What a difference a couple of years makes! I was amazed when I started up Moebius: The Orb of Celestial Harmony and saw introductory screens like this:
|He's not Chinese! Neither, incidentally, is the Moebius strip, which has no particular Asian origins. It notably appears in Ultima IV as the ultimate answer to the summation of truth, love, and courage: infinity.|
Granted, the DOS version of this game is from 1987, two years after the original Apple II version, but it's still astonishing that photorealistic effects and animation have advanced so much in such a short time. I'm guessing the introduction of the VGA graphics card standard in 1987 probably had something to do with it.
Even though I haven't caught up with where I was at the end of Might & Magic, I've decided to stop "backtracking" at this point because I want to give Moebius proper attention. From what I can see so far, it's an authentic CRPG, and it's exclusion from the Wikipedia list is thus somewhat mystifying. (So is the fact that I'd never heard of it until a couple of weeks ago.) This means back to my original rules.
Moebius is notable in a lot of other ways. It is the first CRPG (that I know of) based on eastern philosophy and themes. Perhaps an exception is Ultima IV with its inclusion of avatarhood, but this is really just the use of a term. Moebius is set in a quasi-Asian fantasy kingdom with frequent use of Asian (or, at least, pseudo-Asian) symbology, names, weapons, and combat styles. Confucius quotes appear throughout the manual. There aren't many other games that do this. I think of Jade Empire and...any others? (Other than JRPGs, of course.)
The game takes place in the formerly-peaceful realm of Khantun. The evil monk Kaimen has stolen the Orb of Celestial Harmony from his master, Moebius the Windwalker, and has set up a fortress on the Plane of Fire from which he is wreaking havoc across the land. Since the Orb "holds in effect the forces of dissolution that are inherent to our land" and allows passage through the elemental realms, Moebius is stuck on his own plane and Khantun is suffering a variety of natural and monster-based disasters. Complicating things is that Khantun has no army ("since the Windwalker showed our people the path of peace, there has been no need") to stand against Kaimen's horde of evil monks. That tasks falls to the player and the aged monks who will aid him.
Moebius was designed by a game developer named Greg Malone and released by Origin Systems. There are echoes of Ultima IV in the game, with its emphasis on virtue in the form of "karma," but you can also sense Richard Garriott's lack of direct involvement with this one, especially in the combat. Incidentally, ever since I reviewed all those shareware games that listed the names of the developers, I've become more interested in the "authorship" of particular games. This led me to Malone's current web site; it looks like he's putting his talents to good use today.
The initial stages of Moebius deliver two fairly original features. First, before you head off on your adventures, you go through three training sessions: sword combat, hand-to-hand combat, and meditation (which involves keeping a floating orb within a defined box through the use of the arrow keys). This is an early, if not the first, example of a feature I've come to like in later games: tutorials. I prefer to learn the interface a little before I head out into the game world. In this case, I learned a valuable lesson about your fatigue level: striking when it's low barely causes any damage.
|Fighting mano-a-mano with a palace guard. Incidentally, "mano a mano" means "hand-to-hand" in Spanish, not "man-to-man" as some people think. That would be "hombre-a-hombre." Yes, I'm full of them today.|
The second feature is action-based combat. You fight in real time by blocking your enemy's attacks and making attacks of your own. There are a variety of high, middle, and low kicks and punches (or sword thrusts) to choose from, and figuring out the best one to use in any given situation means carefully watching what your opponent is doing. Matt Barton calls the game "Ultima Meets Karateka," which I guess was a popular karate game of the time.
In the final part of training, you have to learn to keep an agitated, floating taijitu within a box by using the arrow keys. It took me a while but I found it much easier once I reduced the CPU cycles in DOSBox.
Having finished training, I began the Moebius adventure by leaving the temple and heading out into the troubled land of Khantun and what in the name of Confucius is that disembodied head floating around?
It is, regrettably, me--and the subject of my next posting.
Edit on 07/15/2013: I didn't like this game so much that I stopped blogging about it after this posting, but because I didn't even play it long enough to assign a rating, I always felt bad about it. I finally went back and finished the game three years later. Here's the second and final posting.