The greatness of Symphony of the Night may be timeless.
In Symphony of the Night you play as Alucard, the half-human, half-vampire son of Count Dracula who steps up to destroy his father's castle when, for some strange reason, no member of the Belmont clan ventures forth to do it. As you explore the castle, you'll level up, becoming more and more powerful as you fight on, and you'll find all kinds of nifty armor, weapons and other items. Of course, these are very common conventions, and the fundamental gameplay of Symphony will be instantly familiar for anyone who has ever played a 2D side-scrolling adventure game, but the way all the various elements are handled here is just about perfect. There's something immensely satisfying about the rate at which you level up, encountering increasingly more powerful enemies as you progress into new areas of the castle, but also enjoying the ability to decimate foes who gave you a hard time early on. And the different weapons and other items you find have a very noticeable effect on the gameplay, so discovering better and better stuff in your explorations is consistently exciting. And exploring is exactly what you'll be doing. A large part of the fun in Symphony is searching the castle for entrances to new areas. It's not always clear where you're supposed to go next, which makes finding that next unexplored section all the more satisfying. The castle is vast and has tons of little hidden areas and other surprises. And just about every step of the way is patrolled by all manner of skeletons, zombies, demons and other nasty creepy things. Some of the enemies date back to the first Castlevania, while many of them were original creations for this game, and they're all interesting and memorable. Some of the bosses are still particularly impressive thanks to their sheer size and the creativity of their designs. There's just something amazing about fighting a tentacled monster that's covered in a shell of corpses, y'know? If a game has you spending all your time exploring a castle, the castle had damn well better be an interesting place, and this castle is one of the great locations in video game history. While the game may not be that impressive to look at today from a technical standpoint, there's no denying the amazing degree of ingenuity and art direction that went into designing all the castle's numerous, diverse sections. As impressive as the game is in this regard, the sound is even better. The score has creepy atmospheric pieces, lush orchestral numbers, and dreamlike melodies that are among some of the best music ever composed for a game. There are also some electric guitar bits that seem pretty cheesy by today's standards, though even these are oddly fitting considering that, with his gothic outfit and flowing locks, Alucard would look right at home in an awful rock band. And speaking of cheesy, well, the voice acting in this game pretty much takes the cake in that department, but whether you can't stand it or get an ironic sort of enjoyment out of it, there isn't enough of it to effect the game's overall quality. Symphony of the Night is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 800 points, or ten bucks. That's a pretty astounding value. The fundamental excellence of the gameplay, level design, art direction and music that made Symphony of the Night so good when it first came out never go out of style, and the fun this game offers hasn't diminished one bit. This is still one of the very best games ever made.