Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest Retroview
First Movement of the Symphony of the Night
It was November of 1988. Konami released a sequel to the previous year’s extremely popular Castlevania, a side-scrolling action platformer. But like many other sequels released around that time, Konami decided to change the formula a bit from the previous game. Rather than give fans more of what they’d already seen, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest became a very rough blueprint for some amazing games to come.
At the conclusion of Castlevania, a curse is put on Simon that will kill him unless Dracula is revived. So, he must once again use his famous whip, the Vampire Slayer, and track down the various parts of the Count’s body. Then he must reassemble them, defeat Dracula, and end the curse once and for all.
Like its predecessor, Simon’s Quest is a side-scrolling game. In it, the titular hero wields a variety of whips and assorted thrown weapons against the hordes of monsters ravaging Transylvania. Attacking is handled with one button, while the other button makes Simon jump. Special weapons are thrown by holding up on the control pad while attacking. It’s quite simple, but considering the game’s age, that’s not particularly surprising. Incidentally, that was the same battle system used in both of the other NES Castlevania titles.
The music is one of the places where the game excels. Though there are only a handful of tracks, each is quite catchy and were very well done . Simon’s Quest helped to create the standard by which all other games in the series would be measured, and a couple of the tunes became recurring songs in future games.
The visuals are a bit of a mixed bag. Though they are better than those found in the original Castlevania, most of the game’s areas are merely pallete swaps of other locations. The world is quite large, but the amount of repeated scenery really makes the game seem smaller. Sadly, this repetition also applies to the enemies. The only places where everything seems different are the five mansions that each contain a piece of Dracula’s body, but they are populated by the same sets of monster types.
With the exception of a few difficult platforming spots, the game is quite easy. The only challenge lies in figuring out where to go. There are hints from townsfolk, but a lot of the puzzles require some thought on the side of the player. But once a particular problem is solved, future iterations of it are solved in the same way. Considering how easy it is to lose one’s way, the game can take upwards of 20 hours to complete the first time, but subsequent playthroughs can be completed in less than eight hours. In fact, if one wishes to get the best ending, the game must be finished that quickly.
The game’s menu system is pretty basic, but for a game that is over 18 years old, that is to be expected. The localization is also dated. There aren’t any grammatical errors, but a lot of what the townsfolk say seems rather strange and is probably machine translated. It’s quite clear that the action is the reason to play Simon’s Quest; the plot definitely takes the back burner.
Though the story of vampire slayers going after Dracula is hardly novel, the game actually has a fair bit of originality to it. At the time, there weren’t very many action RPGs, and additions like multiple endings and the fact that there was passage of time in the game made it stand out. Every nine minutes or so, the game would switch from daytime to night or vice versa, with darkness emptying towns and doubling the strength of all monsters. These sorts of additions were really innovative at a time where game design was much simpler.
In the end, Simon’s Quest is a game that had a lot of good ideas, but considering the amount of repetition found within, the effect is weakened. Despite this, it served as a template for great games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This fact alone makes it a worthy of a spot in the collection for any fan of the series. Though simple by today’s standards, this game is truly one of the more important games of the NES.