When I played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the first time a few months ago, I was looking for some grand thematic statement about good and evil. That is exactly what I found as I made my way through the castle, though not in the way I had assumed. Mostly devoid of exposition, Symphony expresses its archetypal conflicts almost entirely through its mechanics. The protagonist Alucard is always on the edge of destruction, fighting against a vampire and his horde of nameless baddies.
In June of 2017, the Retronauts podcast released their first episode in a series on the evolution of the Metroidvania, a term used commonly used to describe platforming games with a heavy focus on exploration and expanding powers. Over the course of several episodes, the hosts established a historical through-line from the prototypes that laid the groundwork to the genre defining games Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
I’d never played any of the games they discussed, but setting the games within their historical context piqued my interest.