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