Released by Hudson in 1988, Milon's Secret Castle is one of the games that tormented many a gamer in the days before the internet. "Secret" is the key word in the title, as the game doesn't even come close to handing you a clear path through Garland Castle. Players must explore every nook and cranny to find the items and pathways needed to progress. If your sanity stays intact long enough, you'll eventually make your way to the top of the castle, defeat the final boss (who is strikingly similar to about half the bosses in the game) and rescue the queen. Nowadays, we have FAQs for that.
Best time: 0:09:03 by 'HavocProdigy' on 2014-05-20.
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"There is a house in New Orleans
they call the rising sun
and it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
and me, oh God, I'm one..."
Thanks: First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge everyone who helped make this run a reality. I'd like to extend my gratitude to my awesome girlfriend for providing an NES console, a Milon cartridge, and continuous support of this silly hobby. Thank-you to PJ for opening my eyes to the possibility of navigating through the well without the fireproof vest. Words cannot describe what an enormous contribution this ended up being for the run. I would also like to thank Hisatoki for creating the phenomenal TAS for this game. To the best of my knowledge, it was Hisatoki who also first discovered that holding the start button upon powering on or resetting the console would set the real final boss in the red room every single time. I'd also like to give a big thank-you to the Japanese runner, T_fumanu, for his awesome sub-10 minute run which set the bar incredibly high for this game. It wasn't until I had surpassed his run from June of 2012 that public video of his achievement became available and so I was without the luxury of comparing our routes and strategies. Last and certainly not least, I would like to thank everyone from SDA and Twitch for their overwhelmingly supportive comments which served as motivation to push this run as far as I possibly could. This isn't my run. This is OUR run.
Back Story: My first encounter with this game occurred at the age of 4 or 5. At a young age, my childhood friend exposed me to the wonders of the Nintendo Entertainment System. While games like Milon's Secret Castle and Kid Icarus fascinated us, we were far too inept and stupid to figure out how to make any serious progress in these games. I continued to improve my gaming skills throughout my childhood and early adulthood, never giving Milon's Secret Castle a second thought. Fast forward 15-20 years: I decided that this game would be the white whale which haunted my childhood no more. After several hours, a disgusting amount of deaths, and constant consultation with a game walkthrough, I was able to defeat the evil Maharito, rescue Queen Eliza, and put this game to rest permanently...or so I thought.
At some point in early 2013, I began to play this game once again. I memorized where all of the items were, how much each of them cost, and I found myself being able to regularly complete the game (albeit, rather slowly). Several months later, I decided to learn to speed-run this game. I hold the rather unpopular opinion that this is actually a pretty good game. While Japanese gamers as a whole have embraced Milon, such sentiments have never translated well into the western world. This game is confusing, challenging, and has controls which leave a lot to be desired. Despite rather inherent flaws, exploring Castle Garland and slaying Maharito has continued to be an entertaining challenge for me. Perhaps nostalgia has clouded my judgment, but this has become one of my favorite games in the NES library.
Chasing the Run: In August of 2013, I achieved a time of 10:43. While there were two runs with reportedly lower times out of Japan, video of either run was unavailable at the time. Knowing that there were likely two other people on this planet who had completed this game faster than me, I decided to get back to work. It wasn't until November 18th of the same year that my run of 9:31 topped any of the best times on the Japanese leaderboard. Shortly before achieving my 9:03 run, video of the previous record was finally made public, nearly 2 years after it occurred. As of this submission, only 3 people in the world have completed Milon's Secret Castle in under 11 minutes. These same 3 people, myself included, have all beaten the game in under 10 minutes. While it is certainly possible to break the 9 minute mark, I have lost any motivation in continuing to suffer through thousands of more attempts of this game and so I consider myself satisfied with this run.
Challenges: I have one piece of advice for those who wish to run this game: Don't. While completing this game casually is problematic enough for most gamers, speedrunning Milon creates a plethora of challenges that even the most experienced gamers are unlikely to overcome. Throughout the course of 11 months, I pressed the reset button well over 10,000 times. Don't believe me? Fine. I would like to briefly touch upon the two biggest challenges which this game presents.
By far, the most challenging part of running this game is that the boss projectiles are entirely random. I spent many a wasted hour trying to memorize and manipulate boss patterns to absolutely no avail. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no way to tackle these bosses consistently. Every single run of this game which I have ever attempted had one strategy in mind for all of the bosses: attack aggressively and hope to get lucky with their pattern. The bosses on the 3rd floor all shoot fireballs that are faster than Milon's rate of acceleration into running speed.
In addition to the frustration of the boss fights, the lack of health upgrades in this route is extremely daunting. Beyond the 3 honeycombs collected in this route, I allow myself a measly $5 which can be used to restore just 2 bars of health. The only other way to restore health in this run is to rely on heart drops from enemies. It appears that all enemies which can be killed by one bubble have approximately a 30% chance of dropping a heart. I was incredibly fortunate in this attempt and finished without needing to waste a few seconds to purchase the minor health restoration. The nefarious game designers of Milon's Secret Castle opted to place no honeycomb in the fireplace room which, sadly enough, was the one spot in the run which would have benefited me the most. The other 6 "normal" rooms of Castle Garland all contain a honeycomb which fully restores Milon's health and extends his health bar by 1.
Breakdown: Throughout the game, the player can obtain 12 different items from Barnaby to increase Milon's abilities. I collect only the mandatory 5 items which are required to complete Milon's Secret Castle. Here's a quick breakdown of the 5 items:
Potion: allows Milon to shrink when he touches a glove. This is one of 2 items needed to make the first boss appear.
Spring Shoes: allows Milon to jump high on any spring platforms. Like the potion, this is also needed to make the first boss appear.
Hammer: this is needed to break open the wall on the first floor to obtain...
Saw: which is needed to access the window on the 2nd floor where the third boss is found.
Water Pot: Without the water pot, the two Queen Crows will not take any damage. Both need to be killed in order to obtain the cane and crown. Without having both, Milon cannot access the 4th and final floor.
Here's a breakdown of the 7 items from Barnaby which are skipped in this route:
Lantern: The only purpose which the lantern serves is to light up the very first room of the well. Because this room is unbelievably short, contains no enemies, and can be navigated without light, the lantern serves no purpose.
Vest: When I first started running this game, I wasted several minutes collecting the vest to significantly decreases the damage which Milon takes from fire in the well. Learning to skip the vest purchase reduced the time of this speedrun by several minutes.
Feather: This is an incredibly silly item. The feather allows Milon to access one optional elevator in a room which I skip in the speedrun anyway. Without the feather, Milon is too fat to ride the elevator platform and falls right through it...or something.
Blimp: One of my favorite items in the game, the blimp allows Milon to briefly glide and hover in the air at the end of a jump.
Sword: The ultimate item in Castle Garland, the sword doubles the damage of Milon's bubbles. Obtaining this item would have made this run significantly easier, but at the cost of roughly 4 or 5 minutes required to obtain enough money for the purchase, navigate through the most obnoxious room in the Castle, and navigate all the way back to the exit.
Paint Can: The paint can allows the invisible blocks in the two dungeon areas to be seen. Because I have the location of the invisible blocks memorized, this item serves no purpose for me.
Jump Boots: The most expensive item in the game, the boots allow Milon to jump to incredible heights. Believe it or not, the boots serve as a gigantic detriment in fast boss fights in addition to making it even harder to control Milon overall.
In addition to all of these lovely items which I do not have at my disposal, I only collect 3 of the 9 honeycombs in this game, assuring that my maximum health bar will only reach 10 as opposed to the full 16. All 7 music boxes are skipped. The music boxes are used to access the bonus stage which serves as a chance to earn easy money. There's simply no time for that nonsense in a speedrun. I collect several Hudson Bees throughout the run which provides Milon with a small shield, equivalent to 2 bars of health. Picking up a heart or an additional bee while Milon is at full health AND shielded will increase his shield to a maximum equivalent of 4 bars of health.
I obtain a total of just $22 in this run, spent on the following:
Spring Shoes: $10
Health Boost: $5 (went unused in this run)
The additional $2 collected late in this run is impossible to skip and serves no purpose in this run. Thus, I end the run with $7 which went unused. I like to view it as Milon making roughly a minimal hourly wage for rescuing Queen Eliza in roughly 9 minutes. Success!
Umbrella Physics: A lot of misconceptions exist on umbrella drops in this game. Contrary to popular belief, they are not random at all. Umbrellas provide Milon with double-shot and triple-shot, much like in Castlevania. Throughout the run, I need to acquire 4 umbrellas at very specific spots. Briefly, I will go over the rules for umbrella drops:
-Starting from powering on or resetting the console, the 10th enemy killed will drop an umbrella.
-After an umbrella spawns, 14 additional enemies need to be killed to drop a 2nd umbrella.
-Entering a new area with enemies will remove any double or triple-shot previously acquired.
-The enemy kill counter carries over between areas and even after dying.
-The only way to reset the counter to zero is to power off or reset the console.
-Defeating Red Homa in the Fireplace room OR Blue Doma in the Left Tower will grant Milon permanent double-shot.
-Defeating Kama in the 3rd Floor window will grant Milon permanent triple-shot.
Skipped Areas: There are a total of 20 areas in Castle Garland. Using this route, I visit 14 of those areas. I will quickly explain the 6 skipped areas:
Room 2-1: Contains a honeycomb and a music box, as well as the lantern which can be purchased for $15. Oddly enough, the lantern can also be purchased in room 1-2 for a ridiculous $50.
Room 2-2: Contains a honeycomb and a music box, as well as the vest which reduces damage from fire in the well. In addition, there is a secret shop in this room where Barnaby will generously give you $10 for free.
Room 3-1: Contains a honeycomb and a music box, as well as the useless feather.
Room 3-3: Contains a honeycomb and a music box, as well as the sword.
Health Shop: The paint can can be purchased here for $40. Milon can also spend $5 to restore 2 bars of health in this shop. The additional $5 that I collect in this route is normally used here immediately after the Right Tower and before the Fireplace room. However, I did not need the health boost in this run.
Cash Room: This room contains $15 for free which can be collected 3 different times. Once this money is collected 3 times, it will no longer appear. On top of that, this shop can be used to purchase the overpriced Jump Boots. For $15, Milon can restore all of his health here. Unfortunately, accessing this room is a gigantic time-waster.
Room 1-1: The goal of this room is to simply acquire most of the money needed for the run. I obtain 15 of the 16 dollars in this room. Rather than wasting any time attempting to gain that last dollar, I make up for it later on in the well. While I have developed a slightly faster route for this room which saves 2-3 seconds, I opt not to use this route, as it creates even more resets and does not allow me any money for restoring health later in the run.
Potion Shop: I purchase the potion from Barnaby which is completely mandatory. Enough said.
Room 1-2: In addition to collecting the final $4 which I will need, I also purchase the required spring shoes from Barnaby. The block-breaking section to acquire the key went perfectly. My kill counter needs to be at 8 or 9 at the end of this room to ensure that I can quickly obtain my 1st umbrella in the well.
Window 1: The battle against Homa was better than average. Any damage taken in this battle is pretty much inconsequential because I will be restoring my health shortly.
Well: This was a fantastic well. Because I set my kill counter to 9 before leaving the first floor, the very first enemy killed in the well drops an umbrella to grant me double-shot. It is possible to break the 3 blocks before the boss fight and collect the honeycomb in one smooth motion. However, I did not execute it perfectly in this run. The Doma battle was exceptional. After obtaining the hammer from Barnaby, the well escape goes faster than usual. This is one of the most frustrating and random parts of the run.
Wall: Using the hammer, I obtain the saw and can now access any barred window in Castle Garland.
Window 2: The Barukama battle was pretty average. I'm capable of killing him a few seconds faster.
Right Tower: I need to acquire an umbrella and reset my kill counter to at least 3 before leaving the Right Tower. Doing so will give me double-shot for the Red Barukama battle and allow me to quickly obtain my next umbrella later on. I wasted several seconds in the Right Tower due to horrible heart drops. Because of this, I entered the boss battle with a small shield rather than a full shield. Somehow, I survived this incredibly difficult battle with full health. Following the boss fight, Barnaby gives me the water pot which is my final inventory item of the run.
Room 3-2: The extra $5 obtained in this run is usually spent to replenish 2 bars of health immediately before enterting this room. With full health, this purchase became unnecessary. I acquire my 3rd umbrella of the run to grant Milon double-shot once again. This room, as well as the battle with Red Homa, could not have gone much better. With Red Homa defeated, Milon now has permanent double-shot for the rest of the run.
Cane Dungeon: Knowing the location of the invisible blocks in both dungeons is crucial. With the water pot, the first Queen Crow can now be defeated. Once the cane is obtained, I now need the crown to make the final boss of the 3rd floor appear.
Left Tower: In a normal run, farming enemies for heart drops in the Left Tower is needed to replenish health. With full health, my only task is to obtain my 4th and final umbrella and to win the boss battle with as little damage taken as possible. Having obtained triple-shot, the Blue Doma fight ends with no trouble at all.
Crown Dungeon: After killing the 2nd Queen Crown, Milon receives the crown. With the cane and crown, Kama will now appear in the 3rd Floor Window.
Window 3: This is by far the most difficult boss fight I have ever experienced in a video game. Most runs which reach Kama come to a quick and painful death. There is simply no way to fight him safely and skillfully. The Kama fight in this run is easily the part which I am the least satisfied with. I did not like the fireball pattern which Kama presented me and I was forced to fight him far more defensively than I would have preferred. However, I survived the battle with little damage.
Room 4-1: The real Maharito resides in one of the four colored chambers at the top of Castle Garland. By holding the start button as the console is powered on or reset, I am able to set Maharito in the red chamber. The blue, green, and yellow chambers all contain a fake final boss. Some explanation of how the final battle works is required. Maharito can only be damaged when he opens his arms to fire projectiles. Each time he does so, Maharito can either do a fast cycle or a slow cycle. Due to unfortunate luck, the first three cycles which Maharito presented me were slow cycles. On the fourth and final cycle, Maharito gave me a fast cycle. I am capable of completing this battle significantly faster. However, doing so requires insanely good luck and I generally only reach Maharito every several hundred attempts. The audio and video of this recording stuttered for a brief moment during Maharito's death. However, SDA timing for this game ends the moment which Maharito is defeated. Queen Eliza is saved in just over 9 minutes.
I have shed blood, sweat, and tears over the last 11 months to achieve this run. While optimizing this random nightmare of a run is not realistic, I feel that this run is the best that I can realistically achieve without sacrificing any more time and effort than I'm willing to do. This game has held me captive, both physically and emotionally, for long enough. And so at last, I consider this to be the most complete run of Milon's Secret Castle that I can expect to ever create. I have suffered greatly...and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I'm done. There is only one Maharito.
"Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the house of the Rising Sun."
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