Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
I always said that if I won the lotto I wouldn’t be overly extravagant about it. Don’t get me wrong, I hate when there’s a massive Euromillions win, €190 million squids and the winners aren’t virile, attractive young man like me (yes, me). No, it’s always Mary (73) and Joe (75) and they say it won’t change them and they’ll still work every day on the farm and all that rubbish.
What?! Joe, this is your big chance, and your heart hasn’t got much pump left. Get out there to Vegas and throw thousands of dollars on every spin of the roulette table. Keep the drinks and drugs coming, and even if you blow through a hundred thousand in a night, you’ve zillions left in reserve. That’ll have the “dancing girls” round your hotel room quick as well.
And you Mary, it’s time you put your feet up – not on some old Ballybegob stove, but on a sun lounger over in Bali. An Instagram influencer in her seventies? It could happen, and it could be you. You can ramp up your online shopping habits a hundred fold, and have new packages and parcels arriving every single day without fail, give you something to look forward to that isn’t the day’s washing. You might replace Joe with a squad of chiselled hunks, each called Brayden. And, of course, it’ll be margheritas morning, noon and night.
Even I’d find that hard to match. I’m terribly frugal, you see, and I love nothing more than watching the numbers go up. If I had a hundred million lids go into my account, and there was some kind of real-time interest counter where I could quite literally see the money working for me, I think I’d watch it 18 hours a day. This wouldn’t leave me much time for frivolities. I’d probably look up some kind of Super Premium Diamond Gold VIP ticket for all Formula 1 Grands Prix including travel. I’d give the missus a few mill and introduce her to Khrystal and Tiffany. But above anything else, I’d go out and buy a castle.
Could you imagine having a castle all to yourself? Well, before getting into it, it’d need to have a few modern conveniences. Electricity would be nice. Sanitation, probably worth considering. A games room certainly, and obviously dungeons and hanging chambers for your enemies. You’ll need it staffed as well – no problem when you’ve got a near infinite wage budget. But the problem, as always, is getting the right staff.
Me, I’d put some money into researching a Cloning Vat, like the one they had in Red Alert 2, and cloning myself a legion of Edd Chinas. You know, the lanky, affable mechanic from Wheeler Dealers with the explosion of greying hair? The one who fixes everything and inspires 110% confidence? I’d have him, multiplied by ten. One Edd could be a cordon bleu cook. The next Edd could be my chauffeur. Another Edd, my sexual guru. Oh yes, I’d be well looked after.
Just imagine coming home blind drunk to your castle, trying to get through the hedge maze, with a possibility of dogs jumping through the bushes at you Resident Evil style. You’d have to be dead careful not to set off any of the deathly booby traps. In your drunken state, you’ll need to steer clear of the lava chambers. And which of the 50 master bedrooms will you fall into and sleep in tonight?
Yes, how wonderful it would be. But a big luxurious castle is plainly not good enough for Alucard, main character of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Ever the rebellious teenager (well, rebellious tricentenarian, but you know what I mean), Alucard was having a lovely long sleep, a real month of Sundays sleep. However his estranged father, who so happens to be Count Dracula, is terrorising the world again from his humongous castle, dubbed Castlevania. It’s up to Alucard to commit patricide and destroy the castle to put an end to the madness, cheeky beggar that he is.
You will have heard of the term Metroidvania. I remember being bitter that Castlevania had found a way to piggyback off Metroid’s unique genre. That was until I played Symphony of the Night, years after its release. It had to be downloaded of course, as UK PAL copies of SOTN are rare as rocking horse shit. Honestly, if you want a primo copy, and I’ll probably want one for myself one of these days to fit in at the right parties, it’s definitely north of 400 quid. Not exactly chicken feed, know what I mean?
Still, what I played on the PSN was a masterpiece. It went against conventional wisdom of the time that every game had to be made up of horribly blocky polygons, and instead delivered graphics that are luscious even to this day. I’m telling you, the spritework is Walk Like An Egyptian-era Susanna Hoffs, probably my favourite 2D graphics ever.
Even better than that is the music. I wouldn’t normally do a shout-out to a game’s composer, but as she’s a Japanese woman, it might end up going very well for me if I do. So Michiru Yamane-chan-sama, thank you for one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming, and do leave your number in the comments below. Honestly though, step into the castle’s library section and you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s Bach. Then you head to the classic clock tower and the electric guitar gets shredding. One overused track aside, the score is incredible. It creates such a wonderful atmosphere, putting the game firmly alongside Super Metroid in the ambience stakes.
The castle is enormous as well. As Alucard, you’ll be jumping, falling, swinging swords, equipping armour, battling horror-inspired enemies, using items, even turning into a dog, a bat or mist… and you’ll do this across hundreds of distinct rooms. It certainly dwarves Super Metroid in size, any Metroid game in fact. And just when you think you’ve got to the end, you visit an upside-down carbon copy of the castle. There’s not much plot left at this point, unfortunately, so the Inverted Castle can be a bit of busywork by this stage. But still, just like that, the game’s size doubles.
I’ve got to reserve a note for the voice acting. It’s not as if the game is as story-based as Metal Gear Solid, but there are occasional scenes with enchantingly hammy acting. I imagine this was a dry-run before the madness of Metal Gear. I love Alucard’s deep, baritone voice, and it was a pity that this was changed in subsequent releases. But then, when you have a high-pitched, almost incredulous Count Dracula shouting about a man being a miserable little pile of secrets, perhaps it was for the best… No, I won’t have that: if you’re going to play Symphony of the Night, stick to the original shoddy acting. It’s the original, and it’s a lot more charming.
Alucard caps off one of the best games of all time by leaving the castle in ruins. Pity really, because I was proper eyeing up that castle as well, after my eventual lotto win. Still, it would have been a bit of a wretch to move into my new castle, only to find that Frankenstein (Frankenstein’s monster), Medusa, the Grim Reaper and Beelzebub were all there waiting for me. I’m glad Alucard booted them out – but he should have left the Succubus for me.
10 December 2019