Let’s talk about a game that gets way too much crap. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is a game that needs a map. It is an ambitious game that wasn’t as good as the first game in the series. Does this make it terrible? No, it doesn’t.
Unlike the first game, this is a non-linear adventure game. You’re traveling around an overly confusing map trying to collect parts of Dracula so you can resurrect and kill him again. It isn’t explained why you need to do this, and many clues are confusing because of horrible translations.
There are some parallels between this game and the later Castlevania games. Castlevania III has branching paths and Castlevania: Bloodlines has you traveling to different locations. These two games did things much better by not having you travel through a confusing game without a map.
There are a lot of things going against this game. However, it is fun to try and find all of the locations, and thankfully, the internet has stepped in to try and fix some of the game’s issues. I had fun with it, even if it is one of the weaker entries in the Castlevania series.
TLDR: It is an Endlessly Confusing Game, but it can be Fun to Laugh at.
The story seems to have taken some inspiration from the Hammer Dracula films. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the plot is similar to one of the Dracula movies, Taste the Blood of Dracula, that the studio released in 1970. The movie and this game are about gathering parts of Dracula and his possessions to resurrect the vampire.
This is where the game departs from the movie. Dracula has cursed the first game’s hero, Simon Belmont, and has to resurrect him so he can be properly killed. I’m guessing the manual does a better job explaining what is happening because the game doesn’t explain much.
Ironically, the Worlds of Power book released by Scholastic does an excellent job of explaining the game’s plot. In the book, Dracula tries to return to life by possessing Simon. Our hero has to gather the parts of Dracula so he can be killed and the curse can be lifted.
The story makes more sense when you read the material outside the game. It doesn’t make much sense when you try to read the clues in the game. The in-game text has other baffling issues.
There are three endings to this game. It depends on how fast you’re able to beat the game. However, the text on each of those endings seems to have been messed up. It is a little odd, making me feel like the game was rushed during the localization process.
Overall, the story is fine. If it was in the game or the text was better translated, I might have had a better opinion of the story.
This side-scrolling adventure game is as close to an open world as the NES could muster. It is similar to The Adventures of Link but doesn’t have an overhead map. This would’ve made the game less confusing if it had this section.
Finding your way through this game can be a pain in the butt. It isn’t helped that the game was butchered in the localization process. There are clues on where you need to go and what you have to do, but those clues are nonsensical, and the locations don’t have names.
The towns, in particular, don’t have signs or a townsperson that tells you what town you’re in. Take a game like Final Fantasy. When you walk into a town, the first person you meet welcomes you to a town by telling you where you are. Simon’s Quest doesn’t do this.
Thankfully, plenty of guides can help you navigate the game. I know there were guides back in the early 90s, and Nintendo Power covered the game, but today’s guides are much better. They do a better job of explaining the confusing path you need to follow.
Like other Castlevania games, there are a bunch of items and weapons to collect along the way. Some of these are required to beat the game; here is a list of them:
- Dracula’s Rib – Doubles as a Sheild
- Dracula’s Heart – Show it to the Ferryman to travel to the last few mansions
- Dracula’s Nail – Can break some blocks
- Dracula’s Eye
- Dracula’s Ring
You pick these items up in a series of Mansions that act like the game’s dungeons. You’ll also buy an Oak Stake in each Mansion. The stakes are single-use items that you fire into an orb to get one of the items from the list above.
Your weapons and items are either given to you or purchased from merchants. They can be anywhere but are normally found in towns. You buy things with hearts. I have no idea why this is the currency of this game’s world, but whatever.
Here is a list of the items you get in the game. Some of them are sub-weapons, while others give you temporary invincibility or summon people:
- Silver Knife
- Gold Knife
- Holy Water
- Sacred Flame
- White Crystal
- Blue Crystal
- Red Crystal
Here is a list of the weapons you get in the game. These act as upgrades, so when you get a new whip, it replaces the old one, and you can’t switch back:
- Leather Whip
- Thorn Whip
- Chain Whip
- Morning Star
- Flame Whip
Of all the weapons and items in the game, some are more important than others. I didn’t find the knife all that useful, and I didn’t bother to get the Gold Knife. To get it, you have to defeat the Grim Reaper.
There are three bosses in this game, including Dracula. It is a little surprising that there are so few bosses. You have five dungeons, and only two have something close to a boss character. Here are the three bosses:
- Grim Reaper – Drops the Golden Knife when defeated
- Mask – Drops a Magic Cross when defeated
- Dracula – Final Boss
The Grim Reaper is the hardest boss in the game. However, if you have the Sacred Flame, you can lock him in place, as the bosses freeze when they get hit. It takes a while to beat the Grim Reaper like this. It is the same strategy I used on Dracula. Just keep dropping the Sacred Flame, and you’ll win.
The Mask is a joke. Stay off to the side, equip the Rib, and jump to hit the Mask. It is an embarrassingly easy boss fight. I guess it is fitting that you get the Magic Cross from this fight, as I haven’t figured out what the item is used for.
Okay, after looking this up, you need Magic Cross to get to Dracula. Which means you need to beat the Mask so you can win the game. The Magic Cross does something with the Ring that unlocks Dracula’s castle. This is a confusing game.
The game has three endings, depending on how many days it took you. Here is a breakdown of what happens in each ending:
- 15 days or more – Simon Dies and Dracula Lives
- 8-14 days – Both Simon and Dracula Die
- 7 days or less – Simon Lives, and maybe Dracula dies
This gives you some incentive to try and beat the game as quickly as possible and gives the game some replay value. The problem with this is knowing that there were three endings. I don’t remember anyone talking about this game growing up. I’m sure someone on the playground knew about it, but to me, it was something I saw once or twice and didn’t care enough to figure it out.
Overall, the gameplay is a little rough. Simon’s Quest is one of those frustrating games that has received a terrible reputation. Some of it deserved, and some of it a little unwarranted. The controls are a little better than in the first game, but still stiff. The biggest issue is knowing where to go, which is a big issue with Simon’s Quest.
Simon’s Quest has great graphics! It looks much better than the first game. It has a creepy and depressing atmosphere. The game looks like it has been cursed, much like Simon has in the game.
The mansions, towns and some forests look old and run down. Like the nobles or rich families that used to live in them have long abandoned them. The towns have a similar look to them. At night, they even get infested with monsters!
The enemies look great. The bosses don’t look as good. Dracula looks like the Grim Reaper from the previous game, and the Mask is just a mask. The Grim Reaper is the only one of the three that looks good.
The game has a day-night cycle that has been the subject of ridicule. It isn’t done well, as the game grinds to a halt every time it changes from day to night. A text box alerts the player to the change from day to night.
When you compare it to Friday the 13th, you can see how much better an LJN game pulled it off. It is one of the rare instances where LJN did something better than Konami. It isn’t the worst part of the game, but it isn’t good.
Overall, the graphics are very good. It creates a creepy atmosphere that I think is perfect for a game to be played during Halloween. It is like a horror movie in some ways. Even the opening title screen looks a bit like a film strip.
8/10. No matter how confusing this game is, I like it a lot. Simon’s Quest has great graphics for an NES game, and the gameplay isn’t too bad. You do need a guide to get through to the end.
- Great Graphics
- Good Music
- Interesting ideas
- Terrible Translation
- No Map
- Few Boss Fights
Simon’s Quest had the misfortune of being in an AVGN episode. While it has some serious flaws, it isn’t as bad as James Rolfe’s character made it out to be. It is a fun game that takes some time to figure out.
When people bring up the cryptic nature of NES games, Simon’s Quest should be used as an example. Especially now, as most people don’t have the manual, there are more options for games to play. You don’t have to worry about renting a game like this and being stuck with it, or getting this as a birthday present and having to play it because that is all you have.
This game feels like an experiment by Konami to try and make the sequel different from the first game. Other franchises did similar things and returned to a familiar formula in the rest of the series. Simon’s Quest is a good game that has several flaws. I like it quite a bit despite its cryptic gameplay.