"In times beyond memory, people fought for their lives in a world where monsters and magicians held sway in places of power and mystery. In those days, heroic adventurers went forth on perilous journeys to prove their courage against their foes in battles to the death. They were called...SORCERIAN." (I'm not sure if that's a noun or adjective.)
I have a confession to make that will probably turn off some of my readers: I hate Japanese animation. Hate it, hate it, hate it. This is nothing against the Japanese. It's not a racial thing. I have known and loved many Japanese people. I just wish they wouldn't try to draw stuff.
It's not really even the totality of the animation that I hate; it's mostly just the faces, and hair. I'm talking about this:
These images make my physically ill. Why? I don't know why. It's not like they all look the same, but all of them are incontestably Japanese (in style, not in ethnicity). It's something to do with the eyes, noses, and chins--and definitely the hair. (Are there no short-haired men in Japan?) Maybe it's because anime characters never really look Japanese: they look like Caucasians drawn by people who don't spend much time around Caucasians. Maybe it's the odd agelessness of the characters, so that female figures you're supposed to be attracted to look uncannily like children. Maybe it's just the fact that no one actually looks like this, and yet there's an entire industry devoted to churning out these images. Whatever the cause, thankfully this paragraph is now long enough that the preceding image has been pushed off the top of the screen and I no longer have to look at it.
The one in the lower right is from Sorcerian, so you can imagine that this game--along with scores of others--is going to be a bit of a problem for me right at the get-go. Thankfully, in this case the graphics quality is poor enough that I can't really see the anime influence except in the character portrait.
All right. That's out of the way.
Sorcerian is an odd offering: a PC game that looks like a console game. It is part of the Dragon Slayer series of games developed by Nihon Falcom for Japanese PCs (although some were ported to Nintendo, they are, despite their appearance, originally PC games). The series includes eight games, plus expansion packs, from 1984-1995, but Sorcerian is the only one to receive a DOS or (western) PC release. The original game was made in 1987, but the DOS port comes from 1990.
Before anyone has fits at the screen shot above, I should mention that the game is inescapably a CRPG. It might be an "action-RPG," but it has levels and character classes and inventories and experience, and all the other trappings of a CRPG. If I exclude this one, I have to exclude Diablo later. I will allow, however, that action CRPGs, which depend a lot on graphics and sound, don't age quite as well as regular CRPGs, which depend more on tactics and story. In this, Sorcerian shares much with the game I just abandoned after my six-hour minimum: The Seven Spirits of Ra. Both feature combat by mashing down the SPACE bar. In Sorcerian, doing so controls four characters at once, some of whom have swords and axes, some of whom have staves that shoot spells, but it's no less banal in its tactics.
You begin by creating a party of up to four characters, male or female, of one of four classes: fighter, wizard, dwarf, and elf. (This is the second recent game to conflate races and classes; the other was Le Matire des Ames.) You are assigned seven attributes: strength, protection, vitality, karma (basically charisma), intelligence, magic resistance, and dexterity, and you can allocate a pool of 3-5 bonus points to customize these attributes. Oddly, the attributes can be negative numbers; my dwarf above is so dumb he actually has a negative intelligence. All characters start at age 16, which would have been cool when I was 16 but seems kind of creepy now.
After character creation, you take your characters to the town to purchase weapons, armor, and shields (fighters and dwarves) or staves, robes, and rings (elves and magicians). Other features of the town that you don't use until after your first mission are the magician (enchants items with spells), the herbalist (mixes reagents into potions; sells potions), the temple (resurrects the dead and allows you to build karma through confession and prayer), the elder's house (identifies magic items), the throne room (advances levels), and the training field (ups your attributes at the expense of years). The "musician's guild" exists, as far as I can tell, only to give you a sample of the different songs in the game, none of which I can get to play through my speakers.
After that, it's a simple matter of heading out on a quest. There are, from what I can tell, 15 different quests to play, organized in three "scenarios." I don't think there's an ultimate "main quest," and thus no way to "win" the game, although I suppose I'd call it winning if you complete all 15 adventures. Still, the lack of an ultimate goal frees me from what I consider any obligation to play through all 15. I'll play it until I get sick of it.
I created a fighter (Fai-Tar), a dwarf (Da-War), an elf (Sil-Bani), and a wizard (Wii-Sar) and headed off into the first scenario. I've videoed a bit of it so you can see what it looks like to play:
The quest involves finding the royal scepter from the ouks in a dank cavern. I led my party somewhat randomly through the doors until I found a wounded adventurer named Goran who had been on the same quest. He told me I would need two invisible crystals to drain a room of acid and, later, a jewel to put in the hands of a demon statue.
The crystals, being invisible, were a bit of a pain to find, but Goran's clues helped. I then had to find a jewel in one demon statue and transfer it to a couple of others. It was a lot of trial-and-error and backtracking (lots of backtracking).
I had to contend with a variety of creatures, escape traps, and solve a couple of light puzzles that involved putting a blue stone from one place into another, and pouring water from one jug into another. There was at least one hidden switch that made a door appear, and a couple of holes that didn't look like doors but actually were, and two hydra-looking things that gave a lot of experience points (alas, they, unlike the other creatures on the level, did not respawn) but didn't seem to be guarding anything more valuable than an herb.
By the time it was all over, I wasn't entirely sure what I had done, but I had the scepter, a new long sword, and some more herbs. A return visit to Goran's cave found him gone (or dead) but his axe left behind.
When you return to town, you get the results of your quest, including items, gold, and experience...
...and much like Phantasie, you divide up the plunder among your party, or sell it.
Once I had received my reward of experience and gold from the king, I returned to town and spent some of my loot. I found that the "savory" herb the hydras had been guarding created a resurrection potion, and I was able to create cure and heal potions out of other herbs I had picked up. The elder said that my long sword had a "flame" ability that he could release for 480 gold--way more than I have, so that will have to wait. Finally, I visited the throne room and each of my characters advanced one or two levels.
A few additional notes, because I get the impression that y'all like bullet points:
- Each of your characters has an occupation that apparently he or she engages in when not adventuring. All of them start as farmers, but you can change them based on their levels and statistics. As far as I can tell, the only reason for the occupations is to give the characters annual incomes (years pass quickly in the game), and some of them are mildly amusing. If more were done with these occupations, it could make for an interesting role-playing element. I made my fighter a spy, my dwarf a translator, my elf a dancer, and my wizard an exorcist. I hope there's not a big call for that in the kingdom, though.
- You don't get experience for defeating enemies until you clear out an entire area of them. But even after this happens, they start appearing again almost immediately. I'm not sure there's any way to completely "clear" an area. In a couple of places on the opening scenario, I was swarmed by rats (yes, rats) that respawned so quickly I was never able to even momentarily clear them.
- Hit points and magic points regenerate constantly when standing still, and quite quickly, so combat is about the difficulty of individual battles rather than accumulated battles.
- Enchanting items apparently takes a long time. I had my wizard take his staff in for enchantment, and the magician told him to come back in three years. However, the first scenario took my characters two years to complete, so maybe it won't be so long in real time.
"Morning or afternoon?" "What difference does it make? It's three years!" "Well, the plumber is coming in the morning." Cold War humor. You had to be there.
That's the gist of it. I'll play one or two more scenarios and re-evaluate. I admit to a little impatience because there is some awesome stuff coming up in 1988: Might & Magic II, Pool of Radiance, Ultima V, the first game based on The Lord of the Rings...I'm even looking slightly forward to The Bard's Tale III. But I have to get out of 1987 first.