Anatomy of a Simon’s Quest: VIII

Here we go, folks: The end. The finale. Where the rubber meets the road, and the wooden stake meets the chest of the satanic abomination determined to rise from the dead and prey upon humanity. Despite spanning the entirety of Transylvania, Simon’s Quest culminates in Dracula’s castle, or at least its ruins. In a nice touch of continuity, Simon’s mission reaches its finale in the crumbled remains of Castlevania, which collapsed at the end of the first game.

The entry way calls back to Stage 01 of Castlevania, a motif that will be repeated in practically every single sequel to follow. But once you advance a little ways into the broken hallway, you reach an insurmountable wall of rubble that hides a secret underground passage. Break through the rubble and you can descend into a basement — no word is offered on what happened to river full of fish men that used to occupy this space — and advance down, down, down well beneath the castle’s foundation.

This is the obligatory point of no return for a game like this. You’ve been able to backtrack to your heart’s content until now, but the walk down into the rubble of Castlevania is a one-way trip. There’s no way to climb back out. This lends it a sense of finality and anxiety lacking in the rest of the game.

Once you reach the bottom, there’s nothing left to be done but burn Dracula’s body bit, which causes him to return to life and fly around the room. This battle has never made much sense to me. There’s no real strategy to it, because Dracula zips around way too fast to get a bead on, spams those daggers or whatever (I always thought they looked like fingernail clippings, personally), and basically isn’t any fun to fight. Also, he looks like he’s wearing an old aviator helmet. And his hands — are they spread high above his head, or are they clasped in front of his chest? Or does it even matter if you just toss some garlic on the ground and do the usual stunlock thing? Oh well.

It’s an anticlimactic way to end the game, matched only by the hilariously scrambled endings. I’ve never been sure if this was a deliberate subversion or just a weird programming error, but the endings you receive — determined by the speed with which you complete the game — don’t seem commensurate with your performance. Blast through the game in record time and you earn a terrible ending where Simon dies. Thanks for playing! Take forever and you receive happy, uplifting text overlaid atop a bleak-looking field of grey that seems better suited for the bad ending text.


I dunno, he looks pretty surviving there.

These little quirks don’t make Simon’s Quest a bad game, but they do typify the oddball design choices and occasionally amateurish programming that keep it from being the knockout punch that its predecessor was. I really love the ambition behind Simon’s Quest‘s structure, and the overworld that binds Transylvania together remains one of my favorite video game worlds after all this time. But the deliberately opaque text, dull Mansions, lackluster enemy design, weird leveling system, and overall lack of challenge… well, Simon’s Quest is a good game with great moments, but it is not, as a whole, great.

Thanks for bearing with me as I dissected this 24-year-old game for no particular reason.

10 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Simon’s Quest: VIII

  1. I think I know what Konami intended with those endings. The gray background one about Simon being remembered as a hero is an in memoriam, because the poor guy didn’t even live to dance on Dracula’s grave. The middle ending in colorful daytime where Simon kneels down and is implied to have died from the curse just let him live a bit longer.

    And the so-called best ending, the one at evening where Simon lives and Dracula reaches up from his grave when night falls, is the sequel hook. Dastardly Drac lives to see another game. But of course, Castlevania III then ended up starring one of Simon’s ancestors, and his further adventures ended up being remakes of his original campaign against Dracula. And his idiot grandson was left to deal with Old Man Dracula’s ghost and giblets monster because his even stupider ninja friend tried pulling a Simon.

    As for the projectiles he fires, I remember Kishi mentioning that was from the power of the Fang of Vlad, an additional missing part of Drac that happened to be at Ground Zero. The projectiles do kinda look like bloody fangs.

  2. Just seeing the sprites for that Castlevania ruin recalls the final music in my brain. Just fast enough to propel you onwards, repetitive enough to let you know there’s not much to actually do in the castle.

    And then wimpy dracula. I always used the crystal on him, because that room seems build for it, but it’s pretty much impossible to lose that fight. That was actually a real boon to my not-so-skillful younger self.

  3. What the hell IS up with Dracula’s getup in this game? He’s always looked like Grandpa Munster getting ready to take his roadster for a spin – I’m glad I’m not the only one to wonder about that. (Proof positive that retro gaming criticism is sometimes almost as much a collective kind of time-delayed group therapy as much as anything else.)

  4. Is that a cross I see before me in the last screenshot? Someone at NoA was asleep at the switch! Also, I never had a problem with Dracula’s appearance, it’s too indistinct to really resemble anything. I always thought he looked very wraith-like, which is appropriate. The fact that he doesn’t have any color made him seem other-worldly, or maybe it’s just a tribute to the old black and white films. The first time I saw this game it was from watching a VHS tape which was supposed to showcase strategies, and they featured the final battle. It didn’t stop from wanting to play Simon’s Quest, quite the opposite.

  5. Great write up(s) Jeremy! Simon’s Quest is my favorite Castlevania game, warts and all. And man does it have a lot of warts! The first Castlevania game was always too hard for me, even though I can breeze through the first half of Shadow of the Beast. I guess it depends on what game you are in front of when you have all the time in the world…

  6. @Curious Incognito Though it may have kept Devil World from ever being localized and the Dragon Warriors ended up replacing them with Stars of David and coffins with marshmallow ghosts, Castlevania got away with crosses all the time. For the lengths NoA went to for censorship, sometimes it overlooked things or just didn’t give a crap. Heck, the NES Zelda games have crosses too.

    The only time Castlevania really had a cross removed was Dracula’s grave in Super Castlevania IV’s teaser when letting the game sit at the title screen, and that’s because it gets destroyed. The main censorship the series saw was more with blood and naked statues than religious iconography.

    Sure, the holy water and cross are called the fire bomb and boomerang in the first game’s manual, but it also had the rosary actually called a cross, and given that holy water’s actually called holy water in CV2’s in-game text, it might’ve been more a blind idiot translation than anything.

  7. Does the grave in SQ’s ending match the grave in Super Castlevania IV’s Japanese opening?

  8. @Tomm I don’t think it has the nun on it, and Dracula’s name is in Engrish, but it does have a cross atop it.

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