Well, damn that took a long time, but in the wee hours of this morning, I completed Might & Magic: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum, easily the largest and, hence, longest game I have played in my blogging project so far. In fact, I think it's safe to say that it rivals modern games in its overall number of game hours.
My last hours in the game were marked by stupid mistakes and laughable errors, starting with the revelation--after I had won the game--that I had missed the graphics setup executable in the game folder. Instead of seeing this for the past 50 hours of gameplay...
...I could have been seeing this:
Oh, well, the important part is the gameplay, right? We'll get to that.
When I last blogged, I was working to fill in pieces of each map and stop dying all the time. This was helped greatly as my spellcasters advanced and got hold of the more powerful spells, some of which could completely obliterate large groups of enemies in one casting. I was able to finish most of the surface and all but a few of the underground maps at this point. I solved two of the more important side quests, one of which involved slaying four big bads in each corner of the map and then spinning a wheel of fortune to get gold, gems, and experience as a reward. The second involved visiting each of the castles in the game world and determining what to do with prisoners found there. This quest was kicked off by a wizard named Ranalou who I met in a cave:
The quest offered some real (if basic) role-playing choices that had to jive with your alignment. Among the prisoners you found were scared children, helpless maidens, and vicious demons. I had to decide what to do with each one and then head to the "Statue of Judgment" after dealing with all of them. Good characters were rewarded if they tormented the demon but set the other prisoners free. Evil characters were rewarded for tormenting everyone. Neutral characters were rewarded for walking away from each prisoner. Since my party had a mixture of good, neutral, and evil characters, no one got the full reward. If I were to play again, I would stock my party with characters of a single alignment.
As I covered in another recent posting, sex turned out to play a role. In one town--Portsmith--male characters were drained of hit points every time they walked through certain (unavoidable) intersections. This turned out to be the work of a succubus holed up in a secret room, and in due course I was able to find and kill her and her minions. But to even stand a chance, I used a magic pool in the town's dungeons to change the sexes of all of my male characters so they wouldn't be drained before the big battle. Then, in horrible show of non role-playing, I never got around to changing them back. "Redbeard" the dwarf fighter, and all of his compatriots, ended the game as females.
I spent a lot of time fighting my way through the four levels dungeon of Dragadune to find the enigmatic "Clerics of the South," who rewarded me with this message:
I had absolutely no idea what this meant, and I was a little annoyed at having worked so hard for it. Only after winning the game and checking a walkthrough did I find that this meant I could return to various spots that boosted my stats and get them boosted again, as well as complete the Statue of Judgment quest again. Oh, well.
In the Castle of Doom, after battling my way through hordes of tough monsters, I found this message scrawled on a wall:
I remember the Star Trek episode of the same title, and at first I thought this was just a geeky reference to it (the M&M team is well known for its frequent Star Trek references, including "Q" in VI). But it turned out to be an important plot point in the game, as we'll soon see.
In the corner of another map, in an area accessible only through the use of the "etherealize" spell, which allows the party to pass through walls, I found a "Land of the Lost" in which dinosaurs roamed.
Battling through them, I found an "Hourglass of Time," which reverted all my characters to the age of 18. Many of them had been pushing 50 by then, which means that in game time, my party had been adventuring together for 32 years. That's quite a quest.
My dungeon explorations allowed me to assemble the two strange "messages" that you find in pieces around the world. The first was singularly unhelpful, only telling me where the various fountains and pools and other sites were that raise each of your stats by 4 points each. I had already found them all by the time I figured out the message. The other one spelled out the game:
THE SCOOP: FOR SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION OF BOOK ONE, THESE ARE THE TASKS THAT MUST BE DONE. RIDDLES AND QUESTS, DISCOVERIES AND TRAINING, EACH HAS A VALUE THAT INCREASES YOUR RATING. THE KING'S TRUE SELF YOU MUST IDENTIFY, TO BE WORTHY OF THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU CAN APPLY. RETURN FROM THE ASTRAL PLANE FROM 5 DIFFERENT LOCATIONS, THE 6TH VISIT WITH A KEY CARD SHALL END YOUR FRUSTRATIONS! YET 9th LEVEL YOU MUST HAVE ATTAINED FOR THE INNER SANCTUM TO BE CLAIMED. FROM MY DREAMS TO REALITY, AND REALITY TO DREAMS, A SEQUEL IS IN ORDER, WONDROUS IT SEEMS... JVC
A little helpful, I guess, but nothing I wouldn't have figured out on my own. "JVC" is the creator, Jon Van Caneghem, who I think is still in the business. Jon, if a little ego-surfing leads you to this blog, you made a hell of a game.
The toughest quest leading up to the endgame concerned the blind seer Og. One of the first clues I got in the game, from a statue in Sorpigal, was that I needed to restore his sight with two idols, and this was somehow connected to a black and white checkboard pattern I kept finding in dungeons. Well, I did find the pattern a lot, and in two of the locations, searching yielded the necessary idols. I took them to Og and got this...
Now, if I'm not mistaken, this is another Star Trek reference--specifically to the unexplained three-dimensional chess that they sometimes play in the original series. At least, it's the only way I can explain "levels." To solve this, I first thought, the creators wanted me to know the rules of 3-D chess from Star Trek? Jesus.
Then I remembered three clues I had received in other black and white checkboard rooms. They were:
- The first part is female
- The second part is most valuable
- The last part is the first
Great, right? Except that I had already found the prisoner in Doom! So all that was just for the 25,000 experience points, which by this point in the game I was getting in three or four battles with dragons. Bloody hell.
Here was the aforementioned prisoner:
This dovetailed nicely with what the crashed aliens had told me earlier in the game, so with the Eye of Goros, I went off to challenge the fake Alamar.
Alamar revealed himself as the alien "demon" and threw me into a dungeon called the Soul Maze, where I was immediately confronted with this question:
Now, folks, if I was embarrassed at how long it took me to solve Og's riddle, this one really fills me with shame. I spent hours mapping the dungeon making sure that I turned and faced each wall. To my frustration, I couldn't find any messages written anywhere that told me my captor's name. I must have gone through it three or four times before I finally took a good look at the map I had been making:
I mean, could that be any easier to see? MY NAME IS SHELTEM (I don't know what to make of the enigmatic "HELP" in the upper left). Anyway, I gave the answer, and here's when things got weird:
Okay...well, I had a pretty good idea where the Inner Sanctum was: on the Astral Plane, which I had the foresight to have already visited and mapped. Somewhere along the line--I missed to tell ye in my tale--I found the key card I needed to get into the place, and so without further ado, I made my way.
So it turns out that the game world, called Varn, was actually VARN (Vehicular Astropod Research Nacelle)--a space ship. An alien invader named Sheltem crashed on the ship and impersonated a king. And all the monsters and undead and magic were...what?....aspects of the same technology that powers the ship? Things get weird when you combine fantasy with sci-fi. The references to Corak are never explained, and it remains unclear what happened to Sheltem. Quite oddly, there is no final battle. I expected an epic confrontation with Sheltem that never came: if if you re-visit Alamar's/Sheltem's castle, you just get tossed into the Soul Maze again.
The game allows you to keep playing and finish any side quests. There are 37 according to one walkthrough, and I think through my exhaustive mapping of the game world, I was able to complete them all.
I made a video of the end game (it starts with me killing some dragons just because I can and is interrupted a couple of times while I take screen shots) if you're interested. Otherwise, it's time for my review posting and then on to...The Bard's Tale II. Bollocks.