Tag Archives: Castlevania

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood/Dracula X – Opposing Bloodlines

In the past, we used the Prelude track from Castlevania III to highlight the differences in audio and sound chips between the Famicom and the Nintendo Entertainment System. This year, we will take a look at another song from the Castlevania series that made its debut in two very different versions of a particular title.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released on the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System in Japan in October of 1993.  This game was a massive upgrade from previous entries in the series; featuring anime-style cutscenes, hidden and branching level pathways, multiple endings, and an unlockable second character.  In addition to the changes in gameplay, Rondo of Blood was the first Castlevania title to make use of Red Book Audio.  This meant that the game’s soundtrack could feature CD-level sampling along with the PC Engine’s onboard soundchip, leading to higher musical quality in songs like Opposing Bloodlines:

Two years later, Konami would release an alternate version of Rondo of Blood to the Super Nintendo.  Titled Castlevania: Dracula X, this game featured similar graphics and level design to Rondo, but technological differences between the PC Engine and the Super Nintendo led to some drastic changes between the games.  Levels were redesigned, certain pathways were altered, cutscenes were removed, and the unlockable second character became a non-playable character to be rescued.

In addition to the gameplay and design changes in Dracula X, the audio had to be configured to make use of the Super Nintendo’s sound hardware.  Without Red Book Audio for sampling purposes, many songs had to be reworked to exclusively utilize the inherent samples and instrumentation of the Super Nintendo.  This led to new versions of every song on the soundtrack, including the aforementioned Opposing Bloodlines:

While I ultimately enjoy the experience of playing Rondo of Blood over Dracula X, I can still appreciate the music from the Super Nintendo version.  The sharper guitar sounds from Dracula X call to mind countless afternoons spent playing the game as a rental from our local video store; desperately trying to make my way through this particularly difficult game.

Rondo of Blood was re-released once more in 2007 as the Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PlayStation Portable.  This version of the game featured a 2.5D remake of Rondo, along with the original PC Engine version, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on a single disc. Despite porting nearly every other PSP game to a major home console, Konami has let this penultimate version of a Castlevania classic languish on the now defunct handheld.

So as we imagine a world where all versions of Rondo of Blood are freely available for us to enjoy, please have a listen to a final version of Opposing Bloodlines from Dracula X Chronicles:

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GIMMGP Spooky Games Month VI: Big Bag of Treats

Good evening, faithful readers!  We are moments away from the midnight hour that rings in our favorite month of the year.  Over the last several autumns, Laura and I have filled the scary season of October with piles of posts on horror games and their ilk.  This year, we’ve got a grab bag full of tricks and treats for your reading pleasure!

Each week in October, a wide variety of spooky posts will shamble forth from GIMMGP Headquarters to your computers and mobile devices. Mondays will highlight new grisly game music articles, continuing the fiendish experiment from last year. Wednesdays will feature articles from the past; resurrected from the grave and updated for a proper haunting. And on the menu for Saturdays: fresh pairings of ghoulish games and batty brews, cross-posted from my new blog, Digital Draughts!

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As we prepare for the sixth spooky season here at GIMMGP, I am reminded of a tradition from my childhood.  Around this time of year, my family would watch a recorded copy of Disney’s DTV Monster Hits.  This little special combined haunting hit tracks with spooky vintage Disney animation.  Outside of the vignettes of Mickey Mouse hunting ghosts and various evil queens plotting destruction, I have vivid memories of skeletons dancing in the moonlight to rock music.

Despite their creepy cavorting, I found these bony brutes absolutely delightful.  In celebration of these musical monsters, I’ve crafted a list of my favorite video game skeletons for your enjoyment!

Yorick – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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I can’t help but smirk at this poor soul’s predicament.  After fighting all sorts of threatening monsters on my way to vanquish Dracula, it caught me off guard to find a skeleton kicking his own skull along the ground.  Honestly, I wish I could help Yorick reattach his head, but any attempt I made resulted in the immediate destruction of his fragile skull.  Alas.

Papyrus – Undertale

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As my favorite game of 2015, Undertale featured a wealth of lovable characters.  However, there was a certain skeleton that stood bony head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Papyrus is such a lovable goof. Despite his attempts to be a ruthless member of the Royal Guard, Papyrus simply cannot bring himself to subdue and capture the main character. His dopey enthusiasm is infectious throughout Undertale, and his battle theme is super catchy to boot.  Also, Papyrus is the first skeleton to ever take me out on a date, which makes him an extra special boy.

The Sanbone Trio – Gitaroo Man

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Speaking of catchy music, the somewhat obscure rhythm game Gitaroo Man features a fantastic group of skeletons known as the Sanbone Trio.  Armed with devilish maracas made from their own bones, this group of intergalactic warriors challenges the player to a Latin-flavored music battle (appropriately titled, Born to be Bone).  In spite of the challenge presented by these skeletal brothers, I managed to find my rhythm and take them down with relative ease (but not on Master Play, that’s just absurd).

Skeleton Biker – Castlevania 64

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Let’s be frank at the commencement: I did not enjoy Castlevania 64.  It paled in comparison to the two-dimensional versions of the beloved series; featuring poor camera work, frustrating platforming, and half-finished ideas.  However, this bemoaned sequel did feature skeletons riding motorcycles.  So I guess it did contribute a small piece of awesome to the Castlevania series as a whole.

Manuel Calavera – Grim Fandango

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I have written plenty in the past about my love for Grim Fandango and its protagonist, Manny Calavera.  This down-on-his-luck grim reaper sits not only at the top of my favorite video game skeletons list, but also in my favorite game characters of all time.  His bone-dry wit, clever quips, and earnest demeanor make him such an engaging character.  If you haven’t enjoyed Grim Fandango Remastered yet, please take the time to do so.

Dry Bowser – New Super Mario Bros.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of Laura’s preferred skeletal characters on this list.  As Dry Bowser is truly Laura’s favorite video game skeleton, I will let her words speak for this adorable monster:

I inadvertently picked Dry Bowser the first time we played the DLC for Mario Kart 8. What started out as an accident turned out to be a beautiful moment of serendipity. Do you know the feeling of finding a character in a game that truly understands you? Sure, he isn’t particularly fast, but this goes deeper than that. We are soul mates. The way he bullies the other players on the track. The way he breathes fire when excited or angry. How ridiculous he looks riding tiny motorcycles. Truly, we were made for each other.

With October imminent, I ask you faithful readers: who are your favorite video game skeletons? Let us know in the comments!

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Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – Bloody Tears

The time has come, faithful readers of GIMMGP!  That magical day is upon us.  Time to celebrate the spooky holiday of Halloween!

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Over the last 30 days, I have shared some fantastically creepy and impressive video game music.  It has all been leading up to this track.  As Halloween is a time to enjoy delicious treats, today’s song is pure indulgence for me.  Not only is this track from an appropriately spooky game, but it is also my favorite music across the whole of video games.  It is none other than Bloody Tears from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for the NES.

This fantastic song was composed by Kenichi Matsubara, who would go on to write the music for the arcade version of Castlevania, titled Haunted Castle.  In the context of Castlevania II, this rousing theme plays the moment our hero Simon Belmont leaves the safety of a town.  As the first rolling notes of Bloody Tears hit, the player is immediately accosted by reanimated skeletons, bloodthirsty werewolves, and maniacal mermen.  The song is a perfect match for the macabre action encountered in the forests and swamps of this classic game.

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Like so many beloved themes from the NES-era, Bloody Tears became a recurring track in its parent series.  Over the course of the Castlevania lineage, Bloody Tears has been featured in 19 different games.  This song is also considered in the pantheon of excellent NES music, and has been covered in a variety of musical styles, including hard rock, soft jazz, and acapella.

For the final day of our Spooktacular Video Game Music month, I leave you with a showcase of covers and reimaginings of this rousing and spooky track.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – Prelude

Things are often lost in the translation from East to West.  This is certainly true of video games that were ported from the Famicom to the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Usually, it was the story elements and visuals of games that changed the most.  Japanese folklore and phrasing had to be converted for American audiences, along with censoring any sort of religious or potentially frightening content.

There were technological constraints that had to be considered as well.  Unlike its Japanese cousin, the NES could not support most coprocessors that game publishers would use to enhance their titles.  This included external sound chips like Konami’s VRC6.  Co-created by Hidenori Maezawa. this chip added two extra pulse-wave channels and a saw-wave channel to the Famicom’s initial set of five sound channels.  As the sound designer for Castlevania III, Maezawa used the VRC6 chip to create a soundtrack with richer music than many other games on the Famicom.

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Unfortunately, the game’s soundtrack had to be downgraded to comply with the standard five sound channels of the NES.  As a result, songs that sounded like this for American audiences:

Originally sounded like this for Japanese audiences:

With the extra channels of the VRC6, Maezawa and his team of composers were able to synthesize a more complex sound.  The original version of Prelude has a stronger reverb than its American counterpart, along with fuller string section further reinforces the ominous opening of this spooky classic.

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Konami wasn’t the only company that used special sound chips to enhance the soundtracks of Famicom games.  For some great examples of other composers’ use of these chips, be sure to check out Episode 75 of VGMpire, Fiddlin with the Famicom.  While you’re at it, you should take a listen to the rest of the VGMPire back catalog.  It’s a fantastic podcast that highlights some of the best music across video games.

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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Dance of Pales

It’s no secret that I love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  This was the first title I bought for the Sony PlayStation, which was the first console I purchased using my own money.  The game was everything I could have asked for at its release: an action-adventure platformer with RPG elements, featuring a gothic/baroque aesthetic, and starring a moody half-vampire pretty boy as the protagonist.

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The music from Symphony of the Night also holds a special place in my heart.  The soundtrack is an impressive collection of 32 songs that cover a wide variety of musical genres.  Hard rock ballads like, “Prologue” and “The Tragic Prince,” sit comfortably beside the new age beats of, “Crystal Teardrops” and “Rainbow Cemetery.”  Composer Michiru Yamane did an amazing job of evoking specific moods with each piece, which further enhance the atmosphere of every area in the game.

Of all these tracks, my favorite is easily Dance of Pales:

This fantastic tune plays in an section of the castle known as Olrox’s Quarters.  As the name would imply, this area is home to Count Olrox, another vampire antagonist who is one of the main bosses in Symphony of the Night.  The elegant and haunting piano melody is a great match to Olrox’s Quarters- a mix of ornately decorated hallways and dark medieval dungeons.

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Achievement Unlocked: Published Gaming Magazine

Component is the realization of a dream: to make a gaming publication that celebrates the joy of a beloved pastime.  The goal of this magazine is to bridge the gap between players. To share personal experiences and individual viewpoints with the rest of the gaming world. To encourage others to forge their own connections, and share the joy that our collective hobby can provide.

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Each issue will have a central theme, and features a collection of essays and artwork on the subject of video games. Component is available as a print-on-demand magazine through Blurb and as an instant PDF, sold directly through the Component website. The editor and contributors of Component thoroughly believe in gaming for good causes, so 100% of the profits from Component will be donated to the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity.

The first issue is filled with stories about our most cherished games. Some are first encounters where a lasting bond was established. Others are tales of transition, where these beloved games have stood by our side as a supportive medium. All of them reflect the wonder that can be found in moments of play and through them we share the happiness of a cherished hobby.

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Games highlighted in the articles and artwork of Issue One include Mega Man 2, Super Mario 64, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid, Spyro the Dragon, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Pokémon: Yellow Version, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Okami.

Component will be released semi-annually, and the second issue has a tentative release of December 2015.  Please be sure to follow Chip, the editor of Component, on Twitter (@gimmgp) for news about the magazine and related video game musings.  You can also check our Blog page for updates and other works from our brilliant and creative contributors.

Thank you for reading and please be sure to check out Issue One: Our Games for all sorts of gaming goodness.

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On Save States

I recently completed a no-death run on Super Castlevania IV.  To a younger version of myself, this would be a bold accomplishment.  The Castlevania series is notoriously challenging, so the idea that I could so nonchalantly plow through the cursed walls of Dracula’s palace seems preposterous.  In a way, my flawless run is deservedly unbelievable, since I was using save states to ensure my immortality.

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Most of the classic titles being ported to modern consoles through Nintendo’s eShop or Sony’s PlayStation Network feature the option of save states.  At any point while playing through an old game, I can pull up the system’s pause menu and bookmark my current progress.  This feature was pretty much nonexistent on these games’ parent consoles.  When playing difficult titles on the Super Nintendo, it was pure skill (and sometimes passwords) that affected a player’s success.  With my Wii-U version of Castlevania IV, I can throw down a save state before a difficult moment.  This is a perfect failsafe for when a Medusa Head inevitably collides with Simon Belmont, sending my avatar to his doom in a bottomless pit.  As a kid, controllers would be thrown.  As an adult, I simply pull up the pause menu and reload my save, erasing my previous misstep and preserving the flawless run.

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The idea of save states is certainly not a novel one.  Unlicensed emulators have featured this time-saving hack since their inception.  Before Nintendo and Sony started selling emulators of their own, using save states was just another form of breaking the system to play classic games on my computer.  Now that this option is built into the Virtual Console on the Wii-U, the use of save states could be considered a mental gray area.

You see, my inner child condemns save states, mocking my aged reflexes and inability to play like I used to.  I shouldn’t need to use these tricks to play through Castlevania IV; the game should be encoded into my muscle memory.  But my youthful side always forgets that adults have far more responsibilities and way less time to invest long sessions of gaming.  Why should I be chained to the console for hours, slaving away at the grueling difficulty and time commitment of a classic when I can break the experience into delicious, bite-sized morsels of 10-20 minutes?

So I will continue to use save states and relish the option of avoiding frustrating failure.  After all, I’m not trying to become an expert or set a speed-running record.  I want to enjoy the games from my past at my discretion and on my terms.  If that means small subconscious pouting from my inner child, then let him whine.

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A Pause for Celebration

It was over a year ago in September of 2011 that Laura and I sat down to play Mega Man 2 for our first post to Games I Made My Girlfriend Play.  We had been talking for a while about creating a blog that would showcase our respective talents for writing and art, along with giving us a chance to bond over a shared past-time.  A list of prospective titles was made, discussions over what sort of format and style were had, and plenty of games were played in the process.  We now stand before our 100th post to GIMMGP, our hearts bursting with joy and appreciation at everyone who has supported us along the way.

We are so blessed to have great family and friends who have shared GIMMGP through email and word of mouth.  A special thanks to each of you.

We are grateful to the game designers, developers, and publishers who have provided us with so much fun since we were both little kids.  Thank you for (nearly) every game we have ever played.

We are so thankful to have found other impressive blogs around WordPress, who share their enthusiasm, great insights, and excellent writing with all of us.  Please take some time to visit each of the following:

Cheese Toastie and Video Games
Counter Attack!
Game Delver
Indie Gamer Chick
Jon Shafer on Design
The Limbo Gamer
Nerd Maids
Playing The Canon
Robo♥Beat
Virtual Stowaway
Wild Man Ted

With wistful hearts and inspired minds, Laura and I raise our glasses to our first hundred posts, and look forward to the next hundred games and posts here at Games I Made My Girlfriend Play.  Thanks to all, and to all a good night!

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Werewolves

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Earlier this month (and several times throughout the year), Laura lamented to me about the lack of video games where she can play as a werewolf.  I had hoped that the release of the Dawnguard expansion for Skyrim would provide her with countless hours of bounding through moonlit nights and howling at the moon.  Instead, my better half decided to become a Vampire Lord and terrorize the citizens of Tamriel with her insatiable bloodlust.  And so, with the spooky atmosphere of Halloween guiding my gnarled talons, I have decided to compile a list of video games where my beloved can indulge her lycanthropic fantasies.

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Let’s begin our wolfen journey with an old favorite of mine: Altered Beast.  In this classic Sega title, our hero, a fallen Roman soldier, is risen from his grave by Zeus and ordered to rescue the deity’s daughter from certain peril.  To equip the undead hero for battle, Zeus grants him the ability to collect spirit orbs and transform into man-beast hybrids.  The first and last of these transformations turns the centurion into a majestic werewolf, who can throw fireballs and perform a flaming jump kick right through his enemies.  Totally awesome.

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Back in the days of the NES, most games did not require elaborate stories, or a plot that actually makes sense.  Werewolf: The Last Warrior is a prime example of this sort of title.  On the second intergalactic colony of Earth (aptly named “Red Earth”), the player takes control of a man named Ken, who utilizes his ability to become a werewolf (named Warwolf) to defeat the nefarious Dr. Faryan and his band of supermutants.  Even more strange than the plot of this game is the fact that in some screenshots, the hero has normal arms, while in others, he has massive blades for appendages.

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Most titles that feature a lycanthropy mechanic provide power-ups to induce transformation or just start the player in wolfen form.  Wolf Child introduced an interesting twist to the traditional methods: the main character would only transform into a wolfman when the player had boosted his health to a certain point.  For more on this interesting title, be sure to check out the game designer’s blog for details.

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Growing up, my family did not own a Sega Genesis, so I missed out on great games like Shining Force.  According to my friends (who all adore this series), one of the best warriors in the game is a werewolf named Zylo.  I guess Laura and I will have to play Shining Force, one of these days…

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When Laura and I started this blog, one of the games I wanted to share with her was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  I figured that Alucard’s ability to turn into a wolf would be one of the main selling points of this title.  After realizing that his wolfen form is very weak until much later in the game, Laura was rather unimpressed by this shapeshifter.  But she did love his little scabbard and belt.

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Darkstalkers was the first series that Laura and I mutually geeked out about.  Each of us have fond memories playing this horror-inspired fighting game.  I would regularly play as the lovable ghost girl Hsien-Ko, while Laura would take on the role of the werewolf martial artist, Jon Talbain.  One thing I always wondered: why does a werewolf need to battle with nunchuks?

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Killer Instinct is a cartridge that still makes the rounds in my family’s Super Nintendo.  My brother and I had many an epic battle between the lycanthrope Sabrewulf and the animated skeleton Spinal.  But, as it goes with fighting games, the balance of power shifted, and now Cory is the master of the Ultratech tournament.

werewolfroar In a fighting game about soldiers who can transform into animals, you can pretty much count on a werewolf character being included in the roster.  Bloody Roar featured Yugo Ogami as the resident werewolf protagonist, who is trying to uncover the circumstances behind his father’s mysterious death.

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Despite my absolute devotion and love for Guilty Gear, I could never seem to get into its spiritual successor, Blazblue.  You would think that the inclusion of a very detailed training system, along with a playable werewolf character (Valkenhayn R. Hellsing) would guarantee that Laura and I would pick up this game, but somehow, we still have not purchased it.

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When Castlevania 64 was first previewed, it featured four playable characters, but in order to release at a “reasonable” date, two of the characters (along with several levels) were cut from the game.  Later, Konami would release Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, which cast the once-cut werewolf Cornell as the main character and included many of the features that were previously removed.  I guess even game developers need a do-over sometimes.

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On the once peaceful shores of Lake Jansenia, the bodies of young maidens have been found slashed and torn to pieces by wild dogs.  As the player investigates the area, the governor Sirius challenges the hero to a battle at his mansion at night.  Sure enough, the governor is the werewolf behind all the attacks, and any of the player’s soldiers who are bitten by the madman receive the curse of lycanthropy.  And that is how you make werewolf troops in the SNES classic Ogre Battle!

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So let me get this straight: in A Link to the Past, the Hylian hero turns into a defenseless pink bunny when he passes into the Dark World.  But in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Link transforms into an awesome wolf when he is pulled into the Twilight Realm.  Hmm, I suppose bounding through the game world as a wolfen hero is much cooler than hopping along as a fluffy bunny.

werewolfsonicNot all heroes become stronger when they become werewolves.  Just look at Sonic the Hedgehog.  In Sonic Unleashed, Sega’s speedy blue mascot transforms into the werehog, which slows him down and makes his arms all stretchy.  Similarly, Sonic Unleashed transformed a once great game series into a pile of crap.

Well, that about covers it.  I have included nearly every game that features a werewolf protagonist.  What’s that?  You say I am missing a massive title from this list?  Well, I certainly would not leave a game off of the list just because I am worried that if Laura started playing it, she would never stop…

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Alright, you figured it out.  Not only does World of Warcraft: Cataclysm provide the player an opportunity to take control of a Worgen warrior, but you can also dress up your werewolf character in a fancy top hat.  So please, don’t let Laura know, or we will never get anything done around here.

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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Game: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Released: Konami, March 20, 1997
System: Sony Playstation
Game started: June 24, 2011
Amount completed: Acquired Double-Jump.

Chip’s Thoughts:

Symphony of the Night was the first game I bought for the PS1, which happened to be the first system I ever bought with my own hard-earned money. SOTN also happens to be my favorite game ever. Period. Nothing else comes close. Now, I do not consider this to be the best game of all time. A lot of people don’t make such a distinction between “favorite” and “best.” I do, and you should.

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Moving on, it was interesting to watch Laura play this game, as she had hardly played Castlevania before on any system. So when the time came to run Richter up the fateful stairs to fight Dracula, Laura did not hit any of the candles to get the hearts so many collected before her*. I told her to be sure to hit the candles, as they contain items, and then I realized: it makes no sense for a candle to hold items. A treasure chest holds new weapons and armor (duh), a box could be broken and reveal a mushroom (it has a question mark, something must be in it), hell, an oil drum could even hold a turkey dinner (oh so delicious and full of health), but it makes no sense why a thin, little candle would contain a bag of gold! So why would Laura even want to hit these little light bearing bastards?

I thought about this for a few days, and tried to remember why I first hit the candles back on the NES as I made my little baby steps towards the Castle of Vania. And I genuinely cannot remember someone or some manual telling me to hit candles to get items. After some research (reading old instruction booklets), I found that it wasn’t until the Castlevania Adventure on Game Boy that the manual instructs the player to, “be sure to light the candles with the tip of your whip.” I asked several of my friends why they felt the need to destroy lanterns, and no one could remember being told to do so, they just saw a candle and thought, “Hmm, I had better hit that light, I bet there is a battle axe inside of it.”

Symphony of the Night only adds to the confusion with the sudden lack of items dropping from wayward candles once Alucard appears. It is only after you get the Cube of Zoe that, “causes items to materialize,” when candles start to bear their hearts to the player. What if you never got the Cube, or if you decided to turn it off? What a strange Castlevania that would be, a bunch of candles hanging about, not dropping items. They wouldn’t be useful at all, just miserable little piles of secrets.**

*Why the hell do the hearts refill your items, but not your health? It never really made sense to me.
**ZING!

Laura’s Thoughts:
Quite simply put, I am really bad at old games. I grew up playing Nintendo games but that doesn’t make me good at them. I played Castlevania 64 for about an hour until it got too challenging (or I got bored).  That has been the extent of my Castlevania career. So Chip offered to help me through it, since I pretty much suck at old games. Having someone to walk you through and tell you what bad guys to avoid, and where all the super-secret-crazy-powerful weapons are hiding is pretty convenient. It’s also particularly nice when that person is willing to fight the harder bosses. If that person is also willing to endure your temper tantrums and pat you on the head and promise you better abilities to come, this is also good.
The best way to introduce someone to this game (well, if they suck anyway) is to tell them where the Jeweled Knuckles are. Before I acquired these handy items of power, I just died every time a zombie sneezed at me. The Knuckles are hidden fairly early on in the game and will ensure that even the most inept player can defeat the first few bosses in 4 hits. It also feels like the game doesn’t really begin until you get double jump, which (strangely enough) is not at the beginning. Because I am American and spoiled I have this sense of entitlement that I shouldn’t have to EARN my double jump. It should be given to me freely without effort, like freedom or a sports car.

But really this game was fun and challenging in that way that makes you want to keep playing. Thumbs up.

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