Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sorcerian: Three More Quests, Final Rating

Encountering Zeus seems a little much for Level 2 characters.

I played through three more Sorcerian quests today--enough to feel like I got the gist of the game. Although I allow that it's CRPG "enough," it's not my kind of game.

I wasn't sure whether to progress to the second quest in the first group or the first quest in the second group. I tried the former and it proved rather difficult, so I theorized that within the three groups, the first quests are of uniform difficulty. This proved to be the case. In fact, the first quests of groups 2 and 3 were much easier than the first quest of group 1.


In "The Master of the Dark Marsh," I was commissioned by a worried father to rescue his daughter from a dragon. The dragon, assuming the form of a human, had tricked the girl into eloping with him. When I found her, she had (for some reason) been transformed into a giant bullfrog.

Next quest, we get Jack-and-the-Beanstalk. This game is quite a melange of themes.

Professing her love for the dragon, she was reluctant to accept my help, but I gradually gathered the ingredients to make a potion--incidentally slaying her fiancé in the process--and ultimately convinced her to drink it. Her father rewarded me with a "Coin of Joy" that got me 200 experience when I gave it to the king.


"The Garden of the Gods" was a short series of fetch-and-carry missions for Greek Gods. The mortals below hired me to figure out why Zeus suddenly started tossing lightning bolts at them.

An atheist is born.

I found Zeus in his throne room after bribing his guard with a bottle of wine, but he immediately tossed me back to the earth.


Some seeds I had found soon sprouted into a beanstalk, which I used to climb up and visit other gods. Hephaestus wanted a Seed of Flame from Apollo, who wanted to know what would win Aphrodite's heart. Dionysus had the answer (a red fruit) but wanted a bottle of wine for his trouble, which I got from Hephaestus. Finally, I had to recruit a young harp player (the game would only allow me three characters in this scenario just for this purpose) to play Aphrodite's harp for Zeus so he'd chill out. Calmer, Zeus told me he got angry because his priestess, Adana, stole a bracelet that granted her immortality.

Adana looks a bit like Figment.

I defeated Adana, returned the bracelet to Zeus, and got the expected gold and experience for my efforts. The scenario only lasted about 20 minutes and was still a bit tiresome.

Neither of these two scenarios put much emphasis on combat. Both had a couple of screens that swarmed me with creatures, but the odds of defeating all of them (some of them flew) seemed so remote, and the experience rewards so paltry, that I really didn't bother--I just ran past them.

"Whadda you got?"

After the gods, I took a break to train my characters in various skills. Training takes a couple of years, so you don't want to do it very frequently, but I dispersed skill in item identification, monster identification, trap identification, and combat among them.

Wow. That's original.

My third quest of the day (my fourth total) was "The Lost Talisman," in which a talisman with the power to control the weather had been stolen from an evil wizard named Destru. My "monster identification" skill immediately came in handy, since I otherwise would never have guessed that these creatures attacking me--who look the same size as me--are "hill giants."

"Talk like this."

One of my characters (the elf) died fighting Destru, but the resurrection potion worked, and...you know what? I'm bored even writing this. Trust me, it's not worth playing except as a historical curio. Better games await you, and me.

I read through a walkthrough by some chap styling himself dammit9x. The other quests seem largely more of the same--particularly fetching and carrying with large amounts of backtracking. Naturally, they get more difficult, and as your characters age, they run the risk of dying in their sleep. The walkthrough confirms my suspicion that there's no real "end" to the game. In fact, in the Japanese PC version, the number of scenarios eventually increased to 50. You'd have to really love the game.

A quick GIMLET:

The game world is undistinguished fantasy fare. It combines so many themes from literature, mythology, and fairy tales, it really doesn't seem to know what it's about. Your actions have so little lasting effects that you can keep replaying the same scenarios (2). Character creation and development are limited, but there are interesting elements with the occupations and the skills. Managing the aging process adds a unique challenge to long-term players, and the skill system is mildly interesting. Fighters seem a bit overbalanced at the beginning (3). There are a number of NPCs, but your interaction consists of just listening to them and occasionally saying "yes" or "no" (2).

Since I need you to finish the quest, I guess that's a "yes." That's some serious role-playing.

The encounters are mostly lame, but I like that each level has a "boss," and defeating him gets you a cool XP reward; no real role-playing opportunities that I could see, though. Though I usually like respawning, I don't like immediate, constant respawning (3). Magic and combat are extremely basic; you set your favored weapon or spell and then just hold down ENTER or SPACE to cast and attack; there are virtually no tactics, and you can just run away from most monsters (1).

Trying to jump around and defeat these rock-tossing buzzards is more work than its worth.

You are limited to a basic selection of equipment, but you do find one or two useful upgrades every quest (4), and the ability to enchant the items with spells adds a nice touch and ensures that the economy never grows stale; you can always use more money for upgrades and training (5). There is no main quest, but the game consists of 15 side-quests, all of which have a clear objective and several sub-side-quests. You can "role-play" these only to the extent that you can choose not to give the quest item to the king or the gods and instead keep it for yourself (4).

I didn't know where else to put this picture of me climbing a vine.

The graphics are very dated. I'm not usually much of a graphics guy, but I have to hold action CRPGs to a higher standard, as graphics are half the point. Sound is also very primitive. The controls are easy enough to grasp, although it's somewhat annoying that "jump" and "use" (to go through doors and talk to people) use the same control (2). Finally, the gameplay is very linear within the quests, with no role-playing opportunities or real replayability. The quests are, mercifully, quite quick (2).

The final score of 28 seems about right. I liked it marginally more than Mission: Mainframe, but not enough to keep playing when there was no way to "win." Incidentally, every time I rank something in my spreadsheet these days, I scan backwards and see Swords of Glass sitting there with its paltry 27. Swords of Glass feels like the girlfriend I dumped too soon over a misunderstanding. I should have given it more of a chance.

Oh, well. On to Star Saga. Never played it, never heard of it, have no idea what to expect.

12 comments:

  1. Hey, I finally got around to creating a google account, I had been previously signing anonymously as Glass2099 (composed from part experience I had in London, UK, and part harkening back to when Marvel began making year 2099 versions of their superheroes, e.g. Spiderman 2099), but Giauz (gE-awes) is the name I came up with for my Fighter back in 2008 when I picked up Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (for GameBoy Advance).

    Signing up to post in forums and blogs can be a pain, but since this is my favorite site lately next to cracked.com and unrealitymag.com I figured why not.

    About your scoring problem, I think whenever a situation like this where you believe you gave an earlier game the raw deal you should mark it for a quick/partial replay at the end of the current listed release year starting with the end of 1987. I feel that you needed to experience these later games to better refine the grading curve of your admittedly somewhat subjective GIMLET scoring system. Hope this might help rest your conscience.

    PS. Is it too early to call dibs on having my profile name as a Fighter's name in Pool of Radience (either in that or in The Magic Candle as I am quite excited to see what you think of that game which many crpg enthusiasts have 'waxed' over. Ha!)?

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  2. Star Saga may be a multiplayer RPG. It should be playable alone. I've no idea how well that works.

    The Home of the Underdogs site with working downloads has a thirty-megabyte documentation pack, which includes a program to turn the game into Play-By-Email.The full documentation seems absolutely necessary, regardless of how the game is played.

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  3. Giauz, you sure have been hitting me with the superlatives lately, so I'll be glad to give you a shout-out when I get to POR. But no way am I going back to Swords of Glass. My regret isn't that significant.

    Anon, I found the HotU site just as you were posting this. Thanks! Anyone want to play Star Saga with me by e-mail? (The correct answer is "no.")

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  4. Hey man, don't know if you'll read this since it's like weeks past but this game is more along the lines of Metroidvanias (like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) more than a standard hack and slash RPGs.

    Anyway, it's a shame that you couldn't get the music to work because they're one of the draws of the game, although the English PC version screwed up half of the songs by playing them in the wrong areas for some reason.

    Also, there IS an end-game. After completing all 15 missions, a new mission called "Fight Dragon" appears, where you basically boss-run all the dragons in the game, followed by a new "King Dragon." Beating it gives a really weird ending where the dragon turns to stone or something as it dies while the credits roll and then you return to the title and can continue doing whatever.

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  5. Oh, also, apparently you hate "anime" art but you should check the original art for this game. I think it's very non-anime. I can't find a non-Japanese resource for the art of this game but you should be able to navigate this page with a little experiment.

    http://homepage2.nifty.com/tkdate/Pc88_98/scenario/scenario.html

    Just an example:
    http://homepage2.nifty.com/tkdate/Pc88_98/scenario/sce01.html

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  6. Davzz, I wish I'd known about the endgame while I was playing because I may have stuck with it. I appreciate the alert for the benefit of future readers.

    I agree that some of the artwork on the page doesn't look like traditional "anime"-style, but I really don't know what it's supposed to be. It's too high-quality to have been intended for in-game art.

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  7. I have to ask: What are you going to do when the JRPG scene picks up and there are 100,000 Final Fantasy clones a year hitting the market in an unplayable tide of buckles and big hair?

    (Am I the only one who likes a subtle anime style? I agree that Cloud-hair is stupid though.)

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  8. Yeah, I'm a little worried about that, too. I'll see when it happens. I can probably get past the anime if I have to. I loathe the character portraits in Might & Magic VI and Ultima VII almost as much, and I still think they're great games.

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  9. My guess is that the anime-style discussion has a lot to do with nostalgia. Being a kid of the 80s i grew up watching Japanese cartoons on TV and playing Mario and Zelda on my NES. I did have an Amiga 500 as my first computer, but i never played any RPGs on this. The first game that I recognized as an RPG was Breath of Fire 2 on the SNES, so this is what defined RPGs for me.

    What I'm trying to say is that to me Anime-style and RPGs work together just perfectly when i was a teen and even later because a lot of the style reminded me of my childhood. Also Japanese games of this era looked way better than their American counterparts - combining 8bit-tech and Animestyle-Design just worked out perfectly back then.

    I guess that you didnt grow up watching those cartoons and didnt play lots of console games, so you don't feel that kind of nostalgia. Me on the other hand, I don't get why anyone would play a game where the grafics are made of lines like lots of those old PC games. From what I can see from your screenshots Sorcerian looks the best by miles from what we've seen so far, but again, you might see that different.

    We just grew up in different times and so we see things differently based on our nostalgia. I however understand that anime-fans get kind of angry when someone says they hate anime. I kind of grew out of it, playing more western games nowadays. But I still consider Princess Mononoke the best movie ever made. So that's that.

    My guess was (and you've basically confirmed it) that you dont like cartoons and animation in general, fair enough. But i have the feeling that you didn't give this game enough time compared to other games because of that. Now, you don't have to play it again or sthg, but maybe you wanna give the next JRPG more time?

    Love your blog!

    KidSune

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree with you right up to the end. I didn't continue with the game not because of the anime thing (it really wasn't all that prominent) but because I didn't like the gameplay. It was more of an action game than an RPG, and the combat mechanism was absurd.

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    2. The concept of what "looks best" is subjective, though people certainly assume some degree of objectivity to it as well (more colors > fewer colors, higher resolution > lower resolution, that sort of thing, generally) ... but those Sorcerian screenshots are painful to look at. Yes, in theory, they are higher-resolution and higher-color than basically everything else he has played, but it almost looks like there are garbage pixels spewed randomly on every part of the screen due to the way ... well, I do not know enough technical details to know WHAT that is all about, but it looks like someone scratched the screen with sandpaper until it looked awful. Or like it is out-of-focus all the time. Or both.

      This reminds me of the classic argument I had on a BBS(!) in 1996, where a half-dozen people were arguing that Mario 64 was the best-looking game of all time, and I was furiously telling them that they were being actively obtuse and had to acknowledge that Myst was far better-looking, even if was barely a game.

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    3. More colours and more pixles allow an artist more space to work with, which allows the creation of better art. Early computers were so constrained (CGA with its 4 colours, artists working in odious shades as their only options) that even a relatively poor artist could surpass the best was done in that era with relative ease. However, more space to work in doesn't help you if you don't know how to use it, so it is not uncommon for a artist working on a more constrained system to surpass better ones by better use of the colours, pixles, etc that he or she has available to them.

      That said, I firmly believe that if the same artist is working in a better medium they will produce better art.

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