Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

released on Mar 20, 1997

A seminal 2D metroidvania in which after the events of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (1993), a man named Alucard arrives at Dracula's castle after it rises from the rubble, and seeks to defeat the evil contained within it once and for all by exploring, fighting its inhabitants and collecting the various weapons and abilities hidden in its depths.

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te amo koji igarashi e ayanami kojima

“Die monster, you don’t belong in this world” is what I say to this game

Don't need to say much, one of the OG metroidvanias. All aspects are here and perfected.

The Ocarina of Time of Castlevania.
There's not a lot to say about Symphony of the Night that hasn't already been said. The only Metroidvania I've ever played that can claim to be as good as Hollow Knight. It radically changed the course of the series' gameplay from tough-as-nails 2D sidescroller to a more forgiving exploration-focused platformer, changed the series' art direction from shlocky monster movie throwback to gothic beauty and the main character's designs from "BUFF FUCKING MEN WITH BIG FUCKING MUSCLES WITH BIG FUCKING WHIPS" to "pretty boys :3", is the second game in the series to have voice acting and is one of the most quotable games of all time because of it and I would argue- very uncontroversially- that it's the best game on the PS1.
RPG levelling is something I'm usually not a fan of but the only thing smoother than Symphony's progression system is Alucard's silky voice. Exploring every square inch of Dracula's castle, bit-by-bit getting stronger and finding better equpiment until your fight with Richter Belmont is so satisfying- effortlessly butchering enemies that used to take you serious effort to put down.
And then the twist comes. You're only halfway done.
The inverted castle is a great addition for a few reasons- it's a great twist that keeps the story intriguing, it can only be accessed by finding well-hidden items which rewards the player for thorough investigation and most importantly it provides a large endgame. Metroidvanias as a whole have this slight issue where you get your last few upgrades and then it's time to wrap it up, but Symphony gives you ample time to play around with all of the tools in Alucard's kit before closing the curtains.
There's just so much in Symphony of the Night. It feels like such a complete game that it puts most other Metroidvanias to shame, and I think it stands as the peak of the genre for 20 long years before Hollow Knight comes in.
Also, Alucard is just ridiculously hot.

I've tried several times to play SotN but I've always bounced off pretty early on - round abouts the first Alucard boss. This time it clicked and I realized this game is basically baby mode until the inverted castle.
There's a lot to love - the hammy voice acting (anyone who says its bad doesn't know what they're talking about tbqh), the great Michiru Yamane score, the aesthetics... The bosses are all pretty mid however. They're all easily facetanked and the Death boss fight might be the most bitch he's ever been. Garamoth was the only exception - until I went back to the Reverse Entrance and picked up the beryl circlet & was functionally invincible.
Some of the upgrades felt pointless - wolf especially, I don't think he's ever used outside of two or three puzzles; others feel like they come too late to matter (poison mist); and the familiars all felt pretty interchangable aside from the fairy.
Since it's the first of the IGAvania style there are some flaws that get ironed out in later entries - the leveling feels a bit wonkier, the weapon selection is pretty nothing in comparison (almost all the actual weapons that aren't single-use are swords, there's a couple knuckle dusters and some nunchaku but that's it)
The ending is so fucking good it honestly feels like the later games in the series cheapen it but thank god they're all pretty good lmao