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 spirt" 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.
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.
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.
Another nearby pyramid features so many snakes and ghosts that I don't stand a chance. All of my litte 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.
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.
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 I 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.
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. It's 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.
Further reading: Over 4 years later, I went and played Macrocom's first RPG: ICON: The Quest for the Ring (1984).