“Castlevania” is one of the original NES games; and as such, since the series is still going to this day, it’s one of the oldest series of video games. As one can believe, there have been both good entries and bad entries—the bad being the likes of the N64 “Castlevania”, the first 3D endeavor in the series. After the N64 version—and it’s ill-advised sequel—failed, Konami went back to the 2D roots of the series on the PlayStation, and make “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”.
And this became one of the greatest games ever made.
I bought the game several years ago, and every source I spoke with told me I wouldn’t find it for less than $50—and then I found it in a Gamestop for about $25. And it was worth every dollar.
The game tells the story of Dracula, reawakened by the dark lord Shaft. Richter Belmont banishes Dracula back to the underworld in the prologue. The story then jumps ahead several years, to Alucard (Dracula’s cleverly named son) racing to Dracula’s castle: he sees it rising up out of the fog, signaling the return of Dracula. Inside the castle he begins to piece together a mystery involving Belmont, his sister, and his father.
The game’s visuals seem simple, but as with every element of the game, the apparent simplicity masks an amazing amount of depth. Though the graphics are two-dimensional, they carry a three-dimensional quality, where flat objects seem to spin through space, light will race across the screen and create lens flares, and other nifty effects push the PlayStation to its maximum. The characters move fluidly, and only once or twice did I experience any lag or slow-down in the framerate. By today’s standards, this is a game that uses its unique visuals to still impress, much like a filmmaker may shoot a film in black-and-white for.
The story is also simple. At first it’s a simple hack-and-slash to unlock rooms in the castle and get to the highest point, where you confront your “final boss”. But as you go, the more of the map you unlock, the more story you uncover, and the more enemies you face (and, with its RPG elements of leveling-up, the stronger you get). The depth increases, and the complexity increases as well. As then one of the greatest moments in games is when you reach the “end” of the game—you face the “final boss”, and if you’ve played the entire map, it is revealed you’ve only completed half the game: the next map is the castle flipped around, with even tougher enemies and more to unlock, and a final battle with Dracula.
The game’s replay value is also amazingly high. It is fun just to barge through rooms and smash through enemies, while some you will need to develop a strategy for. It’s enjoyable to see what you’ve missed, figuring out how to unlock further rooms, and what you gain by doing so (there’s new items in almost every nook and cranny).
In the end, while the game is rare to find and possibly expensive, it is a game that will be worth every penny. I can guarantee, you will play it again and again, and enjoy every single second of it. A masterpiece, in other words.