|Giauz, I conceded to your request.|
- It's Painfully nonlinear.
- It's somehow related to Rings of Zilfin.
- It features the ability to split the party and travel independently.
- I need to take a lot of notes.
- Movement is very slow.
- A lot of people start it and never finish it.
- A lot of people love it. There is one prediction it will be my 1989 "Game of the Year."
- Innategamer will still read my blog if I don't like it. That'll be one.
- Canageek managed to get seven blog postings out of just finding the manual in his basement.
PetrusOctavianus gave me a long list of tips for the game, which I re-typed so I'd increase my chances of internalizing them.
The game's backstory is told succinctly in the otherwise ponderous tome that is the game manual (Canageek's scan is 61 screen shots): Messengers from King Rebnard [Sigh; Who did the developers know named "Bernard"?] of Deruvia have posted a mysterious message on signposts around the kingdom, calling for a party of brave volunteers to come to the royal castle and receive a quest to address the "dire peril" in which the land finds itself. Lukas, a ranger, is one of several heroes to answer the call. The game lets you rename him, as I did above. Setup is otherwise fairly easy, with only one other selection: the difficulty level. We were just talking about difficulty a few weeks ago, and this game becomes the first to offer an explicit setting at the beginning: "easy," "fair," and "tough." I went the middle path.
|Your majesty, I'm going to recommend some animal fat, processed into tallow.|
You begin the game in front of King Rebnard, who explains that the recent increase in "forces of the darkest nature" roaming the lands are the minions of Dreax the Demon, who has been imprisoned for centuries in a magic candle. The 44 (or, more accurately, "four and forty") guardians who "kept the magic flame burning" have disappeared, and the candle is melting. A band of heroes is needed to...somehow...stop Dreax from escaping.
Right away, you get the choice to refuse the quest! But if you do, the game just starts over with the same character name and you have to read all the intro text again. Still, I like it. Most games just assume that your PC will naturally go on the main quest; you never really get much of a choice. I thought about calling the game "finished!" right there and ending the posting, but I feel like I've already messed with Magic Candle fans enough this week.
|Giauz fails to impress the king at the first meeting.|
The first quest the king gives to Lukas--or Giauz--is to select five traveling companions from the other heroes who have assembled in the Knight's Room. The character selection process is fairly original. You can "call" each of the 12 heroes to your table and "interview" them. After you inspect their statistics...
|No way am I selecting this character. I kill NPCs with this name.|
...you hear a little bit from them about their skills. The process even gives you the ability to do a little data analysis by sorting by the various attributes and skills.
|"What would you say are your three biggest weaknesses?"|
I went with Petrus's choices for characters: Sakar the dwarf fighter, Nehor the elf ranger, Rexor the human knight, and Eflun the "wizard mage" (oddly, wizards are a race in this game). For the last, Petrus suggested either another mage or one of the halfling characters. I decided to go with a halfling, partly because the manual has Lukas/Giauz wondering why they even bothered to show up. "Cute little fellows, and fine company, but what could they do to defeat the forces of darkness? Beat zorlims and trolls at dice?" Giauz needs to get over those racial prejudices. I chose Min, a halfling tailor who has the highest charisma and provides the second Wheel of Time coincidence so far (the first: the people of the kingdom are called the "Children of Light").
Once selected, the other party members' icons join yours, and you move together as an odd blob around the map. Right away, the wisdom of using the game's ability to divide party members was clear: it's hard to navigate to the right people for conversation when you have five other people surrounding you.
|Giauz leaves his companions behind so he can talk to this guy in private.|
The dialogue system is promising, even if the interface is a little cumbersome. You begin by (G)reeting each character and then (A)sking for either RUMORS, ADVICE, or specific topics. As in Ultima IV and V, some characters may feed you keywords that work on other characters. Occasionally, they're quite explicit about it and surround the keywords with quotes:
|Following up with any of these had him suggest that I ask Ferdo, a merchant, about them. (He's the icon to the left, by the plant.) He tells me that his wandering colleagues sell them on the roads.|
Some characters have no name and nothing to tell you but stock lines.
|Giauz tries to make time with some chambermaids.|
Already, I have about 16 lines of notes about things that the characters just around the throne room have told me. The king's uncle, Banas, wants me to see him in his quarters later (characters keep schedules in this game, just like Ultima V). I need to talk to someone named Trikerviz about pearls. An old man named Belazar is dying, and the king wants me to see him soon. Trolls are guarding all of the bridges. Someone named Mikermira, formerly a great sorceress, can alter the effects of black magic. I liked this kind of NPC interaction and note-taking in the Ultima games, and I like it here, although I wish the NPCs didn't kill conversation after every line and force me to choose "(A)sk" again to try the next topic.
While I'm not prepared to go so far as to call the game an "Ultima clone," as one reader did recently, the graphics and interface are reasonably similar. You navigate an iconographic display and interact with people, objects, and party members through a fairly easy-to-remember series of keys ("I" for "inspect"; "E" for "eat"), which are helpfully listed on the main screen. While the graphics are passable (the game only supports CGA and EGA in DOS), the sound is positively assaultive, especially a mysteriously unnecessary, piercing shriek that accompanies the launch of the .exe file and had me tearing my headphones off in pain. Every step produces a loud "BEE-BUM," and you are penalized when accidentally walking into something. I suspect I'm going to play most of the game with the sound off.
|The names of the mushrooms are the first Rings of Zilfin reference that I've seen. The games are by the same creator, although I don't think they're set in the same world.|
A short posting today, mostly to assure you that I'm getting started. My next steps are to read the behemoth manual that Canageek scanned, explore the castle and its environs, and see if I can engage in my first combat. Positive impressions so far!