Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rings of Zilfin: Won! (with Final Ranking)

I don't think that "so it came to pass..." adequately ascribes me the proper credit.
Rings of Zilfin
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1986 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1987 for Atari ST and DOS
Date Started: 16 August 2010
Date Ended: 28 August 2010
Total Hours: 16
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 26
Ranking at Time of Posting: 6/22 (27%)
Ranking at Game #453: 226/453 (50%)
I probably should have made an intervening post, but I went ahead and marathoned my way through Rings of Zilfin. It did get a little harder, with enemies having more hit points and doing more damage in the second two kingdoms, but it never got very hard, and in the entire game, my character never once died. That's a sure sign of a too-easy CRPG.
The game is full of mushrooms and plants that maximize your damage while minimizing the damage that enemies can do to you.
Rings of Zilfin is not a pure CRPG; it's more of a RPG-adventure game hybrid. I say this because there are a lot of inventory-based puzzles in the game, and you can only win after performing a series of tasks in a precise order. You'll recall that in my last post, I was leaving the kingdom of Deloria for Begonia on a quest to find the kidnapped King Rolan. This, to the best of my recollection, was the sequence of events that followed:
  • Went to a cave and used a series of words (given to me in Deloria) to open a passage
  • Met with the lost Zilfins, who told me how to rescue Rolan from the Dark Tower, home of the demon assassin Dzomon, and gave me the code word to use the Rings
  • Bought a pearl and took it to a sorceress named Zara, from whom I got a magic seed, which I planted to grow a tree from which I fashioned a Staff of Grumm
  • Entered the Dark Tower using the code word, used the Staff of Grumm to defeat its mystical guardians, got to Rolan in time to hear his last words, which were to seek the Ring of Zilfin from a halfling named Sam in Sumaria. (By the way: "Rolan" and "The Dark Tower"? Were the creators of Rings of Zilfin reading Stephen King's The Gunslinger or were they, like King, inspired by Robert Browning's poem?)
  • Killed Dzomon on my way out of the Dark Tower
  • Moved on to Sumaria
  • Collected a bunch of quest items from stores: a rope, a key, a flute, a magic cloak, a cookie, a book of riddles
  • Defeated the dragon Bogum to find the Treasure of Fulgarsh, which included a magic harp
He was even less happy moments later.
  • Gave Sam the halfling a book of riddles and showed him King Rolan's amulet, which made him trust me enough to give me his Ring of Zilfin (Dragos had the other)
  • Used the rope to descend into a dungeon called "The Well," battled past monsters to find the lost kingdom of the Elves, enchanted them with my flute playing, gave the elf king the magic harp in exchange for a horn to summon a mystical flying creature called an Ankha, which could fly me to the otherwise-inaccessible Castle Graz
  • Bribed a water dragon with a cookie to reach an island where a wizard gave me a magic shape-changing elixir
  • Flew to Graz, got past the guardian by bribing it with drugs
  • Fought my way through the castle to the evil Dragos
  • Fooled Dragos by using the elixir to transform myself into the appearance of his demon god, ordered him to give me his Ring of Zilfin, used the code word, turned him to ash
Oh, there was some character-building stuff in here, too--I maxed out my strength and got to spell level 3--but mostly I was running around with these various errands. It felt a great deal more like King's Quest than, say, Might & Magic. How did I know how to do all of these things? Well, the game offers you numerous ways to get clues, including wandering monks you meet on the road, helpful bartenders, fortune tellers, and passers-by in towns. The game forces you to visit each location, interact with everyone, and assemble your task list from sometimes-arcane clues like "Three words will do it!"
Bit by bit, it comes together.
I didn't make a screen recording of the end game, but here are a series of screenshots that show how it progresses: The game ends with a series of questions about unresolved mysteries, suggesting that a sequel might be in the works... ...but if one was ever made, I can't find any evidence of it. I'm not complaining. Rings of Zilfin was passable light entertainment, but it was not a great CRPG. **** Let's do a quick final reckoning on the GIMLET scale: 1. Game World. Reasonably good back story about the lost Zilfins and the rise of the evil Dragos. If a bit derivative, at least offers some original elements like the inaccessible castle and the drug-addicted guardian. Generally the gameplay itself does not live up to the manual's backstory. Score: 5. 2. Character Creation and Development. Barely a CRPG in this regard. No creation decisions, assigns you a default name, only a few basic character statistics and hardly any control over character development. Nothing customizable about the character at all. Score: 2. 3. NPC Interaction. Only the basest sort. You talk to them and they tell you things. No dialog, no opportunity for role playing. NPC interaction is necessary, though, to figure out the plot. Score:3. 4. Encounters and Foes. A handful of monsters, some unique to this CRPG, but most of them only distinguished between those that cause physical damage and those that cause magic damage. No random encounters. Areas do respawn. Score: 3. 5. Magic and Combat. Very, very basic. Only combat options are to attack with sword, shoot an arrow, or cast a spell, and there are only 12 spells. No role-playing opportunities in combat. Score: 2. 6. Equipment. All kinds of different items, but most are either quest items or trade items. Only four types of weapons and three types of armor, none very well described. Score: 2. 7. Economy. Horribly unbalanced, too easy to get rich, hardly anything to spend your money on (except healing, which is cheap). Score: 1. 8. Quests. One main quest, very linear, no side quests. Main quest has only one outcome. Score: 3. 9. Graphics, Sound, Inputs. All primitive, even for the era, although there is some fun animation in the cut scenes. Score: 3. 10. Gameplay. Very linear and constrained, more like an adventure game than a CRPG. Far too easy, and not replayable at all. Only bonus is that it doesn't take very long. Score: 2. Final score: 26. The best I can say is I liked it better than Ultima II. It was a nice, easy game for a month in which I have been extremely busy, but I'm looking forward to SSI offering better fare down the road.


  1. No big deal, but if you press alt while you hit print screen, it'll cut and paste the window of just the current application, not the entire screen.

  2. Sam the Halfling and Rolan in the Dark Tower?? Were there any other pop references like this? Does anyone know if they were intentional or not?

  3. roland + the dark tower is a very old story (1855), I wouldn't call it a pop reference. It predates Stephen Kings version by many years.

    If you ever get to play Magic Candle you will see a lot of influence in it from Rings of Z. How it was very much a warm up for Ali.

    Nothing wrong with an easy game, sometimes its exactly what you want to play :)


  4. Tom: you know, there were a lot of named NPCs, and frankly I didn't write very many of them down. Nothing else leaped at me, though. I should have paid more attention.

    Ritontor: I know it looks like I crop my images, but I don't. The problem with ALT-PRNTSCR is that you then have to paste the image into some other application and then save it AS an image before you can load it into Blogger (for whatever reason, you can't paste directly into blogger). So to avoid this extra step, I use the Windows 7 snipping tool to just draw a box around the window and save the image directly. I should get in the habit of keeping a dark background behind the DOSBox window, though.

  5. I know this is a little late, but why don't you use DOSBox's built-in screenshot utility? Just press Ctrl-F5 when you want to take a screenshot.

  6. Bollocks. Because I didn't know it was there. Thanks!

  7. I disagree about the lack of death necessarily indicating a too easy game (though a lack of challenge, definitely would). I got through the whole of Oblivion, completing every single quest, including the official expansions, without dying once. And though, admittedly, I had to generate a hundred plus characters to do so, I accomplished the same in Diablo - killed him without dying or restarting in any way. I don't enjoy games that are unchallenging, but I have to admit a lot of the joy goes out of any game for me the first time I die - it corrupts the story. The hero is dead, so how does he go on to accomplish his task?

    (Incidentally, Doom and Wing Commander were two other early, non-CRPG games that I wouldn't allow myself to beat as a resurrected character. Played both to death, but eventually beat them both, front to back, without dying once).

  8. Oh, on another note, I know it's far from hard evidence, but a book of riddles was a key prop in the third book of King's Dark Tower series, too... though I just looked it up, and it was published in 1991, so I guess it's just coincidence.

  9. Are you the same Anonymous who has been commenting all week? Get yourself a profile, man!

    I get what you mean about corrupting the story, but that's one aspect where I'm able to suspend disbelief. Anyway, you DO die in your games; you just don't let yourself keep playing with that character after you do. Contrast that with "Rings of Zilfin," where I never died at all, even when I was trying to figure out the game.

  10. I don't know how to get a profile. It says something about a URL - does that mean I have to sign up with this blogging service?

  11. @Anon... No, you don't have do sign up, just leave the URL field blank in the Name/URL option

  12. Well, if you think about the hundreds/thousands of times characters die in Roguelike and other games, the Universe owed you a CRPG someone could survive all the way through without dying!


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