Thursday, May 19, 2011

Might & Magic II: Final Rating

The results of attacking 65 Devil Kings. Each one has 5,000 hit points and is worth 30,000,000 experience points. I would wager that this battle is impossible even at the highest levels. I couldn't even kill one.

Well, I really stretched that one out, didn't I? 53 days from the first post to "Won!" Of course, I wasn't playing during this entire stretch, but that's a long time even to have a single game on one's mind.

Might & Magic I remains my highest-rated game so far, largely because of the variability in equipment, the strong economy, the variety of quests (it was the first game to feature real "side quests"), and the overall quality of gameplay. The gameplay in Might & Magic II is largely identical to MM1, but with a different plot and better graphics. (It would be a good idea to review my rating for that game before reading this.) Hence, I wouldn't expect the score to be a lot different. Let's see.

1. Game world. The game benefits from a large world, many dungeons, varied terrain, and terrain-specific encounters. Its backstory is interesting, although the plots of the main villain are not well integrated into the game itself. I dock a point for basically repeating the first game's twist (the world is really a spaceship) and for featuring the same villain (but without providing much more information about him), but I have to add some points for doing a better job reacting to the player's actions: NPCs remember your deeds and react accordingly. The blend of sci-fi and fantasy remains unusual, and I still don't find it very convincing--see my questions at the end of yesterday's posting. Final score: 6.

2. Character creation and development. The Cuisinart thing really bothered me. Most of the game, you're struggling for each experience point, and battles in which you net 50,000 or 75,000 experience are a real reward. Then, suddenly, you face a foe that earns you 7,500,000 experience, and sends you up several levels every time you fight him. It makes slogging through dungeons much less rewarding when you know you could just skip all that, pound the Cuisinarts a few times, and get the same result. The selection of races and classes are nothing special, but aside from the Cuisinarts, leveling is swift and satisfying. The class-specific quests are also a welcome touch, although the developers removed any role-playing based on alignment (as in the first game). Final score: 5.

[Later edit: I realized I neglected to talk about the skill system here. It's a good step for the series, but it's not implemented very well. The reason I forgot about it is that you generally select your skills early in the gameplay and then never really think about them again. There is nonetheless some strategy associated with the choice of skills, and while it's not enough to advance the score, it's worth a mention.]

3. NPC Interaction. Still the weakest part of the series. You encounter kings, lords, merchants, and other NPCs, but none of them offer dialog options or any real opportunity to role-play. Interaction is all one-way. Final score: 3.

4. Encounters and foes. Andrew Schultz's walkthrough of the game lists an unsurprising total of 255 different monsters. They were extremely varied in their attacks and even more so in their resistances. Some are resistant to certain sexes, some to various types of magic, some to melee weapons. A good player needs to take careful notes or have a good memory. I wasn't a good player. I kept forgetting if it was the Cursed Corpse or the Coffin Creep that drains your magic, and whether it was the Iron Wizard or the Warbot that casts eradicate. It doesn't help that many use the same icons. The game allows you to encounter up to 255 enemies at once, which is a lot more than the first game and provided a unique challenge in the beginning stages. In later stages, mass encounters were generally fodder for the CTRL-A combo, although going back to the Tundara dungeon and casting "Holy Word" on 200 Killer Cadavers was definitely a high point. There's a good balance between random encounters and fixed encounters, and rarely did it seem (unlike The Bard's Tale III) like there were too many encounters. Final score: 6.

"Revenge is a dish best served cold*."
*This is funny because it takes place in the Tundara dungeon.

5. Magic and Combat. I detailed the combat system in a posting in March an the magic system a couple of days ago. Since you only have to survive one combat at a time, it's not quite as tactical as Wizardry. I actually liked it better in the beginning stages, when every passage felt potentially dangerous, than in later stages when I was CTRL-A'ing my way through battles with demons. There are plenty of combat options, though, from different types of attacks to spells to uses of magic items. What I didn't like was the imbalance between outdoor combat (which became laughably easy towards the end, thanks to Moon Ray and Starburst), and indoor combat, in which you never get a mass healing spell. Final score: 5.

6. Equipment. Largely unchanged from MM1, but still very good. You can equip six items and carry six others, and there are many, many types of items to find, some of which provide attribute increases, cast spells, provide resistance bonuses, or just do mad damage against your foes. There seemed to be no upper limit to the +s that a weapon or armor could achieve. I liked that even non-spellcasters could use magic items, turning my thief into an emperor of electrical destruction when I filled his pack with Storm Wands. The "Specials" at shops always provided a good selection, even at high levels. I also liked that items were mostly randomized within the game world, but there were some fixed item locations. One of the best CRPGs of the era when it comes to equipment, the game lacks only descriptions. Final score: 7.

Quick rundown: the Stealth Cape, Thief's Pick, and Looter Knife increase thievery. The Sapphire Pin increases luck by 15. The (B)ronze Chain Mail boosts fear resistance (as well as armor class). The Storm Wands cast Lightning Bolt, the Flaming Sword and Fireball Bow cast Fireball, and the Freeze Wand casts Fantastic Freeze.

7. Economy. Until I found the magic well in the Luxus Palace that converted gold to experience, I thought the economy was horribly imbalanced. It still is, really. Except during the first town, you almost never hurt for gold. The game could have done a better job with this, offering lower gold rewards and making things like NPCs, healing, and blessings cost more. As it was, the only time I worried about money was when a Leprechaun (nasty bastards) zapped it all away, but even then it only would take me 20 or 30 minutes to recover millions. The first game was a little tougher and more fun. Final score: 6.

8. Quests. The Might & Magic series continues to shine here. It remains the only series in this era with a strong selection of side quests as well as a compelling, multi-stage main quest. The main quest was slow to reveal itself, just like in the first game, but it was one of the more interesting main quests of the CRPGs I've played, and it fit well with the game's back story. Every map featured a side quest or two, and the class-specific quests were a very nice addition. My only complaint is that many of the quests relied a little too much on notes scrawled on dungeon walls. Still, in my opinion, this is the best aspect of the game. Final score: 8.

One of many side quests and special encounters.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. The graphics are much improved over MM1. They are detailed, animated, and nice to look at. Nothing like modern games, but certainly not distractingly bad. Sound continues to consist of bloops and overly-repetitive victory music. The set of keyboard commands is probably the best of any game I've played: quick and intuitive. Final score: 5.

10. Gameplay. Another way in which the series excels is its nonlinearity. In fact, one might say that the game is nonlinear to a fault: you have to explore extensively before you even realize what you're supposed to do in the game. Towards the end, the game started to feel a little easy, but most of the time it felt just right. As in the first game, a new selection of transportation spells deliver themselves every time you start to feel like exploration is a drag. I personally felt that it lasted a bit too long, but I think that had more to do with my erratic playing schedule than the fault of the game. The only serious drawback to gameplay is a lack of replayability. Final score: 7.

The final score is 58. That's two points lower than I ranked Might & Magic I. If you want to howl in protest, believe me, I understand. From a purely objective standpoint, it seems like II should be better than I--if only for the graphics alone! But, to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the first game a little bit more. I think the quests had a little more depth, the game was better balanced, and the plot was more original back then. It's still the second-highest ranked game in my blog, though, and I did have a lot of fun playing it.

I spent some time tonight reading Schultz's walkthrough to see what I missed. In case anyone is interested:

  • The different meals you can purchase in the tavern do a lot more than I gave them credit for. I knew that eating roast peasant and cream of kobold soup led to some encounters with angry relatives, but I didn't realize that other meals were necessary to get NPCs.
  • Finishing the Gourmet's quest (you have to eat every item in every tavern) apparently clears your palate, and makes sure the aforementioned peasants and kobolds stop attacking you. I must have eaten again after I finished this quest because they were still attacking me at the end.
  • I forgot to top the bartenders at each tavern, and it's from the tavern tips that I would have learned when the circus is in town (Days 140-170, apparently; I ended the game at Day 93, so it would have been a long wait).
  • Drinking in the bars provided attribute boosts. I never noticed.
  • In some of the dungeons, there are places that boost your attributes by 10 points permanently. I didn't realize that you could keep returning to these locations and get more boosts. It seems like cheating.
  • I completely ignored skill potions because I didn't understand what they did. Apparently, they increase your level and cause you to do a lot more damage and make it more likely that enemies will flee. You can use them multiple times to really pump yourself up. Whoops.
  • The guardian pegasus's name was Meenu. Solving the quest would have netted me 100,000 gold. Hardly worth it.
  • Killing the elemental lords wasn't necessary.
  • Apparently, there really was no other way to get the Orb out of Dawn's Mist Bog. Schultz was aghast at it, too.
  • The reward for completing the Dragon's Dominion (which I didn't) was an extra 1,000 hit points. Wow. Turned out I didn't need them, I guess.

I think it's actually cool that there were some things I never found or finished. It's a sign of a complex game.

I don't know what Moraff's Revenge is, but it's up next!


  1. Good stuff! This game has a different picture of "burly mountain men" than I would have expected :)

    I love the way the early Might and Magic games are crammed full of content. A lot of things have to be very terse. I remember seeing a screenshot from the Mac version of MM1 with the yes/no dialog box "Dragon town meeting. Interrupt?"

    And Moraff's Revenge...well, you're in for a "treat", and I emphasize the scare-quotes in "treat" :)

  2. Is your rating excel sheet up to date? The highest rated game seems to be Ultima IV?

    Btw, how about sharing those sheets in google docs? Would be nice to view without downloading.

  3. I admit I'm surprised you rated it almost as highly as M&M 1. I'd give it extra points for the major graphic improvements (the visuals on this game relative to its year of release deserve far better than a 5), but dock it much more for extremely encounter and overall power balance as well as the distractingly annoying silliness of so many of the names used in the game. I also don't think the story is worth a damn, either (a few points for originality, sure, but minus a lot more for general incomprehensibility).

    Otherwise I agree with most of it, and I'm glad you stuck it out to the end.

  4. Should be "extremely poor encounter and overall power balance". Sorry.

  5. Four games until Pool of Radience!

    CRPGAddict: where did you buy your copy of the GoldBox games? I lost mine years ago and I would like to get them again. I am dissapointed that GOG does not seem to have them yet...

  6. The Devil Kings are quite doable with a party that has been to the circus, enchanted items, and that has finished the Dragon's Dominion. Also, I believe you have to do the circus quest to trigger the stat-boost areas again. That can be tedious if you want to power-game, but as you showed, it's not necessary to do anything related to the circus if you want to win.

  7. Lame Brain: Have you tried Steam?

    CRPGAddict: The Moraff's series were 3 RPGS + a "card" game put out in the 80s and 90s. They are sort of like a "1st person" roguelike, where you see in all 4 directions at once.
    The graphics are um, rather worse then MMII, and there is ah, minimal NPC interaction, and only one character. I'm expecting 6 hours of gameplay to be honest, though I am hoping for more- You see I played a fair bit of Moraff's World, the 2nd game is the series as a kid, though I will admit I was *truly* terrible at it, or at least I suspect I was, given that another game which I died a lot in (Castle of Winds: A Question of Vengeance) gave me 0 trouble when I returned to it a few years ago.
    So if you could put a tiny bit more effort into it then you give most shovelware games I'd appreciate it, but I'm not going to leave your blog or anything if you don't.

    Some hints from what I remember years ago:
    Watch the colours of the puffballs carefully, they each raise or lower your stats. Make notes (I never did)
    Powerballs or whatever have about a zillion HP, be careful not to get trapped by them-tackle them in intersections so a more powerful monster doesn't come up behind you.

    It turns out that they didn't add the classes until the 2nd game, so you can ignore this.
    Try a monk to start out with: I managed to survive for a long time as one, though you can't use weapons as them. You also get a lots of spells I think, or that might have been wizard. Try at least a couple classes, I think they play rather differently.

    Keep in mind this is all from the 2nd Moraff game, so things could be different.

  8. What strikes me as interesting here is that "winning" this game can take two very different forms. The narrative win, which Mr. Addict has shown us, is one such way. But I only did that once, to my knowledge. Even more fulfilling for me was abusing the XP tricks, and the circus, and Dragon's Dominion, and enchanting items, and so on--until my party were six tornadoes of unholy destruction. I made darned sure I could kill those devil kings. Thanks for reviving some great memories!

  9. What a neat game! I personally wouldn't take time out to play this or the majority of the games you've covered thus far solely because I lack the time (though I'll give the Genesis/Megadrive version a shot).

    It's funny that a lot of people talk up CRPGs' complexity by comparing them against action games where you cut down hundreds of guys single-handedly; you can fight 255 guys in a single encounter in this one! Even if you divide it up per party member, that's about 32 foes per person. Hardly a mark against it- heck, it's a plus for me. Action-RPGs would be the perfect hosts for random giant encounters and they don't even get this big. Neither do most non-RPGs, really.

    P.S. I was quite upset to discover that Might & Magic 8 had a PS2 port that's apparently very close to the PC version... and it only came out in Japan. At least it got one unique Wizardry game.

  10. I've been following this blog for a relatively short time, but I'm catching up on the archived entries and I must say this is an amazingly unique endeavour.

    Thank you very much for sharing your trip in the wayback machine with us - I've been thoroughly enjoying the process of getting to know these forgotten gems through your reports.

    Here's hoping the recent abundance of updates caused by the change in your writing policy sticks for at least some time - I'm eager to find out what the next games have in reserve!

  11. I can't wait for Ultima V!

    Btw, your list lacks "Chaos Strikes Back" from 1989. (sequel to dungeon master) Can't wait for that either. :)

  12. Oh man, Moraff's Revenge! I played one of the later Moraff games as a young teen and enjoyed it quite a bit, mainly because of how damn goofy it was.

  13. If there is one thing I love in a game, it's a subversion of expectations. I doubt I'm the only one. That's what made Portal great, isn't it?

    As such, I really would like to see this whole "it seems to be fantasy but OH WAIT IT'S ACTUALLY SCI-FI WOOOAAAAH" thing, or something similar, to be done more... I guess, competently? I guess that's a bad word to use for this, since it's mostly the technical limitations of the time that forced the story to be so... poor. Still, I love stuff like that, and I wonder how it would be received if Might and Magic were to be released as a modern game today.

  14. Stephen, I utterly missed the "mountain men" thing. Thanks for pointing it out, because it really is quite amusing.

    On the terseness: seriously. The "dragon town meeting" was the hardest battle in the first game, and that small amount of text gives you no clue that "interrupt" means "attack them" and that the "town meeting" includes an arch devil and a demon lord.

    As you'll see from today's posting, I'm afraid I didn't find Moraff's Revenge to be a treat, with or without quotes. I hope you're not disappointed that I'm only putting in six hours, Canageek, but this is Moraff's REVENGE, not Moraff's WORLD, which you seem to remember fondly (your hints don't apply to Revenge, I don't think). I'll hit that in 1991.

    Anon, I'm not sure what you mean. The spreadsheet has Ultima IV at 53 points but MM1 at 60. I just uploaded a version that has all my gaming activity. I agree that it would be better in some other format. It's on my list.

    To be honest, drscott, I probably rated it higher in a couple of categories than I should have. My playing was so fractured over the last couple of months, and I didn't want to punish the game for just coming along at a bad time in my life. I erred on the side of generosity. I'm also having difficultly believing that I liked it LESS than MM1, but I guess my own review (which you echo) explains why.

    Lame Brain: I haven't actually found POR or ay of the Gold Box games yet. I just assumed they'd be available somewhere, like almost all the other games have been so far. I hope I'm not wrong, because I'm really looking forward to POR.

    Aelfric and Eugene, you have some good comments on how I could have extended things to get the full value out of the game. As much as I liked it, I was just eager to get past it, since it's been on my current play list since March.

    Macnol, thanks for joining us! I'm glad you've liked reading the entries.

    Second Anon, "Chaos Strikes Back" is on my list. I haven't published MY list; I think you're referring to Arcanum's list (which I've just taken down because it keeps confusing people). Arcanum was invaluable to me in identifying CRPGs that I originally missed, but I've done a lot of refining to my list since then, using a combination of his list, Wikipedia, MobyGames, and recommendations from readers. "Chaos Strikes Back" never had a DOS release, which is why it didn't appear on Arcanum's list, but readers directed me to a fan-made port, so I'll give it a shot when I get to 1989.

    Finally, Zink: Unfortunately, the same sci-fi "revelation" underscores every MM game except perhaps MM9, which I'm not really ready to acknowledge as a MM game. However, I recall that 5 and 6 do it a lot better. You just gave me a good idea for a "special topics" posting: best CRPG twists.

  15. You can find abandonware archives of all the gold box games at - they also come with ready made dosbox config files and, I think, the version of dosbox they require to run. Sometimes it's useful to tweak their configs a bit, but otherwise they're fine.

  16. I think the Sci-Fi/Magic blend is hard to get right : one game which really did well for me was Wiz7 Crusaders of the Dark savant. The plot made sense & technological elements were blended in through the whole game (not just a end twist), well balanced (unlike phasers in MM6 which outclass everything) and had creative naming which integrated them in a non-technological universe (an electronic lock would be a magical grey box with glowing red and green buttons when you examine it).

  17. I agree, Georges, that it's difficult to get it right. This is true not only in CRPGs, but in books and film, too. I look forward to Wizardry VII, then, which I've never played.

  18. Addict: I noticed once I looked up more about the game. I figured that there was no way the graphics and gameplay would change much, as the graphics are already worse and the gameplay simpler in *most* ways then the one you are playing now. I guess it isn't a case of them copying the same mechanics, updating a thing or three and churning out a sequel. I guess I'll get to see do that one sometime late in my M.Sc. or early Ph.D...

  19. In the PhD world, there is a long and noble history of such things. A book I am now reading suggests that your dissertation ought to be good for at least six articles and two books.

  20. No no, I just meant it in terms of time: I'm a chemistry major finishing up my B.Sc(H. Chem.) now, 1-1.5 years left, so if it is late M.Sc. it is going to be at least 3 years...

  21. I've finished my playthrough of M&M2. Not quite "won" but close enough for me! I've been playing it for way longer than you - generally I play one hour each workday on the train in the morning. I think I've been going on this for about 3 months now.

    My party got wiped by an ancient dragon in the final dungeon. I'd never met one before so I didn't run. I didn't think I could be bothered doing the whole final dungeon again so decided to just read your final postings instead. I'm kind of glad I did, since while I think I could have worked out the cryptogram in 15 minutes, there is no way I would have known to write "Preamble" as the solution - I'm Australian and would only have found the text vaguely familiar without knowing what it is.

    I definitely think I enjoyed the first game in the series more than this one. After the intial rush of new graphics, new equipment and some great early dungeons (the town dungeons were all mostly interesting) the gameplay didn't quite live up to what I wanted and there were long stretches which felt like work rather than fun. My characters were only level 30ish when I finished so I could probably make the end easier on myself by doing more quests and stat-buffing but I'm not invested enough to want to.

    I'm looking forward to your recap of Pool of Radiance - that's another one I didn't finish, mainly because I decided about halfway through that I'd made entirely wrong decisions with my party makeup and was too impatient to get to the next game (ironically, M&M2!) to start again. I'm sure you'll fare better.

  22. "We, the people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and security the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..."


    "WHEREAS the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth..."

    Well. I'm sure you have plenty of other things much cooler than what we have.

    Seriously, though, I think your review of the game is very good. I probably rated it slightly too high.

  23. Found this in another walkthrough WRT leaving with the Orb...

    "There should be a teleporter in the dungeon (very near the entrance), use that instead and you should end up in Murray's Cave in Murray's Resort Isle."

  24. No, I tried that. It won't let you out with the orb either.

  25. I love this game, but it lacks balance and a sense of direction. Only late in the game did I find dungeons like the Ice Cave and Nomadic Rift that were obviously designed for low level characters.

    And I never found anything better than an Accurate Sword +31. The only two Doomsday Boxes I found were dropped by the Cat from Hell and the three Cuisinarts. I didn't explore the whole overland map, so I may have missed some others?
    I was disappointed that the Ancient Dragons in Dragons Domain only yielded gold (as if I didn't have enough) and not any items.

    Overall I think the item system, with pluses going up to 64 or 99 and being alignment restricted, and the very varied bestiary, was the best parts of MM2. But MM1 had better quests and no scaling to your level, I think, only to area. In MM2 I often started encountering higher leveled monster as soon as I gained a level, a sure tell sign of level scaling. It was especially grating in dungeons with fixed ecounters with low level scum
    to randomly encounter lots of high level creatures.

    My score - - was lower than Mr Addict's, even though I won more battles and lost fewer, but I guess I was penalized for not completing all the side quests.

    1. I've agreed with the slightly worse feel to MMII vs. I ever since I first played them when they were released years ago.

      As for PetrusOctavianus' message, allow me to make some further remarks here a few months later than the rest of anyone else ...

      First, I've determined by careful playing again and again that there are in fact two fundamental differences in the game on different platforms. On all but the original Apple II, items can be up to at least +63 - on the MacOS version specifically, enchanting a +63 invariably produces a "+64" which is in fact cursed and useless. On the Apple II one, you simply cannot find or enchant beyond +32. The other fundamental difference seems to be that in the Apple II version, the fabled "3 cuisinart" square is an encounter with *1* cuisinart. If you know the trick to the encounter, this is actually not much easier than the 3, but is significantly less imbalanced. It is, however, still broken. (Incidentally, I've also read how incredibly different the NES MMI is vs. the rest of the series, and in particular the A2 original. It even has an additional puzzle!!)

      The score is, as far as I know, a function of all the stuff you do, so the "side quests" really matter. I have yet to see anything documented on how it is calculated, however.

  26. MM2 was my favorite game growing up and ruined all crpgs for me. It was just so damn HUGE. The number of monsters, items, dungeons, quests just dwarfed every other crpg out there. Every time I picked up a box of a crpg at eggs etc. or wherever and invariably saw it boasting '60 different monsters, 20 different spells, and 80 different items!' id put it back in disgust. Even MM3 onwards were disappointing.

    1. Try Wizardy 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant.
      It's definitely the largest old school (pre Baldur's Gate) CRPG I've played.

  27. Did anyone find the Orc God? According to the FAQs on the Web, it's the most powerful monster of the game, I did never find id :(

    1. I faced nine of them once, in a random encounter in the last dungeon (only area with no level scaling, I think). They all had 50,000 HP and my guys were only around lvl 30, so it was quite impossible. Even Mass Distortion would only take away a couple of thousand HP.

      But they are not the most powerful monsters in the game; that is the Mega Dragon.

    2. Correction: consulting my notes I see that it was 16 Orc Gods the roflstomped my party.

  28. I THINK this might have been my first Might and Magic game. I definitely remember crazed dwarves and a lot of the beginning aspects, but I do not recall a lot of the latter parts of the game. That's most likely do to my age. I started playing all these games when I was 7 or 8 on my uncle's old computer, several years after they came out. I probably never got far in most of them, though I did continue to revisit a lot of them throughout the years.

    This was probably your most engaging series of posts yet (mind I'm reading from the beginning chronologically, so I haven't seen your latest work). I quite enjoyed every aspect of it and sometimes become as addicted to reading your blog as to actually playing RPGs! Glad you had fun with it. I look forward to your postings on Xeen on, which I remember with much more vivid clarity.

    Also, as someone mentioned elsewhere, Wizardry 7 and 8 do handle the sci fi elements much better and make it more believable. It's been a while since I've played them, but I recall later M&M games doing it as well. In that respect, however, I don't remember M&M2 being so goofy, so perhaps it's merely nostalgia clouding my memory.

    1. I've been re-reading old postings recently in preparation for a book, and I agree that my blog started to mature a bit around this time. A lot of the first year was floundering over what my blog should be like.

      I look forward to playing the games you mention in the future.

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  31. Sorry, I screwed my posts up again :-(

    Well, as I said before I have a fonder memory of M&M II than of M&M I.

    From reading your experience I think the reason for this is II had a better presentation and was much easier if you know how. I have to admit did visit the Cuisinarts back then a lot, but I would consider this a game breaking exploit, too. Still I think M&M II gives more hints and as such a slightly better guidance then M&M I did, but I might be wrong. It's just a feeling without real proof behind it. One fact that strikes me now is that in the end I also had visited almost every spot in every dungeon in II, but sill it felt not as random and forced for me as in I. Maybe because there were those safe main roads which gave you a safe way to visit each town without having to explore for yourself.

    1. I can see why you feel that way. MMII is has undoubtedly better production values. I just thought MMI was a better gameplay experience and took itself more seriously. But my scores for the two are very close.


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