Castlevania 2 – A Game Ahead of Its Time

One of the most prominent games in the Castlevania line of games is the famous “Symphony of the Night” for the Playstation. If you look at the original Castlevania game that started its life as an arcade game (which I easily spent hundreds of dollars in quarters playing in my hometown’s skating rink/arcade) and compare it to SOTN, you might say that you have no idea how the game progressed from here to there.  Believe it or not, it all started with the NES title Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest.

The Story

The premise of the game seems pretty simple. After Simon Belmont battled the famous Count Dracula at the end of the original game, he managed to beat Dracula but it left a curse on the land. Now, when night falls, people in the area become zombies and werewolves and all kinds of wonderfully nasty things. Simon decides that if he collects all of the pieces of Dracula (his rib, his heart, his eye, and his ring) and resurrects him, then kills him again, the curse will end. Sounds logical right? Well that’s what he does. Unlike the original game, this game takes place in a world that allows you to travel all over the ‘world’ to collect Dracula’s pieces. There is some logical order as you need certain things to get certain other things that will be needed to complete the game but otherwise the world is pretty open.

A game that features an ‘open world’ concept is pretty much standard fare for most modern games but back in 1988, such things were unheard of. The game also has a timer feature that makes the game fade from day to night and then back again – also rather rare in the time this game was created. If you take out those elements, the game plays very similar to the original games. You play Simon Belmont who looks mostly the same as he did in the original. You still have the Vampire Killer, the famous expanding whip of the Belmont clan even though you have to locate characters throughout the game to expand it (leather, chain, long chain, morning star and finally flame whip) instead of picking up power-ups. You still have the list of ‘thrown weapons’ which is familiar to the original and you still break through walls with the holy water as in the first game. A majority of the world is still in platforms as the game is famous for and many of the enemies remain there and are largely unchanged. However, it is at this point that the similarities end.

Trying New Things

The first new things one will find is the use of ‘towns’ which look just like regular levels (ripe with platforms and stairs) but with people and different music. You can find townspeople who will either lie to you or offer you very cryptic hints about the game (which may also be lies). You will find ‘cloaked men’ scattered around towns that will sell you items for ‘hearts’ (the same ones you use to fire your weapons). Often these guys will be hiding in buildings that appear empty until you drop some holy water on the floor and break through. Sometimes they will even appear in mansions (which are like the dungeons of the game but will be discussed later) and may not appear at all until you do a certain thing (such as dropping some garlic on the ground). They always sell you items that you must use to complete the game and sometimes they will offer you refills of perishable items such as laurels. The game also features colored crystals of varying degrees that do everything from open secret doors to create platforms in mansions that would otherwise make the stage impassible.

Another feature that is new are the ‘mansions’ which are essentially the dungeons of the game. The owners of these mansions must be creepy as they tend to hide pieces of Dracula in their mansions and hire monsters to guard them. I mean, really, would you just like to have Dracula’s eye chilling in a vase at your house? It would likely be a freaky conversation piece. So within these mansions, you basically hack and slash your way through countless monsters and occasionally a boss or two. Somewhere in the mansion is one of those cloak-covered merchants who will sell you an Oak Stake. You use this oak stake when you finally reach the blinking orb that contains the piece of Dracula in that mansion. Shatter the orb and take the part and move on. That’s what you do with each mansion.

The Final Boss

After you have completed all of the mansions in the game and have collected all pieces of Dracula, you can start the end game. In the end game portion, you will navigate to the ruins of Dracula’s castle (which is disturbingly close to the original starting city in the game). Despite the insanity of the mansions and the tendency for end game stages to be nightmarish, Dracula’s keep is actually quite short and has NO enemies. I am not kidding, you walk right in, go around a few platform mazes and there is the last room. Kind of anti-climatic if you ask me. Anyway, you will eventually make your way to a pedestal in the keep and the various parts of Dracula will fly off Simon and land in a torch base. The torch lights on fire and old Dracula appears and is ready to fight. Much like the stage that leads to him, Dracula’s battle is very anti-climatic. He basically flies around the room throwing boomerangs or ribs at you. If you hide in the bottom right corner of the screen he usually doesn’t hit you very much. When you land enough hits on the Prince of Darkness, he bursts into flames and disappears. Yay! You have won!


Now here is one of the other areas that is unique to this game and the series at this point – multiple endings. If you complete the game in 8 game days or less (remember the whole day and night thing based off time) you will receive the best ending. If you complete the game in 9-12 game days you get a slightly better ending. Lastly, if you take longer than that, you get the bad ending. In the ‘best’ ending (see my gallery for a screenshot), Simon is kneeling at Dracula’s grave and places a rose on it. The game tells you that the reign of terror is finally over and that peace has been restored. It also tells you that by some creepy magic, the blood and sweat of Simon on the earth will be turned into magic which can be used to defend Transylvania (eww!). After the screen cuts, you see the grave by itself and suddenly an earthquake happens and Dracula’s hand rises from the grave (did you really think they would end this cash cow that easily?). In the ‘okay’ ending, you see the same grave as before but no Simon. We are told that although Simon beat Dracula, he was mortally wounded and soon passes away and that soon enough Dracula will rise again and a new hero will be needed. The last ending tells you that the curse is not broken and now Simon is dead (Gee thanks! That’s reassuring).

Evaluation of the Game

All in all the game was miles ahead of its time and was pulled off quite well given the capability of the NES and the many new methods used in this game. Unfortunately there were some bad issues as well. One glaring thing I noticed is the presence of good Ol’ Engrish. When you shatter each orb to retrieve each Dracula relic, the screen prompts you “You now PROSESS Dracula’s… (insert part).” Prosess? Eh? I have no idea what that word means. Strangely, when you acquire other things such as the red crystal, the game tells you that you “Possess” that item. Looks like the right hand was not talking to the left at this studio. Also, one of the most infamous hints you receive in the game is “You can break a hole in Deborah’s cliff with your head.” What? Is that a sexual innuendo? Truth be told, what you actually do is use crystal at the base of the Debra Cliff to summon a whirlwind to carry you to another mansion. What on earth this has to do with a hole in the cliff I have NO idea. That also explains why few people figured out this trick without some sort of hint or FAQ.

Another common complaint is that the various people Simon encounters in towns (who are supposed to help him solve the riddles) were too cryptic and thus made the game more confusing. There is certainly some merit to that. When I first played this game, I clearly remember being confused constantly and never knowing what to do next (this was back before the internet and GameFAQs). I did call the Nintendo Power hotline a few times but that only served to get me past some of the easier (yet strange) puzzles such as the requirement of kneeling near a lake with a certain crystal to cause the map to scroll down and reveal a secret path to the next area. But I still couldn’t beat it. I finally rented a VHS tape that was the Nintendo Power walk through for Simon’s Quest until I finally found the way to beat the game. Nowadays I could probably find hundreds of guides and videos on YouTube and of course, GameFAQs but that was not the case in those days. You cannot imagine the excitement I had when I finally found Dracula and beat him.

So in summary, Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest is an amazing game for the time and place in which it occurred. It essentially set the stage for many other open-world adventures including paving the way to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which included an open world, RP elements, many different endings based on performance of the player in the game, riddles and confusion to make the quest more difficult and so on. If you want to rack your brain for a bit in a fun and entertaining game of the NES era, definitely pick this one up!


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