The Wii’s Virtual Console has been unexpectedly therapeutic for me. When I actually had my own NES, I was just seven or eight years old. Although I liked games a lot then, I was definitely not very good at them, and I’m fairly sure that I literally never beat any game on the system. Now, over fifteen years later, I feel a bit like I’m plucking out deeply-lodged thorns when I finally clear Mega Man 2 or Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time on the Virtual Console. Earlier this week, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest came out for Japanese Wiis, giving me a chance to come back to a game that deeply confused me in my childhood.
Since this is the Famicom Disk System version of the game, it has some elements absent from the NES release, like a save system, load times between areas, and surprisingly well-animated blood dripping down the title screen. Also, although the villagers still lie, the Japanese dialogue is marginally more intelligible than the hilarious English localization. Other than that, however, it’s still more or less the same abstruse and uneven game I remember.
Somehow, Simon’s Quest manages to simultaneously be both one of the most frustrating and forgiving games I’ve ever played. Compared to how punishing the first game in the series was, Castlevania II is incredibly kind to players who make platforming mistakes. I was surprised to see that I could miss the same jump five or six times and still come back to life right on the exact same platform where I died, even after continuing. The lack of any real punishment for dying other than losing your money means that all the challenge in this game comes from the puzzles, which are largely better than I remember.
Now that I’m familiar with video game logic, I can figure out that when a man in a mansion is selling a stake that at first seems to have no purpose, I might just need to throw it at the strange glowing orb in that same mansion. (Admittedly, the description of each item in the virtual instruction manual is also a huge help.) Although it’s often unclear what to do, it wasn’t nearly as impenetrable as I expected it to be. Things were going much more smoothly than I expected, until a puzzle where I had to kneel down while holding a blue crystal for no apparent reason drove me to an FAQ. As it turns out, even this solution was actually hidden within the game in a hidden book. at least in the Japanese release.
While this puzzle is definitely not logical, I do find it strangely reassuring that the designers actually did put solutions to this and the rest of the Simon’s Quest’s more obscure moments in the game itself, even if I don’t plan on whipping every tile to find them myself. In early elementary school, I assumed this game was some kind of a cruel trick with no solutions. Learning that it’s even partly fair was a pleasant shock. It’s good to know that the madmen who shaped so much of my childhood in a far-off country weren’t quite as hostile to me as I’d assumed.