This article goes into heavy spoiler territory for the game. If you haven’t experienced it yet, I highly, highly recommend you do so before continuing!
I honestly didn’t know how to begin writing this article. I couldn’t find the words to express how I feel. I just knew I had to tell people about this incredible game that I’m not even remotely finished with yet.
That game is: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
On March 20th 1997, Akumajo Dracula X: Gekka no Yasoukyoku was unleashed, better known round these parts by its western name: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SOTN). It remains a historic landmark of gaming: tight controls, a never-ending castle to explore, secrets galore and a humongous twist for those that seek out everything the castle has to offer (more on that in part two of the article).
Back in 1997, I was only seven years old and living in the UK. I often spent time at my friend’s house, playing on his original PlayStation. He had two games that we loved playing together: The Lost World: Jurassic Park, a 2D side scroller where you shoot dinosaurs and Speed Freaks, which is a bit like Mario Kart meets Bratz. While these games were excellent in their own right, the main reason for my visits was to play his copy of SOTN. We would stay up late into the early hours of the morning, passing the controller back and forth between each other whenever we died. Together we explored the inner workings of Konami’s masterpiece. My most vivid memory was being able to transform into a bat; it was so cool to me back in 1997 that you could change into a small creature and have the freedom to fly wherever you wished. Nowadays, countless games have similar mechanics. However in 1997, this level of exploration wasn’t as common (I feel like a proper old man now).
Fast forward to 2018 and I’m still playing SOTN (among other games), streaming for 24 hours to raise money to buy BBC Micro:bit computers for local schools. I felt that instant dopamine rush again (even with sleep deprivation) as I headed back into the castle’s depths. Regrettably however, after the marathon was over, I accidentally deleted my save file – fortunately, that just granted me the opportunity to revisit the castle all over again.
Now, in 2019, I’ve started to explore my passion by writing articles about the magic of videogames. If there was ever one game that I really wanted to play and write about, it’s undoubtedly Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
What follows are my personal coolest moments from the game…
Cool moment 1: You defeat Dracula at the very beginning of the game
What? You face the final boss – from the previous game in the series, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood – at the start of the game? It totally took me by surprise in 1997 to fight Dracula – the main antagonist of the series – at the very beginning of the game!
Cool moment 2: Dracula’s, “What is a man..?” speech
What more can I say about the initial conversation between Richter and Dracula that hasn’t been said a thousand times already? It has transcended from cult status reference material into full-on pop culture. It sends tingles down my spine every time I listen to it. Pure poetry.
Cool moment 3: Alucard charges into the castle and hops over the drawbridge, instantly killing all enemies in his way
This was awesome, giving the player a real sense of power while cementing the fact that Alucard is a badass. Alucard was a mere supporting character in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, perhaps motivating the developers to re-introduce the character in style.
Cool moment 4: Death swipes all of your stuff, the jerk
Totally taking me by surprise and juxtaposed with the previous beginning of the game where you’re super powerful, Death comes in and totally flips that on its head. This was not the first time a game had flipped the balance of power for the player so early on in the game. 1989’s Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap for the Master System has the player cursed and transformed into a lizard-man shortly after defeating the first boss. SOTN certainly pays homage to Wonder Boy in this regard by making Alucard weaker after the initial opening to the game.
Showing the player very clearly their potential power level so early on, is an excellent driver for them to play through the game and level back up to their original all-powerful state. Another example would be the intro to Sonic the Hedgehog 3, where Sonic reverts from Super Sonic to his normal form after bumping into Knuckles. It demonstrates to the player how powerful they can potentially become and provides the player with a purpose of collecting the Chaos Emeralds throughout the game.
Cool moment 5: I can’t believe how weak I am for the first quarter of the game
Dying multiple times on the first boss fight (versus Gaibon and Slogra) doesn’t fill you with confidence for beating the rest of the game. This did however really make me a lot more careful. Reacting to the steep learning curve, I took the time to read and think about their attack patterns before lunging in with strikes. I can’t even count the amount of times I died to weaker enemies like the Skelerang or Spellbook … a floating book for goodness’ sake!
Cool moment 6: Escaping the mineshaft without first finding the Leap Stone, an item that grants the ability to double-jump
Deciding to explore the lower levels of the castle first before checking out the ramparts and upper areas wasn’t one of my smartest moments. After finding Cerberus (just casually chilling in the lower levels, an apt location for the ‘Hound of Hades’) and defeating him, I was determined to venture deeper down into the Abandoned Mine and Catacombs to see what I could find.
Next I bumped into Granfaloon (a boss composed of multiple sacrificed human beings; taking multiple attempts to take down) and realised I couldn’t travel to the left any more. Electing to search the right side of the Catacombs, a pitch black tunnel came upon me and on entering it caused insane amounts of damage. With no other way to progress, I had to attempt to make it back up the mineshaft. The issue was, with multiple pieces of the staircase missing, making the jumps without the double-jump ability was impossible – something that frustrated me a great deal.
Numerous attempts later, I had an epiphany. When being hit by enemies, Alucard is knocked backwards, gaining a small amount of additional height depending on where he is hit. Armed with that knowledge, I set about baiting the Salem Witches inside the shaft into the right place and then freezing them with the Stopwatch sub-weapon. By being knocked backwards in the correct direction when jumping on the Witches’ heads, I gained the additional height required to climb the broken staircase out of the mineshaft to freedom. I escaped! I did it! I was elated!
Cool moment 7: Cerberus’ head shoots like a Gatling gun
I can’t tell if this is cool, absolutely hilarious or both. Cerberus, the iconic three-headed dog, uses his heads like a Gatling gun. It is brilliant. The sound effects are the cherry on the cake.
Cool moment 8: Nearly being killed whilst sitting in the confession chair in the Royal Chapel
Opting to take a break from adventuring, I decided to sit in a comfy chair in the confessional area of the Royal Chapel. An old ghostly figure of a priest came towards me and sat on the other side. He looked peaceful, as if contemplating something. Suddenly, multiple spikes erupted from his chest, almost impaling me! I managed to jump out of the way, just in time. Not exactly priestly behaviour in my opinion.
Cool moment 9: Acquiring the Soul of Bat Relic from the Library
Further delving of the Library uncovered a multitude of hidden passageways. Going down these with some trepidation, I fought some Flea Armor enemies and came across the Soul of Bat Relic! I could finally transform into a bat and go wherever I wished! This game-changing item instantly opened up many more secret areas throughout the castle.
Cool moment 10: Making it through the Catacombs’ pitch-black tunnel to the Spike Breaker Armour
Next, I picked up the Echo of Bat Relic (… or bat echolocation. As an aside, I love the translations in this game) and made my way through the hitherto inaccessible tunnel. I pressed a switch and the lights came on to reveal the object that had previously done so much damage to me: spikes (I thought it was some giant monster/boss). Progressing down the path led me to the Spike Breaker Armour with a simple description: “Destroys spikes upon contact.” It made exiting the tunnel a lot easier and again granted access to previously inaccessible parts of the castle.
Cool moment 11: Fighting Olrox
Entering a Skelerang-filled tunnel from the Marble Gallery area, led to Olrox’s Quarters. Traversing the crumpled bridge inside the quarters coerces you into a tunnel only accessible using the Bat Relic. Once past that barrier, you enter a large chamber and the music fades out. Seasoned gamers will know that a boss fight is imminent. Steeling myself, I jumped into the chamber and noticed an individual in a beautiful set of purple armour. This was Olrox, a magic-wielding vampire who rules the upper part of Dracula’s castle. Appearances can be deceptive, as suddenly a magical wave of light erupted from Olrox’s hand and the fight was on. Using my Estoc sword (a type of sword designed for penetrating plate armour), I cut down Olrox swiftly without too much trouble. Abruptly the fight took a turn for the worse as he metamorphosed into a hideous green lizard-looking creature, shooting out explosive light rays and fireballs from his mouth. Once I overcame this new threat, I obtained the special Life Max Up item and carried on.
Cool moment 12: Meeting the Librarian for the first time
Another humorous moment, the Librarian is found, just chilling in his seat for all eternity. For what possible reasons could he be there? Could he secretly be Dracula? I will never know. What I do know is that he has some of the best voice acting to be found in videogame history (in this writer’s humble opinion). A simply priceless encounter that brought tears of joy to my eyes.
Cool moment 13: The final bout with the lord of the castle – Richter Belmont (or so you think)…
After obtaining the Bat Relic, I knew I could get past the collapsed staircase leading up to the Castle Keep. As I entered the room, the music again fades, signalling the entrance of a boss. But who do I find sitting on the throne? None other than Richter Belmont himself, the protagonist of Akumaj? Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, or Castlevania: Rondo of Blood as we know it in the West. Following some exposition from Richter about wishing to resurrect Dracula and keep the fight going for an eternity, we proceed to duel it out.
Okay. Confession time: I died quite a few times on this boss fight – too many times considering how levelled I was. Richter has a variety of tools in his arsenal, including his trusty Vampire Killer whip (which is consumed by fire during the second phase of the fight), sub-weapons (including the devastating AOE Holy Water ability), slide attacks, jumping and more. This was certainly a challenging boss battle.
Thank you very much for reading all of my coolest moments (so far) from my playthrough of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
While this game has its fair share of flaws – the inability to attack in all directions, clunky save/load mechanics and so on – it contains some of the best moments I have experienced in gaming.
The castle feels like a second home to me and I am deeply familiar with its inner workings. The slow introduction of newly accessible areas, granted by gaining new abilities, keeps the game fresh and exciting. The design of the castle is an intricate interwoven puzzle: it feels like a castle that someone could live in as opposed to a stark design where doors and rooms are placed haphazardly without regard for reason or logic.
The game lends itself to multiple replays, being so full of diverse weapons, enemies, interesting bosses and secrets to explore. It is a game clearly crafted with love and it shows in spades. I can certainly imagine myself playing this game again and again in the future.
I wholeheartedly believe Castlevania: Symphony of the Night stands the test of time nearly 22 years on from its initial release, which is testament to the design and craftsmanship that the team at Konami put into this game.
In part two of my coolest moments, I will dive further into the castle to attempt to flip it upside down – castles do that all the time, right?
Until then, keep destroying those lanterns my fellow vampires!