One of my favorite game series back on retro consoles is Castlevania. From the first game, with its pulse-pounding soundtrack and lethargic whip action to Super Castlevania IV on the SNES, I adored the tone and fun of these hunted house games. Things seemed to go off the rails with the N64 game, but the PlayStation brought it back in style for the surprisingly amazing 1997 game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Poorly translated and pretentious as all get out, SOTN was nevertheless an astounding action-RPG. This time around, players jumped into the shoes of Dracula’s son who had to explore his dad’s castle and put an end to evil, etc. While the game started players out with high stats and powerful equipment, after the first boss battle we were all knocked back to a weakened state with minimal gear and had to scrounge and explore and grind to get good again.
I’m not lying when I said that this game came out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone was anticipating it when it arrived in the US, but I happened to pick it up and then spent dozens of gleeful hours jumping around this castle, experimenting with different weapons, and digging the amazing soundtrack (which is highly worth checking out even today). The RPG elements in the gear and level added a nice additional layer of complexity past the platforming elements, as did the fact that when you beat the game… the castle flipped over and you had to navigate an upside-down realm. Take that, Stranger Things.
There were pets. There were magic attacks. There were meme quotes and shapeshifting. There were boomerang razer discs that became my go-to weapon. There were also atrocious loading times that happened at every single death, which was highly unfortunate. There were even multiple endings.
While it was still Castlevania, it felt like more, you know? I got far more playtime out of this game than other titles in the franchise and fed that inner yearning to explore. I also appreciated that the series went back to lush 2-D sprites instead of the muddled, ugly 3-D graphics that consoles of the late 1990s were spitting out. It made the game more attractive and timeless.
Was it perfect? No, but it looked and sounded so top-notch that I was willing to forgive it for its sometimes flawed level design and haphazard creature placing. Thinking about this game right now makes me want to play it — and unless I go the ROM route, I have no easy way of making that happen.