Review by Shadowruler
"The Definitive Castlevania"
So Konami has this franchise right? It's called Castlevania. Perhaps you've heard of it?
Ever since 1986, Konami has been pumping out games in the Castlevania franchise, and the franchise just gets better and better with each installment. Up to the point of Symphony of the Night (SOTN)'s release, the games were sidescrolling action games, with level by level gameplay. When news was brought out that Castlevania was coming to the Playstation, there were great hopes of a new Castlevania in 3D. The result was not a 3D game, which initially disappointed fans of the series. But the result was, a 2D game that defined the series, and defined what a superb sidescroller should play like. While not official, many consider it to be the greatest PSX game ever, and even the best game ever. Why is this exactly?
While the story on its own is not anything special, the scale of everything taken as a whole is. You play Alucard, Dracula's son, who is a half-human, half-vampire. Why is he a halfling? Dracula's only true love for a human belonged to his wife Lisa. So Alucard is half human, because of Lisa, and half vampire because of Dracula. Make sense? Good. Moving right along.
Richter Belmont (a main character from a previous CV game) has mysteriously disappeared, and his previous feminine companion Maria has gone looking for him when Castlevania emerges in front of her. She decides this is a sign and enters to search for Richter.
Alucard, who has been in a slumber for hundreds of years, is awoken and drawn to Castlevania. He learns that evil forces are working in the castle, and he enters to rid the evil, as well as settle a score with his father. He and Maria agree to swap information as they discover it, and they set off separately.
And then you are off to freely explore Castlevania. The storyline is actually quite good, and it holds a few twists and turns that can't be spoiled here. Rest assured it is excellent.
When this game came out, the graphics were a disappointment to many, because most believed that this CV was going to be in 3D, to showcase the power of the new PS hardware. There are 3D elements of scenery and magic here, but nothing distinctly 3D that affects gameplay.
What is here, are monstrous bosses, some taking up to 3 screens to even see their head, large scale enemies, and a diverse palette of colors that are brilliantly shown throughout. The backgrounds and scenery are very magical and ominous at the same time, and all look very polished.
But the best part of the graphics is the fluidity of Alucard's movements and attacks. Alucard is probably the most smoothly animated 2D character ever. His arms move with incredible realism, as he runs his cape flutters and moves around with realistic gravity, and his hair flows very smoothly. Not to mention the cornucopia of eye candy with various spells and attacks delivered by Alucard and the enemies and bosses.
So it would seem that this should be a perfect score, no? Well the only gripe, (and it is enough to justify a full point deduction) is that there are mass amounts of slowdown sometimes in boss fights where Alucard moves incredibly slow and the PSX is using all of its power to display everything going on. Mostly though, the game plays very smoothly. The graphics are superb.
This is one of the best sounding games ever released for Playstation, mainly due to the phenomenal soundtrack. SOTN has the best soundtrack for any CV game, but it might not be going too far to say that it has one of the best soundtracks ever. As a matter of fact, it's not going too far. This is the best soundtrack ever. You just have to hear it to believe it. Words cannot describe this particular composer's mastery of music.
The major downfall is the voice acting. There is voice acting whenever a character speaks in the game, and while Alucard's voice isn't horrible, the others are. However, the game's grandiose soundtrack more than makes up for this.
The overall effects and sounds in the gameplay are good, Alucard announces the name of a spell when he casts it, he grunts and yells when he is hit, and the enemies all have various growls and noises that sound great.
Since you won't hear voice acting in cutscenes for most of the game, you are mostly treated to the great sound effects overall, ad the brilliant soundtrack, which nets the sound a perfect score.
Complimenting the wonderful and detailed animations in the graphics department, are very fluid controls as well. They are customizable, but the default control scheme is fine. The controls are responsive, casting spells is a breeze (if you remember the button combination), and moving about and jumping through the castle is made easy as well. Not much else to say here.
Too games can't receive higher than a 10 in a certain category. If they could, this would be somewhere at about, oh, a 12 or 13? Seriously though, this is some of the most immersive and open-ended gameplay ever. Konami has thought of everything that could possibly be added onto an already perfect game. So let's see where to begin
As mentioned earlier, you are free to go wherever you want, whenever you want, provided you have earned certain skills. But even without some of these skills, there are still plenty of areas accessible from the start of the game.
Basically, as you fight enemies with various weaponry found throughout your adventure, you gain experience, which eventually nets you a new experience level. Not uncommon to the standard RPG you might find, except combat is obviously real time. This is more of an Action/Adventure with RPG elements in it, than a full-fledged RPG experience.
As you gain levels, you are able to dispatch enemies quicker, and then you level up more and kill enemies quicker and so on. This sounds pretty typical for an RPG style game, but there is much more to the combat system than meets the eye.
You see, Alucard mostly fights with blades and swords, which can be one-handed, or two-handed. This is the first change to the classic CV formula. Unlike all the other characters that fought with the famous Vampire Killer whip, Alucard fights with swords. But where was I? Oh yes. Two-handed swords obviously will take up both of your weapon slots for both arms, and one handed swords will allow you to utilize a shield, or even another one handed weapon. Also equippable, are different types of armor, helms, rings, and magic accessories to enhance Alucard's overall ability. This whole system of equipping items in CV games originated in SOTN. Another breakthrough.
As you explore different areas, you will fight bosses and earn new abilities along the way. These will allow you to explore even more areas. For instance, because Alucard is half-vampire, half-human, he has access to Dracula's abilities. Once acquired, he has skills that allow him to turn into a mist, a wolf, and a bat. All traits that Dracula has. In earning these, you can access previously unreachable areas, and continue further in your quest. But those forms are not all you can earn, oh no.
Scattered thoughout the game are Relics, which will grant you certain abilities, like stat increases, to upgrades to your bat form and mist form for example. There are many to get, and some are well hidden, this is incentive to search the castle very closely.
Besides these abilities and weapons, you also can purchase spells and new equipment in a certain area.
The other item worth mentioning is that the game can be completed a number of different ways. Completing the game doing the bare minimum amount to reach the final boss will certainly give you an ending, but probably not a very good one. If you meet certain requirements, you can extend your playtime by a lot, earn a number of different endings, and learn the real story behind everything. I'll stop there though; I don't want to spoil it.
There are many, many, many more things that I have not mentioned to do in the game, including entire optional areas to explore, and optional bosses that will definitely test your mettle, even if you are at the highest level. In short, this is the ultimate gameplay experience, and it definitely earns every bit of the perfect score.
Replay Value: 10/10
The game can be completed very quickly, and it can also be completed in a long period of time. It all depends on how much you are willing to search for new areas and objectives, because trust me, this game has plenty of things to do. Once you beat the game, you can play it again with all of your equipment from your last saved game, and try to complete it as fast as possible, there is a secret character to play the whole game as, a sound test to unlock, and much, much more. Don't like the color of your cape? There's a way to completely customize that as well. This game definitely rewards the gamer that searches every nook and cranny of the castle for every possible secret, and it delivers in spades.
Overall: 10/10 (not an average)
This is a game I believe that will continue to amaze in years to come. When you think that this is the one single game that came up with what CV games play like now, (for instance the GBA Castlevania series) it is simply incredible. Who knew that one game could accomplish all of this and redefine sidescrolling games forever? This is, quite simply put, the best Castlevania game, one of the best Playstation games, and one of the best games ever made in total. With an amazingly deep gameplay experience, phenomenal sound, and genre defining graphics, why shouldn't you get this game? There is no reason not to. Why are you still reading this? Go pick up a copy now! Enter the awe-inspiring world of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and be changed forever.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/05
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