Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES)

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Console: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Released: 1988
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Famicom? Yes (as Dorakyura Tsu: Noroi no Fuin – English Translation: Dracula 2: The Seal of the Curse )
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.80 (used) $195.00 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $15-$20 (used) $400.00-$1,000 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console (NES version) – $5.00

What are you supposed to do?

Control Simon Belmont through an open world and collect the five scattered body parts of Dracula and a magical cross.  Once all of these items have been discovered, Simon returns to Dracula’s castle and assembles the parts to fight and kill Dracula, who has put a curse on Belmont.  Depending on how fast you can complete the game, you will be given one of three endings.

Review

In Konami’s follow-up to Castlevania, the developer attempts to refine the game mechanics and make the sequel quite different from the original, as many NES games at the time were doing, with RPG elements.  Simon Belmont can level up, purchase upgrades and weapons from townspeople, and freely explore an open world.  The gameplay of fighting enemies remains mostly the same, however with the new open world format there is little direction as to where to go but blocked paths and out of reach ledges due to not having the right item streamlines it into a somewhat linear experience.  In addition, day and night cycles keep the player on their toes as night time removes the safety of villages and doubles the strength of enemies.  At face value the concept of this game was great, but there are some big issues that prevented us from enjoying it then and now.

Nothing in this game is explained to you and this is one of the few games that not only suffers bad translation, but contains hints and villagers that will flat out lie to you.  According to longtime Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi (although he did not work on the NES games), the game design specifically had certain people mislead and lie to you although there were often subtle hints leading you in the right direction, most of which were lost in the game’s spotty translation.  This means that you never know who to trust and without a guide, I’m hard pressed to see how anyone who hasn’t already beaten the game would have the time and patience to do so.  For those appreciating bad translations, this has some of the greatest lines out there, especially thanks to almost no punctuation.  My favorite is, “Get a silk bag from the graveyard duck to live longer,” which should have a comma between graveyard and duck.  I still laugh out loud now when I think about the days and days I scoured the land looking for the infamous graveyard duck.  Another one that is not nearly as funny because it involved the only way to get to one of the mansions was, “Hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole.”  There are tons of these phrases in the game that reference moves or actions that you simply have no idea how to do and, shocker, can’t actually do.  What this clue is trying to tell you is that you need to equip the red crystal, go to Deboarh Cliff, and duck down until a tornado comes to take you away.  How anyone ever figured this out is beyond me (and probably ended up getting revealed in Nintendo Power after a Konami PR rep sent the “tip” in).  Anyway, if this hasn’t discouraged you yet, here is a link for more hilarious things villagers said that had you hunting down actions and items you’d never find.  Trust me, get a walkthrough.

Graveyard Duck by lynxieles

When you strip away the poor dialogue and actually know what you need to do next, Simon’s Quest isn’t half bad.  It’s got some great mechanics, the level design is decent enough so that you’re challenged without losing your mind at the unfair parts of the game, and the forward thinking mechanics can be appreciated.  It’s not really a hard game, especially when you know what to do, but you’ll want to do most tasks so you are as prepared as you can be for that Dracula fight.  I always like to test myself to get the good ending (7 days or less), which is more of a speed run challenge than a good way to enjoy this the first time.  Back in the late 80s, though, without a clue as to what to do, most of my friends and I just walked away from the game shrugging, thinking we just didn’t get the premise and what to do (this happened quite frequently in those days).

Quick side note for this game and its place in the Castlevania series.  In Japan, Dracula 2 is one of the few games in the series without Akumajo in the title, so its easy to miss.  Not only that, many people have a deep hatred for the game and slam it at any cost.  Additionally it was only available on the Famicom Disk System, or FDS, which makes it extremely difficult to play nowadays with the low reliability of that console (although it is in the Japanese Virtual Console).  Because it was on a console that supported saves, a password system had to be implemented for the NES release and explains the long and frivolous passwords you had to write down if you wanted to pick up where you left off after turning off the console.  Many FDS titles that later released on NES have this password feature for compatibility, but when you consider how much better the cartridge preserves the game, I’d say we got the better deal.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

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