Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest Is Memorable Because of Its Lying NPCs - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest Is Memorable Because of Its Lying NPCs

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest arrived on the Nintendo Entertainment System in December of 1988. Its predecessor, the original Castlevania, had arrived the year prior, establishing what would become the roots of one of the longest-running franchises in gaming industry. But Simon’s Quest was a different beast than its older sibling. Instead of featuring structured levels and more traditional platforming elements, players were presented with an open world, complete with a day-night cycle, a modest inventory, and a game that relied more on puzzle-solving than on precision combat. It’s hard to argue Simon’s Quest wasn’t ambitious. The game, for all its good intentions, just tried to reach a little too far.

I am not here to give you a review of Simon’s Quest. I am here to talk about all of the lying NPC bastards littered across its Transylvanian populace, how their presence destroys so many of those aforementioned good intentions, but also how this feature led to everything memorable about the game.

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The Beginning of the Quest For Truth

Several of the towns scattered across Simon's Quest have a church within the city limits, so I damn well know the townsfolk are familiar with the Ten Commandments. When you add in the fact that their cursed countryside rests in the shadow of a vampiric realm, it becomes reasonable to assume that many of these people have spent at least some of their time in the pews, if for no other reason than to plead to the Almighty for deliverance from their never-ending nightmare.

Apparently, they missed a few Sundays. In particular, they appear to have missed the lesson on not bearing false witness against their neighbors, as they have zero qualms about spewing untruth. You might think that they would curtail such behavior when it comes to helping the one, sorry loser —Simon Belmont— who has shown up to deliver their putrid, forsaken hellscape from the eternal darkness. The answer to that musing is a resounding “no.” Sometimes, they like to talk cryptically. Other times, they just make shit up.

Lost in Transylvanian Translation

Unreliable characters are a crucial aspect of storytelling. That Simon’s Quest has such characters isn’t the problem; it is the lack of context that the player is provided to help untangle fact from fiction that creates such chaos. The nonsense starts right from the opening sequence of events in the town of Jova. The first person you talk to says, “First thing to do in this town is to buy a White Crystal.” Fair enough. But then the next guy says, “There’s a crooked trader offering bum deals in this town.” Right away, there is suspicion between the player and their surroundings. And then right on queue, you stumble into the trader who is ready to sell you the White Crystal for 50 hearts. So, is this a scam? Hell if I know.

The kink in the hose is that the localization of this game was notoriously brutal. Here is what these lines of dialogue were supposed to say: The literal translation of the first citizen should read; “Go and buy a White Crystal. Everything begins from there.” This sounds much more like a kind nudge from an NPC to help a new player get their bearings. The next line about the “crooked trader” should read like this: “In the towns, there are sellers who do business in hiding.” This essentially changes the meaning from “there’s some guy selling magic beans in the alley,” to “there are some potentially black-market merchants, who prefer not to advertise, in our town.” A small change this is not.

Garlic, Unrequited Love, and A Graveyard Duck

This deception takes on another form when pertaining to the ferryman at the river. Another citizen of Jova gives you this nugget: “Rumor has it, the ferryman at Dead River loves garlic.” Now, this translation is not terribly far from the literal translation; “I have heard that the favorite dish of the ferryman at the Dead River is garlic.” But here’s the problem: The ferryman has exactly zero interest in garlic. If you try to give him garlic it, like my faith in humanity, just vanishes into the river below. It must be mentioned that there is actually a puzzle to be solved concerning the ferryman, and that the solution has nothing to do with garlic, it’s no wonder that this, according to Castlevania Fandom, “was one of the main reasons why many players from the era couldn't finish the game.”

The nonsense continues. Sometimes it is harmless, but annoying, misdirection, like the woman in the town of Aldra who says “I’ve been waiting for a good looking guy like you...I’ll see you at midnight on the riverbank.” Again, this has the sound of a quest. And again, it’s a total lie. If you go stand there like an idiot, you may as well be waiting on the 9th green at 9.

One of the more famous encounters with localization madness is the citizen who tells you to “Get a silk bag from the Graveyard Duck to live longer.” There are several things that come to mind from that statement, and most of them are wonderful, but sadly, it’s just an old guy dressed in green. No harm, I suppose, seeing as it does make good on something being there, but then again, I was expecting a mystical, avion, undead mascot of the Strigoi Graveyard; that's a long-distance fall of disappointment. Some claim this wasn’t actually a mistranslation, while others claim the confusion came from some type of verb usage about the man “waddling around.” But don’t worry, Guadia Quest can take it from here.

Just Keep Banging Your Head Against the Wall

Perhaps the most infamous part of Simon’s Quest is the debacle at Deborah Cliff. What appears to be a deadend is pitched to Simon as holding some sort of secret: “Hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole.” The literal translation doesn’t offer additional help: “Open up the Deborah Cliff by headbutting, and a large hole opens.” This doesn’t sound particularly misleading on the surface, especially in a game that features hidden secrets inside of walls; it sounds more like a colorful way of explaining you should be suspicious of that cliff.

At least until you stumble on what you’re actually supposed to do: Kneel at the cliff with the Red Crystal for five seconds, and wait for a whirlwind to whisk you away. The closest clue we get is the “Wait for a soul with a Red Crystal at Deborah Cliff.” The literal translation would have helped: “Hold a red crystal in front of Deborah Cliff and wait for a wind.” That “the wind” translates into “soul” just ruins the whole deal. The best part of this entire thing is that the misleading clue is literally telling you to bang your head against a wall, perhaps the most thematically appropriate thing I have ever heard.

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Therein lies the key problem that plagues Simon’s Quest —the quests do not offer enough logical progression to overcome the constant lying antics of the Transylvanians. According to J. Parish of Gamespite, “Simon’s Quest employs too much 8-bit logic to give deliberately misleading tips; rather than shake your head ruefully once you figure it out, you’re far more likely to shake your fist in annoyance because the real solution is equally dumb.” These solutions don’t create the sort of eureka moments you hope would accompany such puzzle-solving. Instead, the solution to the puzzle is somehow more baffling than the puzzle itself.

The lackluster translation was long-blamed as the culprit for the chaos players had to endure in this game. However, it’s possible that some of it was intentional on the part of the developers, especially as we have seen the lies being present in the literal translations. In an interview with Parish, Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi was asked if he might consider making another Castlevania game in the spirit of Simon’s Quest, complete with clue-dropping NPCs. He responded by saying, “But all of those guys lied to you!”

In that case, if you could never finish Simon’s Quest, and therefore never saved the Transylvanian population from their curse, don’t feel too bad. Those punks reaped what they sowed —another Sunday morning lesson they could have stood to learn.

KEEP READING: 10 'Castlevania'-Like Games to Play Now That Netflix's Epic Anime Series Is Over



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