Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP 08/28/1987
    • US 12/01/1988
    • UK 04/27/1990
Score: 70%

This review was published on 08/03/2013.

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game developed by Konami and originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It's the second game in the classic Castlevania series, a series that has grown immensely in popularity over time. This is one of the few direct sequels in the Castlevania franchise, as the games usually have little relation to each other in terms of plot. Despite being a sequel, the game plays completely different from the first one. It's a lot like Zelda II and Super Mario Bros. 2 in that respect. Unlike the first Castlevania, Castlevania II is not fondly remembered by many. In fact, most people despise this game. The massive changes that the game made didn't sit well with a lot of people. As such, Castlevania II is considered the black sheep of the NES trilogy. Having said all that, the game was critically acclaimed when it first came out. It had a massive promotion back in the day, getting on the cover of an early Nintendo Power issue. This Nintendo Power issue caused quite a stir, too, because it depicted a severed head. What a crazy time that was. Anyway, Castlevania II isn't a terrible game, but it does have a lot of major problems.

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In the first Castlevania game, a hero by the name of Simon Belmont was summoned to deal with a nefarious foe. This foe was none other than the great Count Dracula, lord of vampires. Belmont journeyed into the heart of Dracula's lair, a castle located in Transylvania called Castlevania. Simon used the sacred whip passed down from his ancestors, the whip known as the Vampire Killer, to slay Dracula once and for all. After conquering many challenges within Castlevania, Belmont was victorious in his fight with the dreaded Count. Unfortunately, all was not well, because Simon was struck with a terrible curse upon defeating Dracula. This is where the story of Castlevania II begins. Simon is now on a personal quest to rid the curse from his body. When Dracula was killed, various parts of his body were severed and placed in faraway locations, in order to prevent his revival. To rid himself of the curse, Simon must collect all of Dracula's body parts and take them to the ruins of Castlevania, where he can eliminate the Count for good. In other words, Simon technically has to revive Dracula and kill him again. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but I'll take it. Also, I'm not exactly sure what Simon's curse does. Maybe it burns whenever he urinates? Or maybe he has a bad case of tinnitus. I know I'd go on a vampire killing quest if I had a curse like that. In any case, Castlevania II's plot is all right. There is something morbid about collecting a dead person's body parts, which I suppose was the intention.

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The first Castlevania was a completely linear adventure from beginning to end, but Castlevania II is the total opposite. This game is a nonlinear adventure through and through, and it's all up to you. Whereas the first Castlevania consisted of carefully designed levels to put your platform skills to the test, Castlevania II is all about exploration. It's structured similarly to a Metroid game, except it has zombies and vampires as opposed to space aliens. You could technically consider Castlevania II to be the first Metroidvania game, but that's a term that didn't get coined until much later on. So the idea here is that Dracula's body parts are hidden in various places in the game, and Simon has to explore the environment to find them all. It's a scavenger hunt of sorts, with the main challenge of the game being figuring out where to go. Exploration in games isn't a bad thing, especially considering how good the Metroid series is, but Castlevania II doesn't do the exploratory thing very well. One of the things that made the original Castlevania so good was the top notch level design, and Castlevania II drops the ball on that one. Metroid also had solid level design, despite being an exploration heavy game. Most of the areas in Castlevania II are just straight paths littered with enemies that are easily disposed of. It's a tremendous drop in quality from the previous game's intricately designed stages. Figuring out where to go in this game is also really difficult, especially without a guide. If you didn't have some kind of outside material to guide you, then your chances of finishing the game are essentially non-existent. People did have Nintendo Power back then, but that's no justification. The worst case of this is a segment in the game where you need to duck near a specific wall for a period of time so that a tornado mysteriously shows up and carries you into another area. Good luck figuring that one out without a guide. Castlevania II's attempt at expanding the series into uncharted territory is admirable, but it ultimately didn't go well.

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Towns exist in Castlevania II as safe havens from the horrific dangers of the outside world. You can come to these places to restore your health and buy stuff. What I don't get is why the game's currency is hearts. The first Castlevania used hearts as ammunition for sub-weapons, which was strange enough, but Castlevania II uses hearts as money, which is even stranger. These are some violent villages. Be prepared to do some grinding when you get to a new town, because there are usually expensive items you need to buy in order to progress in the game. Some items are merely helpful upgrades, like more powerful whips Simon can use, but a large majority of them are required to finish the game. Talking to random townsfolk will sometimes reveal hints on what to do next, but the game's script is either poorly written or poorly translated, so the hints often amount to incomprehensible nonsense. You can't trust anything these villagers say. Also, I should note that the towns aren't always safe. Castlevania II is one of the first games to introduce a day and night system, in which it slowly transitions between day and night as you play the game. Monsters generally get stronger and more plentiful at night, and towns become danger zones filled with undead creatures during the night. Towns are still usually safer, though, because the creatures that appear in towns at night are comparatively weaker than the ones that appear elsewhere. The day and night system is one of the cool things about the game, as it adds a nice bit of atmosphere. Towns are also pretty cool, but the grinding the game forces upon you takes away from that. A Castlevania game should never have any grinding in it. I'd go as far as to say that no game should, but at the very least, keep it out of Castlevania.

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Castles are kind of like Castlevania II's dungeons, if we were using Zelda terminology. These are the main areas of the game that Simon must travel to in order to acquire Dracula's body parts. Design wise, castles are a lot more interesting than the rest of the game, but they still feel a bit off. Generally, your objective inside of a castle is to buy a stake from a mysterious dude who sells stakes, locate and defeat the boss, and use the stake to acquire Dracula's body part. It's pretty annoying, because the stake guy is usually in an inconvenient spot far away from where the boss is located, requiring you to do extensive backtracking. There's also the fact that you need hearts to buy a stake, which might necessitate some grinding. You lose hearts whenever you die, so you'll have to earn back what you lost if you have any hopes of making progress in this game. The good news, and I hesitate to call this good news, is that you can buy an extra stake from the stake guy before leaving the castle. This way, you'll already have a stake ready when you get to the next castle. Also, the bosses in this game are pretty bad, especially when you take into account how good the bosses were in the last Castlevania. Bosses range from stupidly hard to stupidly easy, mostly stupidly easy, and they all have overly simplistic attack patterns. It feels like the bosses in this game were an afterthought. You don't encounter very many of them, either. By the end of the game, you'll have so many upgrades from your quest that you'll be able to steamroll through the bosses with pure brute force. Dracula himself is kind of a pushover. The castles in Castlevania II are lackluster, to say the least, and the bosses aren't any better.

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Castlevania II is an ambitious game that wasn't quite able to deliver on its ambition. It does away with the careful and calculated design of the original Castlevania and instead opts to go with a veritable mess. Exploration and upgrades are cool, but poor design isn't cool. The constant grinding required to get through the game is also a major problem. This isn't an RPG, after all. The game's overly cryptic nature also makes it nigh impossible to figure out your next destination, and the gibberish from the local townsfolk doesn't help. Just about the only thing this game does right is the day and night system, which was way ahead of its time. Perhaps that's Castlevania II's problem, though: it is way too ahead of its time. Castlevania didn't really perfect the exploration formula until Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation, by which point the exploration thing wasn't as cutting edge anymore. If you can get past all of Castlevania II's quirks, then maybe you'll dig it. However, I don't think there are many people out there that are willing to put up with it, and for good reason. The NES might be capable of far worse things than Castlevania II, but it's also capable of far better things.

Word Count: 1,692

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