Oh nostalgia, how you twist opinions.
Of course, given the subject of what I generally write about, naturally there's quite a lot of nostalgia blur going on. God, look at articles for Contra III and pretty much any Genesis game. Sheesh. What the fuck is with me and old games.
Granted, today's example isn't very old, all things considered, but enough so that it could be called 'Retro'. (and whaddya know! That's the only qualifier for this column.) Back when 32-bits was a big deal, the Venerable Sony Playstation, bearer of such classics as Bubsy 3D, the rising trend was to make games that could languish in wonderful 3D. Konami, ever willing to buck the trend, released their latest Castlevania effort in standard good ol' 2D. (What, you want me to talk about Castlevania 64? Fuck no.) This proved a great idea, since early programmers on the Playstation had yet to truly crack the secret to making amazing 3D games yet, but 2D was extremely familiar territory. So, armed with the superior hardware of the Playstation, Konami went with the classic approach, but zazzed it up amazingly.
I recall a nostalgic moment of playing Symphony in my parents basement when I was a young'un. Perhaps of about 12 or so... Having no allowance, it was quite a big deal to me when I had managed to accumulate a few dollars. So, I decided to spend it carefully. With it, I rented Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I liked castles, and I had adored the hell out of Castlevania IV. So, next my parents went to town, they let me rent it. I took it home, and hooo boy, that weekend was amazing.
So, to that impressionable youth, living with his parents in a lonely farm out in the middle of Canada, I became enamored with this amazing piece of work. The sprites, the music, the backgrounds, the... Story? The environment, the exploration, the gameplay... It was all the pinacle of what a platformer should be to me. There were none better in my mind then. The characters felt personal to me, and their voices were quite distinctive.
Too distinctive, truth be told. Many years down the line, I purchased Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. Not only was it a great game, but it was also a great bundle. Hidden within the game was the original Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine that previously had been released only in Japan, but it also featured Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I was ready to let my nostalgia romp around unchecked while playing this, and I could even do it on the bus-ride to work!
....Except something just wasn't quite right.
The game itself was nigh-perfectly emulated. Everything moved and looked the same. So what was different?
Ah yes, the voices... Someone at Konami thought it was a good idea to redub the game with better voice actors. This... was always kinda awkward for me. For one, the old voice acting was just oh-so-close to me, and I never fail to crack a smile when I hear some of those old quotes. For two, some of them just didn't fit the tone that the character demanded all that well. At least, they didn't to me. And for three......
Well, let me detail this properly with a new paragraph. I'll be the first to admit that the original voice acting for Symphony of the Night was lack-luster. Really, the only one of them that managed to convey a good range of emotion was Alucard's voice actor. The others.......... Not so much. But!! They were often hilairious. Unintentionally so, I imagine. It's like watching a poorly overacted B-movie in action. It's far from anything stellar, but god if you're not enjoying yourself. Now compare that to the new dubbing, and... Well, the new dubbing is technically better. It's just forgettable as hell, personally.
This was never brought to light to me until compareitively recently. Well, a bit prior to Dracula X Chronicles coming out. I thought I'd show the fun of the classic Symphony of the Night intro to a friend that wasn't familiar with it. He laughed at it, citing it as overacted like hell. I'd thought it was great, and so I went on the defensive.
Still, in retrospect, I must concede that he had a point. To someone without having the rose-hued tint of thick nostalgia glasses, this is indeed a silly intro scene. But... It's just so glorious in its own right that it's strange that Konami thought to redub it. Why? Even when Dracula X Chronicles first came out, the game had reached astronomical levels of meme-tasticness. (can't believe I just said that...)
What I kinda don't like is that that's the most famous part of the game. Why doesn't the Internet at large know about Symphony of the Night's amazing attention to detail? Or the smooth-as-silk gameplay? Or the music- Okay, the music is pretty dang popular, for good reason. Still; I've yet to see a platformer of any pedigree with a protagonist that moves as fluidly and gracefully as Alucard does in this game. His every jump, crouch, sword slash and even when he's hit by something he still has this smooth movement going on. It feels great to play.
Shame later Castlevania games, as they desperately tried to mimic Symphony of the Night's success, didn't successfully copy that. Or, heck, the amount of details packed into the game. Granted, that one is harder to do with weaker hardware, and that just takes time to do. Symphony of the Night has so many useless details and easter eggs that it's rather insane.
Prime example. There's a room in Symphony of the Night that has a confessional booth. When you enter the room, the music changes to this slow ominous bell chiming song, which immediately snaps your attention to this room being something different. You go sit in the confessional [i](with a different sprite than the usual sitting, too)[/i], and a number of different ghosts will go into the other side of the booth each time you use this. Some outright attack you, doing barely any damage and some will start sobbing to you. Nothing is gained, barely any HP is lost if you don't react in time... It's just an interesting little room that they threw in. This room serves no purpose, and yet I still love that it was included. It was an interesting touch that they threw in, and I love it.
All over the damn game there's touches like that. Useless little things that really keep your interest up. There's nary a repeated background in sight. Half the fun of the game is noticing them. And sometimes, when you come back to that spot later in the game, it's a little bit different. The castle isn't a static and unchanging one; many things change depending on the time difference from when you last were in that area. It's facinating to note all these things and see how they change as the game goes on.
And then seeing it all again... Upside down! One thing Symphony of the Night does amazingly is secrets. There's so many damn things hidden and packed away in this game it's insane. To a 12 year old that heard from someone on how to get to the Inverted Castle, tried it, and actually succeeds in doing so, GOD DAMN it felt awesome. This was almost a treasure hunt, there were so many secrets to be had.
But what's the fun in me talking about the secrets when you could be finding them yourself. Go try this game! It can be bought on X-Box Live Arcade, found hidden within the game Dracula X Chronicles, OR the original PSX version can be bought off Sony Playstation Network for a pittance.
Well! I've been wanting to do that one for a bit. See, it's August, the month of my birthday.
And you know what?
I'm gonna do what I want.
So get ready for CASTLEVANIA MONTH! Yaaaaay!
I'll be covering, well, Symphony of the Night, and the three Castlevania's for the Gameboy Advance. Plenty of people talk of the older Castlevania's, so there's not much I can say about them that hasn't been said already. Symphony of the Night is oft-conversed, and rightly so, but it's still such a personal game that I still had to say something about it. I also hear quite a bit about the newer Castlevania's on the DS, but I never hear much tell of the Gameboy Advance ones... Plus, there's more to say about those games, since they were still post-Symphony of the Night but on a platform that wasn't powerful enough to render full-sized copy-pasting of Symphony sprites. So! I'll be putting my two Canadian cents in on those.
(Conversion fees apply)