‘Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’ Review – It Will Steal Your Soul

100x100bb 26There are some things that you don’t realize you want until you actually have them, and for me this mobile port of Konami’s classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ($2.99) is one of them. This is one of my favorite games of all-time, one that I obsessed over for a couple of years following its release on the PlayStation in 1997. I found every item, uncovered every secret, and squeezed out every last percentage point of map exploration. I’ve replayed it time and again on various platforms and have written numerous pieces about it, with the most recent being less than a month ago.

Through all of this, I never really thought about having it on my iPhone. Why would Konami, a company that has traditionally been hot-and-cold with mobile, do something like that? Even when they were riding high on mobile, they mostly focused on new games rather than ports of classics. And would it even work? Symphony isn’t the most difficult of games, but it still requires quite a few buttons and some measure of dexterity in certain sections. We’ve all lived through Tomb Raider mapped to virtual buttons, and it wasn’t pretty. And how much would they charge for it, anyway? A bargain-bin buck like the aforementioned Tomb Raider, or a sassy twenty along the lines of Square Enix’s PlayStation RPG ports?

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Well, here we are. Seemingly thanks to the third season of Netflix’s Castlevania animated series, Konami dropped a mobile port of the PSP/PS4 version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on us for the absurdly low price of three United States dollars. The porting duties were apparently handled by Dotemu, and while there are nits that I can (and will) pick, the game has come out of the process better than I would have expected. Better still, the very concept of having this game on my mobile device is something I am very much down with after spending the last few days playing through the whole thing. They say the best camera is the one you have with you. Perhaps the same could be said of all things.

I suspect most people reading this will be familiar with the game and just want the details on the port, so we’ll cover those right away. As mentioned, this version is based on the PSP/PS4 version. It keeps the newer English script and voice acting, which you may or may not be happy about. It has all of the extra content added to that version, including a playable Maria. You can now play as Richter or Maria right from the start by entering their names in the file entry screen, which is nice for those who just want to get right to those characters without going through Alucard’s quest. The menus have been redone and generally work quite well, and a continue option has been added that doesn’t work as reliably as one might hope.

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The game runs like a dream, and it sounds amazing. Symphony has a great soundtrack, so I’m glad Konami and Dotemu didn’t skimp on the quality. The touch controls use an assortment of virtual buttons and are largely tolerable, if not ideal. The directional pad didn’t give me too much of a hassle outside of trying to chain gravity boot jumps, but it can be a bit fussy. The jump button is big and comfortable to hit, but action buttons are a bit small and hard to hit at times. You can’t move the virtual buttons around or adjust them in any way, which is frankly odd to see from an experienced mobile developer in 2020. While I’m picking that flavor of bone, there’s also no iCloud support, something that really should be a no-brainer.

The game does support controllers, so if you have one and don’t mind a wee bit of input lag, that’s definitely the way to go. And if you are playing with the virtual buttons, the developer has implemented a concession in the form of extra buttons for insta-casting Alucard’s magic spells. You only need to perform each one correctly once. After that, it will be added to your magic button menu and can be used with a single tap. Yes, you can use this to break the game in some interesting new ways. Have fun, speed-runners! There’s also a button for Alucard’s transformations, but that can get a bit sticky when you need to swap between forms in tight quarters, so be careful. Minor nitpicks aside, however, this is an excellent port that works a lot better (even with the virtual controls) than I would have guessed. Three bucks? Absurd.

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For those not familiar with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, let me briefly talk about it. This is a metroidvania game, and indeed is the game that is responsible for the ‘-vania’ part of that particular portmanteau. It shifted the script on the straightforward action that the Castlevania series had largely been known for, adopting a Metroid-like open world and system of progression. You play as Alucard, the son of Dracula, who arrives to investigate the titular castle after it suddenly reappears unscheduled. You’ll have to explore the castle, earn new abilities and equipment, battle massive bosses, and sniff out plenty of secrets if you want to see the adventure through to its true conclusion.

Alucard is considerably more agile than most of the Belmonts that had taken point in the series up until this point. He’s a very responsive and comfortable character to control. Combined with an experience-based leveling system, a wide assortment of useful gear and power-ups, and an overall lower level of difficulty, this makes Symphony of the Night one of the more accessible entries in the series. There are a couple of bosses with some teeth, and some of the lengthier sections between save points can be a bit dangerous if you’re careless, but there are about a thousand ways to break this game and you really only need one. The new continue feature helps mitigate the difficulty of some of those lengthier travels, allowing you to pick up from the last room you entered. Just be careful, as it doesn’t seem to stick if you close out the app completely. Use the save coffins if you’re going to be away for a while.

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The castle itself is a lot of fun to explore, with quite a bit of variety and personality built into it. There are little details that serve no purpose except to make the setting feel more immersive, and the game isn’t afraid to make stupid jokes here and there to let you know that you shouldn’t take things too seriously. The delivery of the story is dead serious, however, and even if the newer English script has cleaned things up it still comes off as being quite cheesy. Part of the charm, I assure you. And charm is a big part of this game’s quality. There have been Castlevania games with better-designed gameplay systems and maps. Some with better stories, and more interesting extras. But there’s just something about Symphony of the Night that gives it that extra edge and keeps it in place as the peak of this particular brand of Castlevania for so many.

While there are some improvements that can be made here, particularly with regards to features like iCloud support and control placement options, it’s really hard to think of many compelling reasons why a person shouldn’t buy Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for their mobile device. It’s three measly dollars for a solid port of one of the finest games of all-time, one that even allows you to use a controller if you really can’t get on with the manageable virtual buttons. I really hope this isn’t just a one-off for Konami as I’d love to see more of the Castlevania games or the company’s PlayStation library make the jump, but we all know how this usually goes. For now, let’s just enjoy what we’ve got here: a wonderful pile of secrets.

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