Can't I suck just a little bit of blood?
The night calls to you. Its song slides effortlessly through your veins. Your power is great, but your need is greater. The darkness provides the melody, but it is warm human blood that sings. You must resist. You have promised yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of nasty monsters around on which to vent your frustration.
Welcome to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the first 32 bit chapter in the growing Castlevania saga. This time, you don't play as Richter with his trusty whip (at least not for most of the game). Instead, you are Alucard, (Yes, we know, that's Dracula spelled backwards) the half breed son of Count Dracula and a human woman.
Like all the Castlevania games, it is a combination platform game and RPG. You leap around Dracula's castle fighting monsters, just like Mario with a sword. However, you also have 4 character statistics, hit points, magic points, and dozens of different usable items, relics, armor and weapons. It feels like the NES game Metroid, where you have a very large map, which you can explore in any sequence. You will get much more powerful over time, and certain powerups will allow you to access places you couldn't get to before.
The graphics are good, which proves that sprites still have their charm. Both Alucard and the monsters are well animated. Alucard's animations even change a bit when he uses different weapons and armor. There are lots of different creatures inhabiting the castle. Some definitely look better than others, as if they were made by a completely different set of artists. The best among them are some of the smoothest sprites I have ever seen. Another nice touch is that they all die differently. Instead of everything vanishing in an identical puff of sparks (like most games), each monster dies creatively. They may explode, implode, or run around on fire.
The music is a bit of a mixed bag, as the tracks change for each area of the castle. Some of it is great and fits the game perfectly, like the harpsichord music in the Library, but some is awful, like the hard rock guitar you hear on the ramparts.
The voice acting, on the other hand, is not mixed at all. It is some of the worst I have ever heard. It sounds like they just used any old employees who were hanging around the office, and then recorded them in the men's room. The long opening of the game (which you can't skip), will cause you to cringe when you hear the stupid voices of Richter and Dracula.
Speaking of which, the opening allows you to briefly play as Richter, as you destroy Dracula in the final battle of the last Castlevania game. It adds a nice feeling of continuity to the game, which takes place 400 years later. Richter was never seen again, and the castle is back because the dark wizard Shaft (He's one baaad muthuf... Shut your mouth!) is trying to resurrect the evil Count. The plot is pretty lame, and Richter's sister-in-law, Maria, is also wandering around the castle for no discernible reason.
One note to those of you who get this game. You can defeat Richter and beat the game and see the credits, but don't do it (or at least go back to your save after you do). Explore more. You have actually only seen half of the game. There is an entire upside-down castle in the sky you haven't even seen. Count Dracula should be your final enemy.
My favorite part of the game, however, are the bosses. They are (mostly) creative and well done. Two in particular were the most disgusting and evil I have ever seen. One was this sort of floating mass of writhing naked bodies, another was a huge rotting corpse being defended by the flies and maggots that infest it. Gross! I applaud the designers.
Like the original, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a great combination of action and RPG. I found the game to be a bit too easy and little too short. The upside down castle, while disconcerting, was just a mirror of the first castle. Although it is much harder and has different creatures, I would have liked a whole different castle (or perhaps a third). However, it's tremendous fun and very addicting, despite the uninteresting plot and the bad acting. I only wish it were larger because I enjoyed it so much.