Questron II is a sequel to a game that I didn't play as part of this blog, but it was the first CRPG that I ever did play, way back in the mid-1980s. When I started playing, I didn't even own it. I'm not sure I even had my own C64. But I was over at this other kid's house and I saw him playing it, and somehow I managed to convince him to leave me alone in his room while he went off and did something else for the afternoon. I was hooked.
Later, I must have gotten a C64, or gotten this particular game, because I have a vivid memory of playing the game in my room and winning a boatload of money at roulette. I was so excited, I ran out of the room to tell my mother. I remember shouting something like, "Mom! I'm playing this game where the most money you ever have is like seventy-five gold pieces, and I just won two thousand!" She said something like, "Uh....great, honey!" while doubtlessly contemplating the likelihood that she would never have grandchildren.
I'll also forever be grateful to Questron for teaching me what a "mace" is. When I first saw that you could buy "mace" in a weapons shop, I imagined you were buying the chemical spray. It kind of spoiled the immersion for me. I mentioned this to my friend and he called me a "retard" but fortunately explained what it really was.
There are three other things I remember about the game:
- Your character is a peasant who works his way up in the world.
- Different weapons are good for different monsters.
- When I won, there was an extended end-game sequence that showed you paraded through a castle and being lauded by the king or something. For me, this set the bar for end games, and I was usually disappointed in future games by how little they gave me. (I'm not the only one. This guy gushes about the ending to this game, calling it "the greatest ending ever.")
Writing all of this, I again feel like a bit of a berk for not playing it on this blog. What was my excuse? It didn't have a DOS release? I wish I could go back in time and slap the me of February 2010. (Though it turns out if I did, I still wouldn't have played Questron--see below.) For now, suffice to say that Questron was based on the style of Ultima (Barton says they even licensed the "style and structure" of Garriott's game). In the casino games and stat upgrade games, it featured the first mini-games of any CRPG, I think. These are all things that carried over to Legacy of the Ancients, which I did play here.
The plot of Questron wasn't all that compelling. You have to build up your character so you can take on the lamely-named Mantor, who rules over the even-more-lamely-named Land of Evil with his epically-lamely-named Evil Book of Magic. When licensing the "style and structure" from Ultima, the creators apparently decided this included the needless slaughter of dozens of hapless castle guards, because such massacres feature prominently in both Questron and Legacy. In Questron, the castle's king even knights you for it.
As Questron II opens, a wizard named Mesron is telling me that yeah, Mantor is dead, but his Evil Book of Magic is still around, and it's "so evil that it cannot be destroyed by normal means." Moreover, "its very presence, anywhere in our continuum, poses the threat of corruption and doom to all civilizations." That's some evil. His solution? Send me back in time to the planet of Landor, where the book was created by six "mad sorcerers," and stop its creation. Unfortunately, like the Terminator, I can't take any weapons with me, and the trip will "cause the loss of some of my Questron-renowned power." This is the game's way of saying that I'll get kicked back to Level 1.
We have to pause to consider the game's understanding of time travel, which according to Morle the Magician is quite common among sorcerers. I was a bit worried that if I stopped the creation of the book, Mantor would never rise to power, and I'd revert to a poor peasant. But according to Morle, "Going back in time to prevent an event can do nothing to alter the years between the event and the moment you move back through time. Only the future after your departure will be altered." Right. So let's work this out. Someone invents a time machine in 2012. You jump in and go back to November 22, 1963, run up to the sixth floor, and wrestle Oswald to the floor before he can shoot. But Kennedy still dies because, after all, you can't change the past. You return to 2012, and then, suddenly, Kennedy is alive. Only he's 95, so he probably just keels over.
So if I could go back 16 months and convince February 2010 me to just get a C64 emulator already and play Questron, I still wouldn't play it, but returning to June 2011, I would suddenly find a saved game on my hard drive. Man, time travel messes with the mind.
There's other stuff about the back story that we need to talk about, but you've all suffered long enough without any screen shots. Character creation consists of nothing more than giving your character a name, after which the game kindly recounts the story from the first Questron:
A disembodied voice explains that I'm on my way to another planet, Landor. "Although you are now a baron on Questron," the voice tells me. "You will have no title on Landor. Gather your strength. Marshal your alllies. Learn where the sorcerers are and how to attack them. Remember your people and good luck." I wake up with a dagger, a suit of rawhide armor, a gold key, and the Evil Book of Magic, which for some reason they have sent with me. I am immediately attacked by something called a "Mavin," which the game manual describes as an ape-like creature.
Killing it with my sword takes a quarter of my hit points, so I duck into the town north of me.
Aside from better colors and graphics, the game is essentially identical to Legacy of the Ancients:
We've got the same top-down interface, the same keyboard commands listed to the left, the same statistics (hit points, food, gold), and the same message box at the bottom. I'm not exactly complaining; this is a game I can immediately start playing without messing around figuring out the controls. But I'm disappointed that combat in this franchise still hasn't advanced beyond hitting "(F)ight" until the enemy is dead.
Here's Keeganac's character sheet:
I note that there's no "experience" statistic, and that killing the Mavin got me some gold, but it didn't say anything about experience. One of the things I hated most about Legacy of the Ancients was that all the combat got you nothing but a few paltry gold pieces. Leveling occurred at fixed intervals and was tied to solving quests. It doesn't look like they've changed that in Questron II. They also haven't changed the annoying way enemies can attack you on the diagonal, but you can't.
The nearby town--Folman--has a food shop and an armor shop and a few little NPC villagers who all say one line when you (S)peak next to them, although nothing terribly useful so far.
Not really knowing where to go--the game manual suggests a first step is to seek the "Hall of Visions" so I can communicate with Mesron--I start exploring and find another town shortly to the south. When I enter, the game throws a copy protect question at me:
These are all monsters in the game. If there's one thing about this series, the creators did come up with some original monster names. Questron had pit screamers, dirt weirds, and Irish stalkers. Legacy had mime ghouls, venom floaters, and ventro flailers. This game, in addition to the ones above, has brawn warriors, snooper slinks, and jelly nymphs. Unlike the previous games, this one comes with a manual that fully describes each of them.
Anyway, in the second town, Ontaga, I found that old Questron staple:
They had two games: blackjack and high-low. Even better, they haven't changed the rules on blackjack since Legacy: winning pays even money, and 21 gets you double. Settling in for 20 minutes of 'jack, I turned my 203 gold into 1,290. But I noticed a curious thing: it was harder and harder to win towards the end. With those rules on payouts, I should have been able to keep going indefinitely (Legacy had you break the bank if you won too much, and then the guards chased you out of town). The dealer was getting a lot of 20s and 21s when I had 18 or 19. I wonder if the program is specifically designed to cheat if you win too much.
I kept moving on and found a couple other towns. The only weapons anyone will sell me are daggers, oddly enough, and the only armor I can buy is leather. One armor shop didn't even have anything! (And I don't think it's a Demon's Winter-style thing where you have to cycle through items.) I did buy some rope & hooks for crossing mountains and a bunch of food. It turns out that tavernkeepers give hints when you tip them, and one of the tips was germane to my quest:
The third town--I forgot to note the name--also had a magic shop where I can buy magic missile, one of the game's four spells. The others are fireball, sonic whine, and time sap (ironically appropriate).
My reactions after playing for about 45 minutes are: this is it? The same old game--from the gambling, to the combat, to the rope 'n' hooks, to the dumb leveling system, to the useless one-line NPCs--with slightly better tiles? My nostalgic fondness for my first CRPG doesn't extend to wanting to play the exact same game, especially not in the same year that Pool of Radiance blew all of this (seriously? Only four spells?) out of the water.
I decided to take a gamble. I would return to Ontaga and lay all the rest of my 1000 gold on one game of blackjack. If I won, I would keep playing to the end. If I lost, I would do my six hours as quickly as possible (yes, I know, shut up)--probably with a new character, because I'm only at 58 hit points and I can't yet figure out how to heal in this game.
The dealer busted spectacularly. I now have 2,024 gold. I'm going to see my mother for dinner tomorrow night. I can't wait to tell her.