This is game I imagine will not be new to a number of people. I however missed out on this one in the PlayStation era so came across it through a number of recommendations. Impossible to ignore I saw it on the Microsoft store and downloaded it to try, so was playing it for the first time in the last year of my 20’s.
I have played Castelvania games before so was not new to the series. I had sunk numerous hours into Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow when I was younger and was almost reluctant to try SOTN in case it did not live up to the expectations of this favourite of mine.
I decided to play this game without reading too much about it, I was aware that the Castlevania series is all about discovery and getting lost so didn’t want to use a guide. This would hopefully give me as fresh an experience as I could get for such a well documented game.
The game is brilliant. Simply put I could not fault it. Ok perhaps the voice acting was a little painful at points but make no mistake this is an excellent game. It was a bold move to stick with their 2D formula at a time when developers were pushing 3D titles but it works amazingly well. Playing through this for the first time in 2016 I was hooked, and immediately getting my younger siblings to start playing it as I knew they would love it just as much. This is not written with any rose-tinted nostalgic glasses, I had never played this game as a child and was playing this for the first time as an adult.
The gameplay is challenging. As described it is exploration based, the idea being you collect the abilities required to reach different parts of the castle and fill out the map. The RPG elements are well done, collecting experience points levels you up and you can collect numerous weapons and armour pieces to equip to further strengthen your character and give you additional powers. You have the ability to cast spells, which took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out, but the spell combinations were difficult enough to mean at times in a tight spot I struggled to get out the required spell in time (usually trying to drain life out of enemies around me) There are so many ways to fight in this game, an early favourite tactic of mine was to combine the shield rod and medusa head shield to send waves of death out to the enemies on the screen-so satisfying! This particular power I discovered by accident, by pressing buttons to see what happens.
As the game doesn’t explain itself to you, you have to just try things out. Spells for example are available to you from the start, if you can guess the combination of buttons to press but without a guide this would be very fortunate! You are encouraged to lose yourself in the castle and feel your way through, which leads me on to my next point- the amazing atmosphere in this game. The castle is beautiful, and the sprites detailed (although suffer a little on a large flat-screen!) The music depends on the section of castle you are in, but can vary from exciting and uplifting, to haunting and mellow.
The little details on this game are incredible. Some of the secrets you stumble across, such as when I accidentally knocked a piece of wall down to discover treasure on the other side. Others details seem to be just to help create the atmosphere in the castle, such as a random confessional chair you can sit in, and a sword appears to stab you. I spent a good half an hour sitting in that chair to try and discover what it did to no avail!
This game is also long. People who have played it will know that you can run through the castle twice, a feature I did not discover on my first play-through. Once that is done you can play through again as the hero Richter, who has different abilities for a fresh challenge. The challenge of unlocking the second castle took me a long time (and a guide I’m ashamed to say) as did the task of acquiring the Alucard shield to go with my aforementioned shield rod (If you know you know!) Everyone I spoke to about this game had different point where they got stuck, the first time I met him I could not defeat Beezlebub at all, a challenge my brother scoffed at as he had dispatched the same boss with relative ease (I have since learnt a few tricks to dealing with him)
You can finish the game in such a powerful state that no enemies challenge you any more but to do so is no easy task. If you are lucky and find a crissaegrim your life becomes considerably easier for example, similar with the Alucard shield, but doing this without direction is hard work.
I’ll assume that most people have played this game and I was the one who was a little late to the party. However if you haven’t I strongly advise that you do. This game is an experience, it sucks you in to an atmospheric world rather than relying on the plot (the fact I haven’t mentioned it shows it was not a particular highlight in this game for me) and sets a challenging and time-consuming map to complete which did not feel like a chore to me. Yes, you are capable of getting stuck, but by viewing the map and going to unexplored locations you always feel you can find a new path. Writing this review just makes me want to complete the game all over again.