The First Time I Ever Played Symphony of the Night
Castlevania's Playstation debut is one of my favorite games of all time and one of the defining gaming experiences of little SV's childhood. However, it also served as a startling revelation that I am an idiot.
During the 8 bit/16 bit eras, I'd played a couple of the previous Castlevanias in bite-sized portions, but SotN was the first entry I owned, making it my first real outing with the series. I was immediately floored. That opening segment was incredible, with an over-powered Alucard straight up bum rushing Dracula's castle and one-hit killing everything in sight. I couldn't believe that I was in control of such a juggernaut this early in the game and it was an incredibly gratifying rush; until this ***** came along to spoil everything:
Yeah, so as I'm sure some of you guessed, Death showed up and took all my awesome gear, leaving me with a pitiful shell of my formerly amazing self. What hope did I have of defeating Dracula now? Turns out that my worst enemy wouldn't be the Lord of Darkness but rather my own ineptitude.
Here's the thing: I missed out on Metroid growing up so Symphony was my first taste of Metroid-style exploration. With so many diverging paths, I was excited and slightly overwhelmed by the massive labyrinth that was Dracula's castle. At first, I explored aimlessly, not really caring where I was headed; I just wanted to uncover every inch of that castle. When I came across blocked off areas, I made mental notes to remind myself to return to them later.
Somehow, I'd managed to avoid any save rooms during my inaugural trek and before I could, I was killed by some stupid skeleton. Thanks to my terrible short-term memory, I'd forgotten how to reach all the key places in my mind. That's when the idea of a map came to mind. Where was that thing, anyway? Clearly this game would only get larger and more complex, so there must be an in-game map, right? To this day, I SWEAR that I hit every button on that controller several times hoping to bring up a map screen or sort of guide that would make navigating the colossal maze easier.
After several futile attempts to find open the map, I'd succumbed to the notion that, for some insane reason, there simply wasn't one, and I slumped into despair. How on earth would I remember what room was what and where to go? Then it hit me: using my artistic talents not seen since Michelangelo, I can just draw my own map! So I did, and shortly before reaching the inverted castle, I'd amassed a giant patchwork of taped together sheets of paper forming a map. Areas of interest were labeled accordingly ("Creepy Library" for example), with short descriptions of obstacles or tough enemies contained within. It was a sketchy, scribbled mess but it actually worked pretty well and helped me keep tabs on my location.
It wasn't until I'd thoroughly patted myself on the back for my cartography skills that I'd accidentally hit the Select button and a bright, far more organized, map screen illuminated my television. My jaw plummeted through the floor, miles into the dirt, landing atop the Earth's mantle. I spent nearly half the game relying on my now inferior map when the game had indeed provided me with one all along. Though I'd bet my house that I'd pressed each button, I can only guess that MIGHT have glazed over Select because in my eyes, at the time, it didn't qualify as a real button since it never did much in games. Curse my flawed, 10-year old reasoning. Rarely have I felt so flat-out stupid as I did at that moment.
Once I finished collecting the scattered pieces of my blown mind, I made my way through the inverted castle (thankfully with the game's map, as it would've sucked trying to translate that with my drawings) slayed Dracula, and beat the game. Still, given the chance, I'd love to take a time machine to meet my young distressed self, grab the controller, calmly press the Select button, before promptly slapping myself upside the head.