CSotN: The Unexplained and Inexplicable

I have a vague memory of reading someone’s commentary on golden age Superman comics, in which much was made of a scene where Lex Luthor, in an laboratory under the ocean, suddenly remembers that he saw an enormous sea monster nearby recently and decides to use it to keep the approaching Superman at bay. That, to the commentator, summarized the old-school sensibility perfectly: suddenly pulling things like sea monsters out of nowhere. Mind you, he felt that the more modern approach, of giving the sea monster an elaborate backstory explained in its own miniseries, was even worse.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has a similar sensibility to golden-age comics. You’re exploring Castle Dracula and all of the sudden, apropos of nothing, you find yourself in a boss fight against a hippogriff. Why is there a hippogriff in Castle Dracula? I guess because the designers thought it would be cool. This isn’t a game that explains things particularly. It just throws visuals at you and lets you come to your own conclusions. The freakiest monster by far I’ve seen is essentially a huge floating ball of corpses, too big to fit on the screen all at once, that mainly attacks by shedding a rain of animated corpses down on you. Damage it enough, and you can knock sections off of its hull, revealing a starfish-like tentacle monster at its core. And now that I’ve said that much, you have as much idea as I do of what it was or what it was doing there.

It isn’t even just the creatures that come off as gratuitously inexplicable. It’s the architecture as well, which is more thematic than plausible. This is ostensibly a castle, and the outer sections tend to be surrounded by plausible castle exterior, but it contains a colosseum — not just a combat arena, but something specifically called a colosseum, with, furthermore, decaying posters plastered around its entrance, because apparently even colosseums built into inaccessible castles just kind of grow posters. There’s a section called “clock tower”, which does contain a room-filling clock at one point, but it’s in the middle of some longish rooms completely filled with grandfather clocks, their pendulums swinging in eerie unison. One imagines the architect (either in-game or out-) saying “Of course there are clocks. It’s a clock tower. What else do you expect to find in a clock tower but clocks?”

The thing is, I’m not really complaining. It’s clear that this castle is a magical place. One of the few drops of story we’re given is that the castle only appears once every hundred years. This game is supposed to be set in a break in the pattern when the castle appeared 96 years early, but still, the very nature of the place gives it an excuse to be dreamlike and phantasmagorical. Things that don’t quite make sense just enhance an appropriate sense of otherworldliness. Or so I’m willing to tell myself as I play.

2 Comments so far

  1. Mark on 3 Jun 2011

    Have you been spoiled about the existence of multiple endings, and given a hint about the means to go about getting the good one?

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 4 Jun 2011

    No, but I discovered the fact of multiple endings on my own. I’ll go into more detail in my next post.

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