Today is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. We can finally start looking at the greyed-over skies in anticipation of nature's warm revival. That's nice, but the start of the growing season still isn't as important as today's other noteworthy event: The 20th anniversary of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Originally released in Japan on March 20, 1997 (North America received the infamous translation in October of the same year), Symphony of the Night is one of my all-time favorite games, and I know I'm not alone. Former USgamer Editor-in-Chief and eternal friend of the site Jeremy Parish based his very first Design in Action series of game analyses around Koji Igarashi's 2D masterpiece. It proved to be an excellent choice.
The Castlevania series already parodies vampire hunters, and it does so without turning the tint knob right down to "grimdark."
I wrote down my own reasons for loving Symphony of the Night three years ago, back when I was still a humble USG freelancer and you all didn't have to deal with me five days a week. As I note in my write-up, Symphony of the Night was the first major purchase I performed after securing my first part-time job, along with two South Park T-shirts. I found one of those shirts, by the way. It's at the bottom of my closet. The cats like to sleep on it.
If you haven't yet read Jeremy's Design in Action articles for Symphony of the Night, it's well worth your while to do so. It comes in four parts:
The first part of the deconstruction, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the Story of the Ultimate Sequel, deeply analyzes how Symphony of the Night successfully defied game conventions at the time. 3D polygon-based games were the new hotness in the mid- to- late-'90s, and Symphony of the Night is a 2D sprite-based platformer. Sony of America was particularly hostile towards 2D games, which may be why Symphony of the Night's North American box art looks like the kind of clip art normally reserved for nameless bargain bin games.
Jeremy also uses his first installment of Design in Action to discuss Symphony of the Night's roots in Castelvania III and the PC Engine's Rondo of Blood.
Symphony of the Night and the Metroidvania Lie challenges everything you thought you knew about Symphony of the Night's inspirations. When Igarashi and his team put the game together, they weren't thinking about Metroid; they were thinking about The Legend of Zelda. The adventure-heavy Castlevania II: Simon's Quest probably played a part in Symphony of the Night's core build, too. After all, that's another game that sometimes requires you to backtrack in order to get ahead. If you don't show the boatman Dracula's nasty, pulsating heart, you're not going to be able to finish the game, right?
In Symphony of the Night's Sublime Structure, Jeremy examines how Symphony of the Night masterfully uses Castlevania tropes to guide the player. For example, Castlevania fans can count on tackling a clocktower stage at the end of most games (excepting Castlevania III, where the dedicated clocktower stage is A) optional, and B) at the start of the game), but if you try to enter Symphony of the Night's clocktower area before you're properly equipped, you're going to have a bad time. It's the game's way of telling you to go through the castle more slowly and carefully, and it's just one example of how Igarashi "talks" to players throughout the adventure.
In the final part of Design in Action for Symphony of the Night, Building a Masterpiece, One Detail at a Time, Jeremy wraps things up by giving some of the game's finer details a good scouring-over, particularly the opening "Bloodlines" stage with Richter Belmont and Dracula. Richter has access to a wide array of weapons and skills for his showdown with the Count, but why? It's not as if the confrontation is hard; in fact, it's impossible to lose. Is there a reason to take Richter's fight with Dracula seriously? You bet.
Happy anniversary, Symphony of the Night. You're one of a kind, and thinking back on your brilliance makes us flush with anticipation for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
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