Going down through the caverns, into the mines, into the CATACOMBS (we’re talking 3 layers of ‘underground’ here, something that most games only give one area to) really makes you feel like your crawling down to somewhere crazy. It makes it feel like it’s even deeper than it actually is and the change of art at the bottom to ‘totally manic’ really sold things for me.The center of the map is all internal castleworks, while the left and right side are air exposed structures. The only place that seems somewhat random in placement is the Colosseum, but I can get over that. Each area has silly stuff that makes it feel more like a place — such as the confessional, or the telescope room. I also like how stuff like the hues and details of stuff in the inverted castle change. I did not notice that until this playthrough!

Well it’s not exactly Perfect..

If I were to say anything about the game, it’s that god DAMN the bosses are easy (Galamoth not with standing, even though you win by cheesing him so he actually is pretty easy). I mean, I remember them being easy, but not ‘die in 10 seconds’ easy. I just hammered all of them with holy water and punched them in the face till they died. Once I got to the inverted castle I farmed a Crissaegrim and a runesword and ran around having a blast. Only bit of grinding I did my whole play through. It still would have been easy without those items. I used to use the Osafune Katana as my first inverted castle weapon because it takes no grinding and that is probably enough to kill everything (even Galamoth!). I also don’t like that Slogra and Gaibon are suckers in this game. They scared the shit out of me in Super Castlevania. I’d actually say most of the bosses were unimpressive overall. Clearly there were some awesome ones (Granfaloon, Galamoth, Orlox, Scyalla(visually at least), Beelzebub…) but there are plenty of super lame ones (Cerebus, the Griffin thing, the Raven thing, the 3d bat……. Slogra and Gaibon >:|). Later games, Especially Order of Eccelsia did bosses muuuuch better, though they lacked the overall charm SOTN has. I can look at it now as an alternative design philosophy to Super Metroid, as opposed to a similar one.

I know this was less analytical than usual and more “LOOK AT THE THINGS”, but I hope just pointing out exactly how much stuff was there and just how strangely open and laid out the game is brings some more attention to the design elements that make it cool

8 thoughts on “Symphony of the Night Retrospective

  1. Great, now I have the urge to go back and finally beat this game. Good going, Kayin.

    [stupid angst]It is kind of sad how great these early Metroidvanias are, and then a decade and a half or so later Super Metroid and SotN are still the best of the bunch.[/stupid angst]

    I mean, Cave Story, La Mulana, Aquaria, Shadow Complex, etc. (IWBTG? :D) are all really good, but it would be nice to see a platformer that hits those sweet spots that Super Metroid and SotN bullseyed.

    Or am I blinded by nostalgia? Have any recent Metroidvania(‘ish) titles stood out for you Kayin?

  2. The bosses are really variable. I remember the first couple of times I played through SotN, the bosses were fairly challenging. Then I played it as a completely OCD completionist and they went down damn fast. The difficulty curve flattens if you play the game a certain way.

  3. I can attest to what Vance said. The first time you play through SOTN, the bosses can be super-tough if you don’t know/have the more powerful weapons. For example, it took me something like ten (non-consecutive) hours to finally beat Galamoth for the first time, because I didn’t know there was anti-lightning gimmickry to be found.

    I do enjoy all the little trinkets in the game, though. The telescope that looks out over the ocean is an awesome touch that was put in just because. The fact that you can just sit down in the confessional booth is fantastic. SOTN has a few flaws, mostly because it was released in a period where adding 3D effects just because you could was super-cool. But if my biggest complaint about a game is 3D effects in a 2D game, then that’s not too bad.

    Also, Slogra and Gaibon are both amazing designs, and it’s a damn shame to see them go down so easily. I do like that this game reveals there’s entire armies of them, though. The thought of 300 Slogras storming a castle is an awesome mental image.

  4. Great read! I recently played SotN for the first time and had a blast. I was delighted at how little grinding was necessary, and how cool the different familiars were. The only thing that really pissed me off was the plant ladies in the catacombs that made roots come out of the ground. These pests paired with the rock throwing guys made me die at least an eighth of my deaths in the game. Also the witches with invulnerability were a pain until I remembered I could just turn into mist form and bypass most of the tedium. As soon as I beat the game I went to the library to get the color changeable cape.=D

  5. Honestly I remember blowing through it pretty easily as a kid. Galamoth was a motherfucker but I beat him just by spamming Osufune’s Katana’s QCF motion. Eventually someone told me about the Beryl Circuit and the Crissaegrim and he became even easier (or god, Alucard’s Shield and Shield Rod), but the rest of the bosses? Meeeeeeeh. Death is kinda tough I suppose, but that was it for me. I guess ones mileage may vary.

    This time through I didn’t even really try and get anything fancy or level, I just blew through the game easily. I got a crissaegrim and Runesword for the end (and for the fun of moving around) but I just sorta toasted everything. D: Chalk that up to videogame experience I guess./

  6. Great litltle read… Also reminds me of why I stopped playing in the inverted castle. Love all your writing on this stuff

  7. Thanks! I’m happy to see people are reading these! For awhile I was used to just John Sonic being a regular commenter.

  8. I think what’s really impressive about SotN is how well it makes all its graphical techniques work together. You’ve got recycled sprites from the SNES games over here, next to Vanillaware style jointed-paper-puppet monsters here, and then in between the two you’ve got fully polygonal things between’em, and something else that’s basically just a living particle effect. All this on a really nice painted background, with some mode 7 looking clouds visible out the window. Any other game combining even 2 of those is going to look just awful, if you’re in the general vicinity of the library you can see all that within 5 seconds and it just seems cool.

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