Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be bad. It’s not always the case, but nowadays, when a sequel arrives on the scene merely a year after the original, people complain, arguing that not enough work had gone into it or that the company was just trying to cash in while they could. Heck, look at Left 4 Dead 2, and listen to some of the fanboys go off. However, this was par for the course in the days of the good ol’ NES. Such was the case with Simon’s Quest, the second in the Castlevania series for Nintendo. No one can deny, though, that good or bad, a lot of effort was shoved into this little game over the course of one year.
The second Castlevania game picks up bout seven years after the first. While visiting the family plot, Simon is approached by a strange woman, who tells our hero that a curse was placed upon him by Dracula during their last battle. The only way to fix the curse, of course, is to resurrect Dracula once again and kill him. Still suffering from injuries from the original battle, Simon goes on an adventure to retrieve Dracula’s scattered body parts and bring back the Lord of Darkness. Y’know, in order to kill him again.
While the plot leaves a little to be desired, it was certainly creative and made for an interesting story. The mystery of the woman still has yet to be explained, though for the Castlevania savvy, my money says it’s Carmilla, one of the ongoing characters familiar to most fans of the series. It also isn’t necessarily explained how these parts were scattered, and why they are in five old abandoned mansions. So long as you don’t dig too far, you can enjoy the plot for what it is.
On the surface, this is essentially the same game, except that Simon seems to have gotten paler. When you get into it, though, it sets up the blueprint for pretty much every Castlevania game that we’ve come to know in the past ten or so years. Rather than traveling left to right to fight a boss, you travel around, finding towns and speaking with townsfolk to figure out what you’re doing. You can buy items using hearts, you gain ‘levels’, which make you stronger and raise your life bar, and you can even upgrade your whip at times.
Each of Dracula’s body parts can be found in a mansion throughout the landscape. They act like mini-dungeons that you traverse to find the body parts within and ‘liberate’ them using an Oak Stake. Oh yeah, as a pro tip, always make sure you have an Oak Stake on hand. There are some cheap tricks in these babies, too, including trick floors, the occasional sub-boss… well, that’s actually about it, really. The dungeons are pretty much secondary to the exploration involved with this game.
The sub-weapons are around, too, but instead of switching out every time you collect one, they become a part of your inventory, for use at various points throughout your adventure. Some even have different abilities, like the Holy Water’s ability to disintegrate false bricks in houses to open up pathways to some of the best equipment in the game. It’s worth seeking out some of the harder ones to find so that you can use them as your adventure unfolds.
One might wonder how Simon’s second outing compares to his first. Well, in the same way The Adventure of Link appealed to those that loved the original Legend of Zelda. While it garnered great reviews when it came out, it’s a different flavor and adds a different level to the series. If you like the current Castlevania games, you’ll love the exploration and the open-ended feeling of this entry. It doesn’t feel like a huge world, but it certainly feels like a countryside instead of being cooped up in a castle. Being able to upgrade your whip, some of your sub-weapons (the Golden Dagger is ridiculously game breaking) and your character is a really nice addition to what was a fairly typical platformer on a gameplay level in the original.
There’s also a really neat mechanic involved that, on an internal timer, makes the game progress from day to night. During the day, you can travel with fairly easy combat and little trouble. At night, though, you find out just what a terrible night it is to have a curse. The enemies get harder, and the townsfolk are replaced by awful ghouls that traverse the streets. It’s a cool mechanic, and the amount of days that goes by does have an actual effect at the endgame. This does end up with a player having to choose if they want to go traveling during the night and risking life and limb or waiting in one spot until daylight comes around.
While the gameplay is altered dramatically and to an interesting effect, the game falters in a very important way. The translation is pretty awful. There are spelling errors everywhere, and the ‘clues’ that the townsfolk give are so badly translated that you may as well not even have clues most of the time. As a bit of background, apparently, the townsfolk were blatant liars in the original version, but when it was translated, they ended up being barely coherent, save for aiming Simon in the right direction. Even then, some of the puzzles aren’t even explained. While I try to lean people away from walkthroughs, completing this game almost requires it. Feel free to try, though, if you’re looking for a challenge. While this is the only glaring flaw that this game has, it is nearly crippling at times, and I feel it outweighs a lot of the good in the long run.
The presentation of this game, though, is something I can throw back onto the positive side. The music, like just about every Castlevania game, is ridiculous. As in ‘ridiculously awesome’. ‘Bloody Tears’, one of my favorite tracks of any game ever, is featured in this entry, and the rest of the music is fantastic, as well, especially considering the time. Castlevania might have a few faults, but I can’t think of one entry that has the sound and music fall under that category. Of course, that’s if you like the rock synth that the games are so well known for in that time.
The graphics are somewhat of a different story than the sound, though. The enemies and townsfolk look excellent, and the backgrounds are satisfactory. Even the change from day into night is portrayed with nightmarish palette changes and designs. The one thing that never seems to improve, however, is the hero and the actual graphics for level tiles. This might be a conscious effort on the part of the designers, but it’s a poor one, at least to this reviewer. Whatever the case, that small point is not enough to sour any part of the experience of the game, and it is still very pleasant to look at.
This game, unlike its older brother, doesn’t seem to stand up to the tests of time so well. While it has a great amount of interesting points, the one major flaw that it has really does almost incapacitate it. Is it fun? If you have something to aid you through it or a friend willing to sit with you who already knows the ins and outs of the game. Running in circles is only fun for so long, though, and plenty of people would probably throw this game back into the pile without a re-translation. I certainly recommend this game for the hardcore fans, though, and while the game doesn’t have the brightest of endings- no matter which one you get- it’s still a decent journey.
Just bring a walk-through and make it a day trip.