Sympathy for the Vampire: Castlevania II Is Way Better Than People Give It Credit For

STARTING SCREEN | Happy 30th anniversary, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest! You're not a perfect game, but you're a damn ambitious one.

Once, when I was about 11 or 12, I returned to school on the Monday following the weekend (which was the style at the time). A friend of mine approached me and said, "I finished Castlevania II over the weekend."

I said, "Oh, cool!"

She said, "Yeah. Simon died."

"What?"

"Simon died."

I was confused. I asked her if she'd died while fighting Dracula.

She said, "No. He died in the ending. The game said he died of his wounds, or something."

Those red drops aren't cherry pop, boyo.

I know now that my friend was referring to the "okay ending" for Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. In it, Simon does indeed die of the gnawing injuries Dracula inflicted upon him in the first Castlevania game. To see this conclusion, you must finish the game within eight to 14 in-game days. I never saw it because the one time I finished Castlevania II as a child, I saw the "bad ending," which you receive if you take your sweet time finishing the game. Far as I can tell, Simon lives in this ending, but it's a boring conclusion when compared to endings that kill off Simon or have Dracula come back to life (Simon, you schmuck, you forgot to cut his head off and stuff it with garlic!).

Side note: I like how the bad ending for Castlevania II uses the term "consummated." That's a hell of a word. I can just picture packs of little '80s runts asking their parents what "consummate" means, and their parents doing a double-take. I suppose when you raise kids, you mentally prepare yourself to answer questions about the origins of swear words, but what about perfectly clean words that are nevertheless loaded? I imagine some parents chickened out and defined the verb as it's used in the ending ("It means 'to complete a transaction or event perfectly,' honey"), but I sincerely hope some of those kids learned about marital laws and the Roman Catholic Church.

When retro video game criticism was a new idea on the internet, it was trendy to dump on Castlevania II as a bad game. The fad was likely kindled by The Angry Video Game Nerd's very first video, wherein he trashes Simon's titular quest for handing out vague instructions and clues. Personally, I loved the game for that specific reason. Castlevania II is built for aimless exploration. There are branching paths galore, towns full of weird people, and surprisingly few dead ends. The game certainly has ways of pointing you in the right direction: If you try to exit the game's starting town from the left side rather than the right side, you'll probably get demolished by the powerful monsters lurking there. But other than that, Castlevania II isn't interested in telling you what to do. If you die sixty billion times while attempting to cross a massive poison swamp without first buying some laurels, that's your lookout.

Hit Drac where it hurts: The ball.

Castlevania II also carries an unsettling atmosphere that makes it obvious the game is more than the cheap cash-grab some critics accuse it of being. It's not a horror game, per se; those were rare on the NES, and localizations were even rarer. But again, consider the fact Simon can die even if you technically "win" the game. It shouldn't even be surprising when it happens; the game's instruction booklet lets you know from the outset that Simon is slowly dying from his incurable wounds, and only calling up Dracula for Round Two will cure him.

Sure, most video games dangle a threat over your head, but never follow up on it. Castlevania II, however, isn't bluffing. That's gutsy stuff for an 8-bit game.

There are subtler ways Castlevania II informs you Dracula's ghost is poisoning the land, too. Towns, rivers, and forests are recovering poorly from the vampire king's initial rampage. Monsters are still everywhere, and that's one thing. But as you creep closer to ground zero – Dracula's domain – you start to notice more dead trees, more cemeteries, more irritable townspeople who suspect you're going to rile up Dracula and shatter the poor semblance of peace they cling to. The town closest to Dracula's castle is abandoned aside from an old woman who lives in a boarded-up house and suggests rather creepily that Simon stay with her.

Bye.

Castlevania II's soundtrack does a masterful job adding to your unease, too. Bloody Tears' urgency still makes me tense up for the inevitable oncoming of the horrible night that gives unholy power to Simon's foes. Great choice for a ringtone, or greatest choice for a ringtone? You decide.

I won't suggest Castlevania II is flawless, but neither do I believe the game is spoiled by its hard-to-suss clues and hints. "Vague" describes a lot of NES games we still love, to be frank. That's why Nintendo Power had such a racket going on back in the day. And, yes, Castlevania II had an in-issue Nintendo Power walkthrough. It had a bonus, too: A cover that scared the bejesus out of children across the country. Mwaa ha ha!

Happy 30th anniversary to Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, esteemed ancestor of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I think I might download it on my 3DS and play through it. Again.

(Thanks to Castlevania Crypt for some images.)

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Within These Castle Walls from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

Writing about Castlevania II has me jazzed, so let's keep the music flowing, so to speak.

I've already talked at length about Castlevania II's eerie atmosphere, and I think it comes to a head with "Within These Castle Walls," the tune that keeps you company as you make the final journey to your showdown with Dracula.

In most Castlevania games, the music decorating Dracula's abode is usually high-energy stuff. Consider the opening theme for Symphony of the Night, or how Castlevania IV serenades you with a remix of the iconic Vampire Killer (complete with epic kettle drum roll!). Within These Castle Walls, however, is comparatively slow and weary. The title alone tells a story: As Simon trudges through the last steps of his journey, he has time to think back on the epic struggle that occurred within those crumbling walls. There aren't even enemies around to harass him. He's alone. Just a man, his thoughts about the upcoming fight, and a piece of game music that still doesn't get its due.

Mike's Media Minute

The weekend was all about Game of Thrones, but hiding behind that was Netflix' release of Death Note. This has been a hotly contested release, partially because of the idea of whitewashed casting and partially because the adaptation takes the Death Note premise and then heads off into its own direction. Basically, folks have been on Twitter dragging director Adam Wingard for his take on the Death Note mythos.

Let's get a few things out of the way. I don't particularly like the film. It's not among Wingard's better work in my mind. The idea of "Heathers, but supernatural" isn't really a bad one, I just fault the execution here.

That said, as a person who has loved books, comic books, and manga for a long time, I've switched to a more pragmatic stance on adaptations. They aren't always going to be 1-to-1 and even the adaptations you enjoy are going to take wild liberties with the characters. Guardians of the Galaxy is a great pair of films, but they didn't really stick close to the versions of those characters that exists before the first film launched. Star Lord switched from the sarcastic grizzled veteran of the Annihilation Wave to Diet Han Solo. And that's fine, because I like Diet Han Solo.

I feel no need to drag Wingard and even slag off on the film too hard because Death Note is still there. I still have the manga. You still have the anime. There are still three Japanese live-action adaptations which stick closer to the source material (though even they go way off in their own direction). It's not a good film. I'll survive. You will too. Leave the production team alone. Hell, you don't even have to go that hard on folks that do like it. It's better for your blood pressure. Trust me, I had to suffer through Iron Fist.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Sophia Park's made some of my favorite Twine games as of late—the fan community emulation of Arc Symphony, the haunting computer-bound tale of Forgotten. Park's latest game (in collaboration with Arielle Grimes, Christa Isobel Lee, and Penelope Evans) is equally unforgettable. Localhost is a game about talking to a creepy manifestation of AIs, and convincing them to allow you to delete them. The imagery is unnerving with half of a robot dangling from the ceiling, torn to shreds and obviously on their last legs as they sway in a deeply creepy way. It's all to remind you that this being may just be digital, but they are still alive and well. And with just a few dialogue options, you can end their lives (or not). You can play Localhost on itch.io for $4.99.

Matt’s Monday Mornings

So how about them Game of Thrones last night? Pretty satisfying if I say so myself. I won't go into too much detail in case you haven't seen it yet, but I'm still enjoying this new found sense of urgency the show picked up going into its final season, even if some of the subplots were a bit dumb. Now to wait another year until I can be done with Game of Thrones forever.

I finished Uncharted: The Lost Legacy over the weekend and thought it was great. It might have been a bit too short for me, but that's only because I wanted to spend more time with Chloe and Nadine. I was a little skeptical of Naughty Dog's decision to pair the two, only because it felt like they were just mixing-and-matching random characters, but the two really struck a chord. In fact, I'd rather just have more Chloe and Nadine adventures than spin-offs with other characters. Can't imagine I'd be as interested in a Sully and Sam adventure or, Sam and anyone for that matter.

This Week's News and Notes

Tagged with Articles, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Konami, NES.

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