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How to kill vampires and influence people.
Our ''How Can I Play It?'series lays out the best options for legitimately and legally playing the classic games we cover here at Retronauts, ideally on current platforms.
Yep, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night debuted in America 20 years ago. After I posted yesterday's piece about some of my experiences and memories of the game, several people asked for recommendations on how to play it on current systems. So, I've put together a list not only of the various ways you can play Symphony, but also its direct predecessor (predecessors?): Rondo of Blood and Dracula X. We live in dark times, but it's not all bad when these classics are so easy to come by for a reasonable price.
Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Retroarch Castlevania Symphony Of The Night Sky
The 'lost' Castlevania. This version of the game took nearly 15 years to make its way to the U.S. Konami published it exclusively on the PC Engine CD-ROM^2, the Japanese equivalent of the Turbo CD. Since Konami never localized a single one of its PC Engine games for the west, it languished in Japan.
PC Engine CD-ROM^2
These days, the original import game disc will run you $150 on the low end, and the hardware that supports it sell for $300-500, easy. If you want the premium classic experience, it'll cost ya.
PSP/Vita/PlayStation TV: The Dracula X Chronicles
A far more economic option exists in the form of The Dracula X Chronicles, a PSP remake of Rondo of Blood that adds 2.5D graphics, new secrets, new bosses, and new story events. In addition to the new version, the original Rondo appears here as an unlockable item. The emulation on the unlockable isn't the best in the world, but for the price it's hard to complain. The Dracula X Chronicles's physical UMD version works on PSP only, while the digital version also runs on Vita. Finally, you can supposedly run this version on PlayStation TV by working around Sony's built-in restrictions.
Wii: Virtual Console
The best price and best-quality reproduction of Rondo can be found on Wii, though. For a measly 900 Wii points — that's nine bucks — you can own a great recreation of the game. It also works in Wii U's backward compatibility mode. The downside? This version of Rondowill no longer be available for purchase after January 2019. Caveat: Due to Nintendo's requirement that Virtual Console titles remain unadulterated from their original releases, this version contains Japanese text only.
Castlevania: Dracula X
Since Konami didn't muck around with localizing PC Engine games, America saw this take on Dracula X instead. Not quite a sequel, not quite a remake — it was called 'Dracula XX' in Japan — this Super NES game contains many of the elements seen in Rondo but completely rearranges them. It also drops things like the alternate stage routes, hidden endings, and voice-acted anime cut scenes. On the other hand, it's ludicrously difficult. So that's… something?
A bare cartridge of Dracula X costs nearly as much as Rondo of Blood now. The collector's bubble is stupid. Don't pay $150 for this game. Especially when…
Wii U: Virtual Console
…you can get it on Wii U. Although this release was something of a disappointment when it showed up in 2014 (pretty much everyone saw the press release and thought it was about Rondo of Blood), given the high cost of the original game it's nice to be able to pick up a digital release for eight bucks.
New 3DS/New 2DS: Virtual Console
The 3DS Virtual Console also offers the Super NES Dracula X rather than Rondo. I'd recommend the Wii U version if you want the ability to play on a television, whereas this version is more portable and offers a slightly richer set of emulation features. (Both cost the same: $7.99.) As with all Super NES Virtual Console titles, these only work on New 3DS and New 2DS.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Unlike the Super NES game, this is definitely a sequel to Rondo of Blood. (Just ignore the fact that the U.S. prologue text tries to pawn it off as a sequel to Bloodlines for Genesis, which was set about 100 years after this game.) It's an all-time gaming classic, rich in detail and nearly as influential on metroidvania game design as Super Metroid. You need to own it.
Surprise, the PlayStation original has become hilariously expensive, regularly selling for $100 or more. You might be able to find a discount on the Greatest Hits reissue, since some people are real weenies about that green 'Greatest Hits' band Sony put on the cover of its budget reissues. If you're going to spend a ton of cash on this, though, I recommend the import version. Sure, you'll need to be able to play and read Japanese to appreciate it, but the Japanese release included a bonus soundtrack CD and a book full of original artwork and manga by illustrator Ayami Kojima.
For novelty, consider hunting down a copy of the Japan-only Saturn remake of Symphony. It has a lot of issues, but it also contains some cool extras: Two new areas (including a completed version of the area the developers had intended to put beneath the first screen of the castle, which terminated in a dead-end shaft on PlayStation), new music, and a bonus mode to allow you to take on the castle with Maria Renard's combination of kung-fu and summoned monsters.
Xbox 360/Xbox One
Backbone Entertainment put together a digital-only remake of Symphony of Xbox 360, including Achievements. Not only that, but the 360 version later showed up on the Konami Classics Vol. 1 retail disc. Both versions of the game play on Xbox One under backward compatibility mode. It's not a perfect remake, but it's the only way to play Symphony on a current-generation console.
PSP/PS3/Vita/PlayStation TV: PS1 Classics
Retroarch Castlevania Symphony Of The Nights
Probably the best remake of the game, Konami released the PS1 version of Symphony of the Night as a PlayStation classics title for PlayStation 3 and PSP. While it won't run on PlayStation 4, it does work on Vita and PlayStation TV. (Which I guess arguably counts as a current-generation console, if you want to be all 'well, actually' about it.) Sony's PS1 Classics emulation is top-notch, so this is a nearly perfect way to revisit the game. Highly recommended — and it's cheap, too!
PSP/Vita/PlayStation TV: The Dracula X Chronicles
Finally, Symphony also appeared as an unlockable in The Dracula X Chronicles. The emulation on this version is good, but it's not quite on par with the PS1 Classics version. On the other hand, this version of Symphony includes a new English localization that lacks the schlocky awfulness of the original release (though it sounds incredibly stilted, which might be as bad). It also lets you play as Maria, though strangely her play mechanics are completely different than in the Saturn version.
Images courtesy of VG Museum
Retronauts Episode 375: Phantasy Star
Konami’s Symphony Of The Night is widely regarded as one of the greatest Castlevania games of all time. It helped coined the term “Metroidvania” and has been ported to numerous systems, including Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP. In a rare interview, we were able to speak to creator IGA to find out how the incredible PlayStation game came to be.
Regular readers of Retro Gamer may have noticed that we harbour something of a soft spot for Konami’s splendid gothic adventure Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night. We gleefully leap on any excuse to mention it and will happily print screenshots at the slightest provocation, only Capcom’s Strider features more prominently. In our defence, the blood-sucking platform romp remains one of the most truly essential pieces of 32-bit software and has justifiably attained near-legendary status within the already classic-filled Castlevania canon. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the game, Konami is poised to unleash it for download via Xbox 360’s Live Arcade service. Realising that, for once, we had a perfectly legitimate reason to waffle on about the game, we tracked down the man behind the magic – series producer Koji ‘IGA’ Igarashi – and mercilessly grilled him on the development of what many deem to be the crowning glory of a highly esteemed franchise.
The opening scene recalls one of the battles from a previous
Castlevania game, Rondo Of Blood.
IGA is now responsible for the welfare of Castlevania lineage and has recently overseen the production of two excellent Nintendo DS episodes in the shape of Dawn Of Sorrow and Portrait Of Ruin. He joined Konami in the early-Nineties and worked on a variety of titles before becoming part of the Castlevania team prior to the development of Symphony Of The Night. The game represented a significant turning point for the series. With the exception of the free-roaming Simon’s Quest on the NES, over a decade’s worth of instalments had displayed an unwavering commitment to the fairly straightforward ‘platform action’ template, which saw the player utilising the legendary ‘Vampire Killer’ whip to send all manner of nocturnal beasties packing. Contrary to popular belief, IGA was not employed as primary director on the project – that honour fell to Toru Hagihara, who was also responsible for the excellent Dracula X: Rondo Of Blood on NEC’s PC Engine Super CD-ROM system (which incidentally is the direct prequel to Symphony Of The Night). However, IGA served as assistant director as well as participating in the writing of the scenario and general programming, so it could be argued that he had the most telling influence over proceedings.
It was apparent from the outset that Konami wished to steer the franchise in a fresh, new direction. “Action games could be cleared in a short time, but I wished to create a game that could be enjoyed for a much longer period,” explains IGA. Taking inspiration from Nintendo’s SNES classic Super Metroid, the team decided to shy away from the stage-by-stage concept of previous titles and cultivate a totally open, free-roaming castle for the player to explore. Hardy adventurers were initially denied access to every portion of Vlad’s sprawling, demonic fortress from the outset, but thanks to a finely tuned drip feed of abilities – ranging from the humble double-jump to unique shape-shifting enchantments – they would gradually gain entry to more sections of the ageing citadel as progression was made. For example, at various points in the castle the way forward would be barred by iron grilles. To continue, the player had to collect a relic that would permit them to alter their appearance to that of a fine mist, therefore allowing them to pass effortlessly through the obstacle. Another area – a tunnel covered in deadly spikes – could only be traversed when in ‘bat’ form. These puzzles were not particularly demanding but they resulted in a game that rewarded exploration and proved to be a supremely involving and enjoyable experience, while thankfully retaining the classic hack-and-slash action that aficionados of the series held so dear.
Alucard gains acess to some very powerful items as the game continues.
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Another major innovation was the introduction of role-playing mechanics. This particular evolution was borne out of the common perception that the series was something of a tough nut in terms of challenge, as IGA explains: “I wanted to change the impression that Castlevania was this difficult-to-access action game. When we decided to adopt RPG elements, we agreed that users should receive something good when beating enemies. So I thought of adding Experience Points to the game.” For the first time in the series, players could enhance their chances of victory by levelling up and augmenting their character with a vast array of powerful weapons, armour and spells. The concept of earning experience for every enemy successfully slain also prevented the inevitable back-tracking from becoming too arduous, and in many ways made the game more accessible for less skilled gamers. “I thought that even the users who were not good at playing this type of action game would be able to clear Symphony Of The Night if I adopted this particular system,” continues IGA.
Some fans would later complain that the developer was slightly too successful in this regard and actually made the game too easy, and when compared to the stubborn, almost sadistic challenge represented by previous titles (NES Castlevania, we’re looking at you), they had a point. Regardless of this, Symphony still possessed many hours of playtime within the dank, crumbling walls of Dracula’s stronghold. The map screen was massive to begin with, but if certain parameters were met the player could teleport to a second castle – an inverted, upside down version of the first – and continue the valiant quest. This effectively doubled the size of the game and the ‘proper’ ending – one of several – could only be accessed when this second castle was beaten. The introduction of a multitude of useful items, including healing potions, food and one-shot weaponry imbued Symphony with a depth unlike anything else experienced in such a title. The urge to collect every trinket, explore the attack possibilities of every weapon, and cover every inch of the evil stronghold proved irresistible for many.
The 2D graphics are superb, bringing the gothic castle to life. What a shame many weren’t keen at the time as it wasn’t 3D.
Not content with shaking things up gameplay wise, IGA also turned a few heads when it came to selecting the lead character for the game. Traditionally, the vampire-hunting Belmont clan took centre stage in Castlevania titles but Symphony saw the player controlling the half-vampire, half-human offspring of Dracula himself, Alucard. “I decided to choose a character that had a special link to the previous Castlevania titles,” comments IGA. Alucard (Dracula spelt backwards) had appeared as a secondary character in the brilliant NES game Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – which IGA cites as his favourite entry in the entire series – where he fought alongside the heroic Trevor Belmont to prevent his patriarch’s murderous revival. After sealing this important victory he made the decision to place himself in indefinite hibernation to prevent his cursed bloodline from causing humanity any further mischief. Resurrecting the ‘Tragic Prince’ for Symphony proved an inspired move, but IGA reveals that, at the time, he was concerned that such a sweeping change would anger the fans. “Personally, I liked Alucard very much and it was totally fine with me, but I presumed that those who had been fans for a long time would be angry with our decision since it was the first time the series ever had a non-whip-using character as a hero.” In hindsight, he needn’t have worried – the fans took to the new lead like a duck to water. “The Japanese title was Akumajo Dracula X. I used ‘X’ to show that it would be apart from the main stream of the series, but surprisingly, it has now become the mainstream,” he comments with a degree of satisfaction. Alucard is now regarded as one of the most popular characters in the Castlevania universe and IGA is well aware of the contribution he made to the ultimate triumph of Symphony. “Alucard was just a really cool hero, and that is why I think Symphony Of The Night has been received so favourably by the fans.” Nevertheless, in order to appease those few stubborn traditionalists that might have been offended by a vampire taking centre stage, IGA thoughtfully included the option to play as Richter Belmont, albeit as an unlockable extra.
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Regardless of the changes being made elsewhere, one aspect of the game retained the brilliance of former titles: the epic boss encounters. In keeping with the grand vision IGA and his team strived to attain, Symphony was packed to bursting point with some of the most creative and visually stunning 2D bosses ever witnessed. Many of these fiendish creations were able to trace their roots right back to the NES instalments of the series – the towering Galamoth previously appeared in the disarmingly cute Castlevania spin-off Kid Dracula, and hardcore fans should have no trouble remembering which other games Medusa, Werewolf and Frankenstein’s Monster have cropped up in before. “My favourite is definitely Beelzebub,” replies IGA when pressed about which boss he rates highest. Indeed, this particular enemy proved to be one of the most memorable in the entire game, taking the form of a gigantic, rotting corpse suspended on rusty meat hooks. Victory could only be gained by hacking away at his putrid, decomposing limbs while avoiding the unwelcome attention of several massive mutated flies. When you consider the limited RAM of Sony’s 32-bit console and the poor reputation it had for hosting 2D titles, it makes IGA’s achievements all the more impressive.
You need to use Alucard’s different forms to navigate certain
sections of the game.
The Castlevania franchise has always had a reputation for high-quality musical accompaniment and Symphony is no exception. Indeed, Many consider Michiru Yamane’s work to be the finest ever heard in the series. With this in mind, did IGA ever feel that the expectation of aural excellence imposed limitations on his development? “The music direction has never led the creation of the game,” he states. “I have always asked Michiru to compose music in accordance with the actual game and never the other way around. She always co-ordinated with the development team and composed music from the image of the stages.” When asked which tune was his favourite, IGA playfully admits that he’s slightly biased: “My favourite is Castle Dracula which starts to play when Alucard enters the castle for the very first time. I was impressed with the way the music starts to play once Alucard enters the dark castle, and then suddenly the castle gets bright and zombies start to appear. It might be because that particular part of the game was programmed by myself.”
Yamane’s soundtrack was a fusion of rock, jazz and classical styles that appeared hopelessly mismatched on paper but worked surprisingly well in practice. Standout tracks included Strange Bloodlines, which played over Richter’s battle with Dracula in the prelude; Wood Carving Partita, a string-based composition that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a Hollywood period piece; and Requiem For The Gods, a largely vocal track which accompanied the Church section of the castle. The musical package was rounded off rather neatly by Rika Muranaka’s heart-wrenching I am the Wind, which plays over the end credits. It was sung by American Cynthia Harrell, who also performed vocal duties on the infamously camp title theme of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack CD remains popular with fans a decade after it was published.
The map to Symphony Of The Night is huge, but it’s actually a lot bigger
than you might think…
The introduction of Ayami Kojima’s sumptuous artwork was the icing on an already tantalisingly gorgeous cake. Again, a desire to establish a new vision for the series was the main reason behind her involvement as IGA explains: “The world of the vampire that I have in my mind is beautiful and fleeting with blood and darkness. The series had a visual image featuring hostility, but I tried to change the image since the game concept itself was going to change,” he continues. Kojima’s mature and astonishingly detailed art elevated the game to a whole new level of brilliance, and for once the series was granted a cohesive image that has endured ever since. Her combination of Japanese sensibility with classical painting methods resulted in some of the most breathtakingly stunning artwork ever attributed to a videogame release and it’s testament to her truly wonderful talent that when a new Castlevania title is announced you can bet that one of the first questions to flash across internet forums worldwide is ‘Has Kojima done the artwork?’ Just check out our front cover if you need further proof of her incredible skill.
With this amalgamation of fantastic gameplay, stupefying depth, gorgeous design and a downright brilliant musical score, it’s unsurprising that Symphony went on to sell thousands in Japan where it was released as Akumajo Dracula X: Gekka no Yasoukyoku (Demon Castle Dracula X: Nocturne In The Moonlight). Huge sales and heaps of critical acclaim were also prevalent when the game debuted in the US but it perplexingly failed to replicate this success in Europe. Reports vary but it is believed that the initial print run for the PAL version was around the 15,000 mark and many of these copies had to be heavily discounted by disappointed stores before they eventually sold. It’s been argued that lukewarm reviews in the UK press – several magazines dismissed it as a 16-bit game on 32-bit hardware – contributed to the dour performance at retail, but whatever the cause, Konami knew it had a turkey on its hands and consequently didn’t produce any more PAL copies. Meanwhile, in Japan and the US the game was reprinted several times in order to satisfy demand and was eventually granted best-seller status in both territories. The low number of PAL units, coupled with the fact that most came with highly desirable limited-edition items (see Bonus Stage) has recently caused prices to soar – it’s not unusual for mint and complete Euro editions to fetch three figures on eBay, while the NTSC versions struggle to scrape £10. Regardless of which version you eventually plump for, you’ll still end up with one of the greatest Castlevania games of all time.
You can read the rest of our Making Of Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night in issue 36. Buy it now from GreatDigitalMags.com
Retro Gamer magazine and bookazines are available in print from Imagineshop
Tags: 90s, alucard, castlevania, dracula, iga, konami, PlayStation, symphony of the night