Well, I owe my readers a debt. Bereft of the game manual for Rings of Zilfin, I asked for assistance. Ziad and Calibrator sent me key information and Stu posted a link to the manual itself. I'm not sure why this didn't turn up in my Googling, but it made things a lot clearer. Thank you, everyone!
Here's what the manual clarified: the land of the game is called Batiniq, and it's being conquered by an evil necromancer named Dragos. I'm some kind of Child of Destiny who was given a quest by the ghost of my dead mother to find the two Rings of Zilfin. The Zilfins were a "great race" that used to rule Batiniq but "become extinct after the battle of Bizhun, many years ago." This leads to the introduction that I described in the last post. Dzomon is "a vicious demon, strong right arm of Lord Dragos." Dragos seized one of the Rings when he took the Zilfins' old castle, but he's still seeking the other, along with the fabled treasure of King Fulgarsh, which was carried off by a dragon. So...yeah.
The manual also helped with a lot of the navigational and logistical aspects of the game.
With this in hand, I see what Matt Barton means by Rings of Zilfin being a game "for novices." It's horribly easy. There are a limited selection of commands, only a handful of different weapons, three combat actions, and about a dozen spells. At first, I thought that figuring out what the different mushrooms and plants do was part of the challenge, but no, the manual tells you straight off.
The game consists of exploring a series of screens arranged within three kingdoms: Deloria, Begonia, and Sumaria. I've only explored Deloria so far, where there were 22 locations, including cities, towns, castles, wilderness areas, and special encounters. Each town has two or three buildings which might be shops, inns, residences of various NPCs, or temples dedicated to Dragos in which acolytes try to kill you. You have to explore all of them, as well as talk to various NPC passers-by, to figure out how to get through the game. Here are some of the many locations:
In between towns are roads along which you can pick up mushrooms and plants (all beneficial in some way), talk to NPC monks, and drink from fountains. Occasionally you get attacked by orcs or goblins, and at nighttime there's a risk of different flying monsters, which you have to shoot with your bow. I ran out of arrows at one point, which was annoying because I just had to stand there and take the damage until the critters decided to fly away.
So what makes the game so easy? A few things:
- Early in the game, you can buy the best armor (heavy armor) for a fairly small amount of gold. This greatly reduces the damage you take and even makes you immune to some monsters.
- There are only two key characteristics: endurance (hit points) and fatigue. You start off with a small amount of each, but there are several locations with healers who, for only a little gold, will heal you to your maximum of both. Then there are different fountains and mushrooms that will increase this maximum, but it doesn't cost any more to heal yourself after the increase. The upshot is that I started out with about 400 hit points and now I have 9,000, which I think is the game maximum.
- Gold is absurdly easy to get. The game introduces a trading system by which you can buy goods in one town and sell them in another. (This same type of system appears in other games, including Might & Magic VII, but I think this is the first time I've seen it in a CRPG.) The variance between the selling price and the buying prices is so high that in just a few trips between nearby towns, you can have the maximum gold in the game.
- The only characteristics to improve are strength and sword skill. Sword skill improves more-or-less automatically as you fight. Strength required me to visit one location to train and up my maximum "potential strength" and then another location to up my actual strength. Still wasn't too hard.
- Once you up your strength and buy a better weapon to go with it, most enemies--at least the ones in Deloria--die in just a couple hits.
There are a few annoyances in the game, including the aforementioned flying monsters, plus the fact that every time you save, the game quits. Every fourth or fifth time you visit a store, you get pocket-picked for some of your gold, and this is one of many games of this era that requires you to keep a food supply. Visiting the towns is an annoyingly long process of watching your little character march across the screen as he enters the village and goes from house to house.
And then there's poison. God, how I hate poison, and every damned CRPG not only has to include it but also make it horrifically deadly. Was Wizardry the first? In that game, there were many ways to get poisoned, including different creatures and chest traps that your thief always sucked at disarming. Getting poisoned meant losing hit points every step, and until a fairly high level you don't have a cure spell. The same is true in Ultima IV: step into a marsh or encounter a poison trap early in the game, and you might as well just restart. In the Gold Box D&D games, getting poisoned means instant death unless you have a level 4 "neutralize poison" spell.
Rings of Zilfin is full of pools along the roads, some of which help you by increasing your endurance or fatigue, but at least one out of every three is a poisoned pool, which immediately reduces your fatigue and endurance to 0, which means you die the next time you take any damage. A plant called an Iola will cure you, but these are exceedingly rare. Essentially, you cannot risk drinking from a pool unless you have an Iola, and once you find an Iola, you use it again almost immediately. Man, I wish CRPGs would just ditch poison.
All right. Back to the game. In the first third of it, in addition to increasing my stats as described above, I had to find a wizard named Eklun who taught me level 1 magic (there are only three levels), although I frankly didn't find any of the spells very useful.
I visited a castle where the denizens told me that King Rolan had been kidnapped by Dragos and was probably being tortured for his knowledge of the second Ring of Zilfin. They sent me on to the next kingdom, Begonia, to get more information on his possible whereabouts.
Entering the next kingdom involved battling my way through a mountain pass. There were a lot of flying creatures in the pass, but nothing I couldn't handle.
I can't exactly recommend Rings of Zilfin, but it's definitely an undemanding game. I'm going to go ahead and finish it, mostly because I haven't finished one since Might & Magic and I'm too busy with work to learn a new game from the beginning right now. I'll let you know if it gets more difficult or more interesting.
Just a quick administrative note: I track the number of visitors to this site using Google Analytics, which also tells me where y'all or from and what brought you to my site. I got a spike earlier this month when a user named zzajin posted a link to my blog on a message board at RPGWatch.
I must say I'm amused by the discussion that followed, with some posters calling me things like "beyond stupid," "naive," and possessed of a "mental disorder." (To be fair, there were some nice comments, too.) But I did want to make a few things clear:
1. I do not have children. I don't know where anyone got this idea. If I did, I don't think I would be able to maintain this blog.
2. I don't care if I ever "finish" the list. The point of this project is not to reach the "end," close the blog, and mark it off my "to do" list. The point (for me) is to achieve something moderately productive while simultaneously satiating my addiction. Maintaining this blog--spending time on something that people like to read--is a tangible, positive outcome from something that would otherwise just be an exercise in self-indulgence.
3. No matter how long I go between entries, I'm in no danger of quitting. I have a lot of professional commitments and I travel a lot, so occasionally I can't play games or post for a long time, but no matter how long I go, I will always be back--at least, as long as "blogging" exists as a technology.
Thanks to everyone who reads and comments--you give me a reason to keep at it.