Last Friday we here at whatsyourtagblog.com posted the first “Castlevania” on nes done in “Minecraft” and it got me thinking about the sequel, “Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest”. In the past few years it has become commonplace to cherish or to trash classic video games and it’s been my feeling “Simon’s Quest” has really gotten it’s fair share of trashing. This isn’t to say the game is a flawless gem but I want to point out why it needs to be appreciated.
So let’s do a little recap, in “Castlevania” you play as Simon Belmont, a fearless hero taking on the armies of darkness ruled by Dracula. You fight your way through Dracula’s castle and defeat him. In “Simon’s Quest” you once again play as Simon Belmont, a fearless… pariah. Cursed by Dracula at the end of the last game, Simon must resurrect the vampire or die. The key here is the complete change in position of Simon between the two games. The enemies you face aren’t just classic monsters but now the entire game world. Cursed Simon lives in a world that hates and fears him and therefore hates and fears you. Villagers, that you would find in “Dragon Quest”, “Final Fantasy”, or “Zelda II”, lie to you. Whereas in those other games they would provide clues, hints, even items, here they want you to fail, they lock their doors at night. Simon is no better than a zombie.
The lack of clues to puzzles has been seen as one of the games major flaws but for me that’s what makes the game a true horror experience. Dracula’s castle in the first game is a rich environment but it remains just that an environment. In “Simon’s Quest” the world is not just an environment but the ultimate enemy of the game. Unlike the lurking power in the first game, Dracula is almost absent. You “fight” him at the end but really he’s no harder than any other enemy but his defeat signals the real victory. That victory is over the world itself, it’s goal was to stop you and in turn it failed. You overcome it’s seemingly solution-less puzzles, you survive the backtracking, the endless stream of enemies, and you survive the night. Yes the night. The game implements a night and day system with a pause and the classic “What a terrible night to have a curse” text screen and like Psycho Mantis from “Metal Gear Solid” breaks the flow of gameplay, putting a wall between gamer and game, further hindering you. Maybe I’m reading a little too much into that last one but it adds to the experience for me.
In a way this reminds me of the “Silent Hill” series where the distinct feeling is that the town is trying to stop you. In turn you get the same feeling of fear and dread. When you reach a certain wall you’re left with a desperation, paranoia, anger, and many more emotions. This is a game that stirs up everything real horror should, it gets truly inside your head. Ultimately “Simon’s Quest” is the prototype for all successful “Castlevania” games and is a classic of game making.