Never Played: CASTLEVANIA 2: SIMON’S QUEST
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest will be our NES pick for “Never Played” category. Not only have I never played this particular game, I have never played a Castlevania title period. Some of you may ask how it is I’ve managed to never play one despite owning and playing thousands of games. In my younger days I never really heard of Castlevania, none of my friends were ever into them and I was too busy enjoying all the great first party games of the 8bit and 16bit era anyways. The critical acclaim the DS Castlevania games received is the first time I ever really remember considering playing one. But at that time I was in college and between school and work I barely had anytime to game so I stuck with a few select titles when I did somehow find free time. When I decided to do this project in this manner, to always play one title I’ve never played before on each system, I knew this was the perfect time to finally play a Castlevania title. My friend is a big fan of the series and suggested that if I must play only one to review it should be Simon’s Quest. I now know that he has masterfully trolled me and I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive him.
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was the sequel to the critical hit Castlevania. Simon’s Quest hit stateside in December of 1988. The series is developed by Konami, a Japanese developer who put out a ton of phenomenal games during the arcade/8bit era including Contra, Gradius, Frogger and Metal Gear. They would later be responsible for the worldwide craze Dance Dance Revolution. In Castlevania the protagonist Simon Belmont defeated, and was cursed by, Dracula. Castlevania 2 is all about us trying to lift that curse by finding the five body parts Dracula was split into after his defeat and bringing them to his castle to seal him away. The first Castlevania is a standard platformer style game. The second adds several RPG elements and also allows the player to explore and revisit all areas of the game. We will come to find that those RPG elements are what cause Simon’s Quest to simultaneously be a great idea for its time and a complete trainwreck of a video game.
I really like the artwork of this title, it gives off the medieval vibe quite well. Actually come to think of it, all the Castlevania games have great cover art. As I stated at the top, I went into this game blind. I’ve never played a Castlevania, never watched someone play one, never read about the plot or even really what kind of games they are. Some of you may ask why don’t I research mechanics and information about the game before playing it? I find that the best part about video games is that learn them as you go. This sentiment is especially true with older titles that don’t usually outright tell you word for word what to do and where to go. Right at the start of the game, I found the visuals appealing. The lines are not crisp and thick or cartoony (which isn’t an actual word but definitely should be), they’re a bit blurry and dark. Actually its not just the lines, everything is a bit blurry and dark, but that feels purposeful. The early monsters of the game (werewolves and skeletons) look creepy and actually decently detailed for an 8bit title. Everything about the graphics and sound seems meant to create a dark spooky atmosphere and it comes across very well. Speaking of the sound, the music is phenomenal. It’s got kind of a creepy vibe, mixes in high pitch rhythms well and really adds to the overall atmosphere. Simon’s Quest‘s soundtrack will definitely now be downloaded and added to my collection.
At the start I’m introduced to a town of people who all have something to say, most of it sounds like complete non-sense. I would later learn through online research that the town’s people are supposed to give you hints on where to go and what to do, but that much of the details are lost in translation between Japanese and English. This was one of the worst things about the whole game and was a common complaint by reviewers. I continue past them and run into the woods into my first enemies which are werewolves and skeletons. I notice that jumping over them or on them is not an option. My only weapon is my whip. I continue through the forest and when I problem comes along I whip it, whip it good. I notice enemies are dropping hearts, sometimes half hearts, sometimes full ones. Decades of gaming has taught me that picking up hearts should be healing me, however these hearts do not seem to heal me. I get through most of the woods when suddenly I get a message about being cursed. The day turns to night and the music changes into an even creepier, somewhat faster paced score. I notice enemies seem to take more whip hits to die and that they seem to be dropping more half-hearts, I do some testing and sure enough they do. I get to the end of the woods only to see that I cannot go any farther. There are no clues around about where I should go and what I should do. I decide to go all the way back to town and talk to the townspeople to see if I missed something. After an hour of failing I decide I should consult a guide to at least get the ball rolling here. I find out I’m supposed to get a crystal and Holy water from a guy in town who is located in an area that I somehow kept missing. When I get to the guy he asks for hearts in return, so that’s what they’re for, currency. I start to realize that this game isn’t going to be the typical side scrolling beat-em-up I though it would be, it has a bit more depth than that. Later I run into my first mansion which I must admit was very cool. Right from the start it feels different. The skeleton patterns by the gates tell me this “level” is going to be more daunting than the others. I get inside and hear a different music track, see high ceilings and new enemies. Konami does a great job making these mansions feel special. At the end I collect a part of Dracula and exit back into the woods.
As I went through Simon’s Quest I found that it is nigh impossible to beat this game without a guide or someone outside of the game giving you hints. The in-game hints and direction are almost worthless at giving you any sense of direction whatsoever. There were several moments that I had to look up locations of some progress items. Items that are needed to complete the game. I don’t think this kind of set-up would fly these days, reviewers would rip it apart. Even my beloved Souls series, which is known for giving minimal direction to the player, actually tells you in some capacity what your goals are and what things you will need to do to progress. Simon’s Quest plops you in the woods, gives you no sense of what to do and expects you to find well-hidden rooms in random locations to get items required to beat it. If these hidden items were extra bonuses then there would be no problem, the problem is not knowing how to progress through the actual game. Not to mention there is a part where you have to call upon the help of a tornado in a specific spot that I swear the game gives you no direction that you even need to do. Without the help of a guide there is zero chance I could’ve beaten this game. Maybe I’m terrible at video games and its all just my imagination, but personally I think its more likely this game does a poor job at direction.
Despite its major flaws I actually did enjoy the game. The creepy atmosphere and the mechanic of day vs. night had me hooked me early enough and well enough that I wanted to keep playing despite the horrible composition of the game’s direction. The idea of a side-scrolling RPG hybrid appeals to me. Multiple potential game endings was also a cool idea. I really like the idea of the game, even if I don’t love the game itself. It could use a few more boss fights and a lot more hints, but overall I don’t regret playing Simon’s Quest. Most importantly I now cannot wait to try out some of the critically acclaimed Castlevania titles, namely the pair of DS games.