Sunday, September 19, 2021

Shadows of Darkness: Out, Ye Rogue, Play Out the Play

The thief gets a special set of gear.
September is always my busiest month. I pre-scheduled a number of entries in early August, but they could only take me so far. I needed to find time to play and blog just as classes were starting and a couple of major contracts came to a close.
Given that, you'd think a replay of a game I just finished would be the easiest option. I'd previously replayed the first three Quest for Glory games with all of the character classes, and it usually took less time for three replays than it took me to run through the game originally. That, alas, is not true for Shadows of Darkness. Running through as a thief didn't take me the same 20 hours that it took my paladin, but neither was it a half-hour lark the way it was in the first three games.
There are several significant timing and pacing issues with Shadows of Darkness that didn't exist with its predecessors, except to a much lesser extent in Trial by Fire. Whereas in Trial by Fire, certain events occurred on certain days, in Shadows of Darkness, events rely on particular triggers. You can't really solve any puzzles prematurely or use knowledge from a previous run to inform a subsequent one. You have to do things in the right order and wait. In a replay, you spend most of your days waiting for night to fall, and there's no quick way to do that (the way there is to, say, "sleep until morning" to do the opposite). Moreover, some of the triggers are obscure. For the life of me, I couldn't get the "Igor is missing" event to start. I don't know precisely what triggers it, but I think it may require you to visit the Burgomeister in his office during the day. That's the only thing I hadn't done after waiting about two weeks, and the event occurred the next day after I did it.
Until you get this bit of dialogue, there's no way to rescue Tanya.
Over the previous games, I've come to think of my thief as a charming, affable chaotic neutral. He isn't cruel, but he's definitely a thief. He's in it for the wealth, the adventure, and the thrill of successfully pulling off a job, whether he's burglarizing a house or conning people into thinking he's a hero. I can picture him kicking back with other thieves in a tavern, telling his stories. "Technically, I'm a prince in Shapeir. At least, I think I still am. I haven't been back in years."
The thief escaped the opening cave the same way as the paladin, except that I tightrope-walked across the chasm rather than crossing hand-over-hand. I found no sword and shield in the heart chamber, which raises some existential questions. Why would a corpse that appeared for the paladin not appear for the thief? Did something of the thief's exploits in Spielburg, Shapeir, or Tarna change the timeline in a way so that some random fighter never entered the heart chamber and died there? Or did Katrina plant those items for the paladin, staging a corpse so that he wouldn't be suspicious of finding them?
When I reached Mordavia and climbed over the gate at night, no Piotyr appeared in the town square. As dawn broke and the citizens began coming out, none of them recognized the thief sign (though all of them had an amusing reaction to it). I bought the usual selection of items at the shop and discussed the usual keywords with the townsfolk, including Doctor Cranium.
A couple of the amusing responses to the Thief's Sign.
No one gave me a key to the adventurer's guild. I had to break the door down. Once inside, I couldn't break the glass around the sword in the case. So I searched the guild and used the equipment to work out. At the top of the rope climb, I noticed something that the paladin would have missed: on one of the beams was scratched a crude mark. In the language of thieves, it was telling me to look beneath the table.
Doing so rewarded me with another image. There was a set of scratches suggesting different positions for hooks, then an indication that putting them in the right position would cause something to happen above the bookcase (where there was an obvious panel). It took me a while to figure out that the "hooks" were the tiny line of things to the right of the bookcase. I thought it was a chair rail. I guess that would have made more sense if it had extended around the room.
How did it work when this place was filled with Adventurers' Guild members?
Solving the hook minigame opened the panel and allowed me access to the thieves' guild. I found a knob in a grate on the floor and a guild card in a poster on the wall. The card allowed me to open the door on the back wall, and the knob fit on to a safe in that area. A minigame invited me to enter a combination of letters, which was clearly FILCH--the maker of the safe. Between other hidden safes (behind portraits) and the desk in the room, I found a bunch of gold, a thief's toolkit (including lockpicks), several daggers, and a poison cure potion.
A diary in the desk (Memoirs of a Master Manipulator) had a little nonsense poem:
Bad Boys Yell
Good Girls Giggle
Rich Girls Run
After I got over my annoyance with the gender stereotypes, I realized that the poem was the solution to a puzzle on the barrel in the room involving colored tiles. They were arranged 3 x 3, and the top row was blue, blue, yellow. I'm sure you can get the rest.
Solving the puzzle caused the right wall to slide open, revealing the chief thief. He didn't introduce himself by name, but he appears in the manual as Matt "the Cat" MacMaster. He looks a lot like Peter Lorre. Anyway, he had been turned into some kind of human/bug hybrid--some kind of curse from trying to steal a statue from the basement of the monastery. I offered to help him, and he asked me to bring him the statue.
That body could be useful for a thief.
At his suggestion, I climbed into the monastery by using my rope and hooks on the upper window. I didn't realize there was an alternate way to get in. That was great, but I soon found myself trapped inside, as I lacked the climbing skill to get back out. I had to reload. I used the more conventional way to enter the second time. I found my way into the basement as before. I tried taking the statue, but when I touched it, I turned into a slug.
Reloading, I found that if I used the shopping bag (purchased at the town store) on the statue, I could pick it up without harm. I brought it back to the master thief and turned him back into a human. 
The guild with the restored guildmaster.
For all that effort, the Chief Thief was spectacularly useless. He wasn't even running a fencing operation anymore, so I couldn't sell anything to him (not that there was anything to buy). The only thing he was good for was returning at occasional intervals to tell about my burglary exploits.
I think he's being sarcastic.
Not that there were so many burglary exploits. There are only two places you can burgle: Nikolai's house and the Burgomeister's office. Every time I tried to pick the lock on Nikolai's door, the game said I could hear him shuffling around; I guess he searches for Anna all night. I could only enter Nikolai's house after solving his quest and sending his ghost off with Anna, at which point it was less burglary and more trespassing in an abandoned house. Given that they both said they wished they could reward me before departing for the afterlife, you could even argue that I was owed the few dozen crowns I found in the old man's desk. I later discovered that you can enter Nikolai's house while he's still around. You just have to enter the window instead of the door. My way, Chester had no ethical pangs.
Snooping around Nikolai's house.
The Burgomeister's office can only be entered by the locked window. It requires a very high lockpicking skill, and lockpicking skill increases maddeningly slowly in this game. Every attempt consumes stamina, and burning through an entire stamina bar might only increase you 2 or 3 points. Late in the game, I discovered that a) every door in the castle is locked for the thief, so it's a good place to train stamina; and b) even after your stamina bar depletes, you can keep trying to lockpick, but it (slowly) depletes your health instead. Until I knew those things, I spent many nights attempting to pick the window until my stamina ran out, then resting a couple hours, then attempting again.
I passed several nights doing this.
Eventually, I got through the window. Inside the office, there are only two things to do: pick the desk open and pick the jail cell. There's no point in picking the jail cell until Davy gets arrested. Anyway, both locks require even higher skill than the window requires, meaning that even after I got through the window, I spent a lot of nights inside the office, futilely trying to open the desk. When it finally happened, I was clicking so fast I didn't even notice what I got, but I assume it was just some more crowns.
You technically don't need to let Davy out of the cell--you can just find Igor--but I think the thief gets points for doing so. I freed him and then rescued Igor anyway.
Davy escapes from the Burgomeister's office after I open his cell.
If you mess with the door to the Burgomeister's residence, you get an automatic "game over" screen. It makes sense, but it was a lot more fun back in So You Want to Be a Hero when you had the cute animation of the goon tossing you off the balcony and the confused sheriff coming out of his bedroom in his stocking cap. In fact, it occurs to me that's true throughout the game. Where previous games (particularly the first one) had all kinds of animations for scripted deaths, this one just takes you right to the message.
Perhaps they spent the budget on the voiced dialogue.
Everything else proceeded much as in the paladin's game, but here are some notes on the thief's experience, plus a few things I didn't notice until this replay:
  • The three townsmen in the tavern are doing bad vocal impersonations of--according to numerous sites--Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, and Rodney Dangerfield. I caught the Jack Nicholson one, but the others are so bad that they don't really sound to me like the people they're trying to badly impersonate. Anyway, during one of the first conversations,  one of the characters is saying, on screen, "I be Franz. I am wealthy garlic grower." This is the character who is supposed to sound like Dangerfield. But the vocal file that goes with the screen has the Nicholson impersonator saying, "Listen, I'm telling ya, Igor's death must be avenged." I don't know if this mis-match happens all the time or if it was a fluke.
  • This time around, a couple of times while I slept, I had dreams about Katrina and Ad Avis arguing.
Ad Avis is concerned both about and for me.
  • I didn't realize until about my 30th hour that Dr. Cranium's house looks like a face, including a mustache and bulbous nose. 
  • Davy has an amusing reaction to the Thief's Sign. He says he doesn't know what it is, but he clearly does.
"Steal?" Why would you mention stealing at all?
  • I couldn't find any reliable way to increase my "Stealth" ability except to walk around with it on all the time. It would go up by maybe 2 points per (real) hour doing this. Then again, I'm not sure "Stealth" does much for you in the game.
I "sneak" through a forest in broad daylight.
  • Non-paladins cannot solve the Rusalka quest even though there's no particular reason for the old gypsy woman to offer the solution only to a paladin. I was able to befriend her, however. If you just talk to her and give her flowers and candy, she'll warn you about her true nature and refuse to kill you.
There's a good screenplay here.
  • A lot of the thief's puzzles use a "jump" option available only to thieves. It draws on the "Acrobatics" skill. The thief does a little somersault in the air while leaping from place to place. It's the only way for the thief to get through the swamp to the Mad Monk's tombstone, for instance, as he doesn't have the option to just trudge through the mire the way the paladin (and presumably the fighter) can.  
Somersaulting from islet to islet.
  • There are several paladin puzzle solutions that rely on strength. These aren't available to the thief even if he's strong enough. For instance, the thief can't force the castle gates or topple over the monolith.
  • My thief was magic-trained, however, and he was able to make liberal use of spells. "Fetch" got me several items I was probably supposed to get another way, and I used "Levitation" a few times when the game probably wanted me to use climbing or the rope and grapnel.
  • Despite these transgressions, I still ended the game with 500 points.
  • Every door in the castle is locked for the thief. Again, it raises the question of why. Does Katrina know that the hero is a thief and thus inclined to burglary?
The thief gets an exhausting number of options at doors.
  • The same trap-disabling interface shows up at several points in the game. The various squares in a 3 x 3 grid rapidly flash several symbols. You click to lock them in place. Get the same symbol across one row or down one column, and the trap is disarmed.
An easy mini-game.
  • I fought a lot of manual combats before I thought I'd see how autocombat works for the thief. It turns out that it has him exhaust his throwing daggers before doing anything else. "Anything else" in the case of my thief usually meant casting spells. I honestly don't know how you manually throw daggers in combat. 
You wouldn't think a dagger would hurt a wraith, but it does.
  • Because of his burglaries and the wealth he got from killing all the wraiths, my thief ended the game with over 300 crowns. It would have been more, but there's one chest in the castle that I couldn't pilfer because I got stuck in a trap where I couldn't get out of its area. Every time I opened the door to the main hall, it just put me right back in the room I'd come from again. Anyway, it's pretty ridiculous how little there is to spend money on. I hope all that money will do me some good in the next game.
Oh, yeah--I have three pieces of jewelry, too.
  • The fortuneteller has one more reading than I experienced with my paladin. In it, she explains more explicitly where to get each ritual and also makes explicit that you have to release the Dark One to save Erana and end his threat once and for all. This makes the character's actions in the endgame more palatable.
I'm not entirely sure why the Dark One isn't released at the endgame.
The endgame had some thief-specific solutions, most making use of the "jump" option. In the Bone Chamber, the thief jumps out of the bone cage rather than smashing it open like the paladin (again, strength doesn't matter). In the Blood Chamber, the thief doesn't knock over the stone to staunch the blood: he just leaps across the platforms to the exit.
The Breath Chamber made the least sense. The thief can't grab onto a plant. Instead, he has to wait for the wind to blow him up against the screen (I assume this is supposed to be the near wall) and then climb down and to the right. 
This is probably the largest graphic that we get of the hero in the entire series.
In the final confrontation, Erana's staff turns into a stake for the thief rather than a spear. After disabling Ad Avis with the Ultimate Joke, the thief somersaults to Ad Avis's platform and plunges the stake into his heart. I have to admit that was pretty satisfying.
Air assassination!
But I got a stake to my own heart in the final conversation with Erana. Where she told the paladin that she would love him forever, she simply tells the thief, "Thank you and farewell." I don't know whether that's a class thing or an honor thing. Either way, it sounds like Erana isn't going to be the thief's love interest in Quest for Glory V, and I know from experience that neither is Katrina. That makes me wonder who he'll end up with. I'm rooting for the Rusalka.
I still want to replay as a fighter and wizard, so we'll have a little more Shadows of Darkness before moving on. I think next time, I'm going to try harder to note the various triggers and dependencies. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

BRIEF: Veil of Darkness (1993)

Veil of Darkness
United States
Event Horizon (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS; 1994 for FM Towns and PC-98
Rejected for not being an RPG (no character development)
Veil of Darkness is the third Event Horizon title to use a variation of the game interface originally developed for DarkSpyre (1990) and seen in Dusk of the Gods (1991) and The Summoning (1992). The innovative interface features the game world on top and the character inventory and attributes on the bottom, with an adjustable border in between. Combat uses a real-time cool-down system taken from Dungeon Master (1987).
Although they featured a lot of mechanical and inventory puzzles, the first three games were all proper RPGs. In Veil, the developers decided to adapt the engine to a more traditional adventure-style game, complete with a meatier plot, more interesting NPCs, and inventory puzzles that go beyond simply sticking the right object in the right slot. But they also removed most of the RPG components, including (probably) character attributes and leveling. I have gone back and forth so many times between making this a BRIEF and just playing it anyway that even as I write this sentence, I don't have a final decision. Or I do, but I forgot to come back and edit this.
The opening cinematic shows the character unaware of the threat behind him.
The well-written manual story (credited to Scott Noel, who also wrote the manual for The Summoning) tells the story of Kairn, fifth son of Nikolae, Lord of Csarda, a fictional kingdom in Romania. It is set in the second half of the sixteenth century. Rejecting the tendencies of his abusive, hedonistic family, Kairn falls in love with a Hungarian peasant girl named Deanna. But his father learns of the tryst and personally burns down Deanna's house and kills her family. This causes something to snap inside Kairn. He announces his plans to take over as royal librarian, having his father dismiss (and kill) the former occupant of that position. With access to his predecessor's books of power, including a powerful book of evil called the Agrippa, Kairn turns himself into a vampire and proceeds to slaughter his father and brothers. Settling in to a long, cruel, and immortal rule, Kairn occasionally lures heroes into his valley, hoping one will eventually kill him and send him to hell.
Couldn't he have just looked out the window?
Flash forward to the vaguely modern era and the game's opening cinematic. The main character is a cargo pilot, on his way from somewhere to somewhere when terror seizes him over the Carpathian Mountains. He manages to gain control of his plane, but then Kairn sends a cloud of bats to bring down the plane. The character crashes in the valley and collapses as he staggers from the plane. Some villagers discover him and bring him home to heal.
Always stay with the crash.
Gameplay begins as the character wakes up to the face of the beautiful Deirdre, one of his rescuers. She asks his name--which the player inputs--and then directs him to her father in another part of the house.
Gameplay uses the same oblique-angle interface as the other Event Horizon titles mentioned above, but a bit simpler. The only commands are "Chat" and "Take." There's no character attributes screen because there are no attributes. The inventory screen is simple enough (the character starts with only a dagger), showing 10 backpack slots next to paper doll depicting equipped items. Using an object means putting it in one of the character's hands on the paper doll and then clicking either the left-hand or right-hand "use" options on the right-hand side of the interface.
"Character Creation"
In a horrible design choice, the developers make the player choose from three combat modes before he even has a chance to fight a combat. The choice is irrevocable. The three modes are "Full," "Simplified," and "Easy." I gather from the manual that despite their names, the "modes" don't represent three different sets of mechanics but rather three difficulty levels. Characters on the lower levels get more bonuses and hit points. This suggests that there is some kind of "combat skill" attribute behind the scenes, but I don't think it can be improved after the choice is made except by equipment.
The house is oddly enormous and modern. The owner, Kirill, is wearing a three-piece suit but claims to have never heard of an airplane. "You will find that this valley is somewhat behind the times, good sir," he says, but offers nothing about how this supposedly closed-off valley has electricity, modern furniture, and 20th-century architecture. He explains that Deirdre and his servant, Ivan, rescued me from the wreckage. He suggests that I stay and rest for a few days. The only task he asks in return for his charity is that I recover a carpenter's hammer from a fellow villager named Eduard, who borrowed it and never returned it.
This reminds me of the famous "potato story" on Reddit.
The dialogue uses the same keyword system as The Summoning. You can click on keywords that pop up during conversation, but if you don't, the game just puts them all in a list for you. You cannot get them to repeat things, so I've been taking copious screenshots. There's a blank slot to type your own keywords, but Kirill had no reaction to DEIRDRE, IVAN, KAIRN, VAMPIRE, or JOB. However, some of these keywords prompt the dialogue box to close and re-open, while others just cause the line to blank and the cursor to return to the beginning without resetting the screen. I suspect some of those are keywords that work later, or with different NPCs.
I find a couple of silver coins in the basement, and Ivan gives me a bag with eight more. Ivan indicates that Kirill's last name is Khristoverikh.
My inventory grows.
There are lots of things on the screens that feel like they ought to be interactable, such as chests and crates, a piano, and bookcases. But nothing happens if you cursor over them, and there's no "Search," "Open," or "Use" command in the game (except with inventory items). Even doors open just by walking into them. A lot of them won't open, but the game says explicitly that "there is nothing important behind this door." A couple of doors are locked.
The character can be moved with both the mouse and numberpad. The music is annoying, relentless, and impossible to turn off independently of the sound, so I'm playing the game silently.
Leaving Kirill's house.
I head out into the village, which is made up of many closely-built houses. In the first one I explore, I meet a candlemaker and widower named Josep, who heard about me from his son, Anton. Anton apparently told him that I was some kind of beast, "more bird than man, covered in glistening scales of steel, armed with long, sharp talons." He says I can talk to Anton, but not to mention Natalja, a friend of the boy's who is dying.
I meet Anton in his room. He claims that his mother was killed by a werewolf and that Natalja (of course I asked about her) is dying of some madness that periodically affects people in the village. He wants to see my plane, but the game has the character say no. Based on my experiences so far, you don't really have dialogue "options" in this game, just keywords. The character speaks on his own and for himself. 
Man, that's some heavy stuff from a kid.
A dilapidated building has maybe a murder scene. The graphics aren't quite good enough, or are too small, to tell for sure. I pick up some "torn fabric" from the scene, in any event. A nearby shack has a pry bar. I try the bar on various chests, boxes, and doors, but the game just insists there's nothing to pry.
Could be a murder scene; could be cat vomit.
A small general store is run by Jon. He offers me an oil lamp for a silver piece and asks me to inquire about other things I might wish to buy. Jon is apparently the father of Natalja, because when I poke around on the second floor of his shop, I find her in bed with the girl's mother watching over her. She claims there's no cure for the madness killing the girl, but I pledge to help her anyway.
I appreciate the realism of this particular NPC.
Next to Jon's shop is an herb shop run by an old woman named Annabelle. She sells me some fennel seeds for a silver piece and suggests I ask about anything else I want. I have nothing to ask about now, so I leave.
It's an adventure game. If the shop sells fennel seeds, you're going to need fennel seeds.
The next building I come to is the inn and tavern, which has a bunch of empty rooms upstairs and people downstairs. The bartender, Seth, owns the place. He has a collection of cups, including a precious gold goblet, and he longs for a drink fancy enough to drink from it. The waitress, Sophia, has nothing to offer, and the character declines a drink. The rest of the patrons, who talk collectively, are talking about Eduard's disappearance and how blood was left behind in his house--that must be what I saw in the dilapidated house. They think he was killed by a werewolf.
Seriously? 20th-century fashions made it to Csarda, but you don't know what an "airplane" is?
This is a good time to note the many similarities between Veil of Darkness and Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness, including the eastern European/vampire theme, the isolated village, the blond hero brought against his will, and the trio of tavern patrons who talk collectively and believe a fellow townsman was killed by a werewolf. Veil of Darkness would have been a better subtitle for Quest for Glory, too.
The patrons make some noise about how "nothing was left behind," including "cloth or bone," so I figure waving the torn fabric around might prompt something, but I can't figure out any way to use it. I grab some darts off the tavern floor and leave. I take another quick look around Eduard's place to make sure I didn't miss the hammer the first time, but no luck.
Back at his house, Kirill chastises me for not getting the hammer yet. I have no option to converse further with him, so I can't explain about Eduard. There are no other places to go in town. I re-read the manual to make sure I haven't missed any commands or mechanics, but I don't find anything. So I watch a video of someone playing the game and discover that the character can move things by pushing into them.
The solution is to push the bookcase into which the blood trail leads. This reveals a secret door leading into a small chamber. A bloodied corpse (presumably Eduard) lies on the floor, along with a bloody hammer and two silver coins. 
I return to Kirill, and he's all excited: "You've found it! You've found the bloody hammer. Or, as it is said, 'a bloody tool most foul.' My thanks, Chester. I'll give the hammer to Ivan once we have finished talking. Oh, can it be? Salvation . . . For a moment I doubted you. Coincidence, I thought, but now I'm sure you're the one! If it wasn't you, the hammer would never have been found."
Chester responds:
They should have hired Scott Noel for the in-game dialogue.
So, yeah, it's going to be a BRIEF.
The Adventure Gamer has a current series of articles, so watch them for the exciting conclusion to the tale.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Shadows of Darkness: Won!

I didn't just want to be a hero. I wanted to be a True Hero.
As I had suspected, I was most of the way to a "win" when I closed the last time. I only had to figure out a couple more things, and after that most of the rest was scripted. That doesn't mean it was fast.
My primary problem was getting the "Aura" spell to work. I eventually looked up spoilers and saw that heroes with no spellcasting ability receive a special amulet from the gypsies instead of the spell. Maybe that works better. With the spell, every time I entered a wraith's square, it instantly drained me fully. Sometimes I could engage it in combat before the scripted death screen, but with no health, I didn't last long.
I got this message a lot.
Since everything else in the game seemed timed appropriately, and since I was using GOG's usually-accurate configuration, I got hung up on the idea that the problem was poor spellcasting ability. I spent days casting "Aura" repeatedly, resting, and casting again, hoping to improve that ability. This process swiftly improved my skill with "Aura" specifically, but my "Magic" ability increased with maddening lethargy.
Because magic depletes fast and regenerates slow, this grinding gave me a lot of time to explore, re-explore, and re-re-explore every corner of the map. Some highlights:
  • Dr. Cranium just got creepier and creepier every time I visited. There was a not-too-subtle implication that he would be having sex with his reanimated corpse.
  • Punny Bones gave one final performance at the inn. I didn't think his jokes were any funnier than they were when he supposedly had no sense of humor. Oddly, the gnome had a few passages clearly voiced by John Rhys-Davies rather than his regular actor.
  • As the end of the game neared, I started hearing a lot about Silmaria, the setting of the fifth and last Quest for Glory title. Cranium said that it has an Academy of Science. Punny Bones described it as a warm place.
Quit your day job.
  • You can talk to the scarecrow outside of town.
I'm not saying there's a lot of reason to.
  • At some point, I realized I had the "Glide" spell. I'm not sure where I got that. It makes crossing water easier; I can only think to use it in the swamps.
  • I returned to the monastery and burned the dark grimoire. The fire spread and ended up burning the entire monastery down. For several days afterwards, NPCs commented on the arson in dialogue, noting that I was seen at the scene.
  • The necrotaurs at the castle gate always kill you if you climb over the gate. But eventually you get strong enough to force the gate open, at which point you can defeat them one at a time in combat and from there walk to the front door of the castle. You don't get points for this, however, while you do get them for using the secret crypt passage. 
The gate open, the necrotaurs dead, I can now walk to the castle.
  • Two more tarot readings from Magda elaborated on the histories, presents, and futures of both Katrina and Erana. Katrina, she said, has great power and self-confidence but has been shaped by tragedy. She is currently falling in love with someone (me, duh), which runs contrary to her goals. Erana, meanwhile, had to give up her freedom to contain the Dark One in the past. I will determine her fate.
  • My hesitant courtship with Katrina continued with her tentatively asking me to do her a favor, but never telling me what the favor was.
I'm insulted! Does she say this to everyone, or do I have a notably low skill in something?
  • Erana's face started appearing in the dreams I had when I fell asleep in her garden or by her staff. The dreams started to indicate that, like Katrina, she's carrying a torch for the hero. Ultimately, they started to depict the beginnings of the ritual that would free Erana's soul from the Dark One's clutches. I'm not sure I reached the end of the sequence. 
  • The castle has a few secrets I didn't find last time. There's a room where you get attacked by a wraith, and a couple of chests you can force open for gold and a healing potion. If you oil the door to the main hall before opening it, you can hear an argument between Ad Avis and Katrina. Ad Avis was warning her about me, but she was saying that she wants me to "act from [my] own free will, and not be some puppet whose strings [she] holds." Ad Avis vowed to have his revenge on both me and Katrina.
That's good to hear. I was worried she might put me under some kind of geas.
  • It's amazing how a single word makes all the difference in the staying power of a family motto.
I guess it's time for the War of the Solstice, then.
  • During these adventures, I became cognizant of how often in this game you're waiting for night to fall. So much can only be accomplished at night, including killing the wraiths, talking to the domovoi, rendezvousing with Katrina, and breaking into the castle. I spent half the days sleeping.
At last, I had to face the fact that grinding "Aura" wasn't doing any good. I took the advice of commenters and cranked down the CPU cycles, and they went down far before I noticed any affect on gameplay. At that point, the wraiths' draining effect slowed enough that I could get to their barrows and initiate combat before my health was half gone. They were still pretty hard. "Frostbite" did nothing against them. Their magic attacks made it very hard to approach (even at a low clock speed, enemies attack too fast for me to jump or parry effectively), and they were able to knock me back if I got too close. I could generally only kill one per night.
The wraiths had insane treasure. The first one I killed had a jeweled tiara, 6 gold crowns, and 40 kopeks. The second had 38 crowns and 75 kopeks. The third had 150 crowns. I never even finished spending the 30 crowns I found in Erana's Garden; this money was all superfluous.
I'm a paladin. All swords are supposed to be magical.
The third wraith also had a magic paladin sword and a scroll with the Heart Ritual. When I returned to town, Piotyr's ghost appeared again and explained that the sword was his. After Erana was trapped fighting the Dark One, Piotyr was overcome with guilt. Abandoning his wife, he began a quest for the six ritual scrolls so that he could open the way to the Dark One and free Erana. Unfortunately, the wraith killed him before he got very far in his quest. He asked me to return his sword to Dmitri, his grandson, and "let his grief be ended." I tried giving the sword to Dmitri the next day. He thanked me for it but didn't actually take it. Afterwards, the next time Piotyr appeared, he asked me to "unleash the darkness so that Erana's spirit might be free." Note how both the sequence of dreams and Piotyr's tale give the hero an excuse for using the rituals later in the game. If you're not paying attention during these passages, you might wonder exactly what he thinks he's doing at the endgame.
At this point, there wasn't much to do but rescue Tanya from the castle. There were a couple portends as to how the episode would play out. Tanya's mother had a dream about the girl in which she said I should visit Erana's Staff. Magda the gypsy had a vision that the staff would guard the town until someone cast the "Destiny" spell and sacrificed his life for someone he loved.
Maybe learn whatever trick Katrina uses.
At the castle, I ran through the same dialogue as before with Tanya and Toby, but this time I presented Tanya with her lost doll, Vana. I had options to tell her that her parents miss her and that "Erana's Staff . . . can make Tanya back into a real little girl again." At Toby's guttural promptings, I had to explain that the staff would require some kind of sacrifice, and the beast understood.
The game automatically cut to the town square, where it said I cast the "Ritual of Release" to free the staff. I didn't even know I had that spell. The staff hovered out of the stone and spoke to Toby, noting his authentic love for the child. In his grunts and growls, he indicated that he was willing to sacrifice himself. Before Tanya could protest, the staff sucked away his life force and cured Tanya's vampirism.
Toby saves Tanya.
The next day, I was hero to the town, particularly to the innkeepers. 
This is gushing emotion if you're from Mordavia.
A final note from Katrina asking her to meet her by the castle gates triggered the long endgame. When I approached the castle, I found not Katrina but Ad Avis. There were some amusing dialogue options, including "Say Hello" and "Apologize for Killing Ad Avis." They all let to Ad Avis ranting and gloating, capturing me, and tossing me into the castle dungeon, fettered by rusty chains and "taunted" by the nearby presence of a hammer and stake.
Ad Avis is voiced competently by Jeff Bennett, but I would have given a 10-point GIMLET bonus for Maurice LaMarche doing his "Brain" voice.
It was a setup--made all the clearer when the chains broke with virtually no effort and the two goons guarding the door talked openly of a secret door in the iron maiden. I took the hammer and stake, went through the secret door, and found myself in Katrina's room. Katrina was asleep in her coffin.
This is one of those situations in which it was clear what I was not supposed to do. Killing Katrina would fulfill Ad Avis's wildest dreams, freeing him from her control. But I had to see what happened, so I did so anyway. "You never thought killing a vampire would be anywhere near this easy," the game said, just before Ad Avis showed up and turned me to ash with some kind of dragon's breath spell.
Whether it's a drink or a spell, "Dragon's Breath" has not been kind to me.
So I reloaded and woke up Katrina. She was furious that I had freed Tanya, and she threw me back in the dungeon. Clad in black leather, she amused herself whipping me for a while, then offered me a deal: If I helped her obtain the five Dark One rituals, she wouldn't turn me into a vampire. She also outlined her evil plan, which was to bring the Dark One into the world so that the world would know eternal night, and she'd never have to spend the day helpless in her coffin again.
That doesn't seem very heroic.
She cast a geas on me (which she pronounced "gee-ass" rather than the more standard "gesh"), charged me with finding the five ritual scrolls, and tossed me out the front door of the castle. This was a bit ironic, as all she had to do was search my backpack to find all five scrolls. Frankly, I think it would be hard to reach this point in the game without finding most of them, although next time I'll definitely try. I'm curious whether the "geas" has any impact on the game.
I was able to just turn around and walk right back into the castle. Katrina acknowledged that I had the rituals, and action moved to the Dark One's cave, which she opened with a spell as I and Ad Avis looked on. She then sent me in alone, saying that I would need to get the final ritual from the "high priest" before I could begin casting them.
Katrina opens the cave--as she must have done when I first arrived.
The "high priest" was a tentacled blob on the floor of the cavern I had originally used a rope to cross. It looked a bit like the "centaurs" of Fallout 3. I threw some knives and rocks and "Frostbite" spells at it from the ledge above before using my rope and grapnel to climb down and hack away its remaining hit points. A diary on its body indicated that it was some mutated version of the last Borgov.
The last traditional combat in the game.
Beyond the chasm was the second room of the game, the "heart" of the slumbering beast, with four "sphincter" exits leading to other locations. The one on the far right, leading back to the "skeleton" room in which the game started, was pulsating. I ultimately had to enter all four rooms in turn, solving minor puzzles within, activating the altars with the Dark One sigil, and reading the respective rituals. 
Are you sure you know what you're doing?
The skeleton room just required me to light two torches before reading the ritual. A cage of bones closed around me afterwards, but I was able to just break out of them.
To navigate the blood room, I had to walk along some narrow paths and leap across a few gaps. After I read the ritual, the blood got out of control and had to be temporarily staunched with a rock so I could escape. This was the first of many times during this endgame section that solving a puzzle meant interpreting very small graphics in what I felt was an unintuitive way. I solved it by basically clicking around on everything.
The solution to this puzzle required me to intuit that the stalagmite two platforms above is interactable and collapsible.
This problem is best illustrated in the breath room, which featured a stone organ crafted to look like a hexapod. I could blow into each of the tentacles to produce a tone. The text of the ritual indicated that I should blow the tentacles in order of rightmost, leftmost, center, and high. The problem is that the organ takes up only a small part of the screen. Amid the tangle of curled tentacles, it's hard to tell how many there are, let alone what positions they occupy. This is doubly true with the character standing in front of them holding a torch. I had to save after every "correct" blow to avoid having to start over repeatedly.
Can you see anything on that contraption?
Once the ritual was done, air started whooshing through the chamber from the trachea on the far wall. My character got whipped around and couldn't walk back to the exit. Again, it was a bunch of clicking around that solved the puzzle, allowing the hero to grab a plant and pull himself out of the wind tunnel.
The hero is blown to and fro.
The sense ritual began by stripping the hero of his senses. As I navigated the dark, silent void, the senses slowly came back to me, ending with sight. Other than that, no big deal.
The Heart Ritual was the final one that I read, in the central chamber. The beast's heart started pumping, and then . . . I had no idea what to do. I had to look up a hint to learn that the way forward was to use my rope and grapnel to climb through the passage above the heart. That didn't look to me like a valid exit, and even if it was, I still don't see anything the grapnel could have snagged.
Would you try to climb up there?
The endgame took place in a weird "synapse" chamber above the heart. Katrina, Ad Avis, and I each stood on separate "nodes" (I'm not sure what the right word is). Katrina ordered me to finish the Essence Ritual, and I did so to her delight.
Suddenly, Ad Avis cast a spell at my node, causing me to fall. An outraged Katrina blasted him with her own spell, which somehow "shattered the bonds that bound [him]." The two vampires exchanged a few spells as Katrina mocked Ad Avis for his comparatively weaker power as both a spellcaster and a vampire.
The two vampires fight as I struggle ignominiously to my feet.
"But my dear Katrina," Ad Avis said, "I do not need to cast spells at you to destroy you. I intend only to destroy my enemy, the one you seem so fond of. Care to watch him die?"
"No!" Katrina howled. "I will not let him die!" Ad Avis began work on the "Dragon's Breath" spell as Katrina teleported herself between the spell and me. Somehow, Avoozl was attracted by the spell's energies. His tentacle yanked Katrina into his dark dimension, and she was gone. "Now Katrina will have all the darkness she so desired," Ad Avis gloated.
I finally stood up and had only a moment to take action. Figuring this was the place to use Erana's Staff, I grabbed it from my backpack and it somehow turned into a spear. Ad Avis laughed and invited me to throw it. "I will easily deflect it, then I'll finish with you at my leisure." At this point, any delay or hesitancy caused Ad Avis to explain his plans to feed on the defenseless villagers. He then finished killing me and Avoozl erupted from the mountain, ending the game.
I think a high "Communication" skill should have sold this.
The solution was to tell the Ultimate Joke learned from Punny Bones and then impale Ad Avis with the spear when he was laughing uncontrollably. 
Comedy, m&$*@#$%#r!
The spear then reformed as a staff and floated back to my hand telling me to release Erana from imprisonment. I touched the staff to the crystal in the room. For the first time in the series, I saw Erana.
You walk in honor and righteousness. This day you have freed the Land of Mordavia from great evil. May you always hold high the way of the Paladin. You have freed me from my imprisonment by the Dark One. I have driven Avoozl back to its own dimension forever. Your magic is of great power to have overcome the evil which was in this place. It seems we shared a dream once. You gave me hope while I was trapped in the darkness. You held me in your arms and showed me your love. I cannot hold you now, nor can we kiss. I am only a spirit, a ghost. It will take more magic than I have ever known before we shall ever be together again. I can only thank you for everything you have done. I shall love you forever. Farewell.
Would it be cruel to tell her that I only think of her as a friend?
Once again, the hero ended the game in a party surrounded by the various NPCs he met. "The King" (otherwise never named or referred to) appointed Dmitri the new Boyar and gave him Castle Borgov. The swamp is drying up. One by one, the NPCs recounted my exploits.
Oh, I think Dmitri would have done the right thing regardless.
Then Erasmus and Fenrus crashed into the party via crystal ball, announced that a hero is needed in Silmaria, and teleported me before I had a chance to object.
At least this time, I got to enjoy the town's appreciation for two weeks.
Somehow, I achieved 500 out of 500 points. This is the first time in the series that I got all the points my first time. I would have thought I'd missed something. As I ended the game, only one statistic ("Climbing") made the game's maximum of 400. "Weapon Use" got to 320, "Strength" to 351, "Vitality" to 301, and "Honor" to 323. Everything else is at a value that could have been achieved in Wages of War. I'm particularly bothered that I never got my flaming sword back. I did as many honorable things as I could.
My endgame statistics.
I didn't mind the ending of the game mechanically, but I didn't like some of the thematic issues. First, I question whether my paladin would bring the world that close to the possibility of destruction just to free Erana--and not really "free" her at that. I mean, it's not like he had a plan for defeating Katrina and Ad Avis just before the ritual was complete. It just happened to work out that way. That was a big risk. 
Second, I thought that Katrina's declaration of love was a little cringey on her part. She barely knows me. We've met a few times at night for a couple minutes each time. I'm not even sure all those meetings were necessary.
I don't know if I could love a woman with that hair.
I wish the hero had been more of an active agent in certain parts of the story. Take Tanya's healing, for instance. It would have been nice if I'd had the chance to sacrifice myself for the girl, or at least offer. I could see the staff rejecting the sacrifice, saying I'm needed here to stop the Dark One, leaving Toby to step in. At the end, I would have enjoyed a chance to sabotage the ritual rather than willingly participate in it.
But the only thing that really upsets me is the Ultimate Joke. The Quest for Glory games have featured plenty of humor, including a lot of the silly, slapstick humor that I often deride, but I've generally groaned and suffered it. Some people never get tired of characters slipping on banana peels. But when slipping on a banana peel is an actual plot point--a strategy used by the hero to overcome the villain--I think it goes too far. I feel like there must have been some character-specific options that could have achieved the same ending. Or at least make it clear that the Ultimate Joke is really a spell (doesn't Dungeons & Dragons have some kind of "Uncontrollable Laughter" spell?) and not an actual joke.
"Tell Ad Avis you love him" should have been an option.
Let's end on a positive. I do love the bittersweet ending. The hero earns the love of two women--and not just women, but the ultimate Betty and Veronica. But he loses them both. I find Katrina's story particularly tragic for reasons that I'll cover in my final entry but that you can probably guess. Different interpretations in that character led to some drama in the Bolingbroke household when Irene and I played Quest for Glory V in the mid-1990s.
That seems kind of demanding.
We're going to stick with this one for at least a couple more entries, as I want to check out the thief's experience and probably the wizard's.