Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES, Konami, 1988)

A lot of sequels in the NES library are quite different from the originals. Super Mario Bros. 2, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and of course, perhaps the most infamous of all, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. It used the same gameplay formula and expanded on it a bit. No longer was this a linear quest; Transylvania was now a explorable, open-ended world, and now there are more than 6 mansions to go through instead of one central one. Added to that is a monetary and experience system. Hearts now are used as currency (gross) and Simon Belmont can expand his health bar by gaining XP (read:level and cash grinding)

Simon's Quest takes place a few years after the original. A woman's spirit appears before Simon, telling of the curse laid upon him by Count Dracula after his demise. To fight the curse, Simon must find 6 parts of Dracula's remains (?!?!) to resurrect and destroy him once again, and to find these parts, Simon must gather powerful weaponry and grow stronger, and raid all of Dracula's mansions across Transylvania. Anyway the story makes little to no sense and is actually somewhat disturbing, but of course this is a NES game, so story is not a focus.

The focus is on the game itself. And the game feels like a mix of Castlevania, Zelda II, and Dragon Quest. The action is pure Castlevania, with the purposefully stiff controls and horror-styled enemies, but as said before, it's not a linear game. Instead, you start in a town with some NPCs, and go searching for tools and weapons. It was a little strange playing this game for the first time, seeing how my first instinct was to whip the first "enemy" I seen. Anyway seeing that I am a Zelda II veteran, I quickly got into the swing of things. The Dragon Quest element comes from the amount of grinding that is required. 

You need to buy quite a few tools to progress, such as Holy Water (more on that later), and you need to use hearts to purchase them. You get hearts by killing enemies, but you need a lot of hearts to buy things. So naturally, you need to farm/grind quite a bit. I love all of the Dragon Quest games, so I don't mind grinding, but I can see why a lot of people would not, even RPG fans. This stems from the difficulty of the combat. While I can't say that it's as hard as the original, it's still pretty tough. The first few enemies you face are not difficult to fight, but they get more ruthless as you go along, and if you manage to run out of lives, which is not hard to do, you lose all of your hearts that you earned. That would discourage (and infuriate) a lot of gamers. The potential pain of the combat can be lessened, however, by upgrading your whip, and as you go along, it's basically required to do so.

One notorious issue with Simon's Quest is the very poor translation. Progressing is near impossible without a guide or FAQ, because the hints that the NPCs give you either make no sense, or is a bold-faced lie. Most gamers back in 1988 used a Nintendo Power guide, now we have this site. There are a lot of puzzles in this game, and some of them are very improbable to solve without help, such as the infamous "Deborah Cliff" puzzle. That and the day and night mechanic. It's a cool and fresh concept, at least back in the day, but the transition is pretty horrible. When it switches from day to night, enemies are more numerous and much harder to kill, making combat even more difficult, But when it turns nighttime, there's a little box that pops up in the corner saying "What a horrible night to have a curse." This scene lasts for about 10 seconds. Doesn't sound too bad, however this day/night transition happens every 5 minutes. So every five minutes, you lose control of the game for 10 seconds. It's as irritating as it sounds.

The mansions are usually quite fun to plunder (so to speak), but there are is one big problem with them; invisible pitfalls. When walking across a straight path in a mansion, be sure to start tossing out Holy Water to see where the holes in the floor are, because in quite a few instances, you will fall straight through, which most of the time, leads to massive backtracking. Another minor issue is with the two boss fights in the game. You have to battle The Grim Reaper and a bleeding mask-thing named Carmilla. Both barely attack you and are insanely easy to defeat. Actually, you can literally walk right past them (Don't walk past Carmilla. Beat her, she drops something important). Dracula is no different, spam your Golden dagger and he's toast.

As far as the graphics go, I think it looks detailed enough, I mean, I could tell what everything was, but everything's too dark. That's the point, I imagine, but it looks kind of......ugly. Even for NES standards. Kind of a personal thing there, but that's that. The music, however, is awesome. Bloody Tears is one of my favorite songs from Castlevania, and the song in Dracula's mansion is pretty good at building up tension, even though Dracula is a easy boss.

In Castlevania II's current form, I would normally give it a 6 or 7, but there is a nice ROM hack by The Almighty Guru, called Castlevania II Redaction. It edits the game to make it enjoyable without walkthroughs. NPCs give you useful hints, the day/night transition is much smoother, and Dracula's appearance is different (he's still a wimp). This version of the game gets a 8.5 out of me. All of the little issues are resolved, but there's the grinding, annoying traps in the mansions, and lame boss fights. At it's core however, I recommend Castlevania II for hardcore Action-RPG players. It was quite refreshing to play a action game like Castlevania with a lot of RPG mixed in, but the issues that Castlevania II has makes it enjoyable, yet noticeably flawed. Good play for RPG and Castlevania fans, but you should know what your getting into before you play it.

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