Sunday, October 19, 2008

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Xbox360 - XBLA)

1997; Konami

"Metroidvania" might be the first faux-genre for videogames to receive. Music has plenty of obscure, nonsense genres (like "neofolk") and film has a numerous amount ("new wave"). Its really a nuisance but its a nuisance that portrays a vein attempt to pigeonhole originality--originality being a prerequisite. There is certainly no prerequisite for Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night. Many games have borrowed elements from Super Metroid, but Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the only game to act as a true spiritual successor (until the many handheld Castlevania sequels of the 00s). Even Metroid Fusion, the most literal sequel that Super Metroid ever got, pales in comparison. SotN was always destined to appeal to the niche crowd that hungered for more of that archaic 2D game design. Conversely, if you put it in most people's hands it suddenly becomes a game that anyone can become hopelessly addicted to.
SotN is a classic case of the stellar sequel that no one thought they wanted. Despite massive critical acclaim, I was one of the many PSX owners that overlooked the game due to its graphics and attachment to the Castlevania series. Like many, I was spoiled by Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid and was too stubborn to go back to 2D platforming. I was completely right--SotN is a subpar PSX game when you hold it to the standards of the system: cinematic presentation, impressive 3D graphics, and progressive storytelling in video games. Instead, SotN is a near flawless SNES game that came a generation late but had all the time to correct its mistakes because of it. Rather than being stuck with dated, ugly textures and a low polygon count, we have a great looking 2D game that recalls the previous generation's best.

The game tries to continue the Castlevania story by paying tribute to its mythos and building future nonsense, but the only good that comes from it are unintentional laughs. At least, the dialogue is brief and laughable instead of just plain boring. Despite a beyond bad story, SotN is a very strong game aesthetically. Yamane's score is one of the best of its time, filled with cryptic baroque, acid jazz, and some imaginative takes on old themes. The soundtrack combined with the each area of the castle's design, helps add variety and personality to the game world. The gameplay will suck you in, so it's all the better that you have great audio and visual candy to feast on for the next 8 hours.
While I hinted at SotN upstaging Super Metroid, its really in the details rather than in grand strokes. Like in Metroid, you are waiting for that next power-up but you also have all sorts of things to get excited over on the way to that. Leveling up, finding new familiars (little demons that help you fight), and buying new spells/weapons helps flesh out the moments that lay before your next destination. Even though SotN fixes some of Super Metroid's areas of fault, the game sadly lays victim to many of the same problems (that only the Metroid Prime series would fix, ironically). After the first third of the game, you have explored the better part of the castle and are left to guess where to go next. You'll recall a hole in the ceiling you can now double jump up to but find it only leads to some sort of bonus (oh great, sushi!) You'll often find yourself lost and frustrated, with no sort of hint system or logic leading you to the next location. Even with a FAQ, the game is confusing and misleading. It's enough to make me give up on the game, the first time through in 2006. Despite SotN falling victim to some bad design, minor issues that make major problems, the core game is near flawless and ageless in its fun factor. Even with its issues, there is no game like SotN. You have to congratulate Konami for making a game that had everything against it, in 1997, and have it hold up so well more than a decade later.

1 comment:

Andrew Kenyon said...

Didn't know you still updated this.