Thursday, October 6, 2011

Because Joe Said So #1: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

My longtime friend Mike got married a few weeks ago, and in between taking notes for my own wedding plans and trying not to accidently offend anyone by screaming the word “anus” during the ceremony, I had a chance to reconnect with another friend of mine, Joe Tasker. Joe’s a respectable guy, so when he scolded me for ignoring this blog, it stuck with me. Well, not like the end of All Dogs Go to Heaven stuck with me, but you know what I mean.

Then it dawned on me: Why not let Joe tell me what to write every once in a while so this blog doesn’t get too dusty? It just so happens that he had mentioned to me that he’d like to see a review one of his favorite games, so let’s talk about Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – because Joe said so.

Meet Alucard, Count Dracula’s renegade, half-vampire, half-poor actor son, who was apparently named by the same people who thought that it was cool that Nilbog is Goblin spelled backwards. Alucard helped out the whip-crackin’ NES hero Trevor Belmont in 1990, a year Konami seems to think took place in the 1400s. Anyway, after sending the D-man to his eerie 8-bit grave for the 4,000th time, Alucard took a big long nap. Everything was cool until Richter Belmont, Trevor’s acrobatic, fashion conscious relative – who hundreds of years after Trevor still hadn’t figured out how to attack in more than two directions – got himself abducted by Dracula, who had once again been given flesh by a bunch of miserable piles of secrets who were paying him tribute.

Alucard, sensing his father’s asshattery, wakes up with a new, much more homosexual wardrobe and shockingly white prettyboy hair. (Because sleeping makes you gay. Take note, homophobes!) He heads to the newly resurrected demon castle Dracula to save Richter, bang a hot, enigmatic 17-year-old chick named Maria and quell his father’s newest uprising by punching hundreds of mermen in the dick.

Symphony of the Night is one of the greatest, but also one of the easiest Castlevania titles. Once you get the hang of the “Metroidvania” style platforming and find yourself a few decent weapons, smacking Dracula’s pale white hiney and the assorted hineys of his demon apprentices just isn’t that difficult for a seasoned player. However, hasty players can miss the entire second half of the game if they’re not careful, reducing Symphony to a title you finish while waiting for your girlfriend to get out of the damn bathroom already, damn it.

Symphony’s real entertainment value lies in exploring as much of the map as possible and collecting as many cool nick-nacks as Alucard can fit in his seemingly endless pockets. For example, there’s new armor, hit point increasing items, and pair of boots that “discretely increase the wearer’s height.” These boots actually do make Alucard a few pixels taller, which makes it harder to time jumps and often leads to Alucard’s dementedly comical death. But the fact that Konami added things like those accursed boots just shows their dedication to, uh, screwing gamers who try to the play the game as intended.

You know what? Maybe that’s a bad example.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came out in 1997 and over the last almost 15 years, I’ve completed the game almost 10 times. Despite several useless items and a maddeningly convoluted system of using food items, Symphony of the Night is one of the greatest examples of a well-crafted, highly entertaining interactive experience. When a video game has the power to covert non-players to members of the PlayStation-toting masses, it’s got to be something special. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is more than just a game – it’s a joy.

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