Hello, my name is Josh, and I’ve never played Symphony of the Night.
I’m not sure if that’s an admission I should be ashamed of or not. There’s a commonly agreed-on set of games most people believe one has to have played in order to be considered a “gamer.” Super Mario Bros 3, A Link to the Past, Metal Gear Solid, and so on. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a game often listed amongst those…and I just never got around to playing it.
However, I’ve long been a fan of the Castlevania handheld games. The trilogy of titles released for the DS were some of my favorite games through high school and college, especially Dawn of Sorrow, my first real introduction to the series. I went back and played some of the GBA releases afterward as well. Beyond those, though, I never really had the chance to play much of the series.
When a chance came along to finally force my hand into playing a game considered an all-time classic, I knew it was an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up. It’s taken me over twenty years to do it, but now I can finally say I’ve played the game…as well as its prequel, as the game we’re looking at today is a two-pack, including Castlevania: Rondo of Blood as well.
Developed and published by Konami, Castlevania Requiem was released on October 26th, 2018, exclusively for the PS4.
As mentioned, Requiem contains two games that form one linked story. The first, Rondo of Blood, follows Richter Belmont, who comes to Dracula’s castle after one of Dracula’s henchmen kidnaps his lover Annette. Symphony of the Night takes place four years later, with Dracula’s castle reappearing and Richter going missing. Dracula’s son, Alucard, takes it upon himself to destroy the castle once again.
Both games are relatively light on plot, Rondo of Blood especially so. Rondo‘s story is completely told in a few cutscenes, of which you’ll only get to see two or three unless you go out of your way to perform specific tasks in the game. Symphony‘s, on the other hand, takes place in dialogue boxes that happen when you walk into certain parts of the castle.
While Symphony does have a somewhat more fleshed out plot than Rondo, neither are particularly remarkable. Both have the same base idea of “save someone and kill Dracula” without ever doing much to expand on it. Characterization is rather basic as well, with the featured characters in both games being rather one-note and not receiving any notable development.
Two Sides of a Coin
While the plot is disappointing, let’s be fair – the Castlevania series has never been much known for its stories. The real meat here is the gameplay, and Requiem provides great examples of the two major styles of Castlevania gameplay.
Rondo of Blood is the feature for the classic style of the series. Here, you’re given a number of levels back-to-back to complete, with traditional action platforming gameplay and a rather brutal difficulty level. Honestly, it’s been a long time since a game has had me screaming at my television, and I’m thankful I didn’t end up bothering my neighbors this game’s later stages.
Rondo demands mastery of its controls, and often requires multiple playthroughs of each stage so that you can learn and adapt to the challenges presented. Aside from one or two short segments in later levels, there was rarely a challenge that felt impossible or overly-punishing. What really kept me going through the game was the rush of pure joy I’d get seeing a plan finally come together to get me through a stage alive.
While the game does have a traditional stage setup, there are some portions that reward experimentation and exploration. Each stage has a secret path that you can find, leading to alternate stages and boss fights. These often require purposely falling down random pits, and I never found one organically during my playthrough. You can also find and rescue multiple people throughout the game (including Richter’s lover Annette). Many of these require finding keys hidden in random candlesticks, and I wound up missing all of these in my playthrough as well. Being that rescuing these characters unlocks portions of the game’s story, it’s frustrating that doing so is treated more as a secret bonus than as a core part of the game.
Symphony of the Night is Requiem‘s representation of the more modern “Metroidvania” style of Castlevania games, and also the game that led to the creation of the “Metroidvania” genre name. As I mentioned, this was my first time playing Symphony, but this exploration-focused gameplay is the style I’m much more familiar with in the franchise.
I don’t think I really need to explain how such a classic game plays, but as a quick rundown: rather than individual stages, Symphony has you exploring one massive map, with certain areas blocked off until you gain skills or perform tasks in other parts of the map. The game also introduces some RPG elements, such as leveling up stats and having a full equipment system. Jump in, explore the castle, and find Dracula, that’s the task here.
I waited until I beat Rondo to load up this and was blown away at how much easier Symphony felt in comparison. Enemies don’t hit as hard, I had access to food and potions to heal up whenever I wanted, I had the option to grind a bit if things ever got too difficult (although I never did)…Symphony wound up being a much less tense experience overall.
Having put so much time into the DS Castlevania games, I felt right at home jumping into Symphony. The only frustrations I had with the game were the loss of some quality-of-life adjustments the later games had. Symphony never holds your hand; after the game’s opening, you’re let loose to explore Dracula’s castle as you see fit. I did become lost a few times, having no idea what I was supposed to do next, leading to me running around the map checking various locked doors and paths to see if any of them would open for me with the skillset I had acquired.
My biggest complaint was that there was never any real notice that a room I was about to walk in to would contain a boss. The DS titles all have boss rooms marked with special doors. Rondo, right here on this collection, signaled a boss was coming by having you walk through an empty room full of candlesticks with a specific track playing in the background. Here in Symphony, I’d just be exploring and all-of-a-sudden wind up forced to fight a boss. There were a few times I lost a chunk of progress as, when presented a room with two exits, I wound up wandering into a boss room instead of what would often turn out to be a save room. The only time I was able to predict a boss encounter was when a room I walked through had the same layout and similar design to a pre-boss room from Rondo.
Simple is Best
Both games included in Requiem are straight ports of previous versions. From a bit of research, it looks like Rondo of Blood is a port of the original PC Engine release with English dialogue and voiceovers, while Symphony of the Night appears to be taken from the PSP game Dracula X Chronicles. While the game does offer HD upscaling and some other rendering enhancements, each of the games are essentially the same as their original counterparts.
I want to give special note to the soundtracks of of these games, as they are both remarkable. Rondo of Blood has an impressive amount of depth, especially for being a 16-bit title, with particular mention to the track for stage seven which has been stuck in my head for days (although this may be due to the fact I had to replay this stage at least ten times to beat it). Symphony has a beautiful gothic orchestration running through its entire soundtrack with occasional distorted guitars, perfectly complementing the atmosphere of the game.
Both before and after Requiem‘s release, I’ve seen a lot of criticism that this collection doesn’t do anything special outside of providing PS4 players access to these games. Many have referenced the recent Mega Man collections from Capcom and the collections of artwork and extra modes they contain. Personally, I could care less about these extras that I have no use for (I’ve been playing Mega Man X Legacy Collection on Switch and have yet to even glance at these extras, nor do I have the desire to).
While I can see some fans being upset at not having these little extras, they don’t affect the actual games included in the slightest, so I can’t see a reason to dock any points for their absence.
A Beautiful Etude
Overall, while the collection may be bare-bones in terms of extras, Castlevania Requiem offers up solid ports of two excellent games, representing the two halves of the franchise’s history. Having had no experience with either game prior to this, finally getting them into my hands on my console of choice was a no-brainer.
While those who have played both games extensively in the past may lament the lack of anything new here, just the fact that you can have both of these games available on the current console generation for $20 at the time of writing seems worth it to me.
Each of the games does have their own flaws, but they mostly arise from being older games seen through the eyes of someone much more used to modern titles. With this in mind, it was easy to overlook them and have a great time playing through them, despite occasionally scaring my cat when I yelled after dying for the 100th time in Rondo of Blood.
Also I can finally say that I’ve played Symphony of the Night, which is nice. Now I should probably get around to Super Mario 64.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Konami for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.