Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
In looking over the history of video games, and not just the Castlevania series specifically, there are many instances where a video game series will hit a point where the old series evolved into a new series, seemingly different from what came before. The argument could be made that many franchises drastically changed after a single title (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII), with the old way of doing business left behind (never to been seen again, except in compilations and purposeful revisits to specific titles). Of course, the moment where that happened in the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, although that was as much due to the excellence of the title itself the series seeming to flounder in the few non-Metroidvania titles to follow Symphony.
When discussing Symphony of the Night, no commentary would be complete without first pointing out the similarities between it and the Metroid series. In Symphony of the Night, Alucard (son of Dracula) arrives at the demon castle after sensing a rise Dracula's dark magic. Exploring why, he comes across Death who steals Alucard's equipment, forcing the son of Dracula to explore the castle looking for the powers and arsenal that will aid him in his quest.
But Alucard is not entirely alone in this quest (aside from a rather dickish Death). As a sequel to Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, Symphony of the Night includes direct references to the previous game in the form of Richter Belmont and Maria Renard. As Alcuard adventures, he'll encounter Maria (all grown up now), who is there looking for her brother-in-law, Richter. It seems Richter went missing sometime before, and then Dracula's castle showed up. Maria, not being stupid, then went to the castle to try and figure out, for herself, what happened. In the original game, Maria helps the plot along, while Richter ends up being someone Alucard has to fight (plus, Richter can be unlocked for use in the castle after the main game is beaten).
As Alucard explores, he'll find abilities, such as "double jumping" and "not dying when Alucard touches water", plus additional powers like "Soul of Bat" (turn into a bat and fly around), "Soul of Wolf" (turn into a wolf and run around), and Form of Mist (turn into a mist and, surprise, float around). Each of these can be used to explore new areas and explore new sections of the castle (ala Metroid).
On top of this, the game adds in a detailed RPG system. Alucard has a variety of stats that make him up (strength, mind, luck, etc.). Various items he collects can be equipped to augment these stats, increasing his defense, attack, spell power, and so on. Additionally, he can also collect and equip various weapons, shields, and armor, giving him more powerful attacks and better defensive stats (shields can deflect some projectiles as well). The weapons come in a variety of flavors, from swords to knives to staffs, each with their own style of attack (and attack speeds), giving a wide variety of ways to battle through the monsters of the game.
As Alucard explores the castle, he'll even find and unlock even more stuff to aid him in battle, such as magical spells he can cast (fireballs and blood magic and so forth), and familiars he can summon and level up (such as a bat, a spectral sword, a ghost, a fairy, or a devil). There are quite a number of various options and way to navigate the game, it does seem at times like the entire programming group was just sitting around going "oh, and wouldn't it be cool if we added this!"
The Legacy of Symphony of the Night:
Going back to the first statement of this article, with Symphony of the Night, the Castlevania series was ushered into a new era. There was a clearly delinated group of games that could be called "old-school" -- with a lone hero, a whip, and a few sub-weapons, these entries came mostly before Symphony -- the the new era afterwards, games would follow Symphony with all its many improvements and modifications to the old formula.
As with other games series (Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy among them), many fans would end up lamenting the shift in focus. While the Castlevania series reached new heights in popularity after Symphony of the Night, there were many that would grouse about "one more Symphony-clone" (the term Castleroid, which eventually morphed into Metroidvania, was used by some as a derogatory term). Metroidvana games were easier, unlike old-school patformers that defined the series. Classic fans wanted their old, difficult games, while the new audience want more of what drew them in -- Symphony.
Of course, this ended up being a double-edged sword. As with Capcom and its various Mega Man games (often refered to on the Inverted Dungeon as Mega Man Syndrome), Konami fell into a rut with the Castlevania series. Each successive game eventually started feeling like more of the same, and there were calls among fan-sites for Konami to return the series to its roots.
Interestingly, it sort of did and sort of didn't when it teamed up with MercurySteam to produce the series reboot, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
As a U.S.-based fan site, it's not our goal at the Inverted Dungeon to track all the various minutia that changes between the Japanese and U.S. releases of a Castlevania game -- whether there are covered boobs or naked boobs on a statue, whether a cross is included or removed on a gravestone. That said, it's important to note that the original U.S. release of Symphony of the Night omitted two familiars included in the Japanese version of the game: the Sprite and the Nose Demon. These two familiars were based on Japanese comedians, and as such would have made no sense to American players. Additionally, they had the same functionality in game as two other familiars: the Fairy and the Devil (respectively).
It's only vital to report this as, in the Dracula X Chronicles reissue of the game, those two familiars were included back into the game. We at the Inverted Dungeon still don't get the references, but appreciate their inclusion.
Also included in the game was a playble version of Maria Renard. Functioning like her version in Rondo of Blood (and not like the versions of her included in the Saturn, Japan-only port, Nocturne in the Moonlight), Maria helped to create the most "complete" version of the game Americans had ever recieved (although the two bonus levels included in Nocturne did not also make the cut.