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.