Friday, September 3, 2010

Shard of Spring: Won! (You Bastards)


Well, it was so important to you that I finish Shard of Spring that I spent the entire week winning it. I was so eager to plow through it that I neglected to post anything Wednesday or Thursday, which I should have done, because this one is going to be pretty long.

Shard of Spring ends up being a pretty linear game. You know how I feel about that. As you move across the landscape, you encounter towns and dungeons in a very specific order, and while you can blow past them and jump right on to harder dungeons, it's very inadvisable to do so, because 1) you need objects that you get in previous dungeons to fully complete subsequent ones; and 2) they're too hard if you don't do them in order. There are five or six dungeons plus a bunch of little tombs, and most of them are quite small and uneventful. Once I found the towns that had training academies and allowed me to level up, I got through all but the last one (the evil sorceress Siriadne's castle) very quickly. A bunch of random notes, comments, and screen shots:

  • Most of the wilderness is very empty except for the occasional battle. Unfortunately, you don't see your enemies coming--they don't have a little approaching icon as in, say, Ultima IV. The game just throws you into battle.
  • For most of the game, I assumed that the battles were random. But I began noticing that if I got into a battle and died, when I reloaded I would face another "random" battle in the same number of moves. I realized that instead of being random, the game throws a battle at you every 33 moves (moves include saving, walking, and turning). I discovered that the only way to avoid a battle was to quit on the 33rd move, right when it would have normally hit you with one.
  • My internal role-playing rules do not allow me to quit and reload just because a battle goes badly. I can only reload when my entire party is wiped out. This meant I spent a lot of time and money resurrecting and healing characters, and progress was slow-going, especially in the final dungeon.
  • Towns where you can get training are in far-flung locations that require a lot of hiking and combat. This is an odd decision because you effectively cannot win these combats until you get trained. It took me a long time to get my wizards off Level 1. Training is pretty satisfying, though. You get attribute increases, hit point increases, spell point increases, and the option to purchase new skills. By the end of the game, all my characters had all their available skills.

  • The maximum character level in the game is 20, but eventually it becomes virtually impossible to level up any more. As it was, I spent hours fighting random battles just to get my characters up to Level 10. Your experience point rewards for some of the toughest battles in the game, especially towards the end, are paltry. You also don't start getting heaps of gold until the final few battles, when it hardly does you any good.

This paltry reward was from a dungeon boss
  • Enemy spellcasters suck. They can kill your party members with a single spell starting at Level 4. When you encounter them, you basically have to pray that they choose not to cast those particular spells. Again, a lot of time and money spent healing.
  • The magic system is actually fairly original. There are a lot of unusual spells organized into five schools or "runes": fire, metal, wind, ice, and spirit. Each has a mixture of single-enemy attack, mass attack, healing, and protection spells. For instance, fire has COLUMN OF FIRE (single attack), FIRE STORM (mass attack), MELT (contradicts a FREEZE spell), and FLAME SHIELD (protection). Each spell has a minimum number of spell points needed to cast it, but you can channel more points into it if you want to increase its potency. I can't think of any other games that let you vary the amount of magic power you put into a single spell.
  • There were piles of rings, rods, and other magic items in the various shops which I a) was never sure what they did; and b) never bought because I never had enough money what with all the resurrection.
  • A walkthrough I consulted after winning the game tells me I missed an entire dungeon called "The Tunnels." I looked for it, but I don't see it. Maybe that's a difference in the DOS version of the game.

So winning the game involved, as I said, visiting each dungeon in sequence, collecting items, and writing down clues. Each dungeon had a "big bad" somewhere in it, and these got progressively harder, but oddly enough, random encounters within the dungeons were usually more difficult than the scripted battles. This remained true all the way up to the final battle with Siriadne. I got slaughtered by a party of 6 greater dragons right outside her door, reloaded, skipped by the dragons, and the final battle against her only featured two such dragons.

The Swamp King was disappointingly easy.

The game wasn't very unique in its monsters, featuring the usual selection of bats, snakes, kobolds, orcs, fighters, wizards, elementals, gargoyles, and so on. One exception is the mysterious "Bugem," which seems to be an anthropomorphic ant capable of carrying weapons.

Each dungeon featured a selection of scripted encounters with foes, but only a couple of puzzles, no dialog options, and no opportunities for role playing. Just a few random screenshots from scripted encounters:

Ultimately, of course, I made my way to Siriadne's castle, which (predictably) was surrounded by lava.

It was by far the longest dungeon in the game, with about 10 levels and numerous fights against elementals and demons.

There was one puzzle that required me to touch a series of gems in a specific order based on a throwaway clue from a previous dungeon. I'm glad I wrote everything down.

I also had to use a two-part password (each part obtained from a different dungeon or town) at a gate, and it took me forever to realize that I needed to "cast" the password. That really wasn't intuitive at all.

Finally, I reached Siriadne, who gave me a standard "villain speech" (there's a special topic in there) before attacking me with two greater dragons.

Oddly, Siriadne herself (bottom of the next screenshot) has the icon used in the game for kobolds and orcs. If there was an in-game explanation for this, I never saw it. It took me a long time to beat her. At one point, I used a teleport spell to escape the dungeon, fought some battles until I leveled up again, and re-assailed the tower. Even then, my party was nearly wiped out by the time I reached the final battle and it took me four tries to win it.

But when I did, I got a somewhat mystifying endgame write-up: A cool breeze blows through the huge arched windows of the tower room. On an ivory pedestal lies the object of your quest: a knife-shaped piece of green crystal. As you hold the shard and look out over the landscape of Ymros, it looks beautiful and peaceful;more peaceful than it has looked in a very long time.

You watch as a graceful dove flies up from the balcony below up into the blue sky. As you turn to go back into the room, you see a black bird out of the corner of your eye, moving swiftly upward. As you re-enter the room, an old man who you recognize is standing near the dead body of Siriadne. His face shows a mixture of serenity and contentment. He speaks: "The true springtime shall now return to Ymros because of what you have done today. Your names shall be remembered as long as men exist to sing of you." He makes some mysterious motions and everything begins to swirl about you. His voice speaks to you out of the dizziness: "Evil is personified in the form of dragons, but borne in the hearts of men..."

Okay, huh? First off, who is this guy? I must have missed something obvious in my race to finish the game, because it says my characters recognize him, but I sure don't. Second, wouldn't a "mixture of serenity and contentment" look pretty much like either one by itself? Finally, what is that last line about dragons? It's not like they played a big role in the game.

The mysterious man's banishing spell (thanks for that, by the way; I didn't want a parade or anything) stuck me back at the starting town, where I promptly headed to the pub and bought a drink. Mixing with the fellow townsfolk, I heard:

Now, I know that we're well before the era when games actually acknowledge you winning the game within the game, but this is just discouraging. How hard would it have been to overwrite the "tavern talk" file or something?

Finally, another tavern tale in another town promises a sequel:

I can't wait. But in the meantime, it's off to the final judgment on Shard of Spring and then Starflight.


  1. "I can't think of any other games that let you vary the amount of magic power you put into a single spell."
    The only one that comes to my mind is Gothic 2, where you could have a Big Fireball (Mana Cost: minimum 40, maximum 160)

  2. I've not played it much but I think Dragon Wars (kind of an unofficial Bards Tale 4) allowed you to choose how much power you put into casting a spell.

  3. See, I love you guys. Toss out a challenge, and I get two responses within a day!

    "Gothic II" is coming up in...get this...630 games. By the time I reach it, it'll be 20 years old instead of just 8, so people will appreciate my postings just like they do for "Wizardry" now. "Dragon Wars" is better...only 66 games. (To be fair, though, a lot of the games on the list are obscure Japanese titles that I may never find, let alone understand.)

  4. Eschalon, which is an indie allows you to vary spell power for almost every spell.
    I think Gothic I also might, so you have a few more games :)

  5. Sorry, what I meant by Gothic is that some spells like fireball can be cast for longer periods of time which increases their power....

  6. Later Wizardry games - I believe 6, 7, and 8 - allow you to vary your spell effect level (up to level 6 or 7) every time you cast a spell by spending more MP.

  7. I had the original game for my Apple IIc back in the day and Siriadne was shown as a dragon during combat, so that's what the dialogue at the end meant. I don't know why your version gave her a different icon. Possibly to immediately differentiate her visually from the other two dragons. (even though you can use the cursor on your turn to see who is who).

    1. That's interesting. It does make a little more sense, although it still isn't very well-developed, since it wasn't really presented in-story as much of a plot twist or anything.

  8. Games that allow you to vary spell power: Golden Axe? :) Ok, not a CRPG.

    Not quite the same thing but Morrowind allows you to create spells that scale their MP requirements with effect power and duration. Possibly earlier TES games do too.

    I don't remember Gothic 2 behaving that way but I haven't yet played through that as a mage. If you haven't played that yet, you're in for a treat when you finally get to it.

  9. Trying to think... there was a game I played fairly recently that had variable casting like that, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. It wasn't Gothic 2, and I'm not sure it was a CRPG to start with... may have been a console RPG.

    It stood out, though, for the same reason it does here--it's very unique. Whatever game it is I'm thinking of, I'm almost sure it was the first and only time I'd seen that, up to now.

  10. I killed the villain with the first fire spell your wizard learns, "Column of Fire". By the time I made it there my wizard has a lot of spell points so I used every single point for the "Column of Fire" spell and it killed the end boss in one shot!

    1. Keeping early-level spells relevant until late in the game by allowing you to vary the power was a nice addition to this game. I didn't appreciate it enough at the time.

  11. Phantasy Star 3 is another example of an RPG where you can modify the power of individual spells. Not that you'll take advantage of it most of the time because melee is so much better than offensive magic, but it's there.

  12. Yes, Siriadne is a dragon. The IBM conversion is the worst way to see this game (try Apple II).

    The variable spell power gets around the typical RPG magic syndrome where there are 100 spells, but really just 10 and the rest are variations (minor healing, serious healing, major healing, yada yada yada). And it introduces a tactical element because its kind of like deciding how much you want to bet from your stash on a spell.

  13. I tried (and failed) the gem test several times and now it doesn't appear at all. It wasn't clear whether I was supposed to write one letter, or all four in succession, or the word of the color - all variants ended in failure. What's more, the song doesn't say anything about violet - it has two blues. I guess I'll chalk this up to sloppy conversion? Ugh. Trying to reset dungeons gets me a 'I'm not feeling well #76' error - assuming the GoG/Dosbox conversion didn't factor in dungeon resetting.

    Frustrating, as I spent a lot of time trying to get the win here. I should replay it on Apple 2 I suppose, but the thought of grinding back up and earning the thousands of gold to buy magic items etc. doesn't really appeal to me.

    The variable spell points thing is cool, as others have noted. The proto Gold Box combat is pretty good, although it's weird to have facing implemented yet no repercussions in terms of attack multipliers for backstabs etc.

    The numbers felt stacked against me in certain ways. A low level enemy wizard can get a lucky one-shot kill with a Flame Strike, e.g., and at lower levels you may not be able to get a resurrect to succeed even with max spell points. So then it's off to the healers which can cost several hundred gold, much more than you earned fighting the wizard. You also need to dump a lot of money into resting at inns, as camping outdoors is practically useless (you get back like 5 spell points each time). And the RNG is such that you are hesitant to take a step for fear of triggering another combat. These issues leveled off as I got more powerful, but the final dungeon was still a slog, and again, the fear of triggering another combat disincentivized exploration (such that I missed the gem puzzle in the corner of the room until I read about it here... shame on me). At the very ended I resorted to a bit of save scumming - I just didn't have the mana points to deal with yet another party of Devils/Fire Demons/Archmages or whatever.

    It is interesting that the power curve potentially goes so high for your party - if the manual is accurate, you can get up to level 20. But I really wouldn't want to grind 12 million experience points...

    An interesting but frustrating experience. Guess I'll table it for now.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.