Saturday, December 25, 2010

Game 36: Legacy of the Ancients (1987)

Those would be Doric columns.
Legacy of the Ancients
United States
Quest Software (developer); Electronic Arts (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1989 for DOS
Date Started: 25 December 2010
Before I get in to Legacy of the Ancients, I should mention that I haven't moved on from Le Maitre des Ames yet. I'm just doing that thing you said you wouldn't mind where I play two games at once. I'm still in the midst of translating the manual for Maitre and getting used to the interface. I think the game has a lot of potential, but it seems a lot like work, and I'm feeling lazy this weekend.

Legacy of the Ancients is the opposite of "work": it is an uncomplicated, plain little game--almost a throwback, really. It uses the same game engine as Questron, the first CRPG I ever played, about 26 years ago. I didn't play it as part of this project because of my PC/DOS restriction--a restriction that has come to feel a bit foolish, since this is yet another game in which the DOS version offers the poorest graphics (you can see a comparison of the C64 and DOS graphics at the game's MobyGames site).

The game starts with the basest character creation possible: I simply name my character (I chose "Lailoken") and the action begins. I play a poor peasant in the land of Tarmalon who one day comes across a dead body on the side of the road. It belongs to a nameless previous adventurer who was in the middle of the quest to destroy a powerful and dangerous magic scroll called the Wizard's Compendium. I loot his body for the Compendium, two jade coins, and his magic bracelet and soon find myself transported to a mysterious building.
"Only a poor peasant" strikes me as uncomfortably classist.
The building is the Museum of the Ancients, an edifice constructed in times of yore by a race of aliens. It is apparently one of many scattered on different worlds. The museums allow the Ancients to view life on different worlds, but they are forbidden from interfering with the worlds' developments (a video monitor warns me not to "feed the Tarmalon natives"); the caretaker of the museum on Tarmalon apparently decided to break this rule.
It's like Might & Magic crossed with Star Trek.
As I continue wandering the hallways, the bracelet begins speaking to me with the voice of the previous owner, charging me to "neutralize the evil Scroll of Spells before it destroys everything!" The rest of the museum is filled with similar monitors that take coins of various denominations. With the two jade coins found on the body, I view exhibits titled "Art of Weaponry," which allows me to take a dagger, and "Thornberry," which tells me about a typical Tarmalon town, in which rich and poor live separated by a stone wall. Having used my last coin on the latter exhibit, I take the exhibit's offer to transport me there.

And thus the game begins. Thornberry is a typical CRPG town, with a weapon and armor shop, a bank, and a transportation shop. Gameplay is isometric, with graphics on par with Ultima IV. Commands are all through the keyboard, with available actions listed on the left side of the screen.

At the food shop, I got a quest to deliver a bag of mail to the town of Big Rapids:

I also found a gambling parlor, where I indulged in a few rounds of blackjack featuring rules I would love to see on my next trip to Atlantic City.
"Natural blackjack pays double! I'm not leaving until--hey, let go of me!"
In the wilderness, I encountered creatures both hostile and friendly. So far, I have fought and killed pulp crawlers, bone dwellers, slash nettles, blistopods, scorpods, ventro flailers, carrion manglers, pit stalkers, venom floaters, and wind stalkers. All slain foes give up gold or items, and some of them can be converted to food--yes, this is another game in which you must maintain a rapidly-dwindling food supply.

Combat is, unfortunately, no more tactical than in Faery Tale Adventure. You just keep mashing "F" until you or the creature dies. There is a magic system in the game, but it reaches all the way back to Ultima I for its inspiration--you buy spells at shops and cast them until they run out, then buy more.

What, exactly, does "psycho strength" mean?
Not all encounters are hostile. I bought some food from a bandit, a museum coin from a farmer, and a potion from a merchant.

As I slay creatures, I don't have any idea if I am developing experience or anything. My level remains firmly fixed at 1. The game manual seems to suggest that the museum caretaker will be the one to level me up, but I haven't figured out how to get back to the museum yet. I did figure out how to develop at least one statistic, though: one of the towns has a neat mini-game in which you have to fend off fireballs.

You do it by simply turning in the direction they're coming from, which sounds easy, but it gets pretty dicey at high levels when multiple fireballs are coming at the same time from multiple directions at different speeds. I did okay my first time out.

I had hoped that each town would feature a different side quest, but apparently they all involve mail delivery to the other towns. Nonetheless, I get about 100 gold pieces for each delivery, and it's an easy way to make money while I explore and figure out my next move.

If it seems like an unexciting game, well it is, a bit. But the mini-games and gambling are a neat touch, and it's a good game to mess around with while I'm supposed to be watching It's a Wonderful Life with my family.

There's a big blizzard approaching New England, and I don't feel like dealing with it, so I managed to get a last-minute ticket to San Diego tomorrow morning. I know my blogging usually falls off when I'm traveling, but this time I don't have any particular business to do, and I'm actually looking forward to the idea of hanging out on my hotel balcony, playing games, and only leaving my room to restock my wet bar. If I have any readers in that city, I'll be glad to meet you for a drink at the Green Flash.

Tomorrow, we'll see what strikes my fancy the most: the interesting-but-difficult foreign game or the slightly-boring-but-simple Legacy of the Ancients.


  1. "I didn't play it as part of this project because of my PC/DOS restriction--a restriction that has come to feel a bit foolish, since this is yet another game in which the DOS version offers the poorest graphics..."

    I think most readers can appreciate the need to draw a line somewhere, given the multitude of titles across computer- and console-based platforms.

    However, if this restriction were softened, such that if a superior version on an alternative platform exists, then that is the one critiqued (e.g., Amiga versions of Dragon Wars, PoR, etc.), or if there is enough clamor to test a CRPG despite it not being written/ported to PC (e.g., Sundog: Frozen Legacy for Atari ST), then there are certainly readers who would be be happy to reduce the amount of time you spend getting an emulator to work 100% to nil or close to, such that you are spending time where it counts and is most valued.

    For example, in my case, I am happy to send you tailored config. files for individual games for the Amiga emulator winUAE.

  2. I too offer to help with c64 emulation, atari st emulation, mega drive or other consoles are very easy.

    I love Legacy of the Ancients, though I prefer its sequel, Legend of Blacksilver for the c64.

  3. I quite like Legacy of the Ancients though it's the C64 version I've played.

    Once you get a bit further you'll explore the castle and the Dungeons which have somewhat different gameplay to what you've played so far. There are also more mini games to play.

    Levelling up only takes place at certain points in the game so I wouldn't worry too much about that just now.

    I'd also be happy to help out with emulation (C64, Amiga, ST) though once you get through the next set of games I think the balance will shift to the PC being the best (or only) platform of choice.

  4. the C64 version kicked ass for LotA, and Questron I. Combat is more tactical than 'F', since you need the right weapon for each enemy otherwise it makes it harder :)

    shame you don't play the C64 version, but once you hit questron 2 you'll be in EGA mode. But you'll miss out on the excellent Legend of Blacksilver (I dont think they did a dos port).

    Legacy of the Ancients also picks up as you go further into the game, so dont despair.

    its one of my favs on the c64.

  5. Even if graphics don't influence gameplay, I agree you should play the best version, especially if it is the one the designers originally intended and then the port is a downgrade. You make your own rules after all and can alter them a bit if it makes it more enjoyable for you.

    Then again, as others said, you'll soon be out of the 80s computer range...

  6. Thanks for your offers, everyone. I probably won't change platforms for LOTA, only because I've already invested time in this save game. But I'll look at upcoming games, and if there's the same quality discrepancy, I might give it a try.

  7. At least that won't be a concern until Phantasie III; Mission: Mainframe and Nethack are ASCII roguelikes. (And the PC version of Pirates! looks pretty good, but it's as much a CRPG as First Expedition was.)

  8. You're going to have to indulge me on a single entry for "Pirates!" I know it can't be justified as a CRPG, but it appeared on MobyGames's list, and I'm eager to play it again for the nostalgia value.

  9. I'm kinda playing along with you...just finished LoTA and LoBS last week. I'm waiting to see some nice pics of the dungeons from you and maybe a hair pulling dissertation as your "superb" weapon breaks. :(

  10. You know, that did happen--with the bull-looking monster called a "Knuckles"--but I had a backup that was almost as good, so it didn't bother me. What annoyed me more was the giant slug dissolving my plate mail just after I purchased it.

    You're not playing with me--you're playing faster than me!

  11. I think these graphics look quite nice, actually..


  12. I would second the recommendations to give Legend of Blacksilver (on C64 via an emulator a try). I still go back and play that every few years - definitely my favorite from that era.

  13. This is another of my favorites. It is very simplistic, but I love the concept of the museum and the mini-games are also a lot of fun. My characters always had really high Endurance scores. It came from having lots of practice playing Cosmic Ark on the Atari 2600. :) Too bad you won’t be playing Legend Of Blacksilver. I did not even know there was a sequel until recently but I played most of that one and it is at least as good as LOTA.

    BTW, hi Helm! Funny we should cross paths here, though you probably won’t see this comment. I’m nearly caught up in my reading of old posts.

    1. Also loved LoTA as a kid on my C128. Especially loved the ending. Pretty well developed for that time. Didn't know LoBS was a sequel. Might need to fire up an emulator.

  14. Considering the DOS port was released in 1989, it's inexcusable for it to have inferior graphics to the Commodore 64.

  15. Wow, I had this game when I was a kid. I couldnt make heads or tails of it and never accomplished anything though I did enjoy the mini-games. In my defense I was 8. I could never remember the name of this game and could barely remember it at all but once I saw that opening screen and the looting of the body and the museum I remembered! Thanks for the nostalgia.

  16. Legacy of the Ancients. I remember it being pretty decent, but there was some annoyance and difficulty in finishing it for me.

    I remember the need for so much food was extremely annoying, since we have seemingly passed that threshold in RPGs before that and this one felt like a step backwards.

    But it had that early Ultima feel and I can remember trying to loot chests in towns.

    The game came with one of the infamous copy protection wheels, with some kind of symbols on it. I have good memories of it, but don't think I ever got more than 2 thirds the way through it.

  17. I really loved Legacy of the Ancients back in the day. I cut my CRPG teeth on Wizardry and The Bard's Tale, and it was just nice to play a game that wasn't the equivalent of random, sustained beatings. Given that I was in high school at the time, and had recently discovered that there were other compelling things to vainly pursue besides digital amulets, LotA hit a sweet spot for me.

    The graphics and sound were also pretty great for the time (at least on my trusty C=64 -- the DOS version looks about as hideous as every other CGA game), and the variety of the minigames broke up the usual dungeon crawling monotony nicely.

    I'll probably go back to LotA after I finally finish #@%$ Bard's Tale. I have high hopes that this isn't yet another of those things that I remember fondly from my naive youth, but that turn out to have actually been crap all along.

    Pity I wasn't a reader in late 2010. I'd have happily chatted about old school orc-slaying over a gimlet or two at the Flash.

    1. You'll probably still like it. Youthful fondness goes a long way to removing a game's flaws. I agree with you on the mini-games; they're probably the best part of the whole Questron/Legacy series.

      A San Diego reader, huh? I was just there a few months ago. I usually stay at the Best Western up at PB, and the Green Flash is one of my favorite restaurants in the country. If you happen to stop by, tell Brooke and Joe that the bald guy who orders the gimlets says hello.

    2. Y'know, I've lived in San Diego for almost 25 years, two of that in PB proper, and I've somehow never eaten at the Green Flash. Of course, that was way down the other end of PB from my house. If I set out that way, by the time I was halfway to the beach I'd usually forgotten where/who I was.

      When I do eventually make it down there, I'll be certain to tell them that Hairless Gimlet Man sent me.

  18. This game will always be one of my low-key favorites, even though both times I was on track to beat the game my hard drive catastrophically failed and I lost everything, and I could not bring myself to do it a third time, even years later.

    As Keir said, the mini-games and the museum dynamic really livened the game up, and the overall simplicity kept it easy to keep playing rather than getting bogged down in something. I even tried to buy the original cover art to the game a few years back ... only to find that the curator of the CRPG Museum had beaten me to it. Though happily that was what led me to try to track down the Wasteland box art, which led to me brokering the sale to Brian Fargo instead, which needless to say was the better choice.

    1. "This game will always be one of my low-key favorites, even though both times I was on track to beat the game my hard drive catastrophically failed and I lost everything, and I could not bring myself to do it a third time, even years later."

      That is me and Baldur's Gate. I didn't try again until this year. I should finish it off (I stopped and got into Assasins's Creed 2, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. I'll be losing access to the Xbox next Tuesday as I move to the west coast)

  19. I had a C64 for years before I got hold of the C1541 disk drive -- they were somewhat rare in the UK -- and with it came a bunch of disk games, including Legacy of the Ancients. I remember playing it a little and for some reason not being able to get out of the Museum. I also remember trying again and finding the disk to be corrupted, so I never got to see what was beyond the Museum!

  20. I really enjoy your blog! Legacy of the Ancients is one of those nostalgic games for me (C64 version) that has kept a hold on me because of its unique museum-world-portal treatment. The idea of the Ancients not being able to affect the worlds they watch must be inspired by Marvel Comics' The Watcher. The mini-games and simple play were the right mix of just enough charm and challenge.

  21. Someone created a tabletop campaign and player's guide for this setting for 5th Edition D&D (financed in 2019 through kickstarter, with the involvement of the original authors:


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