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Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest

Year released: 1988
Company: Konami
Genre: Action/Adventure

Simon's Quest was yet another entry on the list of popular games that I didn't really like. However, I can say with sincerity that such a placement was the most unfounded of all the games on the list (which included Metroid, Zelda, and Wizards & Warriors). I found this out only recently, when out of sheer boredom I popped this game into my NES - and started enjoying it. As a result, I gave the game a completely new examination, and wound up giving this game a lot more credit than I had initially.

As is the norm for the CV series, the audiovisuals to this game are magnificent. Simon blends into the scenery a bit more, but that doesn't mean you'll lose track of him; it just means he doesn't look like a refugee from Faxanadu anymore. The backgrounds are extremely well-drawn, with special mention going to the different mansions. There's atmosphere for ya. The only real gripe with the graphics is that much of the landscape all looks the same, a factor that also figures in with the challenge, which I'll mention a bit later. As far as the music is concerned, it's not as good as CV3 is, but it ain't too far off. What it lacks in grooviness, it makes up for in sheer ambiance. All of the music is just perfect for the environment it supports, and none of it will get on your nerves at any point.

There are two common threads that run through the Castlevania series: the setting of Transylvania (obviously), and the stiff play control of your resident Belmont. CV2 is no different. The most obvious inability of the series is that of controlling your jumps. I know humans normally can't change their direction in mid-jump, but this is the Nintendo we're talking about, where defeated enemies vanish without a trace and every hero lives three times; surely they can bend the laws of physics for us. On a more positive note, the myriad of weapons at Simon's disposal allows players to carry as much as they can find. Not only that, but many of them (including the Holy Water, which bounds up a couple notches on the importance scale in this game) can be used free of charge. This is important, because the Hearts you collect in this game act as both ammuntion and currency (which I'll come back to later).

Sequels can be difficult to write plotlines for. Really, the three series that managed to systematically come up with good expositions for are Final Fantasy (which really doesn't count because all FF games are pretty much independent of each other), Ninja Gaiden, and Castlevania. The storyline of finding Dracula's body parts was ingenious; not only did it pull off the sequel without a hitch, it also allowed for much more freedom in terms of exploration. The game became almost Metroid-ish in its objective (although you won't find vertical tubes in any CV game).

The only real problem is the game's challenge. While the day/night concept was truly innovative, it wasn't executed very well. Time elapsed much too quickly (4 minutes of game time for every second of real time) to make any sort of progress before the sun set. Not only that, but the ending you get is dictated by how quickly you finish the game. Completing the game fast enough to get the best ending (which I think is 6 days, but don't hold me to that) is next to impossible. Granted, you do continue from where you died if you lose your last life, but any experience or hearts you've amassed are reset to 0. On three separate occasions I've acquired 200 hearts, enough for a Morning Star, only to get knocked into the town's pit while waiting for daybreak, thus losing my last life and going broke.

These two factors can make the game much more frustrating than it needs to be. The fact that much of the terrain looks the same makes it awfully easy to get lost as well, which also can get on your nerves. However, once you enter a mansion, you'll find out why CV2 is as fun to play as it is. The exploration concept is absolutely magnificent, and better yet time doesn't pass inside them. Thus, you can poke through every nook and cranny without having to worry about when nighttime will fall. The game's replayability isn't as strong, largely because this is game you probably won't want to look at for a while if and when you beat it. It takes me a lot of playing time to beat this dog, and when I do I'm hardly ready to tackle it again.

I used to think of CV2 as my least favorite in the series. After actually playing it, however, I discovered the error in my ways. This is truly a great game, and one nobody should miss.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 14
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 18
Overall Score: 76%

You are now listening to the Nighttime Music to Castlevania II.