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Set seven years after the end of the first Castlevania, the story still centers around Simon Belmont (hence the title Simon's Quest). Apparently, before Simon killed Dracula in the first game (oops, spoiler!) he was cursed by the vampire. If Simon doesn't go on a quest to gather Dracula's body parts (which were scattered after he was killed) and resurrect the ancient blood sucker, Simon will die.
Now, this story is at least slightly better than the first one. I also give it extra points because Simon no longer dresses like Conan the Barbarian. Now he dresses in crazy red and blue armor and has He-Man like hair. At least he's getting closer to what people in Europe actually wore in the seventeenth century. Kudos!
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This is where Castlevania II: Simon's Quest really shines. Simon is not bound by a linear story line or by a castle. In Simon's Quest Simon can travel from town to town, cemetery to castle collecting the items he needs. Also, there are churches where you can sleep and you can purchase items from merchants. You also gain experience as you play by collecting hearts (Zelda, anyone?). This adds a very RPG like element to the game play that was absent in the first game.
Not only is the game non linear, it also features a cool switch from day to night every few minutes or so. During the day enemies are easier to kill and the towns are full of people (all of whom are medieval monks for some reason), but at night the zombies, skeletons and mummies come out (and are harder to kill).
My one issue with the game (besides Simon's horrible taste in fashion) is how much harder Simon's Quest is from the first one. I'm not sure if the controls are less responsive or if I'm just bad at it, but it is annoying.
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The change from day to night is pretty cool. It was one of the first games to use the shift (Ocarina of Time so ripped them off!). As night falls (it's always a bad night to have a curse!) the mood of the game shifts as well: from uneasiness to 'oh crap!'
Considering it is an NES game, they are only 8 bit graphics, but they do look a little clearer than the first. Simon doesn't look as pixilated, and the wolfmen do appear to be quite hairy.
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Whipping zombies to death is always fun, no matter how you look at it. However, I found the first Castlevania more addicting. Simon's Quest is a little too difficult at times. Plus, while I love how the inhabitants in the towns will say strange things (and outright lie!) it can make it a little bit annoying since they don't give many good hints. It isn't always easy to figure out what to do. I like solving puzzles as much as the next gamer, but not if they are so obscure I need to have developed the game to know how to solve them.
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Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is a decent sequel. It opened the doors for the modern Castlevania games to be less linear with more RPG elements. While it isn't my favorite Castlevania game it is worth checking out if you played the first one.