Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
Based on: Shoehorning sadness and frustration into the framework of a perfectly wonderful NES game.
Article by Parish
When Dracula's head flew off at the end of the first game and his body exploded, it wasn't fooling around. In fact, Dracula's body parts went flying all across Transylvania in a horrible, gory mess.
This, kids, is why it's so very important to keep tabs on your blood pressure.
Luckily, Dracula's army of undead custodians was kind enough to pick up his messy giblet bits and store them lovingly in cursed mansions all across the countryside. That worked out pretty conveniently for Castlevania hero Simon Belmont, who was tasked with the rather distateful duty of recovering all of Drac's remains.
Well, not all of them. As Lever reminds us, there are 2000 body parts, and Simon only has to snag five. And they're not just any body parts -- they're special limbs and organs (and costume jewelry) which can be equipped as items. For example: holding the heart will cause a ferryman to give you a ride, which makes perfect sense. I'm skittish enough around MUNI hobos; if some sickly-looking man carrying a bloody heart walked up to me, I'd very anxiously go along with his demands. Yes sir! I would love a copy of Street Sheet, just please don't touch me oh god when was the last time you showered
Other handy tidbits, in a very literal sense: Dracula's eye allows Simon to see hidden passages, and the Rib becomes a shield. Other body parts include the Ring (not technically a part of the body, unless it's a Ringworm) and a fingernail. I'm pretty glad the parts Simon rounded up weren't anything more unusual, however; while subsequent Castlevaniacs have proven to be quite effective warriors while wielding a sword, I rather suspect the requisite body part (according to Freud) would not have been something I'd want to be carrying around.
While Simon's Quest served as a welcome antidote for the goofy monster movie vibe of the original Castlevania, it still didn't do much to make the protagonist more impressive. As if Simon's awkward hunched-over hobbling in the first game hadn't been pathetic enough, the sequel saw him suffering terrible chest pains. Since this happened a good 400 years before Medic Alert, decided the next best thing would be to round up Dracula's body parts and burn them.
Surprisingly, Castlevania III? actually made its hero Trevor pretty awesome. After Simon's Quest, I halfway expected the quest to revolve around Simon's efforts to find relief for his stomach gas and nighttime leg cramps. Maybe by inviting the vampires of Transylvania to a pit BBQ or something. (Thank god for that, since Konami's annoying 8-bit translators would have filled the manual to bursting with "steak through the heart" puns.)
Luckily for Simon and his weaksauce physique, Simon's Quest stands as the absolute least-challenging chapter of the series. Ever. I mean, yeah, Symphony? was insultingly easy if you cranked up Alucard's stats and dual-wielded the Crissaegrim, but Simon's Quest was like a gentle breeze from start to finish -- quite the change from its heritage. If finishing Castlevania was like passing the Navy S.E.A.L. entrance trials, completing Simon's Quest is sort of like beating up a preschooler. Except you feel even guiltier.
Truth be told, the only real difficulty stems from trying to reconcile the clues ("Hit your head against the cliff") with the actual solutions (kneel by the lake), and from trying to stay awake while walking back and forth across the Transylvanian countryside through a deluge of enemies that possess the collective intelligence and toughness of oatmeal.
With this having been said, it's important to realize that the tips and hints the various NPCs give you in Simon's Quest are quite possibly the least useful since the info broker lady in Zelda cackled, "Boy, you sure are rich!" when you paid her fifty Rupees. Mostly, the townfolk sneer at you, the ladies come on to you despite your crappy posture and weak health, and wise old men dish out utterly useless clues. If you want to beat the game, buy a stinking Nintendo Power, because the in-game clues sure won't get you much of anywhere. In a first for NES software, the incoherent text had nothing whatsoever to do with the translation quality; the townspeople were complete jerks in the Japanese version, too.
In fact, Simon's Quest goes out of its way to abuse players. It may well be the only game in existence that offers multiple endings and actually gives you the worse endings the better you do. Imagine my surprise when I finally cleared the game in less than two weeks of game-time and watched Simon keel over and die from his grievous wounds. Or when I got the best time possible and Dracula came back to life. Nope, if you want the townspeople to sing your praises as you enter into legend, better take your time and get the worst ending possible.
The Metroid and Castlevania series seem to have become inextricably linked in recent years, and it all seems to have started here. But for the record, Simon Belmont dies when you do well; Samus Aran gets naked. Advantage: Metroid.
In the end, Simon's Quest is a bit of an ugly duckling in the Castlevania series. Neither a straightforward action title or a full-blown RPG, it sort of hovered over both, achieving a sublime mediocrity. Still, there are worse Castlevaniae out there; next to Legends or Circle of the Moon, Simon's Quest could well have been inspired by God Himself. Ah, perspective.