Given enough time everyone who pursues gaming as a hobby builds up a sort of shame list, a collection of games that are of interest but have gone unplayed for various reasons. We call this list a backlog, and the following details the elimination of another title from mine:
While I'm no stranger to the aptly-named Metroidvania subgenre, I must admit that I'd never played a game in the Castlevania series before I set out to try Symphony of the Night. Selected mainly for its reputation as one of the standouts of both its series and its genre, I thought this the best possibility to get off on the right foot with a franchise I had no experience with.
Thankfully, this worked out perfectly. My predominant impression throughout SOTN was one of self-admonishment over taking this long to give it a try. As a proponent of using gaming hardware's perpetually growing information storage capabilities to increase level of content instead of focusing on visuals, this game was practically a godsend. Characters are rendered as sprites (though beautifully detailed) in an effort to stretch the PS1's storage space to capacity with large environments to explore and nearly 150 unique types of enemies to fight, showcased by several highly-detailed bosses with individually-crafted arenas and strategies that put all the skills you've honed in the rooms prior to the test.
If you're like me, it's the ever-present sense of exploration that lets this game really sink its hooks into you and keeps beckoning you forward. From the moment at the beginning when no less than Death himself robs you of your endgame equipment, you're on a journey to not only find and defeat the master of the castle but to regain the overwhelming power the game allowed you to hold for a fleeting moment. What's more, this slow crawl back to your former glory may result in a realization that you prefer another of the game's many weapon types (ranging from two-handed swords to tonfas and fist weapons) to the classic sword and shield it starts you with. The level to which the game allows you to find and fall into your own, personalized groove is one I don't believe I've ever experienced in a platformer, yet at the same time I'm fairly certain it was a feature I wanted without consciously realizing it.
Beyond even the sheer depth of equipment, familiars, health and mana upgrades, numerous secrets, and vast amounts of virtual ground to cover, though, one of the things that sticks with me the most about SOTN is the absolutely hammy voice acting. Granted, this is nothing unusual for games released in the PS1's vulnerable youth ("Jill sandwich" anyone?), but as a big fan of bad cinema I grew a special appreciation for the brand of overacting prevalent in this title. Whether it's Dracula devouring the scenery with every line, your familiars' loud and sudden proclamations, or even Alucard's own sentai-inspired attack-calling, prepare for an unexpected chuckle or two.
Short of a little tedious backtracking I find it extremely difficult to come up with bad things to say about Symphony of the Night. It managed to hit that hard-to-reach spot of challenging both reflex and puzzle-solving acumen while scratching gaming itches I didn't even know I had. This game is known as a modern classic for a good reason, and now that I've seen it through to completion I can confidently place it in the upper echelons of my all-time favorite games.
...all 200.6% of it.