Lessons From 20 Years Ago

Dracula is dead! Symphony of the Night can be challenging at times, but compared to something like Order of Ecclesia, it’s still pretty easy. You feel kinda cheap using the Shield Rod + Alucard Shield combo to defeat some of the harder bosses, though.

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What is so interesting about Symphony of the Night? Why is it still such a great experience that it’s worth going through? The game really shines with its content. There are so many bosses, enemies, items, weapons, and locations that you’re just curious to see what’s around the next corner. Granted, you’ll never use even half of the items that are handed to you and half of the bosses are a bit of a joke, but if they weren’t there, the game wouldn’t have the same impact. The gameplay isn’t carefully crafted by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s enough of interesting content to keep you going for 11 hours.

So, does quantity over quality work? The content in Symphony of the Night isn’t really low quality. It’s just badly balanced. The art of the game is breathtaking and the enemies you encounter are often clever and interesting. The amount of secrets helps, too. When you know all the breakable walls, spell combos, combinations of items, and tactics to beat certain bosses, it’s a fun feeling.

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What’s the takeaway for a modern roguelite project? You can’t compete with the quality of hand-crafted levels and challenges that game such as the first Castlevania or something like Super Mario Bros. 3 offers. One clever way to keep players hooked is to craft enough differing content and offer them challenges in form of secrets. Have the game offer more than is immediately obvious at a surface level. Hand out easy secrets to the players so that they’ll know there might be something else cool hidden in there. Don’t let the sense of intrigue die off. That can take some careful planning, too, but it’s really a tradeoff. You have to perfect something.

2 thoughts on “Lessons From 20 Years Ago

  1. Good points and it’s interesting to read the thoughts of devs making an interesting game. While it’s quite a different kind of game, I want to bring something up, concerning quantity and quality. I recently started replaying Legend of Grimrock and, while it’s an amazing game, one of my favorites, it still feels like there aren’t enough enemies and secrets. You get a lot of the same enemies repeated throughout a level or two. Repeated enough to get too repetitive and killing them becomes routine – by that point it’s starting to feel more like a chore. So while the enemies and battle system (to me at least) are incredibly well thought out, quality doesn’t really save the game from the lack of quantity.

    What keeps me going back to it though, is the different ways to play, I can make an incredibly crappy party to up the challenge, I can play with a pen-and-paper map only, or no map at all, I can restrict myself equipment wise PLUS (and for LOG, this is a big one) the community made maps and challenges! There’s a lot of content and replay value this way, but I still feel the enemies can sometimes get too repetitive.

    SOTN enemies may not all, or even most, be that interesting, but the sheer amount and combinations of different enemies you face at once add a lot of variety and possibilities – killing them doesn’t (always, sure there’s a lot just running and slashing through) get to be as repetitive as to be routine-like. For example, you kill 6 of a specific enemy, then you get a single enemy that’s different and you have to think about your strategy: “How did I kill this one again”. And when you have as many enemies as you have in Castlevania there’s a lot of learning and remembering to do that builds the challenge.

    It would be interesting to see more games experiment with something like that. Like have segments where you start to assume “Ah, this levels enemies are killed like this, ok” and you tread through the hordes of skellies and whatever and then there’s a single enemy thrown in the mix that throws off your game, it doesn’t die like the others, how the hell am I supposed to kill it? That way your worst enemy in the game is you, your mind, you just assume that that’s just how you kill all the enemies and when you have something that doesn’t work the same way, you’re stumped even if the solution would be blaringly obvious (think “the best hiding place is in plain sight”). I feel like I’m rambling, but my point is that quantity can sometimes contribute to quality when it comes to game like these, whether it’s enemies, secrets or puzzles. The amount of variation is dependable on the amount of variables and too little variation WILL get boring.

    1. Very good points.

      A game with truely insignificant amount of content but an infinite ways to play it is chess. It would be interesting to see an action game with that amount of options.

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