Note: This article contains minor spoilers for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
“What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.
These words, spoken by Dracula Vlad Țepeș during the opening exchange with Richter Belmont in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, have become completely synonymous with the Castlevania franchise. Referenced and parodied by several other games over the past 25 years, perhaps most recently by Drinkbox Studio’s Guacamelee! 2 – this is a phrase that has been mocked and revered in equal measure. However, despite how iconic such a simple phrase has become, it pales in comparison to the impact and legacy that Symphony of the Night itself left on the game.
Take Time: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the greatest “Metroidvania” ever created. Yes, this includes Hollow Knight, Metroid Dread, and Dead Cells. It’s even leagues ahead of Super Metroid – sorrybut it’s the truth. [Hmm, we’ll discuss this on Monday – Ed.]
Released in 1997 for PlayStation and directed by Toru Hagihara, it serves as a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (although you might not have known it at the time, as Rondo of Blood was a Japanese exclusive for a good 15 years or so), opening where Rondo of Blood ended with Richter Belmont’s final confrontation with Dracula. Reviewers at the time called it “spectacular” (Next Generation Magazine) and “hands down one of the best games ever released” (GameSpot).
We’ve seen so many tributes over the years, but Symphony of the Night stands above them all.
Shortly after the introductory sequence with Richter, you are thrust into the shoes of the game’s main protagonist, Alucard, and it is here that Symphony of the Night sets itself apart from previous Castlevania entries in dramatic style, putting aside the linear levels for a sprawling, interconnected castle with many sections and countless secrets. Although we’ve seen a plethora of exceptional Metroidvania games since its release, Symphony of the Night remains the most sublime example of the genre; a perfect blend of exploration and combat that has yet to be beaten even by its own successors.
Watching Symphony of the Night today, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an authentic, yet altogether more modern take on a “retro” 2D platformer. We’ve seen so many tributes in recent years – good and bad – yet, at 25 years old, Symphony of the Night stands head and shoulders above them all. The beautifully detailed environments; the deadly but fascinating enemies and bosses; the way Alucard’s movement briefly leaves behind a trail of energy. It all comes together to produce one of the most breathtaking video games of all time, a classic example of the continued validity of 2D gaming in the age of photorealistic 3D sandboxes.
Dracula’s castle itself remains a wonder of game design and is key to Symphony of the Night’s status as a true pioneer of the genre. It is a beautifully intricate maze that amazes at every corner. But it’s when you get to the middle of the game that you really start to appreciate its ingenuity; just when you think you’ve beaten the game, Symphony of the Night pulls off one of the greatest tricks in video game history by literally flipping the castle on its head.
As you navigate the “Inverted Castle”, the amount of effort required to create it begins to affect you; not only did it have to function as a fully explorable environment with interconnected segments, but every room, every hallway, and every spire had to too work backwards. It’s an incredible feat in game design.
So what does it give, Konami? When are you going to bring such a masterpiece to the Switch?
As it stands, Symphony of the Night is playable on PlayStation 4/5 and Xbox One/S/X via Castlevania Requiem and the Xbox Live Arcade release respectively. You can also play it on PS3, PSP and PS Vita via the “PSOne Classic” re-release and even on Android and iOS thanks to a recent port of the Dracula X Chronicles version. Just be aware that some versions of the game contain reworked dialogue and voice acting, which is arguably inferior to the original.
So if you want to play Symphony of the Night (and just in case it’s not clear, we really recommend it), many options are already available to you. But we would say that – like many, many games – it might be better suitable for Switch. 2D pixel art looks great on Switch (especially if you have that beautiful OLED screen) and, coupled with the console’s namesake ability to switch between TV and handheld modes, we think Symphony of the Night would find considerable success on Nintendo’s platform with new audiences. At 25, a whole generation of gamers will have missed out on this classic, and there is no more practical system for playing it.
Konami isn’t exactly a stranger to the console either: it’s already released two extensive Castlevania collections in the past few years with Castlevania Anniversary Collection and Castlevania Advance Collection, the latter wouldn’t even exist without the success of Symphony of the Night. . Indeed, aside from the glaring omission of the wonderful DS games Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia (we’d love those too, please!), you could say that Symphony of the Night is the last missing piece to Konami’s Castlevania 2D era. It’s also, without a doubt, the most influential game in the entire franchise and one of the most important games released in the past 30 years.
So if anyone at Konami is reading this… You know what to do.
“But enough talking… It’s up to you!”