In the days of the NES, game developers were still figuring out how to proceed with follow-ups to their original smash hits. When it came to making a sequel, the choices seemed to follow either one of two paths: 1. Do the exact same thing the first game did. 2. Maintain the spirit of the first game while going in a completely different direction.
As previously discussed, there is a love/hate relationship with the Nintendo developed sequels that followed Option 2, at least in the United States. However, how would it work for a game company not named Nintendo? That’s what Konami tried to answer as it followed up the original Castlevania with its sequel, Simon’s Quest. Again, the results are a bit of a mixed bag, but the legacy it would pass onto future titles in the series is undeniable.
This time around, Simon Belmont is fighting a curse placed upon him by Dracula at the end of the first game. It’s not really clear what this curse does specifically to Simon except stop him dead in his tracks every five minutes or so. The lore says it’s supposed to be slowly killing him, but aren’t we all slowly dying?
While the graphics are quite comparable to the original game, the color palette is a bit darker this time around. This could be chalked up to the darkness that has overtaken the land, and it makes for a more gothic experience. Some would say that the color selection is more limited, but some of the more colorful choices in the original game were blinding. I’m looking at you level three.
The biggest change from the original is the gameplay style. While the first was a straight-forward go right and kill whatever shit is in your path type of game, the sequel drops the player into the open world of Transylvania. Simon can go anywhere his cursed ass desires, but certain areas are off-limits until he obtains the necessary relics to open up those paths.
Castlevania 2 also introduces non-playable characters (NPCs) to the series. These fucks will charge Simon hearts to gain additional items, weapons, and upgrades. For a bunch of dirtbags who have their towns ravaged by zombies every night, one would think they would give the only guy doing jack shit about it some help for free, but the only ones who really do anything pro-boner are the assholes who swap out the different colored crystals, and they do this without the player’s consent. I feel raped…
Instead of one main castle, the player has to fight through five mansions in order to collect the five pieces of Dracula. Once Simon has all five pieces, he can go re-assemble Dracula and fuck him up because…game. Each piece has certain powers that can assist the player, and I always forget to equip the heart when I need the ferryman to take me to the secret island or wherever it is we go…
The various mansions are littered with skeletons, demons, and other baddies, but only two of them have bosses: The Resting Bitch Face of Camilla and Death (because he’s Dracula’s power bottom). Furthermore, only Camilla needs to be defeated in order to progress through the game; you can leave Death’s sorry ass there to ponder his own futility. Deep, I know.
As with most games that have shitty reputations today, internet personalities are to blame. If the Angry Video Game Nerd had never harped on this game, most people would probably have an opinion somewhere between “Yeah, it was OK” and “Totes best game EVA!” Of course, since people can’t form their own opinions anymore, the internet tells them what to believe.
The biggest bitch is the one who lives down the road from me in the trailer park. Good Gravy, what I wouldn’t do to her, even though she’d be most likely covered in gravy. But when it comes to this game, people complain about the day to night transitions. The game functions that every five minutes the game will stop and a slow text box will fill the screen, informing the player that it’s now night or day.
This is predominantly annoying when right in the middle of fighting an enemy, but it’s a bit overblown. For those of us who like to imbibe as we play, it’s the perfect opportunity to take another swig or check out some more fat lady porn that should be done buffering by now.
The other complaint is the smell that’s coming out from my basement, but if Mother hadn’t mouthed off like that… Also, players mention the esoteric clues and random hoops they have to jump through to access hidden paths in the game. For example, when arriving at a seemingly impassable rock wall, the player has to equip a crystal, kneel, wait a few seconds, and a tornado will arrive to whisk Simon to the next part of the game.
There are a few spots like this where it’s hard to figure out what to do without a walkthrough; however, if you’re reading this, you have a walkthrough because you have the fucking internet! I can understand being pissed at this back in the day if you didn’t have a subscription to Nintendo Power, but there’s no reason to fault it for that today.
“But Juke,” I hear a few assholes in the back saying, “what about people who like to beat the game using their own intuition?” To them I say figure it the fuck out on your own then. The NPCs in the game give enough hints that a player can figure out how to progress eventually, and the gameplay mechanics repeat, so players should understand what to try when they run out of options.
For example, the player will need to equip a crystal and kneel early in the game to reveal a secret path under a body of water. It stands to reason, if a player can figure this out, they would try the same process when they reach another dead end. For those of us who have other methods to derive personal satisfaction from other than beating a 30 year old game without a walkthrough, there is the internet.
Today Metroid-vania has been coined to describe the popular style of gameplay in the majority of the 2D Castlevania titles since Symphony of the Night. But that game is heralded as a masterpiece and Simon’s Quest is shat upon.
When looking at Castlevania 2 as the next chapter of the first game, it admirably serves its purpose. One of the most intriguing features of the Castlevania series was its ability to weave an extensive mythology across all of its games. If the sequel had been just another romp through a castle, it would have been sufficient, but it wouldn’t be as memorable. Taking part in events that come right after the first game is rarely seen, even today, and it really helps expand the game’s mythos.
As a child, exploring the open world of the game was what made it remarkable. I wasn’t concerned about beating the game, there was always the one neighbor kid who could do that, but just having the opportunity to walk left was groundbreaking.
Ultimately, once the player knows the route through the game and can decipher the Engrish translation, the game is fairly simple to beat. Yet, if you’re looking to unlock the best ending, the game will need to be completed in only a few in-game days.
Every year, when I sit down for my annual play through, I aim for the best ending, but I have yet to achieve it. Maybe one day I’ll have that game session where everything clicks, and I unlock the best ending where Dracula’s grubby little paw claws up through the dirt. Until then, it gives me a reason to keep coming back.