May 9, 2012

(Embarrassing) Backlog - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Most gamers tend to have some serious backlogs of games they haven't gotten to yet, and some of the games within can be quite embarrassing to admit to. In the first of many for me, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those games.

To be honest, I never really wanted to play it. I always found the original Castlevania for NES fun, but generally speaking, the Metroid-vania genre has never appealed to me. I consider that a decent enough excuse to have skipped out on the PS1 classic, but times and interests change, so here I am today firing the game up for the first time.

I downloaded Castlevania: SotN on the Xbox Live Arcade over two years ago out of pure boredom, mostly to see what the fuss was about. I played the demo and decided it was good enough to drop $5 on, mostly because I knew I would eventually come back to it. I'm revisiting it tonight after those two years, once again out of boredom, but hey, any reason is a good reason... right?

The short answer to my question is: Yes.

What in the world does this have to do with Castlevania?

This is going to sound like an awkward and far-fetched comparison, but if it wasn't for Fez, I wouldn't be playing Castlevania: SotN right now. Fez reminded me of the things I miss in gaming - primarily exploration. Sure, newer games feature various levels of exploration, but most of it seems forced and repetitive, disregarding any sense of wonder or joy of finding something new. Fez didn't have this problem. Instead it made you want to keep finding new things, regardless of if you got lost along the way. This is where the main comparison arises for me.

The reason I'm enjoying this Castlevania so much is because it too is bringing up that feeling of constantly wanting to find something or somewhere I haven't seen yet. Every area I enter encourages me to go different ways, all of which have something different to encounter and overcome. I love having to make mental notes of doors I can't enter and places I can't reach, knowing I'll be back once I have the right ability or item to help get me there. The only thing I noticed is that I'm not really sure if I'm loving Castlevania: SotN this much, or if I'm really enjoying what old-school games bring to the table that newer games don't (but that's an argument for another day).

Beyond the exploration, I'm really enjoying the light RPG elements included. Considering the last Castlevania game I played included only a whip as a weapon, I love having different options to choose from, especially the ability to dual wield different swords, daggers, and shields. Increasing other stats by finding items around the castle is also satisfying, as is using the different special attacks. The option to buy new weapons, armor, and spells is great too.

If they have no heads how are they... nevermind.

The action is intense, with the boss fights being one of my favorite parts of the game so far. They are challenging and rewarding, never feeling too cheap, but hard enough that there's a sense of accomplishment when you succeed. The only thing that I wish was better implemented at this point would be using spells while in combat. It's kind of weird to put in directional inputs when you're being bombarded from both sides, which makes them feel underpowered and almost useless, because I've barely touched them the entire time I've been playing. It's a minimal complaint, though - I'm not much of a magic user in any game.

I'm also not blown away by the music. However, I love the track below.

Considering I'm not too far into the game, I don't want to go into too much detail and nitpick every little thing. It's nice to sit back and enjoy a game, without having to be overly critical or analytical in the process. I'll post a second part to this the next time I play, chronicling the next part of my playthrough of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

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