Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Game 446: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1987)

 
         
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
Japan
Konami Industry Co. (developer and publisher)
Released 1987 for NES in Japan; English release in U.S. in 1988
Date Started: 5 February 2022
Date Ended: 6 February 2022
Total Hours: 7
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
     
I have long been vaguely aware of the Castlevania franchise, but this is my first exposure to it. My understanding is that it features a family of vampire hunters with the last name Belmont who have taken it upon themselves to kill Dracula every time he resurrects himself. That usually means exploring his castle and dealing with his various minions. The first game in the series debuted in 1986 and fielded about a dozen sequels for different platforms through 1999, all of them featuring side-scrolling action and platform gameplay. A 1999 reboot for the Nintendo 64 (Castlevania) introduced a rotating three-dimensional "behind" view (before I get to the first RPG with that view, I'll have a better name for it), and since then, the series has featured games using both types of interfaces.
    
Most databases agree that Castlevania II introduced enough role-playing elements to be called an RPG. MobyGames also puts that designation on Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003, Game Boy Advance), Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (2005, Nintendo DS), Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005, PlayStation 2 and Xbox), Castlevania: Order of Shadows (2007, Windows Mobile), Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (2008, Nintendo DS), and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (2010, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360). Two others are tagged with "RPG elements": Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997, PlayStation) and Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (2001, Game Boy Advance). Having watched video of almost all of these, I'd have to say that the RPG elements seem extraordinarily light. The ones that are tagged as "RPGs" or "RPG elements" are far more like the ones not so tagged than they are like conventional RPGs. The driving game mechanic is rapid-fire action and jumping, the sort of thing I suck at.
    
The kind of problem I have with these games.
      
Nonetheless, I thought I'd check this one out because there aren't many side-scrolling RPGs or RPGs with platform elements. I played both Sorcerian (1987) and Zeliard (1987) what seems like a lifetime ago, didn't hate either, but didn't finish them largely because of the platforming bits. I have an odd reaction to side-scrolling games. On the one hand, there's something about the aesthetic that I enjoy, the unexpected implausibility of making a two-dimensional world on a vertical plane rather than a horizontal one. RPGs rarely have any sense of vertical space, even into the modern day. I also enjoy the graphical cleverness by which the designers depict people, objects, and events in such a perspective. On the other hand, the perspective makes the most sense for action gameplay, including jumping. I can't think of a side-scrolling turn-based game, nor can I even imagine what that would look like. I'm sure my readers will tell me they exist, but they must be rare.
      
Experience, levels, and an economy of "hearts" is this game's claim to RPG status.
    
(Let me pause here for a rant about how much I hate game titles that offer no easy shorthand. Castlevania sounds like I'm talking about the first one. Quest is too generic, and I obviously can't call it Simon's. Am I supposed to just refer to it as II?)
     
The manual provides a brief backstory: you play Simon Belmont, a "gothic warrior respected by kings," who defeated Count Dracula in the first Castlevania. But in his victory, Simon apparently acquired the vampire's curse. He is plagued by nightmares, and instead of healing, the wounds he received from Dracula are growing worse. A beautiful maiden appears in a vision to tell him that his only hope is to find the "five body parts" of Dracula and burn them in his castle. So it's kind of a self-serving quest.
      
A little in-game backstory.
      
You start with a leather whip, 50 hearts (the game's currency), and three lives in personal injury lawyer's dream. To get through the tiered town, like most places in the game, you have to jump over gaps between platforms. Water instantly kills you. I lost a couple of early-game characters just figuring out the jumping system's tolerance for error.
   
The starting town, Jova, is one of five in the world. Each town has NPCs wandering outside, plus doors leading into "shops" that sell exactly one item each. Most towns have a temple, which are the only places in the game that you can restore lost health. There are otherwise no healing potions or spells, although health also restores on the rare occasions that you level up.
        
I'm surprised Nintendo allowed the religious iconography.
      
You can carry a maximum of 256 hearts at once, and I generally found that the best strategy upon arriving in a new town, if I couldn't already afford everything it sold, was to just grind until I could. It doesn't take long.
       
I'm not sure what garlic ever did for me, but I bought some.
     
NPCs supposedly give you hints as to how to complete the game, but most of them are either nonsense or outright lies. You have to talk to all of them because even the outdoor ones occasionally sell something you need. The game has a day/night cycle and keeps track of the passage of days. At night, enemies get twice as hard (i.e., they require twice the number of attacks to kill) but drop more hearts. Indoor locations in town are closed during the night and the NPCs on the streets are replaced with zombies. Curiously, no time passes when you're inside one of the game's mansions. 
         
If this is true, I never found any clues. Dracula doesn't really have a "riddle" anyway.
      
Combat is a mostly-simple affair of facing an enemy and hitting the "B" button to attack. You can jump just before you to do so to make a high attack or squat to make a low one. It's one of the quirks in the series that the Belmont men favor whips. The leather whip gets upgraded to a thorn whip, then a chain whip, and then a morningstar, all sold in towns, each about twice as powerful as the one before. Late in the game, you can find an NPC who adds a flame ability to the morning star and makes it even more deadly. Enemies mostly keep up with the increased damage done by the whips, and for almost the entire game, you face enemies who die in one or two hits.
     
An NPC upgrades my morningstar.
      
At first, I thought the purpose of the whip was to allow the player to attack at a distance while avoiding the lunacy presented in most side-scrolling action games in which a single weapon somehow becomes an inexhaustible missile reservoir. But this game has that, too. You find secondary weapons like daggers and holy water vials that work like missiles that never run out, although some of them consume your hearts. Daggers attack in a straight line from the character, but holy water potions and some others attack in an arc so you can hit enemies on lower platforms.
        
I jumped to throw that dagger at this skeleton.
         
The RPG elements in Castlevania II are mostly illusory, it turns out. Yes, you have experience and levels, but in way that satisfies the letter of "character development" without satisfying the spirit. I'm pretty sure that gaining levels only increases your maximum health. Specifically, you get two health bars per level from a starting point of 12 bars. That's barely noticeable. And even that development is somewhat illusory. In a real RPG, health is a resource to be managed. You have to sacrifice some of it to win battles and level up. In action games like this one, success depends on hardly ever losing any health. If you do, you've screwed something up. Those bars have to last you from the last temple through several hostile wilderness maps, through at least one castle map, and back through a couple more hostile wilderness maps on the way back to town. As such, whether you have 12 or 16 bars really doesn't make that much of a difference.
       
Skeletons come at me while spiders shoot webs. Moments like this are rare, however.
       
(I often get so hung up on the issue of character development that I forget I have two other criteria in my definition of an RPG. If I'm right that leveling doesn't make you any stronger, then this game fails the third one and thus needn't have been played. That didn't occur to me until I was almost finished.)
    
Thus, despite the halfhearted inclusion of some RPG elements, the game plays somewhat indistinguishably from its predecessor. As neither an action game nor a platformer is it particularly hard. Enemies always appear in fixed locations and do exactly the same things. Only a couple of them have ranged attacks. The platform puzzles are so simple that they're barely "puzzles." Only in a few places do the platforms move. 
   
Even when the individual enemies and platform puzzles are easy, a platformer can be hard if you're fat-fingered like me. All it takes is one ill-timed jump in every dozen, and you lose a life. Lose three lives and the game is over. But in Castlevania II, all you have to do is hit "continue" to keep playing from your death position. The only consequences are that you lose your accumulated hearts and however many experience points you've earned since your last level. Both are relatively easy to replenish with a little grinding. You stop gaining experience from enemies once you've outclassed them anyway, so I found that my best strategy was, upon reaching each new town, to note whether the enemies in adjacent screens were giving me experience or not. If so, I grinded until they stopped. I only made 4 levels in the entire game, and I'm not sure that any of them were really necessary.
 
This was the hardest part of the game for me to pass. I couldn't time my jumps right to avoid bonking my head on the ceiling while going for the next platform.
           
The game is divided into screens and areas. Each area scrolls for about three or four screens horizontally and up to two or three screens vertically before making a hard transition to a new area. There are a little over 40 areas in the game. Apparently, the English version of the game didn't have a map, but the Japanese version did, so I allowed myself to use it. It wasn't a lot of help, particularly since it suggests a two-dimensional surface whereas the reality of the game is one-dimensional "on the ground." Nonetheless, it helped keep me a little oriented. I printed it and made annotations on it and found myself wondering why I don't do that more often for computer RPGs. Much of the world is theoretically "open" as you begin the game, but the value of that is dubious when there is such an obvious order imposed by enemy difficulty and plot. The ultimate goal is to explore five mansions, recover Dracula's rib, eye, ring, heart, and nail, and toss those items into a pyre in Dracula's castle. A few of the mansions can't be explored until you find certain items, and there are parts of the game where you need to have a particular item to progress.
   
There are a couple of things that make the game difficult, if not particularly challenging. The first is a number of places in which the way forward requires you to find illusory passages (they look like stone walls or floors, but you can pass right through them) or smash blocks of stone. There's no way to identify these locations, and they don't even occur in obvious places such as the ends of otherwise-empty corridors. Thus, to find all of the objects and clues in the game, not to mention some plot-critical items and NPCs, you have to essentially test every block. These blocks can only be smashed by weapons that fire in an arc, including holy water, Dracula's nail, and something called a "sacred flame" that I never found. 
  
Here, it's obvious those blocks need to be smashed if I'm going to have any hope of jumping to the next platform.

But how would you know this room had a destructible floor unless you tried every floor?
        
The second problem is that a couple of places require you to solve a puzzle when it's not clear that there is a puzzle. For instance, there's one screen in which you find yourself up against a body of water with no platforms. To progress, you have to cause the water to "drain" by equipping a blue crystal and squatting for a few seconds. If this is clued in the game, it's clued vaguely. There's another place where a ferryman takes you across a lake, but you really need him to take you to a different location. To get him to do that, you have to have Dracula's heart equipped when you talk to him; I don't believe this is clued anywhere. In a third place, you have to equip a red crystal and squat in front of a cliff.
     
Kneeling here summons a whirlwind to carry me away.
    
It would be cool if the game had let the NPCs clue you as to these puzzles, as well as to the locations of secret areas, but the lines you get from NPCs are either misleading or useless. For instance, an NPC in Aldra tells you, "Hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole." I guess "Deborah Cliff" is not a person but the cliff I referred to in the paragraph above, but I don't see how kneeling next to it with a crystal has anything to do with hitting it with your head. Another woman in Aldra says, "I'll see you at midnight on the river bank," but she's never at any riverbank at midnight. I guess poor translations from Japanese are responsible for some of these useless clues; numerous reviews of the game note them.
       
I don't see why Deborah Cliff deserves such cruelty.
      
For a modern player with access to walkthroughs, these frustrations are easily overcome, but I can only imagine the frustration I would have felt as a child. I do like my games to last longer than 8 hours, but only because they have content, not because I have to methodically toss a vial of holy water at every brick. Maybe some players liked it, though. I have vague memories of Super Mario Brothers and how most fans played its screens hundreds of times, discovering every single block that could be smashed, every hidden passage, every secret object. Kids have that kind of time.
       
At the doorway to a mansion. You have to find five of them.
      
The mansions are disappointingly easy. (Online, they all have names. In game, I never saw any names.) Each one requires you to explore only a small area with only a few puzzles. In each one, you have to find an NPC selling an oak stake, then find a crystal ball, then use the stake on the crystal ball to smash it and get Dracula's body part. Only two of the mansions have bosses, and of the two bosses, only one is required and the other is moronically easy to beat. It really says something when someone like me, who sucks at action games, is disappointed by the bosses. 
    
Approaching the crystal ball in one of the mansions.
      
The first boss is "Death," who swirls around what I guess is Braham Mansion. I encountered him so late in the game that I had already concluded there were no bosses. He throws scythes at you. I didn't know he was optional when I encountered him, so I just dodged the scythes, waited for him to float towards the ground, and whipped him to death. He left a gold dagger which is a decent throwing weapon but consumes your accumulated hearts with each toss.
        
It feels like "Death" should outrank Dracula, but I guess not.
     
The second boss is a giant floating head found in Laruba Mansion, which was the second-to-last one I explored but I guess the last one listed in most walkthroughs. It occasionally explodes into missile weapons, but they're easy to avoid if you stand out of the way. The rest of the time, it moves in predictable circles, allowing you to kill it by jumping and throwing a dagger. It leaves a cross behind, which is necessary to enter the titular Castlevania.
       
The unexciting combat with the floating head boss.
        
Once you have the five body parts, you journey to Castlevania, which I was surprised to discover is both quite small and doesn't have a single enemy except for Dracula, who like the flying mask is almost insultingly easy. Once you enter his room, the game takes over and shows you tossing each of the five body parts into some kind of receptacle. It erupts into flames, and Dracula appears. He flies around the room, sometimes makes copies of himself, and tosses whirling knives at you. But I just stood in place and whipped away and killed him without even losing half of my health--and I was two levels below the game's maximum.
   
The endgame text shows Dracula's grave and gives you a message letter-by-letter:
   
The battle has consummated. Now peace and serenity have been restored to Transylvania and the people are free of Dracula's curse forever. And you, Simon Belmont, will always be remembered for your bravery and courage.
       
What I now know is the "bad" ending.
    
After I won and was researching the game online, I was surprised to find that this is the "bad" ending. There are actually three potential endings that depend on how long you take to complete the game. I paid no heed to that. I went off and made dinner at one point while the game transitioned relentlessly between day and night in my absence. But the odd thing is that the "medium" and "good" endings don't necessarily sound any better. In fact the medium ending is notably worse:
    
Although the confrontation between Simon and Dracula has concluded, Simon couldn't survive his fatal wounds. Transylvania's only hope is a young man who will triumph over evil and rid the city of Dracula's deadly curse.
   
Not only is Simon dead in this version and not "remembered for his bravery and courage," but he apparently didn't actually win the game. I can't imagine this text wasn't intended for the "bad" ending, particularly since the "medium" ending seems to depict Simon kneeling at Dracula's grave whereas the "bad" one shows the grave by itself. Anyway, the "good" ending reads:
    
The encounter with Dracula is terminated. Simon Belmont has put an end to the eternal darkness in Transylvania. His blood and sweat have penetrated the earth and will induce magic and happiness for those who walk on the land.
   
While this text is arguably better, it also depicts Dracula's hand thrusting from the ground at the end, which neither of the others do.
      
The screen is shaking at this point, so the still image is blurry.
       
While the ordinal nature of the text may be questionable, the graphical quality of the ending scene does follow a clear order from worst to best. The "bad" ending is in black and white, and without Simon. The "medium" one shows a colorful daytime scene, and the "good" one shows a nice evening red sky plus treats the player to a bonus scene teasing the sequel.
      
The normal colors of the "medium" ending.

The somewhat haunting colors of the "good" ending.
         
I won in about seven hours using walkthroughs to get me past a few difficult parts. I missed some items, including a useful weapon called a "sacred flame." There are a couple of places in the game where you can buy laurels, which temporarily render you invincible and are necessary to cross long stretches of deadly swamp. You can only hold four of them at a time, and I guess there's an NPC who gives you a bag that allows you to double that, but I didn't find him. I missed a few cluebooks hidden in walls, none of which would have helped me that much, and I ended the game two levels below the maximum. Overall, aside from having to get help from walkthroughs when the puzzles were too obscure, I didn't find anything to be terribly upset about. The game lasted a defensible number of hours, had some good visuals, and was easy to master in terms of controls. Like most console games of the era, the music is repetitive, relentless, and impossible to turn off independently of the sound, so I can't say anything about the sound effects.
    
I gave it a 25 on the GIMLET. It does best (4s) in "gameplay" (short, not too hard) and "graphics, sound, and interface," worst (1) in character development, and 2s and 3s in everything else. One thing I'll say about console games of the period is that they knew how to make the best use of their gamepads. I'll always prefer a keyboard to a gamepad, but so many RPG programmers of the 1980s and 1990s had no idea how to effectively use the keyboard, or worse, ignored the keyboard and required a joystick or mouse. (As much as I prefer a keyboard to a gamepad, I prefer a gamepad to a joystick or mouse-only interface.) There is thus something refreshing about playing a game like Castlevania II and knowing that you're not going to have any insanity like WarWizard's hidden inventory windows, Towers's mouse-only combat, or Phalsberg's use of a joystick to move among 45 keywords.
      
Of Castlevania II, Wikipedia says:
     
Gameplay of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest departs from the standard platforming genre of the first Castlevania for a game inspired by The Maze of Galious. It features nonlinear gameplay and role-playing elements such as a world map which the player is free to explore and revisit.
    
To me, this paragraph is written by someone who fundamentally doesn't understand RPGs. I don't think any serious RPG player would play Castlevania II and think that it's an "open-world" game or that it's "role-playing elements" represent a significant departure from its predecessor. I've watched videos of both the original Castlevania and The Maze of Galious, and to me the sequel seems almost identical to the first (but for the dubious inclusion of "experience") and almost nothing like the latter, which has much more complex enemy and platform movements and much more abstract environments, not to mention a classical Goofy Cartoonish Little Man (GCLM), which the Castlevania series mercifully avoids. I don't think if I were a fan of the series, I would lament or even notice the loss of II's so-called "RPG elements" in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.
     
For those readers wondering why I played it at all, it was a product of my occasional (roughly every five entries) tendency to randomize my list of abandoned and rejected games and give a try to whatever comes up. In this case, it was a bit irresponsible given how many balls I have in the air already. I have to finish the seemingly endless Angband, which is now actively boring me, finish the seemingly impenetrable Phalsberg, finish the long WarWizard (which seems to be getting better), and wrap up my ongoing replay of Pool of Radiance, which for some reason I've lost interest in. Also, this week brought me nearly simultaneous messages from LanHawk, who figured out a way past the copy protection obstacle in Towers, and the co-creator of Towers, who sent me the game manual. And all of this while I'm still completely reeling from the start of this semester and getting over my bout with COVID. This is all to say that I apologize if things are a bit rough for a few more weeks.
      

139 comments:

  1. Glad you are recovering, even if slowly. And I love Angband and Zangband, but recognize them as slogs. Anyway, this was an interesting diversion as I have also been curious over the Castlevania series. Thanks for the post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'll be a reader who tells you turn-based side-scrolling games exist! I can think of a few puzzle games with gravity (Snakebird, Yugo Puzzle, Jelly No Puzzle) and at least one side-scrolling roguelike of sorts--Lone Spelunker, a nonviolent (but you can die) cave exploration game about navigating with ropes and stuff in an ASCII-ish sidescrolling environment. It meets approximately none of your criteria to be an RPG but it's pretty chill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One turn based tactical side scroller I played and enjoyed is Steamworld Heist. It's set in a goofy steampunk space western setting where you play a party of robots. Levels are designed like regular side scrollers but there's a full fledged RPG system and tactical combat using a basic physics system (with bullets being able to ricochet from walls and ceilings to hit an enemy behind cover). The game is a lot of fun and the system works very well.

      Delete
    2. Steamworld Heist is a lot of fun.

      Another example is Wazhack - quite a traditional roguelike, but for the fact it's side scrolling.

      Delete
    3. RONIN is yet another, in the action-platformer genre.

      Delete
    4. Does Darkest Dungeon count?

      Closer to the subject of this article, potentially Zelda II, though I'm not immediately certain the RPG elements were any more involved.

      Delete
    5. Oh, wait -- side-perspective turn-based, not just RPG *face-palm*. So not Zelda II then.

      Delete
    6. I think that Darkest Dungeon should definitely count.

      Delete
    7. I think DD’s horizontal movement is a bit illusory. It’s not really connected to the battles, just a flavorful representation of moving between nodes.

      Delete
  3. Another surreal choice for your semi-regular console diversions. I'm glad Simon's Quest didn't enervate you too much with everything else going on right now; using a guide to get around some of those cryptic clues probably helped. No wondering what the heck a "Graveyard Duck" is supposed to be.

    Later Castlevanias - almost all of them from Symphony onwards, in fact - have experience levels and equipment screens and are much closer to full RPGs, albeit with the same action-platforming gameplay. Those won't show up until 1997 though.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had this game as a child and beat it repeatedly using the Nintendo power guide. For this game, Final Fantasy, and many others, they published essentially complete maps made from photographing televisions along with guides to the obscure things you have to do to make it to the end. I suspect most kids who beat this game had a Nintendo Power subscription. I liked this game because it let you try again when you messed up with little penalty, unlike many NES games. Castlevania I is much harder. Of the three games, the third one is the masterpiece, with a lot more variety and better level design, even though it is also quite difficult.

    This game has an open world compared to most side scrolling games of the era, which wouldn't let you revisit areas or often even go backwards.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The third game does drop the (semi-)open world AND the experience levels, making it definitely not an RPG. The same applies to the next couple sequels, such as IV and Bloodlines.

      Delete
    2. Is it the third game that lets you unlock and play non-Belmont characters for the first time?

      Delete
    3. Yup - including Alucard, who’d go on to be the Symphony of the Night protagonist.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I remember Alucard, and I think also a sorceress and a thief? If I recall correctly, you needed the thief to climb an otherwise unclimbable tower, and the other two weren't strictly necessary but made certain parts of the game easier.

      Delete
    5. Yup, Sypha Belnades and Grant DaNasty, who is technically a pirate, not a thief (I can’t remember the birthday of anyone outside my nuclear family but those names I can instantly dredge up at a distance of thirty years - nice job brain, way to prioritize).

      Pretty sure none of the companions are essential, though - Grant’s climbing abilities let you skip a couple parts of a few stages but those are always alternate paths.

      Delete
    6. All the companions are optional, Alucard and Sypha are on mutually exclusive routes, and Grant's in a level you never even need to go to

      Delete
  5. For those readers wondering why I played it at all

    That's me!

    it was a product of my occasional (roughly every five entries) tendency to randomize my list of abandoned and rejected games and give a try to whatever comes up.

    Well, that's admirable I guess.

    I have to finish the seemingly endless Angband, which is now actively boring me

    I wouldn't feel bad about dumping it. It goes on forever, and the beginning of the game until the midgame is the interesting part. After that, there are all of these super-specific strategies you have to master to survive. It's very easy to get killed by non-obvious means, and many non-obvious means to kill highly dangerous monsters.

    wrap up my ongoing replay of Pool of Radiance, which for some reason I've lost interest in.

    I'm not reading these because at some point I'll want to replay PoR, and hopefully by then I'll have forgotten it all. There's nothing better than sitting down with an old favorite and realizing you barely remember a thing. Doing that with Baldur's Gate 1 right now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "For those readers wondering why I played it at all it was a product of my occasional (roughly every five entries) tendency to randomize my list of abandoned and rejected games and give a try to whatever comes up." If you ask me, still more a RPG than the upcoming Space Hulk. Not that I don't want to see you play Space Hulk, but more for the comedy value of seeing you fight aliens in an tactical-action game.

      Delete
    2. Space Hulk at least looks like a first-person RPG, though, and it has flexible equipment and squad-level experience. I'd call it even. However, you have to play half of the missons before you can even select squads and equipment.

      Delete
    3. [Angband] goes on forever, and the beginning of the game until the midgame is the interesting part. After that, there are all of these super-specific strategies you have to master to survive. It's very easy to get killed by non-obvious means, and many non-obvious means to kill highly dangerous monsters.

      Huh, this has not been my experience of Angband at all, though I've only played post 3.5 versions -- I find the early game pretty dull, enlivened only by sometimes finding an out-of-depth item (or not finding anything good at all). It's really the mid-game where the fun is at, and while the last 20 dungeon levels can get a bit samey once you've hit the level cap and have 90% of your kit figured out, even then cracking the gnarliest vaults can make for some late-in-the-day excitement.

      I'm also wracking my brain on the non-obvious ways to kill dangerous monsters and the need to master super specific strategies -- this is something I really dislike about NetHack and ADOM since it always seems like I need to play those with a browser-tab of spoilers opened, whereas Angband is much more legible, especially with the monster memory. Beyond knowing how breath weapons work (and which monsters breathe which things, which isn't always intuitive), and (rot13) qvttvat nagv-fhzzbavat pbeevqbef (which is a little non-obvious but not too esoteric either), I can't think of too many other specific strategies that are needed.

      Anyway it's too bad Chet's having such a dull time with Angband, since I think it's a great game, albeit this early version might take more getting into. It's definitely fairly long in terms of dungeon real estate, but it doesn't feel much longer than its gameplay justifies, and a successful playthrough is probably shorter than the average win-time of the games Chet has played to date (of course permadeath complicates this but I think Chet's using his typical one-backup-a-level approach).

      Delete
  6. I'll never understand your dislike for music in games. Castlevania II has some of the best renditions of tunes in the series, short of Akumajou Dracula X - Chi no Rinne on the PC Engine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Game music has been repetitive by necessity until quite recently. Some people don't dig that. I guess Chet probably isn't that into chiptunes in general, either. I like that kind of thing but I also grew up having Nintendo music rammed into my skull, and he didn't.

      Delete
    2. Not everyone likes 30-40 second loops or how the NES sounds.

      Delete
    3. Chet's problem is less about repetitive music IIRC than it is about messing with his immersion. Because where does the music come from? When you explore old ruins in real life, do you hear an orchestra in the background? No, you don't. He also stated that he loves listening to music as an active thing, but doesn't like when it's running in the background. It's something he prefers to focus on.

      I completely disagree with his stance and always keep the music on in games, but it is how it is.

      Delete
    4. I'm definitely with Chet on this one.

      And I hate those Thief 2 missions where the supposedly ambient sounds is music.

      Delete
    5. As someone that doesn't like silence in general, I outright can't play games without something in the background, or else it just starts to unnerve me

      Delete
    6. The song 'Bloody tears' from CV2 is pretty memorable for an 8-bit tune. I find it adds to the experience of jumping and whipping things :)

      As usual, Smooth McGroove's version is the best.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AFqYeXKK3I

      Delete
    7. @JarlFrank
      "Because where does the music come from?"

      The Bard in the party is playing it off course :)

      Delete
    8. Ah yes, "exploring old ruins in real life" with your orc and elf companions. If you take such a stance in the first place, how are you immersed in anything other than a first-person view, or controlling multiple characters? This is just a very odd, quirky matter of taste here. Where does music come from in movies???? Very silly.

      Delete
    9. What does the "RP" in RPG mean, and how does it apply to a movie? Very silly indeed.

      Delete
    10. I think he enjoyed the intro music of "Black Crypt", so it can't be chiptunes in general.

      I never played any Castlevania, but "Simon's Theme" is among my favourite pieces of video game music. There's a version on Youtube played on church organ which is pretty epic.

      Delete
    11. I agree! I was so blown away with the music back then! So much that I found some safe spots just to hear the songs. I can still hear them as I write this...

      Delete
  7. I'm happy to see you covering this. None of the Castlevania games are really RPGs, but Symphony of the Night is probably closest to your definition (which makes it funny that MobyGames claims it only has "elements" compared to other games), because it has stats that increase as you level which increase your power. (Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow also meet those criteria.)

    The translation of CV2 (which is the typical shorthand) is indeed really terrible, but at the time players would have had stuff like Nintendo Power and, well, playground advice to help. Castlevania is kind of famous for crappy bosses, unfortunately.

    The endings are pretty obviously jumbled up, with the "bad ending" text being most appropriate for the best ending, the middle ending clearly being the worst, and the best ending being the middle.

    I'm kind of surprised to see this game here (I'd argue that Legend of Zelda 2: Link's Adventure is actually a better representative of this genre and era of console games, even if it's not a great game), but also amused. Hope you got some fun out of it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Faxanadu as well would be a better rpg from that console era. And while the later Castlevanias might not make Chet's classifications as CRPG's, I don't think it can be argued that They are Rpg's, with stats, inventories, economies, leveling, etc.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, Faxanadu for sure. Funnily enough it shares the same gameplay loop of 'find new thing to buy, grind until you can buy it'. I find that a pretty miserable sort of gear progression.

      Delete
    3. I was also going to mention Zelda 2, which came out earlier (in the US at least) than this game. It has a top-down overworld, but all combat is in side-scrolling form and (in my opinion at least) is far closer to an RPG than anything in the Castlevania franchise. Personally I like it better than the first Zelda (and, frankly, all of them that do that top-down combat system which I just can't stand.)

      Delete
    4. Oh, 1989 also featured Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. That's probably the pinnacle of platform-rpgs from that era.

      Delete
    5. I can see having SotN listed as RPG-elements while the Sorrow games listed as full RPG mostly due to the impact of the stats. The way SotN is balanced all your power comes from a handful of specifically impactful pieces of equipment, many of which are in fixed locations. So it's more of a predictable power curve. With the later games they made the stats more impactful and put more of the power in random drops as well, so grinding the experience matters a lot more, both from the stat gains and having a higher chance at those drops.

      Delete
    6. I disagree on Faxanadu being a role-playing game. The player's character has no intrinsic attributes and experience levels only affect... the passwords !!! Faxanadu has even less role-playing elements than its predecessor, "Xanadu: Dragon Slayer 2".

      Delete
    7. The DS games definitely fit the mold of being RPGs the most out of all of them. Dawn of Sorrow (in addition to having a lulzy greatest hits boxart) has you running around collecting vital pieces of equipment off enemies. The Order of Ecce-whatever had a full-blown town with NPCs you get quests off of and a pretty open world.

      Delete
    8. "Ecce-whatever" is "Ecclesia", Latin for "Church". Such name is consistent with the setting, since vampires are repelled by crosses and other Christian symbols.

      Delete
  8. This game is from the time where Nintendo was experimenting heavily in game design, including giving the sequel of many games very different gameplay from the first one.

    As an experiment, it gets several things not QUITE right, but props for trying. It has a world that LOOKS open but actually has to be played more-or-less in linear order. It LOOKS like it has levels, but on second glance they only add to your health. And a pet peeve of mine, doubling attack damage at the same time as doubling enemy health.

    So we get a lot of "technically-but-not-really" elements. Finally, there's the fake difficulty because of how obtuse the puzzles are. Overall, it's a landmark game for its time, but doesn't really hold up in retrospective.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think part of the clues being useless or confusing may, to some extent, be attributed to the subpar quality of the translation from Japanese.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to Wikipedia, the hints are deliberately obtuse and sometimes outright lying, even in Japanese.

      Delete
    2. From what I've read, the translation is actually pretty accurate. It's that bad in the original Japanese as well.

      And from Symphony onward they add more RPG elements, with levels that matter and things to equip. Usually only one or two friendly NPCs to deal with though. With many of the games being handheld.

      Delete
    3. I don't agree with all of the decisions here (in particular, this translation relies on a very questionable interpretation of "graveyard duck" as anything but a weird joke), but it's a pretty good summary of how much dialogue was intentionally vague/false and how much was lost to translation. (Spoilers: there's a lot of both.)

      https://bisqwit.iki.fi/cv2fin/diff#truth

      Delete
    4. I second Stepped Pyramids. Bisqwit's website is the authority about the mistranslations in Castlevania 2. In his patch, he improved the translation of many important hints, although he felt free to change some flavor text.

      Delete
    5. After I read the solution I understand the puzzle of graveyard duck ... probably. It reminds me of Indiana Jones 3. Where the praying man is protected. So the player needs to duck on the graveyard which equals to praying...

      Delete
  10. I had this game when it came out. I know you have broadened the base of games you look at, but this came as a genuine surprise. It´s console, it´s side scroll adventure. It was never marketed as an RPG and it´s certainly not a PC style game in feel or by a port.
    Perhaps you wanted to just waste some idle moments in the day. Anyway your reviews can be good and a way to showcase to players who never had the chance to come across some video games.
    Simon´s Quest was a disappointment to some nintendo players. It was a deviation too far, a continuation of the greatness of the first in the series, but was weaker, less addictive. Naturally others may see it differently to my views here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was no waste here as far as I can tell. Chet will find reason to reference this game in the future.

      Delete
  11. Maze of Galious is fantastic by comparison to CV2 though I wouldn't call that much of an RPG either (it has an "exp" bar but it actually just refills health and resets when filled). And when it comes to the CVs listed as RPGs that you mentioned, between SotN and the portable ones they don't gain or retract any RPG elements really, unless you count having a small town hub of sorts in some of them as being more RPG-like. SotN has proper leveling, numerous stats, a loot focus, and a shop, as well as some passive NPC dialogue if you count that. CotM doesn't have the shop but retains the other elements.
    Well Portrait of Ruin does have an NPC that hands out optional side quests and a secondary sorceress avatar, that's a bit more.

    The PS2 ones I haven't played.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "I'm surprised Nintendo allowed the religious iconography."

    Not only that, I found the hanging corpses in one of the mansions pretty gruesome for a family-friendly Nintendo game aimed at kids. But chasing Dracula, I assume they made some concessions on the 'horror' aspects of the title.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personally I love how Castlevania 3 handles the religous censorship, where the game starts with Trevor praying at a giant glowing cross, and the only thing changed was the glow being removed

      Delete
    2. Nintendo didn't censor much. Nintendo of America, on the other hand...

      NoA usually removed ALL religious references. Clerics and priests usually became something like a "sage" or "healer" and lost most noticeable icons. This mostly affected the NES.

      Delete
    3. In the first Legend of Zelda game, you also have a cross on your shield. But the "bible" item was renamed to "book of magic" for the US release :)

      Delete
    4. Oh, and let's not forget the Mortal Kombat game where the blood splatters were changed to grey sweat!

      Delete
    5. Japan in general doesn't seem to have the same reverence for certain religious iconography as America: see, e.g. the use of the Christian cross in the early dragon quest games, the aforementioned Zelda localizations, the use of the gnostic demiurge (which calls itself the name of God according to Jewish teaching) in the Shin Megami Tensei games, etc.

      Delete
    6. That's a separate "issue". Japan has no issue throwing Christian iconography into media because most of the Japanese population isn't Christian. So it's just a foreign thing to use because it looks cool or else fits the idea you're going for.

      What's being discussed is that Nintendo's American branch (Nintendo Of America) had religious iconography on the "you can not release this game unless you remove this" list under their censorship policies. This game escaped a fair bit of that despite the previous game getting hit with it.

      In this fairly early era, enforcement of this policy was a bit spotty, and there was a lot more "this is reasonable" allowances for things like gravestones and vampire-related stuff. The late NES to mid-SNES era was when NOA was most aggressive about it, until the censorship of SNES Mortal Kombat suddenly put them in a huge market share hole.

      Delete
    7. Castlevania 2 was on the earlier side of the NES' lifespan. (In fact, somewhat infamously, the cover of Nintendo's house magazine, Nintendo Power, for the issue that covered Castlevania 2 also had an unusually gruesome cover art that generated lots of complaints from angry parents.)

      Delete
    8. Gnoman: Japan broadly does not have any issue using Japanese religious iconography in media either though. Case in point; the Megami Tensei games has you butchering your way through a big chunk of the Shinto and Buddhist pantheons before you ever get to the Christian god. XZR: Idols of Apostate and it's sequel also did something similar, having you kill a bunch of gods, including Japanese ones, in order to unite the world under Manichaeism of all things. Okami meanwhile is just one big parody of Shintoism. And a bunch of Pokemon are explicitly based on Japanese gods. So it's not just a "foreign religion" thing.

      Delete
    9. What I know of Shinto and Buddhism (which is less than I probably should) suggests that they don't have anywhere near the concept of "blasphemy" that the Abrahamic tradition does.

      Which is where the foreign part comes in - they view it through the lens of the more common faiths in their country, the same way a lot of Christians try to shove Buddhist and Shinto concepts into a Christian lens.

      Delete
  13. The non-linear world design makes CV2 a pretty different beast from its predecessor and sequel. Those are straight-up action, but this one's action/adventure. The RPG elements, though, yeah, those aren't terribly consequential.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, having played the three NES Castlevanias as they came out, the structural difference made CV2 play and feel very different to its predecessor and its sequel. Being able to run away to get more health at the villages alone added a significant new dimension of decision-making. I also recall the level-ups and shopping feeling like a big deal, but of course "RPG elements" were much rarer back then so I get why they fail to impress in retrospect.

      Delete
  14. The only honest-to-God side-scrolling turn-based RPG I can think of (possibly the only one that exists) is Bushi Seiryuden for the Super Famicom. It was made by Game Freak in 1997, back before the only things they made were heavily rushed and unfinished Pokemon sequels. It looks like a typical platformer of the time, but upon entering combat you find the game is actually a turn-based affair that plays out like a roguelike. Enemies only move when the player does, and the whole game is laid out on an invisible tile grid.

    It's quite a fascinating little game, one that is certainly very unique and worth checking out. For anyone interested, it received a fan translation a couple of years ago and can be fully played in English:

    https://www.romhacking.net/translations/5997/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, a very interesting game. I played and finished it last year, a few months after the fan-translation was done. It is turn-based on both Zelda-like overworld and platformer-like combat and dungeon mode.

      Is is also the only game I know what is set in fantasy version of Yayoi period (Japanese Bronze Age, essentially), instead of the ever-present Edo period.

      Delete
  15. You might enjoy the Metroidvania genre once it becomes a thing, Chet. The name comes from the games Metroid and Castlevania (specifically Symphony of the Night) which are the main inspirations behind the genre.

    Metroidvanias are 2D sidescrolling platformers with open level design and obstacles that can only be passed once you find an upgrade that allows you to pass, such as jump boots that increase your jump height or allow double jumps, enabling you to climb up previously inaccessible areas. Often, Metroidvanias have basic RPG systems featuring experience levels and/or equipment systems. They are heavily focused on exploration and non-linear, interconnected level design.

    It's a great genre, and definitely RPG-adjacent even if not all of the games are full RPGs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The term "Metroidvania" applying to a genre drives me a bit nuts, because it originally was used to refer to the Castlevania games like SOTN that had picked up Metroid-style level design. One of the reasons it bugs me is because the Castlevania games also added RPG elements to the mix, which Metroid never did. A game that is heavily influenced by Super Metroid is likely to be substantially different from a game that is heavily influenced by SOTN or the GBA/DS 'vanias, but they get lumped under the same awkward genre banner.

      (But it's fine, it's still not as confusing as what's happened to "roguelike", and genre names fundamentally don't matter.)

      Delete
    2. I mean sure, but try explaining people that almost no "action adventure" games fit in the "adventure game" genre...

      Delete
    3. Re: Metroidvania

      Yeah, I mean, that was a case of combining the self-evident with the obvious.

      Delete
    4. It's a good enough term to describe "non-linear 2D sidescroller with an interconnected open world and unlockable abilities that allow new options of environmental traversal".

      Whether there are no proper RPG elements like in Metroid, or more involved RPG elements like in SotN, can usually be gleaned from the store page description.

      Delete
    5. I'm not sure the "2D sidescroller" part is that essential? If you have the rest but a different perspective, I think it's still useful to classify the game as a Metroidvania instead of something else.

      On that basis, the original Zelda should get some credit here.

      Delete
    6. Zelda-like games are not usually considered Metroidvanias, but both are definitely related subsets of Action Adventure.

      Delete
    7. Personally, I feel like Zelda-like games tend to have a stronger focus on story than Metroidvanias, with progression being more specifically tied to where you are in the plot instead of what items you have.

      Delete
    8. Yeah, I was specifically thinking of the first Zelda, which is very open world and non-linear and has a handful of items that open up new traversal options (and it has very little story). It's primitive, but it did all of that before Metroid or any Castlevania.

      I just played through Death's Door which also strikes me as a Metroidvania even though it doesn't have a side perspective.

      Delete
  16. I love this game - there were few other mainstream games at the time that put this level of effort into world "simulation". The (semi-) non-linear world with towns, a night and day cycle that actually changes the population of a zone, the presence of hints that foreshadow areas you'd visit later (even if they were incomprehensible).

    Sure it pretty much fails to live up to these elements if you play it for long enough, but it really was a unique experience, especially on the NES. The only other well-known game that delivered on all those elements that year was Ultima 5.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Didn't see this one coming! Agreed that it's not much of an RPG or puzzle adventure. Speaking as someone who's enjoyed several other Castlevania games, and beat my head against this one on several cartridge rentals as a kid, I don't think it's much of an action-platformer either. The jumping stinks, the endless deaths from falling into water are a drag, the mansions are dull, and most of the game is really spent trudging from place to place and climbing stairs.

    The inevitable bevy of comments directing you towards Symphony of the Night won't be *wrong,* exactly. That game, apart from being a much more enjoyable action experience, has true leveling, random item/equipment drops, and an absurd range of equippable weapons and armor, which affect stats as well as offering elemental or protection-from bonuses, etc. So there's overall more to chew on and a lot more justification for the "action-RPG" label. That said, as you level up, you get so overpowered that you can easily ignore most of this complexity. And I STILL don't think it would exactly rack up the GIMLET points. But... it's really enjoyable as a console action-RPG hybrid. From what you've written about gaming on the couch versus the desk, I think you might have fun with it if you gave it a try on the couch sometime.

    ReplyDelete
  18. There are a few turn-based RPGs that use a side-scrolling perspective, most notably The Darkest Dungeon. The freeware duology Spirit Engine is another example. None of these games feature any platforming or vertical movement though. Child of Light is the only turn-base side-scrolling RPG I can think of that features some minor terraine traversal elements and vertical movement - but again, no jumping.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SteamWorld Heist is a side-scrolling, turn-based tactical shooter that does make use of the physical environment, and I don't see any reason why the same structure couldn't be used for a full-fledged SRPG. (The game as is strictly meets Chet's definition of an RPG, actually, but I wouldn't say it plays like one.)

      Delete
    2. Valkyrie Profile (PS1) features action-based platforming in a side-scrolling environment but combat (triggered when you collide with an enemy sprite) is a typical turn-based JRPG affair.

      Delete
    3. I never played the first Spirit Engine, but I feel obligated to chime in here to say that the second one is a fantastic game IMO.

      Delete
  19. This game has the worst dialogue making it pretty much unplayable without a guide. This led me to creating a translation patch. In addition to reworking the dialogue, I also added a few quality of life improvements like faster text. I know it's too late for you now, but if anyone else here wants to play the game, I suggest Castlevania II: Simon's Quest Redaction.

    http://www.thealmightyguru.com/Games/Hacking/Hacks/SimonsRedaction.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah the translation makes it hard to actually beat the game without some help

      Delete
    2. That's really cool, AlmightyGuru! I could get through the game as a kid, but I definitely used the hints from Nintendo Power. Nice to know there's an improved version of the game out there.

      Delete
  20. Also: "I don't think any serious RPG player would play Castlevania II and think that it's an "open-world" game or that it's "role-playing elements" represent a significant departure from its predecessor."
    Well, I am that player. I don't find its open world fundamentally less open than in, say, M&M games that are also difficulty-gated. And I would say your experience - e.g. failing to find some weapons - points to a higher flexibility of playstyle than a typical platformer affords.
    I wouldn't call it an RPG, but not acknowledging its RPG influences just because they can be overridden by manual dexterity doesn't make sense to me. From that perspective, Skyrim is not an RPG either.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Ah Simon's Quest. I'm pretty sure this game was WHY a lot of kids had a Nintendo Power subscription--not just because the game was impossible to beat without some hints, but because of the infamously gory cover featuring Simon's Quest. Totally rad.

    People knock walkthroughs, but I always remember pre-internet gaming as nearly REQUIRING you to talk to friends and other people to figure out how to play games. Nobody I knew got through games on their own--they got through games by comparing notes with other people, sharing tips and secrets. Strategy guides and Nintendo filled in the same need when you had games that didn't make sense because they were poorly translated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not really, though. There are a handful of outlier games with nonsensical puzzles that people keep talking about, but 99% of eighties or nineties games are easily straightforward enough to not require a guide.

      To be fair, one of the biggest publishers at the time was Sierra, and most of Sierra's games fit in the 1%...

      Delete
  22. I always considered this an "action platormer" game with RPG elements. As others have pointed out, there are a lot of these types of games on the NES (and later consoles), such as Zelda II.

    One of my favorites in this genre was NES Rygar - it has an open world, equipment and an experience system. You can use the experience system to sort of cheat - there's a spot early on where you can keep killing higher-level enemies over and over (refresh the screen and they come back) - this builds your power to the point you can one-shot most enemies throughout the rest of the game.

    I enjoy these entries, but I do think Chet is crossing genres with these games. When the "to-hit" determination is based 100% on player skill with controller, and not stats, equipment, spells, etc... is it really an RPG? Or is it an action game with a powerup system containing RPG elements? Something like Hydlide might make the cut, but CV has always been a controller jockey game - jump, dodge, whip.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By Chet's definition, if the game has an attack or damage stat and carriable health potions, then it's an RPG, even if barely. This game appears to lack an attack stat; Zelda 2 appears to lack inventory (other than puzzle items); but the later Castlevania games on the Gameboy Advance do qualify, and I'm sure there's earlier examples of action adventures that fit Chet's criteria.

      Delete
  23. Hope you feel better soon! I can sympathize with an overly busy life and COVID and other medical issues interfering!

    ReplyDelete
  24. N64 Castlevania is not a reboot (it has a unique name in Japan), but a sequel set in the 19th Century. Series showrunner Iga retconned it non-canon, though.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I loved it in the Netflix Castlevania series late in Season 2 when they finally get into Dracula's castle and start killing his vampire army and it plays the music from this game.

    ReplyDelete
  26. The deceptive hints from the townspeople are mostly deliberate lies - there's some roughness added in translation, and one or two genuinely mangled hints, but for the most part the villagers want you to fail.

    The story reason is pretty simple - to break Simon's curse, he has to bring Dracula back from the dead. The villagers don't want Dracula to be resurrected. The out-of-universe reason was to make the game more difficult and take longer to beat.


    This is the only game in the series that uses hearts for currency, and thus the only one that gives subweapons infinite uses. Most games in the series use hearts as ammunition - each subweapon depletes your heart with each use, the quantity depending on the weapon. The pure platformers use no currency as all (any "money" item is just for score), while the later ARPG-type games have currency being separate.

    The later games tagged as RPGs are pretty solidly in the Action RPG category - they have a full inventory, level-based stats, and various forms of character development. That might not be clear from a video overview, but it is pretty limited in relevance both for general list reasons and because those don't show up until the late 90s at the earliest.

    ReplyDelete
  27. A few observations written while reading:

    The list of Castlevania "role-playing-or-pretending" games, also known as "Metroidvanias" is:
    1. Vampire Killer (MSX, an action-adventure game)
    2. CV2: Simon's Quest
    3. CV: Symphony of the Night
    4. CV: Circle of the Moon
    5. CV: Harmony of Dissonances
    6. CV: Aria of Sorrow
    7. CV: Dawn of Sorrow
    8. CV: Portrait of Ruin
    9. CV: Order of Ecclesia
    10. CV: Harmony of Despair (online multiplayer)

    The perspective "from behind" is known as "third person view".

    "Castlevania" is usually abbreviated as "CV", that is the same as "Curriculum Vitæ". It would be funny to imagine a context where the two could be confused...

    The English translation of Castlevania 2 is notoriously bad. Anyone interested in a faithful English translation should check https://bisqwit.iki.fi/cv2fin/diff (from Finland). At the bottom of the page he even lists who is really a liar and who is just mistranslated.

    Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, SaGa, Sword of Hope... Hey, Chester, are you trying to incorporate Zenic Reverie's blog into yours? :) I will keep reading you anyway :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wouldn't call your no. 1 a MV, it's level based and without ability gating

      Delete
    2. I consider it a precursor of the Metroidvanias. It is definitely different from the "linear side-scrolling strictly-in-one-direction" Castlevanias.

      Delete
  28. Yes, it's certainly strange that Chet's sources listed most of Symphony's successor games as RPGs but not Symphony itself.

    For my money, Chet, I think you'd find Symphony of the Night to be the most "RPG-like" of any Castlevania. It's certainly much more so than CV2, which is an action-adventure in the strictest sense - action from its Castlevania gameplay, adventure because you run around looking for a bunch of tchotchkes in order to finish the game. I'm much more comfortable calling Symphony and its successors "action-RPGs", though; they do feature meaningful character development, stats, inventories with equipment and usable items, etc. despite being action/exploration games at their core. Most of them, however, are so far out on this blog's timeline that they're not going to be relevant any time soon.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Also, just FYI Chet, levels in CV2 do two different things, which are both sort of the same thing: they give you a bigger health bar, but also increase your defense so that the health you have goes further. They are fairly meaningful - a level 6 (max level) Simon takes just 6.25% of the damage that level 0 Simon does! - but ultimately the game isn't so hard as to require them unless you deliberately challenge yourself by sticking with the leather whip, in which case they are the only thing that lets someone without absolutely perfect reflexes eke out a win.

    Also, I can think of one big difference between this and CV1/CV3 - this game doesn't feel great to play. They do look identical from the standpoint of just watching the gameplay, but both 1 and 3 have much better controls for an action game. Castlevania is infamous for "stiff" controls, but this one is awfully stiff in a way that feels unintentional and bad, while the other two on the NES feel designed around portraying their protagonist as subject to physics and human limitations, unlike the cartoonish approach of Mario where you can reverse direction in midair and such.

    I can assure you that people back in the day certainly did notice the lack of supposedly "RPG" and "open world" elements in CV3 - and were delighted by the omission, since all anyone really wanted out of the series was more of the original.

    ReplyDelete
  30. A personal vignette as this game was a meaningful fixture of my preteen years:

    My older cousin had to me a legendary level of gaming skill and would do speed runs of this game while I watched. Due to factors Chet pointed out - low technical challenge, pre-internet, and no map - the challenge of the game became memorizing the world and learning where to cut corners. We would time him, and I remember bragging to friends that my cool cousin could get through it in 52 minutes. Years later, I discovered that was a great time that would put him in the top 50 or so of recorded runners! He was awesome at the game after all, which goes against the usual post-internet discovery that your friends were not as good at these games as you thought.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Never played it myself, but I've heard a lot about it. Opinions are sharply divided even by Nintendo and Castlevania fans. Is it a a misunderstood masterpiece, beginning the greatness that would be Symphony of the Night? Or is it a pile of dreck? For the latter, is the only reason why people think that because of the Angry Video Game Nerd?
    Either way, it was nice to read someone's take on it that was blissfully unaware of that particular internet crapstorm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tbh, back than I found some feature of Simon Quests cool, but prefered the "straightforwardness" of the first Castlevania. It seems they hight the right formula with Symphony of the Night

      Delete
    2. The gameplay is genuinely clunky in a way that the other NES Castlevanias are not, and once you get past that the game just isn't very interesting. It's not like Zelda 2, where wonky controls and a departure from form conceal a pretty interesting design. And it's not really a "metroidvania", because you don't get new movement options that open up new areas. There are just a few items that serve as keys.

      Even this attempt to defend the game doesn't manage to find much to praise:

      https://kotaku.com/in-defense-of-castlevania-2-simon-s-quest-1835599200

      The music is genuinely good, and the game successfully attains a spooky atmosphere (although I find it kind of funny that a number of the things this article cites are mistranslations, like the "get out of town!" line). It's also not nearly as unfairly hard as internet screamers make it out to be. But it's just kind of mediocre overall.

      Delete
  32. I'm just about to start the 2017 blogposts and see an NES game being talked about in comments. What is going on here?!? Did you all wear Chet down? Am I going to stumble upon a SMT review?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, this is the 7th NES game, and one of them even scored well!

      Of course, being a CRPG blog, there's no guarantee that any specific game from an adjacent genre will be played.

      Delete
    2. He decided to spite everyone who'd been asking him to play console games by only playing the very worst trash games that nobody likes. Oh, and Final Fantasy. He liked that quite a bit actually.

      Delete
    3. @Anonymous chill up, he isn't playing the trash to "spite everyone". Is actually quite a profit for us that he has played a console game at all, yet you still unsatisfied?

      I do prefer to read about a bad game that I will not play, so at least I'll know what it's about.

      Delete
    4. Why are people still allowed to post anonymously? I don't get it.

      Delete
    5. Maybe we'll get him to play a Megami Tensei one day...but since he doesn't play fan-translated stuff he's going to miss out on the early days of the series, which is too bad since they're more CRPGs than anything.

      Delete
    6. I was being facetious, geez. I don't actually think he's doing it to spite anyone. I just think it's funny that his random selection has produced almost entirely clunkers so far, is all. Lighten up, fellas.

      Delete
    7. I like SMT as much as the next guy, but calling it a CRPG is just setting up everyone for disappointment.

      Delete
    8. Given his track record, I'm almost certain that Chet's first exposure to SMT will be through the poorly translated PS1 version of Revelations: Persona.

      Delete
    9. Morpheus, how so? The first few (MT1, MT2, SMT1, SMT2) would fit very comfortably into any catalog of mid-80s to early-90s Wizardry-inspired blobbers if you simply ported them to DOS and gave them keyboard controls instead of gamepad controls. MT1 and MT2 especially wear their Wizardry influence on their sleeve.

      I can understand if your experience with the games is restricted to the officially translated later games why you would see the series as "JRPG" rather than "CRPG" but I feel like the early entries are among the most "Western" of any Japanese-designed RPGs.

      Delete
    10. Hmm, I remember an earlier comment from Chet that if someone mentions 'Shin Megami Tensei' ever again, he's going to shut down the whole operation...

      Careful, guys!

      Delete
    11. You all know the legends. If you name the Game-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named too many times, the Commenter-With-The-Annoying-Username will return and finally fulfill the Dark Prophecy, forcing Chet to play GWSNBN forever.

      Delete
    12. I keep trying to explain this, but it doesn't seem to stick. I pick console games at RANDOM from a list of games that online databases say are RPGs. SMT has just as much chances as popping up as any other console game on those rare occasions that I select one.

      Brent, we still have anonymous comments because Blogger doesn't give me anything between the extremes of allowing all anonymous comments and requiring that the user have a verified Google account.

      Delete
    13. For the record, I wasn't trying to insist that you play a Megami Tensei game...I was just saying it would be cool to see you play one. I do know that you use a random process for console games, it's not a matter of something "not sticking". I'm sure one will pop up eventually from the list.

      Delete
    14. @Jazerus, haven't played the NES games, but SMT I & II don't strike me as CRPGs anymore than the later games in the series.
      I just think you're setting yourself up for disappointment. For everything the SNES titles do right they also do wrong. Its still going to have that anime factor that Chet isn't so fond of. One might be mistaken for thinking the way its hyped up around here that its an oasis of absolute perfection in a sea of generic anime.

      Delete
    15. I played the fan translated SNES remake of MT 1&2, very little Anime in there. Especially the monster designs are very western I strongly believe.

      Delete
    16. The SNES SMT games, or at least the main ones, play far more like a CRPG than most JRPGs of the era. That being said, it's still a JRPG with some aspects of the game making that very clear.

      Delete
  33. I love it. I can't wait to get here in about a year. Hahahaha

    ReplyDelete
  34. Your master game list has "World of Xeen" on 1994. Are you planning to replay it again?
    If no, you could remove one row from all the pile of pending games :)

    ReplyDelete
  35. I enjoyed SQ when it came out along with Legend of Zelda 2. I was glad to play another chapter in those stories without them being simply more of the previius game. They were far from perfect but they at least tried new things in the NES era. The idea of melding RPG elements (at least having an inventory to solve puzzles) with action and platforming play has worked well over time and gave us other games on the NES with interesting mechanics like Bionic Commando, Strider, The Goonies II, Faxanadu, Battle For Olympus and Blaster Master.
    There were some serious stinkers that few people have good memories of: Platoon, Rambo, and Milon's Secret Castle to name a few.
    When you're altering established genres and IPs from expected norms there's bound to be problems but hopefully in the end we get something that leads to a new genre entirely. I've grown to love good metroidvania games like Shadow Complex or Dust: An Elysian Tale and we have games like SQ to thank for them.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Netflix have done an anime series based on Castlevania - it was popular, and achieved four seasons. I watched all, and it was okay, though I think the earlier ones were better. I believe the screenwriter blotted his copybook in some fashion, and has been cancelled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be Warren Ellis, quite a notable comics writer. He's had a history of taking promising young female writers under his wing, and using his influence to date them. So he's not in fashion right now, although he has come out and made his apologies.

      Delete
    2. Not just using his influence to "date" them. 60+ women signed on to this:

      https://www.somanyofus.com/

      Delete
  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  38. This game was really fun when it was released, if a bit obtuse. Being in grade school upon first play, and having been raised on sparkly My Little Ponies and rainbow Care Bears, the dark, desperate tone of this game was quite forbidding. I was a bit scared of it, which proves how effective it's gothic atmosphere and dark music were at the time. If I recall correctly, the game was rushed in development, which is why there are so few boss battles. More were planned, but were cut. Also, years back, I read that the game designer/developer responsible for the first three Castlevanias, including this one, has been unaccounted for, for the past couple of decades. Due to sluggish sales of Castlevania 3 in Japan, he was demoted, and kind of vanished from the public eye. Last I heard, he was still MIA, so if anyone has any updates on that situation, it would be interesting to hear. Strange that such an influence on game design, just disappeared like that.

    ReplyDelete
  39. No need to apologize, I for one appreciate all that you do in reviewing all these old games and find many of the write-ups helpful and entertaining. It probably seems like you'd need to rush through to review as many as you can as fast as you can, but a better idea might be to just scrap the 'review by calendar year' thing and just go with whatever looks interesting. Or just do the occasional one-off, a title from 2001 here or 2012 there as it does get a bit repetitive seeing the same style of games entry after entry. Maybe take an audience vote on the concept to determine interest? Whatever, its an idea anyway.

    Regarding Simon's quest, I was that child and yes it was frustrating having to test every block. Of course you'd have to understand that at the time there was literally nothing else to compare with, a lot of NES games were like this. NES developers might have assumed players wanted most 'quest' games to be similar to Mystery Quest or something, the NES game I never finished and love to hate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He's previously toyed with switching up the format of the blog a bit like that, but I think the nature of his addiction and perhaps a compulsion to check things off progressively makes it seem very unlikely he'll do so. No complaints here, though, whatever form the addiction/interest in charting CRPG history takes, we all get to enjoy it.

      Delete
  40. One thing that helps with finding hidden items is that you can make them visible by equipping Dracula's eye. I don't recall if it shows you upgrades like the sacred flame, but it definitely shows you the clue books. The clue books were intended to be unambiguously useful hints to some of the more obtuse puzzles, although they weren't really worth tracking down in the translation.

    Unfortunately, the eye did not show you breakable blocks, so you'd still have to go around tossing holy water everywhere regardless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I called the Nintendo help line (after getting my mom's permission of course) to ask about Deborah's Cliff and what the body parts did. I never made the connection vetween the rib and the shield it gives you so when the counselor read off the effects of each part I had a serious DO'H moment. A Do'h-ment if you'll excuse the portmanteau.

      Delete
  41. lol, despite reading almost all of these entries, I think this is the first game I've actually played (other than legend of zelda, which I didn't want to get into).

    Young Jordan did NOT find all the weird bits to beat this game and definitely got stuck despite playing it for hours and hours. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
  42. Throwing around holy water everywhere was tolerable. Many of us did exactly that in the original Legend of Zelda too; there, you had to ignite every tree and bomb every rock.

    But it never occurred to kid me to re-explore all of Simon's Quest with the blue crystal -- I spent 20+ hours doing so with the "upgraded" red crystal in vain. If I had had that flash of insight, I'd have hit upon the solution (and I even knew the white crystal had been specifically required for the first mansion).

    I hit an hours-and-hours impasse in 100+ games; it's not like that was unusual back then. Of all of the impasses, Simon's Quest was the worst one where I could have found the solution. Reasons:
    * It's nowhere near the end of the game (most of my impasses are late-game, where I expect the biggest challenge)
    * The flash of insight required is silly, even by 1980s standards
    * I never did find the solution on my own

    ReplyDelete
  43. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. > Castlevania: Order of Shadows (2007, Windows Mobile)

      It is also available on J2ME platform, which can be emulated quite easily nowadays. Not a good one for the series (I think it isn't even canon), but I love those J2ME games - and the time of when they were released; and the cellphones too =)

      edit: fixed a typo

      Delete
  44. The problem with playing Simon's Quest is the poorly localization, which adds confusion to what the NPCs have to say (regardless being something that is truth or false).

    While the gameplay of both CV1 and CV2 are similar, they are quite different, which is mostly due to time limit (unless you are going to the good ending of Simon's Quest), you are more free to explore the area and figure things out, while in the first title things are a lot more linear.

    Castlevania 2 was very ambitious but I dont think it succeed like Metroid did and, later, Castlevania Symphony of the Night - which is a lot more refined in my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Late, but one thing I really have to comment on here - you posted a screenshot of a guy saying "Clues to Dracula's riddle are in Bodley Mansion."and commented "If this is true, I never found any clues. Dracula doesn't really have a "riddle" anyway"

    This is a mistranslation. Not only is it a mistranlation, it's an INCREDIBLY unfortunate one that basically changes the game from "not very hard" to "practically impossible without a guide".

    See, what it's ACTUALLY supposed to say is "A book that will help solve Dracula's puzzles is in Bodley Mansion". As others mention, and you noticed, almost everything the townspeople in the game tell you is either nonsense or something that looks like a hint but is actually just a lie. However, the clue books you find always tell the truth, and all those puzzles you got stuck on and wondered if the game clued you in on have their solutions spelled out pretty clearly in such books. the problem, of course, is that they're invisible and thus tricky to find - which is why it's so crucial to know where you're supposed to look for them. And why it's such a game killer that the clues telling you where they are got mistranslated into incomprehensible nonsense you're likely to just write off as unhelpful.

    The game has a reputation of being horribly mistranslated, but grammar and spelling errors aside, it's really not that inaccurate, and none of the other mistranslations hurt your ability to solve the game in any real way. It's just this one particular one they messed up that they really shouldn't have.

    (It's not a very good game though, I'm with you there. But it's not nearly as obtuse as people tend to claim)

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.