I finished Simon’s Quest! Yes, indeed, even after my podcasting buddy and good friend Chris Caskie suggested that I wouldn’t be able to stick it out to the end… I did!
It wasn’t even entirely down to stubbornness or a desire to prove him wrong. I actually enjoyed the whole experience. Well, all right, most of the experience. I didn’t love the bits where progression was dependent on doing something arbitrary in an equally arbitrary location, and the three bosses in the game were all complete garbage, being both ridiculously easy and mechanically uninteresting… but aside from that, I had a great time.
Let’s review what I’ve learned from my experiences, then.
To be fair, the more frustratingly obtuse aspects of Castlevania II don’t actually rear their ugly heads all that often, and once you know what to expect and what to experiment with if you’re stuck, you can generally make fairly constant progress. Pro-tip: if you hit what appears to be a dead end, try equipping whatever coloured crystal you have and kneeling down for a few seconds, as this is the way to proceed on three separate occasions in the game.
There are also a few missable things that don’t really affect your final enjoyment of the game. I never found the right graveyard in which I was supposed to drop a piece of garlic in order to get a Silk Bag from a gypsy, for example, but it turned out that four pieces of invincibility-conferring laurel were more than enough to proceed through the few unavoidable poison marshes you encounter in the game.
I finished the game after 24 Horrible Nights to Have a Curse, which means I got the “worst” ending, in which Dracula is defeated (after a woefully anticlimactic battle in a strangely empty Castlevania), but Simon dies. This actually feels entirely in keeping with the atmosphere that Castlevania keeps, and so it’s not a particularly unsatisfying ending — although it would have been rather unusual at the time of original release. But indeed, to continue the pattern it’s established pretty well by this point, Castlevania II doesn’t give you any indication that there are two other possible endings that it is possible to achieve according to how quickly you beat it — there’s no end-of-game score, timer or letter grade as we might get in more modern titles.
Could I have done it faster? Absolutely. There were several points in the game where I deliberately engaged in grinding to advance Simon to the next experience level — though to be honest, I’m not 100% sure how helpful that was in the long term. Surprise, surprise: the game doesn’t tell you any of Simon’s vital statistics at any point aside from his maximum amount of life. From casual observation, it seems that some level-ups increase the length of Simon’s life bar, while others increase his defense; by the end of the game (level 5, I think?), I was able to take hits from some enemies without the life bar reducing at all, presumably meaning I had taken a “fraction of a HP” worth of damage.
I could have also skipped some of the optional items. I didn’t need to go and get the diamond subweapon (and indeed I didn’t use it at all), and nor did I need the final Flame Whip upgrade for the Vampire Killer. They were nice to have, though, and as I recall both of them were at least vaguely on the way to where I was going anyway, so skipping them probably wouldn’t have saved that much time anyway.
I actually rather enjoyed taking my time over the experience, though. One thing I’ve become quite fond of over the years is when a game allows you to “method act” the protagonist, and Castlevania II is a good early example of this at work.
What do I mean by “method act”? Well, quite simply I’m talking about contemplating how your character would live his life in that game world, and then making use of the mechanics accordingly to simulate his full existence, not just the exciting bits. Taro Yoko’s classic Nier is one of the best examples of this, with the majority of the sidequests in the game being mindless busywork in a depressing, dying world, but engaging with this side of things — completely optionally, I might add — gives you a much stronger sense of the overall context in which everything is unfolding.
In the case of Castlevania II, we’re not talking about anything quite so grandly ambitious or artistic, but we do get a feeling for how a figure such as Simon Belmont might have lived during his journey through Transylvania, most notably when the night falls.
When night falls in Castlevania II, the various towns you encounter along the way close up, with all the NPCs retreating to their houses and all doors becoming impassable. Zombies take to the streets, having the run of the place; they’re never shown actually doing anything other than shambling back and forth, but a bit of imagination can give you an idea of what they might get up to given the opportunity.
So what’s a fully certified undead killer to do? Take to the streets himself and whip those zombies good and proper, of course! This is something I found myself doing quite a few times over the course of the complete game, since I would inevitably cross the threshold of a new town right as day was turning into night, meaning an evening of zombie-whipping before I could buy any items, get healed at the church or indeed do anything useful. Such is the life of a vampire hunter.
All in all, I had a good time with Castlevania II. I might even return to it sometime to see if I can get a better time, now I know my way through it. And I’d encourage you, yes you, to check it out if you’ve ever been curious about the origins of the open-structure 2D platformer format the later Castlevania titles relied on so heavily; while Simon’s Quest certainly has its cumbersome aspects, go in forewarned and ready for those things and you will almost certainly, like me, have an enjoyable journey through Transylvania.
Now, on to Castlevania III, which at the time of writing has just had its Japanese version with the enhanced music patched in to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. I can’t wait!
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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