I Enjoy Simon’s Quest – Unpopular Opinion

So, I’m going to get our site stared with a bit of controversy that may make some of the “elite”, “hardcore” gamers rage. I actually enjoy playing Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Now, before you set your Capslock keys to auto-flame, hear me out. I know the Angry Video Game Nerd raged about this game in his first episode. I thought the episode (and most of his work) to be extremely funny an on-point. Heck, I even agree with his criticisms of the game. That said, the game, which I just played through on my RetroPi this morning, is one that I still return to, from time to time, because of its challenge and because it hit several notes for me that the first didn’t hit – notably the fleshing out of the fictional version of Transylvania and adding a sense of agency to my actions.

First, however, I want to address the criticisms of the game. Let’s start with the difficulty. This is what we used to call a Nintendo Power game – a game that was so punishing and difficult that one needed the walkthrough provided by Nintendo Power magazine to complete the game. And, yeah, many times, the game is unfairly difficult due to its cryptic nature. Without a guide, knowing what town you’re in, what “woods” you’re in, or what mansion you’ve just entered/completed is nigh impossible. When you complete any objective, there is no NPC to tell you what to do next. You’re left to figure things out on your own. That’s not fun, and I admit, that it’s often extremely frustrating, and were I to play this game without recourse to any guides or the warm glow of nostalgia, I would be unlikely to bother finishing the game. Let’s also not forget the magical blocks that everyone except for Simon can walk on. 

The game also has a decided lack of boss fights. Normally, when you finish a level, aIMG_4605 dungeon, a mansion, one would expect to find a powerful “boss monster” to overcome. Instead, Simon is greeted by a variant on this room. There’s nothing here but a glowing orb and a bunch of skeletons of people who have been hanged for…whatever reason. The one boss fight (Dracula) is not difficult – even without the Holy Fire Hack. Honestly, this is a letdown, because there is no challenge beyond solving a riddle (see later).

There are also spelling and grammar issues as well as bad translations, from what I understand, and those issues should never have made it past quality control. 

That said, let’s talk about why I do enjoy this game. First, I did say that I enjoyed the challenge. For me, the game plays as an intricate riddle to be solved.  No, the game does not give you specific clues, but it does give cryptic advice. Consider the following examples:

Example 1

IMG_4601One of the villagers in the starting town tells Simon this. That seems important. It is. However, what the villager does not tell you is that (a) the “magic potion” is holy water and (b) the “wall of evil” looks like every other wall.

 

Example 2

IMG_4604 This is the text of the first book that you find in the game (by destroying a “wall of evil” in the first mansion). Okay, so I need to buy a stake from the ever-so-conveniently-placed “Stake Vendor Person”. And you need to strike {information not provided} with it to obtain a “symbol of evil”.  Okay, that’s pretty vague, given that you need to strike the glowing orb and that the symbol of evil is one of Dracula’s body parts.

And I will admit that the clues get even more cryptic throughout the game. That said, on subsequent playthroughs, I can see the game tried to provide hints, but the translators/editors needed to think about specificity and clarity in writing.

Now, on to the other things I enjoy about the game – how it fleshes out Transylvania. The first Castlevania had us explore only the interior of Dracula’s castle. It was expansive and awesome. However, what lies beyond his gates? We never knew. This game tried to provide a more open-world experience (such as an 8-bit game could provide) by allowing us to explore various locations in Transylvania. And for me, that was pretty cool. We got to see towns, interact with villagers, wander the countryside, fall in rivers and die, etc. We got to see day/night changes! (Yes, the randomness and difficulty increase this caused does get frustrating, but for the time, this was a pretty big deal). The fact that Transylvania had people, villages, countryside (which it does in the real world) was something I enjoyed. And I still enjoy it.

Finally, this game did make my decisions seem to matter – even though it didn’t tell you that it was doing this. How? The game had three different endings. This was really the first game that I remember offering different endings for completing the objectives. And don’t any of you say, “What about Metroid!” That doesn’t count. Why? Ther’s only one ending – Samus defeats Mother Brain, escapes the planet, and succeeds. The “difference” in the final scenes is the clothes that she’s seen to be wearing. In one of the endings here, Simon Belmont dies. Yes, that’s right, I completed the objectives, and yet, I still did not remove the curse Dracula placed upon me. That was a big deal back then, and it’s something that I remember as a standout feature of the game.

So, in summary, I concur that Simon’s Quest is a flawed game. There are many things 1482266about the game that could have been done better. That said, it is still a game that my blackened, undead loving, little goth heart can enjoy playing. Also, am I the only one who noticed that the cover image from the box art also appeared on the first edition of P.N. Elrod’s classic Ravenloft novel, I, Strahd: The Memories of a Vampire? That also makes me giddy.

That said, game on!