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Castlevania II: Simon's Quest Review Rewind


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On 05/10/2021 at 04:24 PM by Jamie Alston

Dracula’s Revenge
RECOMMENDATION:

A good trek for those interested in seeing the series’ evolutionary step towards Symphony of the Night.

It was common practice for game developers to make radical design changes for the first sequel of a popular game in the early NES days. It was no different with Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Released in North America in 1988, Konami decided that a few changes were in order. The previous game primarily focused on platforming, defeating the boss of the current stage, and moving on to the next location in linear order. Conversely, Simon’s Quest took the series in a new direction with an open, Metroid-esque style of exploration and a few RPG elements to boot. Castlevania had entered a new frontier.

You are once again in the role of vampire killer extraordinaire Simon Belmont. His previous victory over Count Dracula left him seriously wounded. Much to his misfortune, Dracula cursed Simon's name with his dying breath, and now Belmont is slowly dying from his battle scars. The only way to heal his scars is by finding Dracula's remaining body parts tucked away in five mansions and burn them in his castle.

Before I get into the new changes introduced in this game, let's briefly consider the core gameplay elements from the original Castlevania that carried over into this one. Simon's primary weapon is still the whip (and it's still upgradable). He acquires sub-items to assist him in his quest. Hearts are collected from fallen enemies. And Simon still leaps with that ridiculously stiff knee-jump animation. It was good to see that Konami didn't completely do away with the familiar gameplay nuances from the first game. But this is where the similarities end.

The game's non-linearity is apparent right from the beginning. You start in a small residential area and have the option of going either left or right to the next scene without being forced to follow a specific path. As soon as I saw the first town inhabitant walking about, I knew I was in for a slower-paced adventure than the previous game. Throughout Castlevania II, Simon visits other towns and can talk to people for clues on where to go and what to do next. Unfortunately, the clues are often cryptic and non-sensical.

This is due in part to the fact that the hints are lost in translation from Japanese into English. It creates a problem when certain clues devoid of proper context tell you to do something crucial to your advancement. A prime example of this is when one person tells you to "hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole.” From that, you're supposed to glean that you need have Simon kneel when you get to a wall that appears to be a dead-end. Such poorly given instructions made it nearly impossible to finish the game without a strategy guide or a lot of trial and error.

A large part of the game involves a day/night cycle that changes at roughly five-minute intervals. During the day, fighting with your enemies are easy enough. They go down after a hit or two from your whip. But at night, the stamina of your foes is increased, and it takes more effort to bring them down. During this time, towns are infested with dreadful creatures roaming the streets, and you can’t interact with the townsfolk until the daylight returns.

Once completed, the game’s ending is determined by how many days passed before you could defeat Dracula. Some have complained that the switching between day and night hamper the flow of the game. But I enjoyed this feature because it added depth to your journey.

The game has a heavy focus on collecting quest items and upgrading your arsenal. Most upgrades are purchased through merchants found in towns and mansions while on your way to collecting another part of Dracula's body. The only real problem is that most merchants are hidden beneath the floor of certain rooms. The only way to uncover them is by using holy water, but the game never explicitly tells you that, so it's easy to miss valuable or quest-critical items that you'll need later on.

On the other hand, I thought it was nice that you can use parts of Dracula you've collected to your advantage after obtaining it. For instance, Simon can use Dracula's rib as a shield to deflect fire projectiles-- something super helpful since quite a few enemies love shooting flames at you. Once you get Dracula's nail can be used for breaking through particular walls with your whip. You'll need this ability later to get the Flame Whip-- the best weapon in the game. I liked having the option to use parts of Dracula because it made the game more than just a collect-a-thon platformer. 

A password system is included so that players won’t have to play to the whole thing in one sitting. Even better, the passwords are shorter in length than in other games like Kid Icarus and Metroid. Hearts collected from fallen enemies have a three-fold purpose this time around. They can be used as currency for purchasing items and as experience points for leveling up Simon's stats. You also need them to use specific special attacks (much like in the sub-weapons in the first game).

What sucks is that losing all your lives will wipe out your stock of hearts if you choose to continue the game, which means that your money and EXP are thrown out along with it. It was frustrating for me because it takes quite a while to gain enough hearts to purchase needed items and advance Simon's stats. There were several occasions where I spent 15 minutes stocking up hearts, only to lose it all on the last life.

Oddly enough, as difficult as simply reaching the next mansion can sometimes be, the boss battles are hilariously easy-- and scarce on top of that, especially for a Castlevania game. Since Dracula's body is spread across five mansions, I expect to encounter five bosses throughout the game. But no-- only two of the five mansions have a boss guarding one of Dracula's body parts, which leaves you free to walk out with them unchallenged by any real threat. Even Dracula himself can be sent back to the grave quickly if you have the right equipment.

The visual presentation in Simon’s Quest is a cut above the last game. I enjoyed the old worn look of the structures that make up the towns you visit. The best sections are the outside areas between the villages and mansions you'll be exploring. I liked moving through the dense forests and mountain peaks pictured in the background. I also appreciated Simon's black and red character design. He was perfectly distinguishable from everything else in any given piece of scenery.

The music was on the money with its Gothic Transylvania style in most of the compositions. My favorite is “Bloody Tears,” the central theme of the non-town areas during the daytime. It's fast-paced and conveys a sense of epic adventure unfolding as you make it past each new obstacle. The same is true of the other musical compositions that accompany the game, though I must admit that the mansion area theme ("Dwelling of Doom") does become repetitive very quickly. But that's only a minor grievance in light of the great work that went into the soundtrack.

Overall, Simon’s Quest was a worthy sequel to the greatness of Castlevania. Sure, the game may have seemed impossible to beat thanks to the mangled, Engrish-laden clues from the townsfolk. And the non-linear gameplay may have slowed the pace more than some would have liked. But now we live in a world that has GameFaqs. So buck up and download a strategy guide, I say. It's quite fun if you can forgive the shortcomings.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

SanAndreas

05/10/2021 at 10:11 PM

They really tried to be ambitious on this one. Too bad it wasn't executed better. It was another example of a 1990s sequel, where game designers tried to do different stuff with limited success, as with Mario 2, Zelda 2, Ultima 2, Final Fantasy 2.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/11/2021 at 12:20 AM

Sounds like a case of....the terrible 2s.  LOL. Naw, but I did genuinely enjoy Simon's Quest. You do have to be in the mood to play it though.

Cary Woodham

05/11/2021 at 08:11 AM

My friend and I rented this a time or two back in the day when we were kids.  I know we beat it because I remember seeing the ending.  When I played it again on the Castlevania Collection last year, I was like, "Oh my gosh, how did we ever beat this as kids?"  Same thing with Bionic Commando.  I know my friend and I beat it back then, but playing it now, I was like, "No way!"  I don't know if we were better at games back then or just more patient.

I'm not really a big Castlevania fan, though.  Simon Belmont just controls like he ate a big breakfast that morning before deciding to go beat up Dracula.  Only Castlevania game I really like is Kid Dracula.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/11/2021 at 11:20 AM

Isn't Kid Dracula part of the Castlevania Collection on Steam? I need to look into that. I've been wanting to play KD for years now. I hear it's really good.

Cary Woodham

05/12/2021 at 04:11 PM

I don't know if the Steam version of Castlevania Collection is any different, but I have it on PS4 and it does have Kid Dracula on it.  Too bad it doesn't have the Game Boy version as well, since that one actualy came out in the US.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/23/2021 at 12:24 PM

Yeah, this game is infuriating as hell, but I still love it. I never got very far in it, and the controls are like maneuvering a dump truck, but I played it and I played it. When I was a kid, I just really romanticized this game. I have the same feeling for Zelda 2. What a horrible night for a curse. 

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