To begin on my analysis of the Marble Hallway from SoTN, I will start with the building blocks of the level. I believe that this level was conceptualized to contrast the second full zone (after the tutorial, of course) of the game. Whereas the Entrance served as a tech demo, showing off the rendering power available to the PS1 and the Alchemy Lab served to display the fundamentally perverse nature of Dracula, I consider the Marble Gallery to be a reflection of the hero, Alucard. As the level name suggests, there is a lot of marble and cut stone in this area. While many textures are used in the background there is one over-riding theme. That theme is corruption.
The very first time you enter the Marble Galley, you are met with a bronze statue of an angel overlooking a man who lies prone. I believe this is intended to draw parallels to the biblical Fall of Lucifer. If you take a few steps beyond that, you see a marble statue of a man making an offering to the sky, followed by another bronze statue, this one of a Renaissance-era depiction of Lucifer holding an offering to the sky. I believe this is the first hint we get in-game to the nature of the protagonist, Alucard. Alucard is a product of a human mating with Dracula. Alucard clearly stands in defiance of Dracula’s mad quest to kill God and, though Alucard himself would likely be destroyed in the process, he wishes to undo all of the damage done by his insane father.
The ending of the Marble gallery involves you dashing down a hall littered with marble statues of standing men covering their genitalia. I believe this is a part where the Japanese ancestry of this game shines through. In Japanese lore nudity is more symbolic of purity. The fact that they are covering their genitalia in all versions of the game is symbolic of Alucard’s secret shame concerning the nature of his existence. He is a perversion, a monster.
As for the goal of this level. Seeing as how this is a metroidvania game, the goal of this zone is somewhat fluid. One thing that is very important to note, however, is that if any level would be considered the “central hub” of this game, it would be Marble Gallery. It’s literally smack dab in the middle of the map. You really can’t get anywhere in this game without spending a little time in the Marble Gallery. Even the most iconic room in the game, the clock room, is smack in the middle of the zone.
As for the challenge of the Marble Hallway. Many metroidvania games use a core loop that revolves around traversing a space that, in itself, is rarely dangerous but contains a variety of enemy types that provide most of the challenge. The guys over at Konami used the enemies in this level to drive home the theme of corruption. Some day I will get into the aesthetics of enemy design, but for now I would like to note the fact all of the enemies in Marble Gallery are either post human (the type of monster that was clearly human at one point like ghosts and skeletons) or clearly intended as a mockery of some aspect of humanity (like the shambling Marionettes, the Diplocephalus and the Ouija boards).
The reward for clearing the Marble Gallery is, like many metroidvanias, fluidic. There are a few power ups (including your first transformation ability, another nod towards corruption) but mostly your reward is the ability to pass into another zone and see more of the castle. If you fail, your only punishment is being made to restart from the last time you saved the game.
So what did this thing do right? The Marble Hallway is a monument to characterization through environment. Not only do you have this beautiful environment that speaks volumes to the nature of Alucard, you also have the music. This song has the upbeat rhythm that would be expected of an action heavy title, but also in measures 8-12 of the level music you have this minor shift that has an almost tragic overtone to it.
As for what this thing did wrong. Well, in short, while this game has over a dozen warp points in each version of the castle, not one of them is in the Marble Hallway. In fact, I find that the quick travel locations were very poorly placed, rarely being useful for traversal across the map as a whole. I fail to see how this oversight could add to the experience so I will not chalk it up to the Artist’s Caveat (Unless that’s the point). On top of that, while this may be the point of an entirely different essay, they fail to use this for any major impact in the mirror-world version.
The UI, like many RPGs from the 90’s and 00’s, is rather maximalist. You have in the top right indicators for health, mana (which powers spells), Hearts (which fuel your sub-weapon of choice) and a reading for which subweapon you have equipped. All of this is surrounded by a border that is supposed to look as though made of crystal and gold. Finally, Alucard will flash different colors depending on what status effect he is under.