Mainlining is our new featured series where we run through all the mainline games in a series one article per game, in often different and original ways. This week we continue our journey back to the Transylvania countryside of Romania as we tackle the literal flip side of the Playstation classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as we take a look at the Inverted Castle.
And Now, the Rest of the Story…
The Inverted Castle was a special thing to me because it was the first time I experienced a game ending that revealed itself to merely be the midway point. These days, games lock all their best content behind the initial campaign, but back then this was akin to discovering that the second quest of the original The Legend of Zelda was a mostly new experience.
I remember having an appreciation for how they managed to make the areas work simply by flipping the map. The amount of pre-planning that went into the layout of a 2D map that needs to work regardless of its orientation must’ve been daunting.
In addition to creating a “new” experience from a simple (in theory) design choice, it also opened up new challenges that required you to use many of your powers you may have sloughed off during the first right-side-up playthrough.
What was once a giant fall was now a long flight up, meaning your bat transformation would finally get some usage. All your transformations finally get to flex their muscles, even the wolf—the transformation that seemed the least essential—will come in handy on several occasions. It is the Mist, however, that really shines in the Inverted Castle due to it allowing you to bypass areas that are unreasonably overrun with enemies. You probably can’t pass these dangerous conditions, but “Mist Could Pass”.
The overall experience of the Inverted Castle is dependent on your utilizing things you probably didn’t pay much mind to when you went through the first time.
Spells, Relics and Familiars
Spells are tricky. Most of the time I cast them by accident due to their overly complicated combinations. I’d be fighting off multiple baddies, mashing buttons and suddenly Alucard would do this elaborate maneuver I didn’t mean to do.
Relics are few and far between in the first half of the game, but once in the Inverted Castle, you wind up with several new upgrades such as enhancements to your bat, wolf, and mist transformations, which you will need to bypass potentially frustrating areas such as those parts littered with gremlins, which cover the room in fireballs. Simply turn into a gaseous mist and avoid them all, while simultaneously killing them.
SOTN gives you so many powers you probably won’t use half of them during a normal playthrough. Some weapons, when used a certain way, will summon “Dawn Warriors” that will fight for you temporarily. Other weapons have effects that vary; one time they may summon a fierce creature, another time they may summon a farm animal.
Familiars are, for the uninitiated, basically little helper sidekicks. I spoke about the Demon familiar in the previous article, and during my time in the Upside Down I stuck with him. Although none of the familiars do anything too impressive, I found the Demon did assist in taking down enemies more than most, which led to him being far more leveled up than any of the other ones.
The back end of this game allows for all kinds of discovery. I could talk forever about all the content in this game and I’d still wind up omitting things.
A Subliminal Aside
Throughout this series of articles I have had little running jokes. One of them was referring to the enemy that carries his own skull around “Headless Yorick’s”. The character’s actual name is Dhuron, but I loved the “Alas, poor Yorick” reference so much I beat the joke into the ground without mercy.
Then I reached the Inverted Castle and encountered a skeleton frantically chasing his own skull around, clumsily kicking it away whenever he got close to it. When my Demon familiar swiped at him, his character name appeared on the screen. As it turns out, there is actually a character named Yorick!
This begs a very serious question: Is my joke actually my joke? Or did I subliminally steal it and alter it a little? Maybe it’s a homage. The Castlevania series surely can’t fault me for a homage! This series is all about paying tribute. Still, it’s always a bit of a letdown when I realize I’m not quite as clever as I think I am.
Farming for Crissaegrim
You inevitably reach a point in the Inverted Castle where you will struggle, no matter how leveled up you are. There are, however, certain ways to make the backend of SOTN much easier, should you choose to go that route. Yes, hardcore Symphony of the Night fans, I speak of none other than the Crissaegrim sword.
I would say, if you want to get yourself a Crissaegrim sword, you’re gonna need to do a few things. First thing you should do is equip whatever gives you the highest Luck stats. Then you need to make your way to the Inverted Library where all the Wizard of Oz enemies hang out and farm Schmoos. There’s a nice stretch where you can walk back and forth and encounter six or seven of them in one room. I’d say block off an hour and a half of time to just do this nonstop.
Sound boring? It is, but the reward is just too good to pass up. It’s OP-ed beyond belief. You slice nonstop. You can do so while running. Spam the attack button. It’s so damn satisfying.
The only drawback is that when you need to go back to another weapon, it’s painful watching Alucard’s slow lumbering strikes. I held out very late in the game before I decided to farm one, but once I got it, I never unequipped it.
Remembrance of Games Past
Symphony of the Night does an excellent job recalling the past games of the series. I couldn’t have appreciated it all at the time, with the references being to several games I hadn’t played. Still, this whole Mainlining experience has given me a deeper appreciation of many games in the series, and none more than Symphony.
Not only did the game begin with a very faithful recap of the previous entry Rondo of Blood‘s finale (excluding Maria’s assistance), a game that itself referenced it’s predecessor Bloodlines in its last stage, it made several other references that were far more subtle.
The first and most easy to notice is the fact that you spend your time in the Inverted Castle locating and fighting the bosses from the very first Castlevania in order to acquire the five items that you needed to collect in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest to fight Dracula.
At one point earlier in the game I stopped to observe the background and realized that I was looking at the dead minotaur from Rondo of Blood. The one that was missing the back half of its body that chased you through the early part of stage two.
In another section, I saw a fountain and immediately knew it to be the one from Bloodlines. As I walked past it, the water turned to blood, and I said, “Yeah,” out loud, because I knew it was going to happen. I loved how this game chose to tie itself into the other games in the series. There was always a thread running through all of them, but this game was something of a love letter to anyone who knew the Castlevania series inside and out—which I now consider myself to be as well.
There’s even a moment when Trevor Belmont’s name get mentioned, and a thought bubble over Alucard’s head appears showing an 8-bit version of Trevor from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I also believe this was my first time seeing a Nintendo reference in a game on a different console. These days every game has a Nintendo reference in it, but back then it was still fresh and new. Inside the Inverted Castle, you even fight fake versions of Trevor, Sypha and slippin’ Grant, who use their specific powers from that NES game.
Lest you think they didn’t work a Super Castlevania IV reference into the game, try playing as Richter post-post game, who now has the power of the SC IV exclusive whip-waggle!
The references to the past were not only clever nods to the history of the series; they were a way to draw in gamers who grew up on Nintendo but were now adults. It makes sense when you think about it. I mentioned in the last article that the reason I bought a Playstation was that I saw a Castlevania game and a Metal Gear game, two franchises I played on the NES. The lure of old favorites brought me over, and it began my second love with Playstation. I still loved Nintendo, that has never waned to this day, but Castlevania: SOTN was the gateway game that led me to some of the finest gaming experiences of my life.
Dracula v Alucard: It’s Not Just a Battle, It’s a Palindrome
Fighting the game’s final two bosses, Shaft and Dracula, will require you to level up, equip all the best items, and stock up on powerful potions and elixirs that you’ll need to use with precision timing. That is to say, providing you don’t have the Crissaegrim sword.
You again access the end game by visiting the Clock Room and ascending inside the core where you find the dark priest Shaft, who admits he was controlling Richter. A battle ensues and upon victory, Shaft claims victory in death, as his master, Dracula, has been resurrected.
The battle with Dracula is a decent enough challenge, and as is the case with action RPGs such as this, you can certainly grind your way to victory if you choose to go that route. When you strike the death blow and takedown Dracula, he seems almost remorseful. He asks Alucard what his mother’s last words were. Alucard tells him that his mother, Lisa, did not blame humanity for those that wrongly burned her at the stake. He also tells his father that his beloved said she would love the Count for eternity.
This time when the sky above Castlevania opens, a beacon of light shines down and dismantles the titular castle down to the foundation. As is now customary, the heroes, Alucard, Richter and Maria, watch from afar.
Alucard and Richter take a moment to tell each other they did what they had to do. Maria asks what Alucard will do now, and he solemnly tells them it’s best for the world if he disappears into the shadows and bids them a final farewell, promising they shall never meet again.
I admit, I thought I had bungled something and had gotten a somewhat downbeat ending with Alucard exiting in such a way. Only Richter immediately asks Maria if she’s going to go after him. It seems those two have an undeniable chemistry that wasn’t apparent at all during the entire game, but hey, who am I to stand in the way of love? I’m not Billy Zane.
Now, keep in mind that Maria was a bratty 12-year-old in Rondo of Blood, and this game takes place five years later. I feel lame making two Twilight references in two consecutive articles, but I’m pretty sure this potential burgeoning romance means Alucard is definitely #TeamEdward.
However, Maria is making the first move, and this is 18th century Romania, so maybe I should keep my judgmental presentism to myself. I’m rooting for those two crazy kids.
I Am the Wind
Well, the end is finally here. Not just for Symphony of the Night, but for our coverage of the Castlevania series—for now. I want to take a moment to say that I’ve loved playing, revisiting, and sometimes struggling through the original seven games in the mainline series.
As a lifelong fan of Castlevania, I thought it would be a cool thing to go through them all one by one and find those special moments that make gaming an experience unlike any other. What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about these games. By playing them one after another you see the evolution, the experimentation, the things that work, the parts that didn’t, and you appreciate the work that goes into them. It’s why I don’t get too hung up trying to focus on the negative things.
It doesn’t mean I always view these games through rose-tinted glasses either. I stand by my assessment that Simon’s Quest is downright unfinishable without a walkthrough in your lap. Even then, depending on how well the kid who made the FAQ can write, it’s still a challenge. Not to mention, I don’t think the overall experience is worth all the trouble. I think Castlevania: Bloodlines is rightfully considered the black sheep of the franchise, and not some misunderstood masterpiece. I didn’t hate it, and it was a serviceable entry, but I also didn’t enjoy playing it. I tend to find Sega Genesis games to be sloppy in a very hard-to-pinpoint sort of way, and Bloodlines fits that description. It’s just a little rough.
Still, when I think of Castlevania, I think of games that are punishing but fair. They might not seem that way at first, but it’s only because they force you to fight smarter, turning every death into a painful reminder of what not to do the next time.
I could, and should, and honestly need to move on to other games, and yet, I’m still playing SOTN. I’ve unlocked playable Trevor and Maria, and the challenge so far is daunting. I still have trophies to unlock and rare items to acquire. I’m still missing a Relic, and I have yet to understand how that’s even possible unless it resides in the 1% of the game I have yet to complete (wherever that is).
Even then, I want to:
- 100% Rondo of Blood.
- Complete Bloodlines with John Morris.
- Maybe complete Dracula’s Curse with Alucard or even that slippery bastard Grant.
- I even want to take a whack at Kid Dracula, which is a weird but fun spin-off game that takes the Castlevania formula and places it inside a tongue in cheek platformer.
I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of this series. Perhaps mind-controlled Richter was on to something. Apparently, the battle will last for eternity.