Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is the black sheep of the series, and for good reason. It’s a hurricane of frustration from beginning to end!
|Console||Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Famicom|
|Genre||Platformer, action-adventure, RPG|
|Purchase (NES Classic)||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (NES)||Purchase from eBay.|
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is a particularly infamous entry in the Castlevania series, even to the point of being declared a badly designed game by the Angry Video Game Nerd and EgoRaptor. And I have to agree. This Castlevania game isn’t anywhere past mediocrity. Certainly playable but could have been a HELL LOT better.
The Convoluted Quest Begins
The events of Simon’s Quest occur right after Simon Belmont defeated Dracula in the first game. However, Simon received a curse from his opponent and Dracula still lives on as five different pieces. So Simon must set out to collect all five pieces guarded by Dracula’s minions and destroy his nemesis for good.
The first thing you’ll notice about Castlevania II is that the town you start in is particularly boring. Though there’s a joyful chiptune playing, the town as a whole looks drab. The buildings generally look the same and all characters on the screen are featureless.
As EgoRaptor pointed out, Simon’s Quest uses a dull color scheme filled with dark, muddy colors that seems to blend in together as a giant gray mess. Compare to the original game’s color scheme…
Yeah… it’s very clear who’s the winner here.
Unlike the first Castlevania, Simon’s Quest is a non-linear game where you must explore your surroundings, collect new gear, and level up Simon’s hitpoints. Instead of completing individual levels, your main objective is to collect five of Dracula’s body parts and bring them to his castle to destroy him once and for all. Only then will Simon’s curse be lifted. You can find Dracula’s body parts inside mansions scattered across the game, where they function as the main dungeons. While it’s a fairly straightforward goal, getting to these places is where the game becomes truly tedious.
The Breakdown of Mechanics
Previously, hearts were used as ammunition for sub-weapons in Castlevania. But in this game, hearts are the currency for purchasing necessary items. It’s a… strange decision, but the game does at least let you know how to use them properly.
The main idea here is to turn Castlevania into an action RPG rather than the challenging platformer that we’ve known the first game for. Every time you kill enemies, you earn experience points and hearts. Over time, experience points will allow you to gain levels to boost your HP. Hearts, on the other hand, are needed to upgrade your whip, buy sub-weapons, buy quest items, etc.
Theoretically, this formula could work under the right execution. After all, there was a point in which the series did the action RPG formula some justice: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the PlayStation.
Normally, you heal in the original Castlevania by finding hidden porkchops in breakable walls. To heal in Simon’s Quest, you have to visit a church in any town you come across or level up. However, not all towns have a church which can be really annoying.
Another major component of Simon’s Quest is the innovative day-to-night transition. Behold, the infamous nighttime message!
The day-to-night mechanic is interesting and ambitious for its time, and attempts to make the game feel more dynamic. It serves two functions:
- When it becomes nighttime, enemies are stronger and you can’t enter buildings inside towns. Therefore, you can’t heal at a church or buy most items.
- You can get one of three endings, depending on how many days have passed during your playthrough.
Unfortunately, this mechanic is more of a nuisance than a meaningful challenge. Because the majority of the enemies in the game don’t pose any real threat, enemies take more hits but are not necessarily harder. They just take a little longer to kill.
Of course, there are numerous complaints that the actual transition takes a tediously long time to happen. In fact, it takes nearly 10 seconds to get through a simple text box until nighttime finally comes in. Then another 10 seconds for a text box for daytime. Personally, this doesn’t bother me too much (considering I developed a LOT of patience from playing old PlayStation games back in the day). Still, this is worth addressing since it just eats up your time for no good reason.
It’s not because the idea itself is bad, but just the execution. The Game Boy Color game, Shantae, uses a similar mechanic for how nighttime affects enemies. And it worked out SO much better.
Where the Hell Do I Go?
This is most likely the question asked by people new to this game. Because the general level design of Simon’s Quest is so poor, you often wander into areas that you don’t have any business to be wandering into yet.
You can try to get some clues on where you should be going. But then, here’s another major complaint: THE CLUES ARE FUCKING AWFUL!
Seriously. Simon’s Quest wouldn’t be that bad if the clues are actually CLUES. Why are there NPCs telling me to find clues in certain towns or areas? Why can’t they just tell me the clues themselves?
Because the game wants you do some busywork. The idea is that you have to enter these specific areas and throw Holy Water at every random floor/wall tile until one of them breaks open and reveals a hidden book.
No, I am dead serious. This is precisely what you have to do if you wanted to complete this game without a walkthrough. You have to throw Holy Water at nearly every floor or wall tile in hopes that you will find a book that will give you a hint on what to do next.
But even then, some of these clues are poor translations that don’t clarify what you actually have to do. They can give misleading information and even directly lie to you. And I dare you to try to find specific locations based on what the NPCs are saying. So time to do your fucking homework and try to remember the names of each location that has a name!
Yeah. The Death Star. I guess Count Dracula was trying to form an alliance with Darth Vader.
It’s like someone rushed through these translations and didn’t bother proofreading what they actually wrote. There are multiple instances where words are misspelled or phrases are worded awkwardly.
But from what I heard, the developer originally intended for these hints to be vague or outright lies just to make the game harder. Wow. There’s just no excuse here. These hints just don’t cut it. It’s no wonder this game stumped so many people back when it first came out.
The Mansions of Dullness
So coming back to what you actually have to do, you have to search the world for five mansions. In each mansion, there is a crystal orb containing a body part of Dracula. But finding this orb is not enough. No, you have to search for a NPC in the mansion that will sell you an Oak Stake for 50 hearts. Then you need to return to the orb, then throw the Oak Stake at it to break it. Then you can collect your prize and be on your merry way!
I love my job I love my job I love my job I love my job…
Just when you thought the mansions would be actually fun compared to the rest of the game, they just aren’t. They’re just a series of floors and stairs which you have to navigate. Most of the enemies pose very little threat to you and only exist to be a minor annoyance.
Fuck, even the bosses are pathetically easy!
So wait. Are those the only bosses in the game?
Counting Dracula, YES. These are all the bosses in the game. How underwhelming is that?
Oh, but get this. After you defeat the Carmilla boss, you get the Magic Cross which will allow you to access Dracula’s castle. AND THERE IS NOTHING TO DO IN THE CASTLE.
It’s just a big, winding path with no enemies, mini-bosses or something worth your time. Instead, you end up fighting Dracula at the very end in one of the most anti-climatic final boss fights in history.
Right after Dracula is about to finish spawning, you can just keep spamming Holy Fire in that one spot in the middle of the room. He won’t move and he’ll keep taking damage. But even if you fight him fairly, he’s STILL easy. What is this game?!
So you get your disappointing little ending—for first-timers, chances are you’ll get either one of two crappy endings—while still being baffled by that laziness towards the end. Of course, there is more to talk about.
Simon’s Quest Redacted
So sometime in 2009, a user by the name of TheAlmightyGuru worked on a ROM hack of Simon’s Quest after playing through the original game for the first time. Needless to say, he hated the ridiculously bad hints in the game. So he decided to make his own corrections on the game.
Holy shit! Legible English!
Simon’s Quest Redacted is a massive improvement over the original game, just for the fact that NPC dialogue actually tells you real hints. It’s even easier to tell where you are too, as navigating in the original game is complete hell.
The new hints also tell you what you’re supposed to do in order to find the next mansion and what certain items do.
So Redacted managed to address the biggest complaint about the game. But in the long run, Simon’s Quest is still not that great.
It’s still a tedious game where you have to do a lot of waiting around because of the nighttime mechanic.
You still have to collect a bunch of hearts to purchase required gear, and getting a game over will make you lose all of your current hearts.
You still have to massacre a lot of pathetically weak monsters while your biggest obstacles are most likely the level designs themselves.
You still have to fight some of the most pathetically easy bosses in the entire Castlevania series.
I can see why Simon’s Quest can be a piece of nostalgia, but it simply wasn’t a good release—even around the time when it first came out. Games like Super Mario Bros. 2 for the U.S. and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Adventure also tried different gameplay but are generally better games. In fact, Link’s Adventure is very similar to Simon’s Quest.
The comparison between the two games is inevitable. Link’s Adventure came out before Simon’s Quest and the two attempted the same kind of gameplay (sidescroller/action RPG). However, Link’s Adventure was a more liked and better designed game. Why?
- Leveling up can either increase your HP, magic or attack power
- High amount of enemy variety that keeps the combat interesting
- Finding out where you’re supposed to go is more straightforward (for the most part)
- Required items are easier to find since most of them are inside palaces or specific areas in the game
- It’s much easier to navigate to new areas since there is an overhead world map
- There’s a magic system that grants you new abilities such as higher defense or shooting flames that harm armored foes
- You can get quest items and new abilities that help you get through tougher areas
- Palaces offer a great challenge with labyrinth navigation, special item collection, difficult enemies
While Link’s Adventure didn’t age well either, it’s still a better game than Simon’s Quest.
But I’ll give credit where credit is due. At the very least, we can say Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is the precursor to a much superior game: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the PlayStation. And by extension, all those Metroid-style Castlevania titles on the handheld systems. It’s not a terrible game per say, but it still misses the point on what made those action RPG platformers so fun in the first place. So if you still want to try Simon’s Quest, I would definitely go play the Redacted version of it. You won’t miss out on anything good from playing the original.
Castlevania II: Simon's QuestPrice Varies
- The strong potential of an action RPG Castlevania is definitely here, but not fully realized.
- The nighttime mechanic is interesting, though it isn't well executed.
- The non-linear nature of the game adds some excitement, even though the areas are poorly designed.
- Because enemies are very weak and predictable, they're more distracting than threatening.
- The visuals are dull and bland.
- The original game contained vague clues on what you should do or outright lies. However, the Redacted hack amended this.
- The bosses are outright terrible and ridiculously easy.