Monday, January 24, 2011

Game 41: The Seven Spirits of Ra (1987)

Not many games feature an Egyptian setting.
The Seven Spirits of Ra
United States
Macrocom (developer); Sir-Tech (publisher)
Released in 1987 for DOS
Date Started: 23 January 2011
The Seven Spirits of Ra starts you, the Pharaoh Osiris, in the midst of an unwinnable battle against the minions of Set, the "god of darkness." The game explains that Set "envied the love the people held for their good king" and used his priest, Harumheb, to somehow deceive Osiris's guards into killing him. (From the screen shot, it looks like it happens on a boat.) Harumheb then sliced up Osiris's body and scattered the pieces across the land, where they were devoured by birds and beasts.

Osiris, having been "deprived of the rites of burial," is now a wandering "ka spirit" who must "gain the attributes of the creatures who consumed his body" in order to enter the Land of the Dead and "emerge victorious in life beyond death." An unusual setup for sure.

I haven't found a manual so far, so I'm just feeling my way through the game. Fortunately, hitting F1 brings up a help menu with the game's commands, including (d)rop, (e)nter, (p)ick up an item, (r)ead, (s)tatus display, (t)ransform, and (w)eapon select. Movement is with the numeric keypad.

This has a very "Atari-ish" feel.

I start off next to a pyramid, clad only in some kind of skirtish thing, under the blazing sun. Buzzards swoop in and attack, and my own attacks seem ineffective (perhaps because I do not yet have a weapon). Although my health seems to continually regenerate, one of them kills me, and one of seven little "man" icons at the bottom of the screen disappears. That's right: this is a CRPG in which you have "lives."

Near the pyramid is a strange symbol on the ground. When I stand upon it and "read" it, I am presented with some sort of odd hieroglyphic:

This would appear to be Anubis next to a giant playing card depiciting a cheerleader creating a spirit tower out of a beetle holding up the sun. I guess I'd better save these screenshots in case they become important later.

No matter how fanciful the setting, every CRPG has you fighting rats at the beginning.

Sick of being bedeviled by buzzards, I escape into the Pyramid of Manu, "where fire is kept, yet warmth is not." I am immediately assailed by rats and snakes, against whom my hand attacks prove effective. I am able to pick up their little skulls, but I don't know why. Soon, a couple of flickering ghosts (interesting graphics effect) come along and prove unaffected by my karate, so I must flee. I really need to find a weapon.

Indiana Jones's personal hell.

Another nearby pyramid features so many snakes and ghosts that I don't stand a chance. All of my little men are soon gone. The game tells me I have been taken to "The Pits of Abot, where souls are cast forever into the lake of fire." Although apparently, "there is no escape from this place," it allows me to keep playing, so I assumed there must be an escape somewhere. After exploring for a few minutes, though, I must conclude that no, there is in fact no way out of hell. I restart.

Nice job with the lake of fire and demons, though.

All right. Let's deal with the "attack" graphic right away. The quick video below shows a few seconds of gameplay, with me attacking some rats. I won't linger on what it seems to depict, but I will say that the developers could probably have chosen a better animation.

I decided to try to explore the extent of the game map and found that it is 48 steps north-south and 127 steps east-west. The game can't quite figure out whether it's two- or three-dimensional, so you have things shaped like pyramids, but laid down flat (I can't walk behind them), and on the northern edge of the map, where I finally see the sky, I'm blocked from moving further by--well, the sky, I guess.

I'm having uncomfortable flashbacks to Frogger.

In the far southwest corner, across a river of crocodiles, I finally found a sword. It helped a lot with the buzzards and other assorted nasties. I thought to clear the map of them, but they seem to respawn. The game gives me points for every monster I slay as part of my overall "score"; I don't know if this actually does anything for me.

Even with the sword, combat is rather boring: I simply hold down the SPACE bar and wave my sword back and forth until my enemy dies, or until I run out of so much health that I have to retreat. Since you don't really seem to gain any benefit (other than the "score") for killing enemies, and since they respawn like mad, there seems little reason not just to hold down the space bar and run through them (they can't block you), killing them if you're lucky but not worrying about it if you aren't.

There are three pyramids on this opening map: Manu, Hetsahpet, and one that seems to have an entrance in the middle, so I don't know how to reach it. The pyramids are full of snakes, mummies, ghosts, and rats, and all of them respawn with exceeding swiftness. Fortunately, there are occasional potions scattered about that fully heal me.

Osiris in the City of Tombs

Battling through the Pyramid of Manu, I found myself in the City of Tombs, where I was assaulted by demons along with the previously-mentioned creatures. In one corner, I found a mass of rats. One of them was flashing, and when I killed him, I had the ability to transform myself into a rat. I guess I have 1/7 of my soul. This ability allowed me to creep down corridors that had previously been too small, and I found some other objects, including a staff (an alternate weapon that allows me to shoot fireballs, though it's tough to aim, and I hurt myself if they explode too close), something that looks like a statue of a cat, and several things that look like gold bricks.
Also in the City of Tombs, I ran into some guy that looks like Anubis. He has a riddle for me:
I really hope this is a riddle, discoverable within the game, and not some kind of copy protection.

The Seven Spirits of Ra
was published by Sir-Tech (the creators of Wizardry) and developed by a company called Macrocom. To call it "obscure" would be an understatement. Neither the game nor the company has a Wikipedia entry, and it does not appear that there is a single "Let's Play" or walkthrough online (though in the past, my readers have been good about digging up things I haven't). MobyGames waxes on about the developer's graphic techniques, which apparently used some programming tricks to squeeze more color out of the CGA standard than should have been possible, but obviously it's hard to get excited about that now.

MobyGames also has an interview with the developers, Rand Bohrer and Neal White III, who come across as cool guys but otherwise don't offer many clues as to the game. For such a limited game, it hardly seems like the lack of a game manual should be crippling, but given how often I get slaughtered, and my lack of ideas about how to use the various items I've found, I can't imagine I'm not missing something.

In any event, I can't really see this as a CRPG. I have to stop accepting MobyGames's word for such things. Its predecessor, ICON: Quest for the Ring, seems to have identical gameplay but is not listed as a CRPG. Granted, I was recently very flexible about what constitutes a CRPG, but I have to draw the line at games that feature "lives." There appears to be no attributes, character development, or leveling, and combat is all action-based. It is, at best, an "adventure game."

Still, there's some interesting stuff here, including the setting, the ability to transform into animals, and the existence of hell. Most games, when you die, just show you a screen or cut scene saying you're dead and giving you a chance to reload; The Seven Spirits of Ra drops you in an inescapable lake of fire. The interview suggests that the final battle plays out like the duel between Merlin and Madam Mim in The Sword in the Stone, with the foes transforming into various creatures that trump each other.

I'll keep playing a while to see if I can figure my way through the game a little better--and I'd love to hear from anyone else who has played. Otherwise, don't be surprised if this is my one and only posting on the game. [Ed: It was, for a long time, and then I won it over 10 years later.]


Further reading: Over 4 years later, I went and played Macrocom's first RPG: ICON: The Quest for the Ring (1984). And over 10 years later, I took another look at Ra and won it.


  1. I couldn't find anything you didn't on this game. It's an interesting piece of history for sure, but besides not being a CRPG, it doesn't seem much fun to play, unlike Pirates. I say you move on.

  2. Interesting comment about the boss fight. The exact same influence was used in King's Quest 5.

    I'd also suggest not spending too much time with this, unless something about it hooks you.

  3. "MobyGames also has an interview with the developers, Rand Bohrer and Neal White III, who come across as cool guys"

    Heh, never heard of this game or its creators, but they remind me very much of the English developers Gargoyle Games - - of the same era.
    They too were two guys, one programming genius and one visionary, but instead of Egyptian myhology two of their best known games - Tir Na Nog and Dun Darach - are based on Irish mythology.
    These were real time graphic adventure games, but they also made one of the few CRPGs for the ZX Spectrum - Heavy on the Magick. Too bad you restrict yourself to DOS as it would have been highly interesting to see you tackle Heavy on the Magic. I beat at as a kid, but when I tried it again a few years ago I found it viciously difficult.

  4. Also looking forward to Darklands, as I purchased it in a budget combo pack of CD-ROM games in the 90s (mostly because it included Dune 2) and never managed to get hooked by it despite finding it intriguing. It seemed almost too open at the start, which was a bit overwhelming.

  5. Yeah, I'm going to move past this. While I was briefly excited about being the one person on the Internet who's actually played this game through and can show a "won!" screen, it really isn't all that fun--at least, not from a CRPG perspective.

  6. There's a walkthrough of this game in Quest for Clues II (cf or

  7. Buckle in, you've got a whole slate of crazy marginally-what-we-normally-call-a-CRPG stuff going on in the next 4 (although I'd say they at least qualify, unlike this one).

  8. This game sounds not dissimilar to an Egyptian-themed version of the original Zelda, actually. Which some people consider a CRPG, although I very much do not.

  9. Thanks, Ben. I'm moderately tempted to buy it just to see what it says about the ending. You know what? I am going to buy it. It's cheap, used, and it covers a lot of other games coming up. I just have to force myself not to read it until I've finished the games.

  10. Dear CRPG Addict,

    since a long while I have been reading your blogs, and now when getting up to speed again after some holidays I see you had an encounter with the seven spirits of Ra. I happen to have an original copy of that game including a quick reference guide and a manual. The manual is supposed to contain some hints, gives a lot of backstory, and even mentions one of the games creators is a historian. Anyway, If you are interested I could scan the manual and quick reference for you. It's only fair to return a favour after reading so many posts. I have to admit tough, that I never played this game.....

  11. Sha1tan, that's awfully nice of you, but it's unlikely that I'll return to the game, so don't go through a lot of trouble. If you want to scan a couple of vital pages and include the link in the comments here, so that other readers could see it, that would be cool.

    Just before I left on my current trip, I got a used cluebook in the mail that contains information for that game. I was thinking about doing a supplemental post once I looked it over.

  12. The 2d-3d mixing could be a tribute to ancient Egyptian art, which had no concept of depth or perspective.

    Sorry about the spelling and grammer errors in recent posts: I read your blog on my phone, and post from it.

  13. Good point. It does look a little hieroglyphic.

    I wish I could pretend I was posting from my phone to excuse all of the errors in the postings themselves.

  14. Hey Capt. Addict,

    Started playing this tonight. I got it complete in the box for $8 off ebay. It's a fun little game so far. I think I'm 2/7 of the way done with it. I can change into a rat and into an alligator. I solved one of the riddles, but haven't solved the one you posted.

    I thought DEATH was something you needed for Immortality. It kinda mentions that in the instructions, but I haven't given them a good read yet. It's actually a pretty thick instruction manual for a little action game!

    I found the sword, the staff (which is cool cuz when you're aiming the enemies stop, it also shoots diagonally), some glove (?), a ring and 3 gold bars. As I said, I can change into an alligator and a rat at this point.

    This game reminds me of the Sega Master Game WONDER BOY III. The premise of that game is also that you must change into different creatures to beat levels or boards. I hope to dive more into this tomorrow, but I am kind of saddened that I am 2/7 of the way done with the game and I only played for under an hour.

    Thanks for everything, and I'll be sure to let you know when I figure out what is needed for immortality :)

    Good luck in your recovery! One day at a time!

    Regards from Ohio,

  15. This was my favourite game back in the day. Here's a link to the manual, in the form of zipped scans (I uploaded this myself a few years ago).

    1. Thanks for all readers that follow. That would have been helpful to me when I was playing.

  16. The Quest For Clues series is basically the greatest game-assistance publication run of all time. Quest For Clues II is singlehandedly responsible for me actually being able to beat Wasteland despite being too young to have any business being able to do so!

    (And surely the heart is what is needed for immortality, per the "scales of death in the afterlife weighing your heart against a feather" thing? Or maybe that is too obvious)

  17. The Seven Spirits of Ra starts you, the Pharaoh Osiris, in the midst of an unwinnable battle against the minions of Set, the "god of darkness."

    Not sure whether this is the game getting it wrong, or you misunderstanding it due to not having a manual, but Osiris wasn't a pharaoh; he was the god of the underworld. The bit about his being torn into pieces by Set is straight out of Egyptian mythology, though in the myths it was more than seven pieces; it was his wife and sister Isis who gathered the pieces rather than the spirit of Osiris himself; and only one of his pieces was eaten by an animal (a catfish, to be specific). That piece he never did get back, so after his resurrection Osiris remained incomplete and, er, possibly a soprano.

    (The identification of Set as an evil god of darkness was a relatively late development in Egyptian mythology, but that seems to be how he's always depicted nowadays... apparently because he makes a convenient villain.)

    1. I don't remember what the game said, but I don't think either of us "got it wrong." The Egyptians made little distinction between god and pharaoh, especially during the mythological age, and Osiris is commonly depicted as a pharaoh. Moreover, in his myth, he doesn't become god of the underworld until AFTER he's killed by Set.

    2. True, according to some versions of the myth, he doesn't become god of the underworld until after Set kills him and Isis brings him back, but he was certainly still a god before that, just not the god of the underworld. While the ancient Egyptians did sometimes deify pharaohs, that doesn't mean they didn't distinguish between gods and pharaohs, and it just strikes me as very odd to refer to Osiris as a "Pharaoh".

      Then again, I'm not an expert in Egyptian myths, and in any case I don't suppose it matters much; I doubt anyone played this game to learn about Egyptian mythology.

  18. I can't help but agree with the caption you put under the third picture: it looks and sounds like an Atari game, not a 1987 CRPG. Still, the ability to turn into different animals is pretty cool. So is anyone going to reveal what happens at the end?

    1. I would not say it is 2600 bad. The pixels aren't large enough and there are two many colours. Might be an early NES game?

    2. I'm about to play the team's first game, ICON: The Quest for the Ring, and I may give Seven Spirits another chance when it comes around again on my list.

      But no, Canageek--and you seem to be actually going backwards--this was entirely developed for DOS. The MobyGames link has some good information.

    3. I didn't mean literally; I just meant in terms of colour palette and graphics quality.

      I'm reading forwards on my desktop computer, and catching up on the last year of comments on my phones, if that explains things. It is amazing how much less time I've had in the last 8 months since getting a girlfriend...

  19. So I played this game a ton when I was a kid but never could get past the cave level where I reach the 4 armed demon looking thing (I think it's Isis but IDK). It just tells me that I've not learned the lesson of material wealth and boots me to "the City of the Toms". I've already got the Croc, vulture, rat, snake, and bat along with a slew of gold pieces and a glove. Perhaps I'm missing something. Anyone have advice? Sure would be nice to finally close this chapter of my life ;) .

  20. This was also one of my faves back in the day! I just ran through it on and it took me under an hour to get to the point Micah described, and then DosBox glitched out. I've never gotten past that either, but I'd guess that since the game gives you the ability to drop items, perhaps you need to drop some or all of that treasure... BTW, for folks playing this for the first time - if you transform into the snake, you can't be hurt by rats or bats, but you can kill them.


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