by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Okay, so – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Often it’s regarded as the worst in the entire franchise, but that’s impossible as long as Castlevania 64 exists. But honestly, Simon’s Quest is a fantastic side-scrolling RPG and is the first “RPG” in the Castlevania franchise. I was thinking of it because it’s a part of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, and rightly so. I was playing it just this morning, and figured we could talk about Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest this morning. It’s a terrific game, once you understand a little more about it. It doesn’t really tell you much on how to progress, and has what could be considered a “terrible dub”. Some of it is just genuinely bad, but something I want people to consider is this: The common folk absolutely hated the Belmont family. They were trusted with great power and duty, and many people saw their role as a curse and a burden.
So, of course, people are going to lie to Simon Belmont! Some of it was just translated literally (and as a result makes no sense to us), making some of the hints downright difficult to figure out. This is far from a perfect game, and in my estimation, it was one of the first “Nintendo Power Games” – where if you didn’t have a guide, strategy book, or in the modern audience’s eyes, an FAQ, you’re going to have a bad time. Until you really understand the game, it can be seen as frustrating, unfair, and horrible. Hell, I know what you’re supposed to do more or less, and I still get frustrated with it. This is not a perfect game, but it’s for damn sure a good one. This game was made at a time when sequels on the NES were almost always different, in order to make sure the audience didn’t get bored. See Super Mario 2 US, Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, Super C (to an extent). This started to change with games like the Adventure Island franchise, but that’s another discussion for another day.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest takes place seven years after the original Castlevania, and at the end of the battle with Dracula, a curse was inflicted upon the vampire killer. His body continues to decay and atrophy and the only way to put an end to this curse is to gather the pieces of Dracula that were scattered to the winds, put them together and defeat him again, once and for all (Honestly. He never comes back. Ever.). However, many people distrust or outright hate Simon Belmont for his supernatural powers, likely blaming him for all the troubles with Dracula. Many of the characters in the game tell half-truths and outright lies, leading the game to be even more confusing. I think this would be appreciated more in a modern audience instead of a time when we have little to no access to information about a game. Now it’s easier than ever, and thus, could be appreciated as a storytelling device. You don’t have a lot of information, other than that you need to buy a Crystal (to help you see invisible platforms).
The player is also being timed, but that’s not really made clear in the game either. There are three endings, which is dependant on how many continues are used, and how much time passes. This makes the game far harder, in theory – because you have to grind hearts for whip upgrades/orbs/sub-items, and exp to make Simon Belmont stronger. Your menu has a clock that shows what time it is, and time constantly turns. Once night hits, the monsters are stronger (but give more hearts), and people in towns all go indoors, so you can’t purchase items. There are also ghouls running around in towns so you have to fight and kill them too. So what do you do in order to get EXP/Hearts, while also not running out of time for the good ending? To the Manors!
The parts of Dracula are in a variety of Manors, and you have to visit them, purchase a Wooden Stake, and break open an orb with them. It’s important to know that while you’re in a Manor, the clock does not run down. So what I do, is I get my Holy Water, get my Crystal, then immediately rush to the nearest Manor. In the early game, you can only get 256 Hearts, so I get as much as I can, buy my Wooden Stake, and then finish it, and figure out where to go next. That way I maximize my grinding without hurting the clock. Monsters respawn when you get off screen, so you can walk back and forth in a short area where Skeletons keep respawning and easily farm exp/hearts. As you level-up though, some monsters stop giving exp (but will still give hearts), so you have to move on to stronger foes. One of the things that makes this game so damn frustrating though, is the Manors. There are so many blocks that you can walk right through, and fall back to earlier parts of the dungeon/to your doom. These Manors also typically have Water pits, where you fall into them and die.
That’s where the Holy Water comes in. Basically, you spam Holy Water with every step if you don’t know where the drop blocks are. If it’s a drop block, your Holy Water will sail through it, and you know to be careful. This is annoying because it’s just an aggravating sound effect and you have to use it just about all the time. Combine this with enemies knocking you back a huge distance when you take damage, you could also be knocked back into another enemy, or knocked into a pit and die. When you die, you lose a life and start back close to where you were – this can have you start right on top of an enemy, where you fall and die again, creating huge moments of frustration. If you Game Over, you continue in the same area at least, but without the hearts/exp you gained. You can get passwords to enter though (which can also let you skip huge portions of the game if you know them), so it’s not a total loss. But knowing where to go and what to do is key, especially since getting to the final Manor (Dracula’s Palace) and fighting the final boss is such a damn pain. Well, fighting Dracula’s incredibly easy – just spam fire on him and he won’t even get a chance to move. It’s incredibly anticlimactic, considering you can skip Death, and have more of a threat from Mermen and Werewolves than you do Count Dracula himself. There are lots of things to be upset about in this game, but it in no way stops it from being a classic, worthy of being recognized.
What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse: 4/5:
There are so many things that could be fixed in this game though. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but I still absolutely love it. It’s challenging, it tells a great story, and was a new direction for the Castlevania franchise. Visually, it’s perfect. The towns look grimy and sad, the people look hopeless. I could talk about the visuals of Castlevania 2 as a separate article. It’s a style of Castlevania game I would have liked to see more of (though personally, my favorite is probably SOTN/Castlevania IV). The exploration style of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest could be done in a variety of interesting ways in a modern game engine. Most of the people I know enjoy Castlevania II, but over the years, I’ve heard a ton of yowling about how bad and difficult it was. It definitely was difficult, but that’s where a lot of the charm came from. It was something new and special, and while the game has plenty of flaws (enough to where it received a fan remake that was arguably much better), it is still a Castlevania game worth sitting down and playing in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. That collection offers save states, which I will most definitely be taking advantage of. You’d be foolish not to. Now get out there and stop Dracula once and for all (for real this time)!