Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame Nomination: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.

Game: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 10/02/1997
System Released On: PlayStation
Genre: Platformer/RPG

Who Nominated The Game: Your old friend Mark B., mostly because I wanted to nominate something that stood a chance of actually getting in. Also, because I like the game a lot, but nobody wants to back a loser, right?

Why Was It Nominated: There’s a very distinct line drawn straight down the middle of the Castlevania series, between the older, platformer-oriented titles (Castlevania, Circle of Blood, Bloodlines and so on) and the newer, action-RPG style “Castleroid” games (Circle of the Moon, Aria of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin). Some folks like the older style, with its simpler nature and more challenging gameplay, while others like the newer style, with its RPG elements and evolving characters, but both styles have their fans, and the change from one style to the other is very clearly defined.

This change, in short, can be marked by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

The story of Alucard, son of Dracula, and his quest to put his father down like a rabid dog is known to fans and haters alike, and with good reason: up to that point, the series had been almost exclusively based around stage-based gameplay with linear progression using a limited amount of life and lives along with what power-ups one acquired. Symphony of the Night changed the game dramatically, between the open castle to explore, the numerous power-ups and items to acquire, and the general reduction of difficulty, and while the games were generally fantastic, they were polarizing, to say the least.

At this point, the franchise seems to have mostly moved in this direction permanently, at least as far as the 2D games are concerned, making Symphony of the Night a fairly significant game for that reason alone. It’s also regarded as a masterpiece by all but the most hardcore game players who demand challenge over anything else, and with good reason: even today, the game still looks, sounds and plays well, and it’s still one of the best games in the series, bar none.

That said, does it deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? Let’s find out.

All in Favor:

Mark B. – Well, obviously it’s my nomination, so I’d suppose I’d be in favor of the game getting in. The bottom line, to me anyway, is that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was the point at which the franchise was revitalized in a very positive fashion. Prior to this game, the series had been getting stale, relying on the same basic concepts ad infinitum to make gamers care, and with the dawning of the 3D age and disc media that made games like Castlevania: Bloodlines seem meager all around, it was time for a change. Symphony of the Night came hot off of the heels of Rondo of Blood, arguably the best old-style Castlevania game ever made, and it ran with the proverbial ball in a way that I don’t think Konami could have even begun to predict, making a sizable chunk of change and generating a whole new fanbase along the way.

They then proceeded to smother that fanbase in mediocre 3D releases, re-releases of Symphony of the Night and six straight-up clones of the game to various degrees, but the point is that the game itself was a breath of fresh air for the series, and while the results in retrospect aren’t the best, the point is that the game itself is still a testament to fantastic game development and stands on its own merits.

Christopher BowenCastlevania had grown a bit stagnant by the mid-nineties. Despite three five-star games (the original, Dracula’s Curse and Super Castlevania) and one five-star game that American gamers hadn’t even seen yet (Rondo of Blood), things had gotten a bit old. One of the games – Castlevania Legends (which was released after SOTN) – even ended up being retconned. Konami was therefore wise to take the series in a new direction, which they spent the late-nineties doing. Sometimes, like with any Castlevania game on the N64, it didn’t work. But with Symphony of the Night, it worked. Oh hell, did it work.

I remember being mesmerized by SOTN when it came out. I didn’t care that the graphics weren’t 3D (this was a bone of contention to Sony at the time), nor did I care that people were starting to call it “Metroidvania” due to the similarities with Super Metroid. All I cared about was that it included an awesome character (Alucard), put him in an awesome story, added an awesome plot twist (which didn’t make sense until I learned how I could play Rondo of Blood), and added absolutely awesome elements. An emphasis on exploration? RPG elements? Tight, responsive controls? Sign me up!

They’ve since made other games in this same scheme – after all, if something works, do more of it until it stops working – and some of them have become classics in their own right (I’m partial to Circle of the Moon, particularly), but Symphony of the Night was not only a great game in its own right – arguably the greatest Castlevania game in history, depending on one’s preferences – it reinvented a classic franchise and set it upon two distinct branches, each of them successful. Not many games can have the success that either branch has, so for one franchise to have two different “schools” that are equally successful is amazing.

Almost as amazing as this game that Konami literally had to strongarm Sony into allowing onto its console. This is just another lesson that that it’s not about the technology behind the games, it’s the games themselves.

Alex Lucard – Okay, my personal involvement, and subsequent royalties off this game (and every game since featuring the protagonist featured in this title) are well known by now, so they don’t need to be rehashed here.

However, Symphony of the Night is quite frankly the best Castlevania game ever, and it really saved the series from extinction. After Super Castlevania, the series kind of took a downward turn. I mean Bloodlines was not a good game and although Rondo of Blood was awesome, it never made it to US shores until a few years ago, and it was overshadowed by that suck that was the N64 Castlevanias. Remember those? Hopefully not, because they were terrible.

SOTN however, took Castlevania from the played out platformer series it began as and turned the series into an action RPG series. Since then the series has had fun stories, great gameplay, incredible music (but that’s always been a staple) and had totally revived the series. We’ve seen that the formula makes for great games even without Alucard at the helm. Shanoa’s first game was awesome, for example, and here’s hoping we see more of her.

There really isn’t anything that SOTN does poorly and it’s hard to think of something it doesn’t do amazingly well. It’s the first game to truly bring continuity to the series, uniting CV‘s I-III and Rondo of Blood. It’s definitely the best CV game ever, and while Mark and I will steadfastly point out the Sega Saturn version US gamers never got is slightly superior to the PSX one, we ended up getting a version of it in the PSP game The Dracula X Chronicles. This, my friends, deserves to be amongst the best games ever made. I can’t think of a single reason to object to it.

Aileen CoeSymphony of the Night was the first Castlevania game to incorporate RPG elements since Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. The result changed the direction of subsequent entries in the series. More than 10 years and umpteen ports later, it still holds up as well as it did when it first came out, and it’s a standard bearer of the series.

J. RoseSOTN to this day still exists as one of the most elegant and effective entries in the acclaimed series. Besides the strikingly moody visuals and animations, precise gameplay, equipments galore, and the greatest video game soundtrack ever recorded, the game contains one of the most awesome twist mechanics ever at what players believed to be the end.

William Kaye – Although I infinitely prefer whips to swords, I’d rather play this game than any other in the Castlevania series. Though not really the first of the Metroidvania Castlevania games (that would be Castlevania II), it is the most well known, and one that the series has emulated ad nauseum since. One of the few direct sequels to any Castlevania game, it picks up right after Dracula X and this time thrusts you into the role of Dracula’s son, Alucard, as he explores the castle. Much scenery is chewed along the way by an absolutely stellar voice cast (although keeping in mind that I like awful voice acting, so your mileage may vary there…). Removing the more insane platforming aspects of the previous games and replacing them with platforming that just works and tossing in a slew of RPG elements were just the things needed to prompt me to actually 100% this game, an annoying habit that contains to plague me to this day.

All Opposed:

Aaron Sirois – This one is totally personal. It isn’t that I think the game is no good. I own it on multiple consoles, play it often enough, and can’t help but quote Dracula and Richter’s conversation at the outset every time I see the chance to do so.

My problem is the legacy the game has left. In that, I mean how the Castlevania games have become all about farming for drops, managing equipment, and silly looking main characters like Soma.

For me, the real Castlevania will always be the games where its all about platforming and whipping monsters to death. My childhood was all the better for Super Castlevania IV and it is easily my favorite. When Rondo of Blood was finally brought over for Dracula X Chronicles, I was ecstatic.

So, I vote against this game making the Hall of Fame, because it killed any chance of a truly new Castlevania game getting created. Instead, we have Metroidvania, and it just isn’t the same.

Result: 6 In Favor, 1 Opposed, 85% Approval = ACCEPTED

Conclusion: Well, the vast majority of the staff has spoken in favor of the game, and it’s not hard to see why, as even the lone voice of distension points out that the game itself is pretty great. Symphony of the Night has left a staggering impression on the gaming world, and the staff has determined that this is enough to make the game worthy of joining the Hall of Fame. Good show.

Next Week: We’ll be looking at the game I would have nominated if I DIDN’T prefer to back winners, which, amusingly enough, is ANOTHER massive reinvention of a franchise that had become seriously stale at the time the reinvention came about. Also, both franchises have zombies in them. See you in a week.



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2 responses to “Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame Nomination: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”

  1. Justin Holmes Avatar
    Justin Holmes

    Alex Lucard: “There really isn’t anything that SOTN does poorly…”

    Uhh, the voice acting?

    Seriously though, I’m glad you didn’t tell this nominee to die, monster! You don’t belong here! Its few shortcomings are forgiveable, when you bear in mind that castle is in fact a creature of chaos.

  2. AFN Avatar

    I don’t think the game would have been as memorable with good voice acting though, it definitely made a difference in memorability.

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