As I’m posting this around midnight on All Hallows’ Eve, the witching hour as it were, it feels only fitting that I’m reviving a series I’ve not seen for a couple years. What better treat for Halloween than one last revival for the year? While Sum of Its Parts may have been more fitting given the day, Under Reconstruction always felt like an interesting concept. Taking a look at the odd one-offs, the quirky experiments and the black sheep games in popular series and reimagining them in a way that would improve their standing, while maintaining their unique identities in the process. I guess it would be scarier if I just decided they should be reworked to completely represent the rest of their franchises, but where’s the fun in that?
As I’ve only written one of these articles before, I’ll be making some changes from the previous article. Quite simply, I went far, far too in-depth in the last article, which may have contributed to my abandonment of the concept. Looking back at the previous article, I was clearly going for of a mini-design document style, which decisively hurt the flow of the entire thing at times, forcing it to be confined to sections and sub-headers. This time around, Under Reconstruction will be going for more of a “broad strokes” format, effectively going for the gist of what I’d want to see in a remake of the game in question. Hopefully, that’ll make this more viable as a recurring series, which honestly, was the original point of the first article. So, if you’re expecting another set of in-depth treatises on how to remake an old video game few people remember and fewer people liked, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed with this one. As for anyone else still reading this, let’s continue.
If you haven’t already guessed from the title, this article is going to be focusing on the second Castlevania game, Simon’s Quest. While Simon’s Quest is generally considered among the weaker entries in the series, due in no small part to a parody review video from one James “Angry Video Game Nerd” Rolfe, its place of importance within the Castlevania franchise is still unquestionable. While the original Castlevania was essentially an arcade-era platformer in the same vein as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Simon’s Quest took a far more exploratory approach to its games – best resembling Nintendo’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Due to this shift in priorities, some consider it to be something of an “ur-Metroidvania”, the style of gameplay associated with Symphony of the Night – which in turn, is considered by many to be the best game in the series. Of course, SotN and SQ handle exploration in almost entirely different ways, but by now, the connection has been made. Simon’s Quest isn’t the worst game in the series by any means, but it suffers from its mechanics – to the extent where the following game simply refined the mechanics of the original game and the series would follow on this path until the 32-bit era. Considering we’ve seen several remakes and reimaginings of the first game, why not give the second a chance to shine, especially given the fact that platform-adventure games in general have become substantially more refined?
The best games I can think of that took inspiration from Simon’s Quest would have to be the first two Shantae games from WayForward. As such, they seem like a good place to look for inspiration when refining mechanics for the remake. For starters, throw out the lives system. It was an odd mechanic in general, especially considering the fact that the only way to replenish them was through getting a Game Over. Most of the platformers that focused on exploration that came out after SQ had done away with the lives system, so it only makes sense that a remake would do the same. Having said that, I would keep the pitfalls in the game, as they emphasize the platforming elements in the game – just have them do about as much damage as an enemy instead of costing a life (you know, because they won’t exist anymore). Having said that, any Simon’s Quest remake should bring back the day/night mechanics, but do a straight fluid transition between the times of day, rather than doing it with a textbox and a slow-paced transition every single time. The original Shantae also made use of the day/night mechanics and handled them perfectly: just a quick palette and music swap. I’d suggest incorporating the classic texts for the first night and day transitions respectively, but make them background elements: don’t interrupt the flow of gameplay.
Simon’s Quest had a simple leveling system in it, and frankly, I’d just bring this back unchanged. Keeping the level cap at six and allowing for significant stat boosts based on experience points would be an interesting concept – effectively bridging the gap between the sometimes-ridiculous RPG-style leveling associated with the Metroidvanias, while still rewarding players for facing down enemies unlike the Classicvanias. Keeping the amount of experience points that can be earned in specific areas is another element I’d keep from the original NES version, simply because it would force progression. Likewise, the way the game handled equipment – including upgrades for existing weapons – is also well done. Granted, in this case, I’d suggest allowing players to shift back to weaker versions of the powered-up weapons, for the sake of adding some measure of optional difficulty. I’d also suggest adding both the Axe and the Cross Boomerang to Simon’s arsenal of sub-weapons, not only because their absence struck me as odd, but because they could allow for new obstacles and gameplay mechanics. Simon’s Quest also had multiple endings, based on how quickly the game was beaten. I’d definitely keep those mechanics: considering the fact that the game is said to be a prototype of the future Metroidvanias of the series, it would only make sense to include something that rewards quick completions, consider that’s a hallmark of the sub-genre‘s namesake.
The game world itself, on the other hand, needs to be significantly overhauled. The only thing I’d consider worth keeping from the original release would be the literal setting, which sufficiently depicted the kind of countryside and towns one might expect to exist alongside a literal demon castle. While researching for this article, I looked up a full map of the game’s overworld, and it’s literally a straight line. Some verticality and branching paths would be appreciated, especially considering how much of a role these elements would play in future games in the series. In a game like this, non-linearity seems like it should be the focus and as such, keeping the linear design of the original overworld seems like a mistake, especially considering the fact that the game managed to take a non-linear approach in the first place. The various areas were lined up in a random order, forcing playing to backtrack between both ends of the map to progress. Adding additional paths and shortcuts could make things much more interesting from a gameplay perspective.
Then there’s the case of the Mansions, which effectively acted as “action stages” or dungeons within the game. Each housed a specific relic of Dracula’s and they ended up being the parts of the game that best resembled the first game in terms of gameplay. However, they would generally focus more on cryptic puzzles rather than platforming gameplay, something I’d probably change if the game were remade for modern audiences. The best examples of how I’d like to see an SQ remake handle the Mansions would be the mini-dungeons in a later Castlevania game, Portrait of Ruin. The segmented areas in Aliens: Infestation are another good example of what I’d like to see. To put it simply, each mansion would essentially be a miniature Metroidvania map, roughly the size of a single area in the major Metroidvania-style Castlevanias. Another point about the original Simon’s Quest that was disappointing would have to be the lack of bosses. There were only 3 bosses in the game: Death, Carmilla and Dracula himself – and they were all fairly underwhelming. Given the fact that there are so many iconic bosses in the Castlevania series, it would be easy enough to pick some additional bosses for the game. Likewise, I’d suggest expanding on the existing bosses as well – it’s not like there aren’t several other incarnations of those three to draw inspiration from. Speaking of expansion, increasing the number of mansions overall would probably be a good idea: it’s not like the Prince of Darkness only had 4 body parts and a ring. Expanding the mansions to 8 would probably be a good number thus allowing for a much more ornate game world in general. Better yet, these new mansions could easily justify my proposed redesign of the overworld – these new Mansions could be hidden along alternate paths from the standard straight-line design of the original game, thus allowing this new version of Simon’s Quest to feel more like an expansion than a total reimagining. I’d also suggest giving each mansion a theme to focus on, which would allow for more cohesive level designs. I’m not talking about silly things like “make one Egyptian-themed”, but giving each mansion a unique obstacle to center its design around would probably make things was more interesting.
Finally, we come to the game’s towns. Perhaps the most unique element Simon’s Quest introduced to the Castlevania series – as the concept wouldn’t be revisited until 2008’s Order of Ecclesia. In the original version, players would be able to buy items and talk to the townsfolk for information, which wouldn’t always be true …or coherent, for that matter. When accounting for modern game design, using the towns as save points and areas to heal seems obvious. I’d consider also using them as warp points, allowing players to travel to areas they’ve previously visited with no issues, but that’s strictly my preference: backtracking can be a nightmare, especially when the game map is literally a straight line. As for the townsfolk, I’d keep things cryptic and allow some of them to lie, like in the original game. Just please make sure that their speech isn’t translated into gibberish this time around. Hell, maybe add in some sidequests between towns, that could help to expand the game’s world even further. Again, I’d look to the second and third Shantae games for inspiration when reimagining the towns. Giving different layouts and themes to each town would be helpful, but at the same time, keep the vertical layouts in the new version. Likewise, I’d also say to maintain the various obstacles – both the pitfalls and the zombie attacks at nightfall – in the new version, it definitely mixes things up.
Of course, when it comes to remaking a game, gameplay is only half the equation. Presentation is also important. A subtle balance must be achieved: the game must simultaneously appear new to draw in those who played the original game, while at the same time maintaining enough key elements from the source material to be recognizable as an actual remake, rather than an outright reimagining with nothing in common with the original. At the same time, the game also has to be able to draw in those not familiar with the previous release, effectively making sure that it can appeal to those familiar with later iterations of the series or even those completely unfamiliar with the franchise in question. It’s a precarious balance that is too difficult to really look into clinically, but I’ll do my best to keep it in mind when discussing the aesthetical content of the game.
For starters, we have the game’s story. After defeating Dracula in the events of Castlevania – which have been told a million ways a million different times – Simon Belmont retires to a simple and peaceful life for the next seven years. However, upon his death, the Prince of Darkness placed a curse on the young vampire hunter, cursing him to an early grave unless the lord of vampires was resurrected at Belmont’s own hand. To make matters worse, Dracula’s minions are once again terrorizing Transylvania, leaving mayhem in their wake. As such, Simon gathers his legendary whip – the Vampire Killer – once more. He begins a quest to revive the dark lord, only to kill him again, ending his reign of terror once and for all. …Or for the next hundred years, whichever comes first. There’s really little that needs to be added to make SQ’s backstory work, all the framework is already there. At best, I’d probably suggest making references to all the different incarnations of Simon’s original adventure throughout the game. After all, the original Castlevania’s story had been touched upon in a multitude of different ways – hell, one version even had Dracula abduct Simon’s bride on their wedding day – so it would be somewhat interesting to hear of the various legends of the storied vampire hunter as told by various townsfolk, relying solely on hearsay, rumors and tall tales.
I’m usually pretty flexible when it comes to graphics in games. It has been awhile since we’ve seen a game done in the 32-bit SotN Castlevania pixel art style and given how well that allow the graphics of the original Simon’s Quest to translate into a more modern environment, that would probably be ideal. If they use Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth as a design guide, the game could end up looking gorgeous. Hand-drawn 2D, similar to the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, could be an interesting take as well, though that would probably be prohibitively expensive. In all seriousness, 3D graphics in a 2.5D game would probably be the most cost-effective choice, but it would probably harm some of the game’s readability, unless Konami (or whatever developer they’d put in charge of such a project) takes extra care to make the game look gorgeous and decipherable at the same time. While everything was properly visible in Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP, the character designs looked a bit weird at times. Hopefully, if a SQ remake went the same route, we’d get something much more visually appealing, while making sure not to sacrifice clarity in the process.
I’d have to say that my personal favorite aspect of Simon’s Quest would be the game’s soundtrack. With that in mind, I’d keep all of the compositions from the original game in a remake – which Konami outright avoided with Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth. I would, however, love to see Konami take songs from other Castlevania games and incorporate them into a remade soundtrack – especially if they go with more obscure tracks like in ReBirth. Original compositions would be nice too, but considering it’s a remake, I’d definitely prefer going with other classic songs. Choosing a musical style is a bit more difficult: my ideal pick would be symphonic metal, similar to the Dracula X Chronicles soundtrack, allowing for both an orchestral sound that would fit with the game’s setting, as well as a strong melodic component. Of course, I’d love to hear a new chiptune arrangement of the soundtrack as well, but I’d be happy if they just included the original NES and Famicom Disk System versions, as well as older iterations of any new tracks, as bonuses. They should definitely implement the ability to swap out different versions of each song, sort of like how DXC let you customize which songs played in which stages during gameplay.
Finally, we come to the project’s scale. Ideally, we’d be looking at this as a downloadable game – with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price between $10 and 20 at launch. Nothing too extravagant, after all, this is meant to be a faithful adaptation of a game for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The best game I can use as an example of what I’d expect out of a Simon’s Quest remake would probably be 2013’s Ducktales Remastered: Capcom and WayForward took the basic format and layout of the original game, expanded on it – both lengthening existing stages and adding entirely new ones – tightened up the controls and provided updated visual and audio. If Konami did something similar with a Castlevania II remake, it would probably end up being a winner. Traditional Castlevanias fell to the wayside in the wake of the Lords of Shadow series and we’re still waiting on Bloodstained, Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s spiritual successor. Metroid-likes and Castlevania tribute games are a pretty profitable niche among indie games, so it would only make sense for Konami themselves to capitalize on a void they created.
This brings the second entry in the Under Reconstruction series to an end. The new format leaves a few gaps in the overall design document aspect of the article, but I think that ends up working to its advantage. After all, it leaves a lot more to the imagination. Personally, I had fun writing this, so hopefully I’ll be able to think of more topics for more of these in the future. More importantly, what do you think? Would you like to see a remake of Simon’s Quest? Do you think the changes I suggested are too extreme or not extreme enough? Sound off in the comments below.