I bought Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on XBox Live Arcade sometime early in the year, probably at the same time I bought ilomilo? I'm pretty sure I played an emulator version of it on one of Papfred's computers in the dim past before this blog existed, but otherwise, I mostly missed Castlevania in the original NES days (which is pretty much true of all the big Nintendo franchises of those days, outside of Mario, and maybe Kirby and Mega Man, if you count them). I rented the first 2 from a video store at some point, but a) they didn't come with the manuals, and b) it was for one night. So I dead a few times, got frustrated, and went back to playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. But the little bit I played of Symphony of the Night was promising, and it gets good reviews, and it was relatively cheap.
The basic story is that Dracula's castle has reappeared suddenly when it wasn't supposed to, and his half-vampire kid Alucard has come to end things once and for all. He starts off incredibly powerful, just scything through enemies, but a few minutes in, encounters one of Drac's minions looks like the Grim Reaper, who divests Alucard of most of his gear and his powers. Which gave me some flashbacks to Metroid Prime, and sure enough, I spent most of the game crisscrossing the castle trying to find all the gear and power-ups again, fighting various monsters.
That's really the gist of it. You search the castle until you find something that lets you get into a place you couldn't before, which possibly nets you something to get you into another place, and so on. I'm perhaps not doing it justice, I did enjoy it, even if my experience was "two steps forward, one step back" for most of the game. I'd think I was doing pretty well, killing monsters with little difficulty, then I'd wander into a boss fight and get trounced. And trounced again. And maybe a third time. Sometimes I'd make it through that day, other times I'd give up for the night and try later. In some cases I'd go a different direction entirely, to see if I had more luck that way. That is one very nice thing about the overall size of the castles, there's usually at least a couple of ways to get to any given place, depending on what skills you have.
I didn't explore the entire thing. I got somewhere around 197%, decided I didn't feel like scouring every square inch of both castles trying to find the few small rooms I was missing, and went to fight the final boss. Which didn't go to badly, compared to some of the earlier bosses. The game has a leveling up component, and like with most RPGs, I always go into boss fights wondering if I did enough grinding to prepare, but not really wanting to bore myself doing more. Although Symphony of the Night was pretty good at surprising me with bosses. Rooms you haven't explored yet won't appear on the map, so I couldn't necessarily tell I was entering a large room until it was too late. I had to appreciate the wide array of mythologies they drew on for their monsters. It's pretty impressive Dracula can command Cthulu (even if he was a lightweight in this game, that's him in the image), or Death, or Beelzebub.
I think it was the generic fodder that tended to annoy me more, maybe because there are so many at any given time, and they respawn each time you pass through a room. The Imps, who can enrage Alucard so all he does is stand there and attack blindly for several seconds, were the worst of the lot. The ability to turn to Mist was a godsend. There was also the puzzle with the gears in the room full of Medusa Heads. It's a sound-based puzzle, which are not my strong suit, given my hearing. I had to look online to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and even then it took a couple of tries to get it right.
I probably should have made more use of switching between weapons, but I opted for the most generically powerful and generally left it at that, without worrying so much about specific vulnerabilities. I also probably didn't use my familiars in the best manner, though I tried to switch between them based on what kind of help I thought I needed at the moment. The Faerie's pretty good about applying health potions so you don't have to (although it all comes out of your inventory) the Demon and the Sword are better for attacking. I didn't use it much, but the Bat might have been a favorite, because it would only help when I was in bat form. If I turned back to a human, a question mark would appear over its head, and it would wander away. The Ghost would do the same if I shifted to something other than human, but I didn't figure that out until later, so the peculiarities of the Bat charmed me first. Also, I half-expected the Ghost to hang around while I was in Mist form, and it didn't, so I was slightly put out.
The voice acting is, not great. Some of the actors seem to be getting into it, but a lot the lines are read in a stilted manner. Granted, I think Alucard's supposed to be a little distant from humanity, but some of the other characters don't have that excuse. On the plus side, there isn't too much dialogue in the game! More time for jumping between platforms and killing supernatural creatures.