Spooky memories from gaming’s past – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

The second issue of Nintendo Power used this controversial cover during the Halloween season in ushering in its feature article on Castlevania’s almost equally controversial sequel. Upset parents concerned for their children rang Nintendo over it. I jalso wondered when Simon traded in his plain armor for this suit with a cape.

A sequel to Castlevania arrived in ’86 for Japan as Dracula II: The Seal of the Curse and made it over to the West in ’87 as Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. After the climactic battle with Dracula, and despite his victory over evil, our hero, Simon Belmont, isn’t long for this world. The game was also very different from the side-scrolling, linear action of the first game. Konami took a huge, creative gamble with this one that not every fan appreciated though I liked it if only because it began to feel more like an action RPG than as a strict action adventure.

Simon Belmont’s on a quest to find the pieces of Dracula’s body scattered throughout the land after being told by the vision of a “beautiful maiden” (according to the story at the start of the manual) that he has been cursed to die. Only by collecting the five missing pieces of Dracula’s corpse and burning them can the curse be lifted and depending on how long it took (by in-game time’s reckoning) to do it, one of three endings could be reached by the player — a good ending, a bad ending, and the “normal” ending.

The film strip motif is back in the sequel's title along with a brief story.

The film strip motif is back in the sequel’s title along with a brief story.

Simon’s Quest was a huge departure from the mechanics of the first Castlevania. The basics — side-scrolling action, a whip weapon, and monsters, jumping onto platforms — were intact but a lot of lightweight RPG elements were added in making this a very different game in may respects as well as something of a pioneering title in the Castlevania series.

Where Castlevania was a linear, side-scrolling adventure through a set number of stages until the player reached the end, Simon’s Quest was an early “open world” approach to the series. It was completely up to the player on where they wanted to head out from the starting town (and they could die by falling into the water if they missed a platform jump without ever leaving the town). If they wandered too far and became caught up in an area where the monsters were too powerful, that was on the player.

There's a church you can visit in town to heal up when you've gone in the wrong direction.

There’s a church you can visit in town to heal up when you’ve gone in the wrong direction.

Heart icons, collected in the first game to fuel secondary weapons, now go towards the title’s version of ‘experience points’ where earning so many of them improves Simon’s health bar and the number of times he can use those secondary weapons. A special screen kept track of that along with what weapons he has bought, items discovered, and the time of day since the game has a day and night cycle. During the day, townsfolk can be found walking around and the player can go into open doors to chat with others or buy special items with those same hearts. At night, monsters come out and make life difficult for Simon as he can’t duck into any of those doors since everyone holes up behind brick walls to hide from the darkness.

Unlike the first game, Simon's Quest shared more in common with an open world action RPG than a linear platformer.

Unlike the first game, Simon’s Quest shared more in common with an open world action RPG than a linear platformer.

There were also a number of puzzles in the game.and townsfolk shared clues — or lied about certain things to further confuse the player. Even Dracula’s body parts imparted some form of power to Simon, like enchanted charms, that aided in his journey. The good news is that a password system kept track of their progress…or at least what they were carrying in their inventory and were armed with when they received a string of letters and numbers to write down for next time.

The game could also be a bit too obscure with its clues and back then, at least on consoles, an open world game that gave the player little to go on was a daunting challenge that was atypical of the bulk of titles available at the time. It’s probably why some view Simon’s Quest as something of weak link in the Castlevania universe, a sequel that strayed too far from the foundations set by the original game much like how a few Zelda fans saw Zelda II: The Adventure of Link which was a radically different game from the first.

Personally, I thought both were still fun games — very different, but interesting in their own way. They were new challenges to be met and added to the variety of excitement that bubbled around Nintendo’s console that could and did speed its way to the top of Christmas lists everywhere in the late 80s.

When the finale was reached and Dracula was put into the grave once again, depending on how long it took for you in-game to finish it, as mentioned before Simon’s fate had three directions it could have gone in:

  • the “bad” ending, if 15 days had passed, saw neither Simon or Dracula survive to the end — only a grave is shown, but both hero and villain had died at the end
  • the “normal” ending tripped if you finished the game between eight and fourteen days — you see Simon kneel by the grave of Dracula and though victorious, dies of his wounds in the end with the hope for someone else to take up the fight
  • the “good” ending triggered if the player finished the game in seven days or less and saw Simon kneeling by Dracula’s grave, text saying that Simon’s has successfully vanquished the curse, and then watching Simon walk away…with Dracula’s hand breaking through the ground when night falls.

Tiger Electronics had even released a handheld version of Simon’s Quest, though Simon’s adventure didn’t quite enjoy the same kind of proliferation that the first game did. It was later re-released on the Wii’s Virtual Console and trickled over to the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U.

Today, many of the elements that seemed like unwelcome changes to the Castlevania formula are now lauded as some of the series’ most exciting thanks to later games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the PSX in ’97, kicking off the “metroidvania” excitement of the series. In ’86, Metroid had become a huge hit with players and critics for its open world approach to action, the power ups, and its unique environmental challenges and puzzles. Perhaps Simon’s Quest had tried to tap into that on some level when it tested the waters in ’88.

Whatever the case may be, Simon’s Quest isn’t a terrible game — a little obtuse, maybe even a little less attractive than its predecessor, but it’s still part of Simon’s legend as everyone’s favorite vampire killer. It certainly didn’t spell the end to the series which continues to live on today. There’s even a fan made “revamp” of the game giving its graphics and gameplay a modern polish.

Simon Belmont in the Captain N cartoon series was portrayed as a tanned, vainglorious moron -- not at all what I thought Simon from the game series was like at all.

Simon Belmont in the Captain N cartoon series was portrayed as a tanned, vainglorious moron — not at all what I thought Simon from the game series was like at all. And what’s up with the goggles???

As for Simon, apparently going with the “good” ending, he went on to cameo in the Captain N cartoon series that kicked off on American television in ’89 and return in a few other titles in the Castlevania series that went back to the more traditional side-scrolling action platforming of the first game, only now, dressing it up in even better graphics, special effects, and music. Simon’s Quest may have been a bit too ahead of its time in some ways, but Konami’s legendary series has never wavered from trying out something new to keep the bloodline fresh, either, as later titles would show the world.

2 responses to “Spooky memories from gaming’s past – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

  1. Pingback: Vampires from Nintendo’s Past – Castlevania: The Adventure | World 1-1·

  2. Pingback: Creepy castles from the ads of the past – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night | World 1-1·

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