Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Simon says beat this game.

Game Basics:

  • Review Date: April 5, 2021 (revised on March 26, 2022)
  • Release Date: December 1, 1988
  • Platform: NES
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami
  • Genre: Nonlinear Platformer

I played Castlevania. I failed. Most runs ended at the Grim Reaper, but a few got to Stage 17. Brother #2 played Castlevania. He failed. Brother #3 played Castlevania. He failed. Yet, somehow, we all kept playing it despite the fact that no one ever completed it. Meanwhile, Nintendo Power had just gotten started. We were members of the Nintendo Fun Club and had every issue of Nintendo Fun Club News. Nintendo, though, decided to discontinue the Fun Club News and replace it with Nintendo Power. The first issue was free, but I saw in the “Pak Watch” section that there would be a Castlevania II. We missed the second issue because we didn’t start the subscription in time, but we saw images of it. That was enough for us. We wanted to play, so we went to our usual local movie rental store. They had no copies available, as they had all been rented out. School resumed and it was back to the misery of seventh grade. Add in a blast of winter and we were stuck in the house. My parents wouldn’t drive over to the store and I couldn’t bike there. I had to wait until Friday, March 24, 1989, when Easter Break started and the weather was not as cold. It was time to give it another try. Again, someone else had it rented. Because it was Easter weekend, we waited until Tuesday the 28th try to again. It was finally available, so we got our hands on it. Based on the first Castlevania, we expected an impossible game where we’d be lucky to get by the first level. Wow, were we wrong. First, there were no levels. Second, it wasn’t hard at all. By sunset on the 29th, we had already finished four mansions, with the only help being a single call to the Nintendo Hotline to learn about the tornado. We paid for another day as a birthday gift for me. We finished the game on the 30th. It took two days and three boys, the oldest (me) turning 12 on that day. It’s the only Castlevania game that I have legitimately finished and saw a view of the ending.

The game stars Simon Belmont, who is coming back for another adventure. However, while it’s still a platformer, Simon’s Quest dropped the linear gameplay of Castlevania in favor of a more wide open experience. Simon has been cursed by Dracula. In order to break the curse, Simon needs to collect five of Dracula’s body parts (although calling a ring a body part is a stretch), bring them all into Dracula’s chamber, then defeat him.

A ring isn’t a body part, but it doesn’t matter. I now prossess everything I need.
Time for some sunshine and positivity.

As always, I start the opinionated parts with the good things, but for this game, I felt it would be better to respond to common criticisms. One such criticism is about the day/night transitions. I don’t think they’re that bad. This is a game from 1988. Yes, it’s annoying for the game to stop for a few seconds, but how could Konami have done it better? This wasn’t just a simple palette swap. For “night mode,” Konami also doubled enemy HP, replaced townsfolk with zombies, and adjusted town maps to deny access to stores. There was too much to do when all of that had to be loaded up. I can forgive the stall tactic used to load all of that up to make the game more dynamic. Personally, I like the day/night cycles. I like how it actually affects the game and I like how they did the transitions. It was an ambitious move by Konami, and I think they did their best with it.

Another complaint I have read is about losing Simon’s hearts (currency) after losing all his lives. I think the penalty is fair. There needs to be a penalty for losing lives. Normally, it’s a loss of progress, but here, Simon gets to keep his location, so I feel it’s a fine tradeoff.

I have seen people complain about getting lost, but I’m not sure why, as most of the world is linear. The world map is expansive, but it’s super easy to navigate for how big it is. It’s mostly just one main path from the Jam Wasteland all the way left to Dracula’s chamber all the way right. There are only five branches, and four of the five lead to dead ends, although dead ends may have something valuable in them. Those offshoots are: a graveyard down the stairs from the Sadam Woods, the ferry that goes to Brahm’s Mansion if Simon shows him a heart, the town of Veros as it goes around the first Mansion (which is more of an alternate route than a dead end), downstairs from the Algebra Woods (ok, it’s really the Aljiba Woods) to reach Rover (woof!) Mansion, and the upper path through Dora (the Exploradora) Woods that leads to the useless Denis Marsh.

Luckily, not everything gets criticized. Most people seem to enjoy the music, and it’s easy to see why. The music makes this game so much better. I especially like both outdoor daytime themes. I like how it fades during transitions instead of outright stopping. The town theme is always welcome after fighting through the woods. Hearing it brings a sense of relief and safety. Away from towns, the day theme is “Bloody Tears,” a song so good that Konami made it a recurring theme. There isn’t a wide variety of tunes, but nearly everything is good.

Is there a good night to have a curse?

The game, though, isn’t perfect, so let’s check out the flaws. Normally, I’m all for villagers giving useless and/or comedic hints. However, a bad translation takes the humor and fun out of those “clues.” For example, there is a clue book in Braham’s Mansion. It says, “Wait for a soul with a Red Crystal on Deborah Cliff.” The game wants Simon to go to Deborah Cliff and kneel. Then a tornado will take Simon to the other side of the map. How is anyone supposed to figure that out based on that text?

We had to call the Nintendo hotline to figure out what this meant.
So that’s where Deborah Cliff is…

Meanwhile, the game just throws all these names out there and some of them are just plain terrible. Sadam Woods may be the worst. Let’s just say I noticed it during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Rover (woof!) Mansion is simply hilarious. Camilla Cemetery is named after Gonzo’s chicken. Aljiba sounds like Algebra, which won’t sound endearing to teenagers. With all of these silly names, players may wonder where those places are. Well, good luck with that. Generally, the only help will be the signs found on the lowest level of most towns saying what areas are to the left and right of it. That’s something, I guess. The villagers occasionally mention town names in their dialogue, but nobody ever says if that’s the town they’re in. It never appears when Simon enters, villagers don’t mention the name of the current town, and it doesn’t even appear on the signs. Before the Internet era, it was impossible to know the names without Nintendo Power, so most towns were just called Red Town, Purple Town, White Town, etc.

Simon will have to cross the Dead River approximately 365 times in this game.
Simon comes face to face with some bonehead at night in the forest.
I skipped the White Crystal for now, so the platform Simon is on is invisible.
This is why I got Holy Water first. Fake floors are all over the dungeons.
Now that Simon has prossession of the rib, he can use it as a shield, because that makes total sense.
Seriously, how does a vendor get sales down there?
Look at that fabulous Chain Whip! And look at that fabulous scenery!
Whoever wrote this needs to tell the others how to spell “possess.”
Woof woof!!
I’m sure it’s obvious that Simon needs to kneel here so he can go jump in a lake.
Dropping some garlic in Camilla Cemetery will cause a person in a cloak to appear in a graveyard and hand Simon a knife. Nothing shady about that, right?
Zombies take over the towns at night.
Sounds good. How about we get some dinner first?
Ouch. Well forget about the river bank, then. Get lost.
The sky was all purple; there were Fishmen running everywhere…
Simon’s old friend Death is back for a rematch.
This is Uta, and a rare case of NES waterfalls being purely asthetic.
Say hello to the fabulous, untouchable Carmilla.
What a good looking game this is.
She’s getting lonely, being the ONLY person left in town.
All right, Dracula, bring it on!
I earned the ending here.

Castlevania II is a fun game. Other than making the clues less cryptic, I don’t know how they could have made the game better. None of its flaws bother me enough to lower its grade.

Grade: A

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