Words About Video Games

41 Games: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

It's campy as all get out. And the reverse castle doesn't work all that well from a level design perspective, losing as it does the key Metroidvania element of venturing into unknown territory and struggling to survive until you find the next power-up.

But here's the thing: the reverse castle is still a hell of a secret to hide behind a hidden ending. And how that ending is achieved is just right: requiring the player to pay attention to the story (such as it is) and the items she finds and draw the right conclusions. Rarely do games trust players to solve a mystery. Rarely do hidden endings amount to this much payoff.

Though nowhere near as difficult as Soulsborne (but in some ways less forgiving), it's easy to play this game and see its mark on those newer games. It expects you to observe your surroundings and every odd item you pick up or find. Much the way Yharnam does, Dracula's castle feels at once like a real place and entirely strange. As it should: being one part real castle and one part extension of Dracula's malevolent will.

And you get a similar thrill in the game's early stages, of having to choose between pushing deeper into hostile territory in hopes of reaching a new power-up or save-point, or turning back in order to preserve hard-earned experience points and levels.

And yes, there are experience points here, and gear to equip, and special magical attacks, and secret moves, and weapons with variable attack speeds and radii--all of which amounts to a Metroidvania game that is part RPG, where your choices of what to equip and what to bring into a given encounter matter.

Super Metroid may have defined the genre, but Symphony of the Night stands in a class of its own--a gothic masterpiece of game design and worldbuilding.