As we saw, my first attempt to play a French CRPG wasn't exactly a rousing success. I didn't give up because it was a foreign game, and I didn't give up because I didn't have a manual. I gave up because of the combination of the two. Unfortunately, I'm facing the same issue with Le Maitre des Ames.
Translation isn't a huge problem. The game begins with several screens explaining the game's historique. It speaks of a forgotten time of heroes--warriors and wizards--in a realm of unicorns. A royal wizard named Kharram Akkad, on the verge of extraordinary discoveries, disappeared during a violent storm. The player's party of four heroes observed the destruction and has decided to assail the wizard's keep to...well, to figure out what happened, I guess. It's a basic setup to what looks like a standard dungeon crawl in the spirit of Dungeon Master--multiple-character, first-person, real-time.
Character creation was also fairly easy to figure out. It uses a system reminiscent of Alternate Reality: the City in which you watch a rapidly-changing succession of numbers from 0-100 representing six characteristics: life, strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, and charisma. You hit the spacebar to "freeze" the numbers and take what you get.
The game conflates classes and races, so you can choose your four characters from among warriors, magicians, clerics, thieves, dwarves, and elves. After making the selection, you spend a random amount of gold on some weapons and armor.
After creating four of the characters, you find yourself in a badly-colored dungeon. These screenshots are easily familiar to players of American first-person CRPGs.
This is where I began to run into trouble. All commands are via the mouse, except for the number pad from which you can control movement. Right-clicking and left-clicking do different things depending what icon you have selected. As best as I can figure, from top to bottom, they are: move, look, listen, don't know because "talk" is below--maybe "eat?", sleep, pick up or trade items, open doors (usually doesn't work--maybe they need keys), talk, attack, and save/load the game. The problem is, I get inconsistent results when I click/right-click on various characters and objects.
The characters have little symbols next to them, too, and I think one indicates whether the character is in the party (it seems you can drop characters and have them wait at fixed positions) and the other indicates who is the "active" character.
Naturally, you encounter creatures. The first couple of times, I bumbled through combat with them:
But later I tried talking to them and discovered something pretty neat: you can converse with monsters over all sorts of subjects: "Who are you?"; "Who is your master?"; "Where is your kingdom?" and so on. You can even ask them to join you!
At first, their responses were gibberish to me...
...but as a sly veteran of CRPGs, I realized that the intelligence of the active character made a difference. I switched to my wizard, and the foreign writing disappeared! Well...I mean, the in-game foreign writing disappeared. It was still in French.
Here, I'm asking him something about carrion, and he's telling me that I can't leave because of something to do with something reptilian. This is going to be hard.
By the way: "orc" in French is apparently orque. I probably could have figured that out.
Even though there's a lot I don't know yet, such as...
- Why can't I pass a lot of the doors?
- Why would I want to dislodge one of my characters from the party temporarily?
- How do I access my inventory?
- Can I do anything with the tables, shields-on-walls, and crates found in the game?
- Do killed monsters drop anything? How do I search?
- What is that face up above my game window? And what is the empty box next to it?
- Is there anything more to combat than just selecting "combattre" each round?
- How do I cast spells?
...I think I can figure it out, given time. The major problem I'm having is that the game won't save. Like many games of the era, it wants me to swap out the "game" disk with a "save" disk when I choose the save option, which of course doesn't make sense running it in an emulator. Most of the time I can find a way around this, but not with Le Maitre des Ames, yet.
My attempts to find a game manual--even in French--have failed, and my French definitely isn't good enough to peek around in message boards looking for solutions to the technical problem. (It doesn't help the Googling that there's a novel of the same name by an author named Irene Nemirovsky.) Georges, I'd be glad to take up your offer of assistance; likewise to any of my European readers. [Later Edit: Jason got me the manual, and I solved the save problem by mounting an A: drive in DOSBox. Looks like I have no excuse not to give this one a proper try!]
If I can get past the save issue and the gameplay mysteries, this might be a game worth playing. Certainly this depth of dialog is unusual in a first-person dungeon-crawler, and I really would like to explore it more.
I might take tomorrow off for family reasons, so Joyeux Noël, everyone!