Outside of a couple of genuinely nonsensical puzzles, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest really doesn’t seem that bad to me. Admittedly, it is the weak link in the original NES trilogy, suffering from some really poor design decisions and sloppy programming. Maybe I’m just familiar enough with the game that its curve balls don’t catch me off guard, or maybe my gamer instincts are subliminally guiding me. But it’s not quite the impossible mission that its reputation suggests.
The two sticking points to me are: 1) having to equip a crystal and crouch next to a “lake” to make a secret path appear (this is actually done twice in the game), and 2) equipping a crystal and crouching next to a dead end to make a tornado appear and sweep you to another part of the game world. But if you have these two parts memorized, it’s not too hard to fumble your way to the end of the game. Even the invisible pits in the mansions aren’t really that bad. Early on, they line up with background objects, like columns and gates, so you can easily guess where they might be, and enemies don’t walk over them, providing yet another clue. Even when they do catch you off guard, they never drop you to instant death (as far as I’ve experienced), so it’s not entirely unfair.
Simon’s Quest is generally considered the precursor to the “metroidvania” formula (if not the first) that would eventually become the norm for the series. In a way, however, it sort of feels more like it’s modeled after Zelda II: The Adventure of Link rather than Metroid. It doesn’t have an overworld, but it does have dungeons in the form of mansions, towns with people you can interact with, and some awkward RPG elements. Interestingly, Koji Igarashi (who did not work on Simon’s Quest) once mentioned that when he was working on Symphony of the Night, he thought he was imitating Zelda instead of Metroid.
Simon’s Quest is a flawed game, to be sure, but I wouldn’t call it bad. It’s mechanically sound, and even though I’m always reluctant about going into it, I still usually come away satisfied.
In any event, I’ve finished Simon’s Quest. I didn’t try to do anything special for this playthrough, so I didn’t go for the best ending or anything. But now I’ll move on to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, and it will probably be the final game in this year’s Castlevania-thon. I’ve never beaten it with recruiting Alucard before, so I think I’ll give that a go.