Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Magic Candle: Abra Cadabara

The party picks up a new member after dropping the halfling Min. Min walked sadly away, desperately wondering what he had done to deserve abandonment after trying his best.

The more I play, the more I realize that The Magic Candle has one of the better-balanced magic systems in the games I've played so far. Its combat spells are neither so much weaker than melee attacks that the mage occupies a second-class role (e.g., Ultima IV, Demon's Winter) nor so much more powerful that you find yourself blasting through hordes of enemies (Might & Magic). (Though ask me again once I get the powerful Zoxinn spellbook.) It has a few required spells ("Repel" and "Pierce" for dungeons), but most of the non-combat spells fall in the "helpful-but-not-essential" category, thus avoiding the problem you have in so many games in which the magic-user is someone you have to haul along to heal, cure poison, and teleport.

At first, I thought the mechanism for learning and casting spells was needlessly complicated. First, you have to buy a book of spells to have access to them. Then, you have to spend time "learning" individual spells, much as in Dungeons & Dragons games (the system is known as Vancian Magic); this can range from as little as 1 minute to as much as an hour depending on the character's magic level and the spell strength. Even having learned it, you have to go through a step of "recalling" the spell to memory before finally casting it--a process that depletes between 1 and maybe 60 energy points.

I realize now that this complexity is carefully calculated to prevent an overbalance in magic power. Sermins (which restore energy to 99) are fairly cheap and plentiful, so if you didn't have to "learn" the spells first, you could essentially cast without penalty. The learning system forces you to treat spells as precious resources to be managed, much like your supply of mushrooms. The "Recall" step forces you to think more tactically in combat. Since "Recall" often takes a round, you can't switch between spells willy-nilly. If you think one of your characters is going to need a "Shield" boost in a couple rounds, you'd better get on it now. (A carefully timed Gonshi mushroom, though, can allow you to both recall and cast in the same round.)

Nehor's stock of spells. I should probably have him specialize a little better.

Despite my admiration for the system, I've been under-utilizing spells, particularly combat spells, and so I decided to force myself to cycle through all of them and get familiar with them. Some things I've determined:

  • Wow, is "Freeze" useful in combat. I've been relying primarily on "Fear," which keeps enemies from attacking for a few rounds. But "Freeze" also keeps them from defending. It's worth the 26 minutes it takes Eflun to memorize it and the 44 energy it takes him to cast it.
  • Spells make overland travel a lot simpler. I have really become sick of combat, but a combination of "Locate," "Confuse," and "Teleport" makes it much easier to avoid outdoor enemies.
  • "Assess" is a useful spell at the beginning stages of a battle, particularly with unfamiliar enemies. It keeps you from wasting other spells later on, attacking pushover enemies with powerful magic.
  • I had barely noticed "Weaken" when reading the manual, and it's actually one of the most useful spells in the game, stripping enemies of armor and shields. It takes virtually no time to memorize, too.

"Locate" helps to avoid tiresome combats.

As with many games, there are some spells that under-perform. "Heal" is obviated by plentiful potions. "Vision" tells you what monsters are inside dungeon rooms, but since dungeon rooms always have monsters, and usually tough ones, you'd be crazy not to load up on mushrooms before heading in anyway. "Disappear" seems like a good idea (it turns a character invisible in combat), but rarely do I find enemies targeting a single character enough to bother with it.

I had planned to replace Min with another fighter, but I changed my mind and decided to replace him with another spellcaster instead--someone who would memorize only combat spells and be merciless with them in battle. I picked up Dokar at Crystal Castle; of the three available there, he had the best statistics and the most useful book. I hated giving up on Min after he'd received so many stat upgrades, but even with them he was a lousy fighter, and a few sessions with a charisma teacher got Rexor up to 99. Another advantage to a wizard is that he can carry (but not use) arrows: I'm always running out of them in dungeons.

Dokar performs well in his first combat.

In my journeys since my last posting, I have finished circling about mainland Deruvia and the southwestern islands. I still have one dungeon to explore (Bedangidar), but otherwise my next stops are all in the northeastern islands. My specific journey is highlighted on the map below and includes:

My travels since the last posting.

  • Shadrum to Port Avur via teleportal chamber
  • Overland from Port Avur to Sumruna. Sumruna had another enemy tower inside the walls, and I had to conquer it to get in good with the residents.

  • Boat from Sumruna to Isle of Vo (where I found the second Obelisk)
  • Return boat to Sumruna
  • Overland to Kharin. I found a sleeping god on the way but didn't have the chant to wake him. In Kharin, ordered Methreal (that's how the game spells it) armor for all my characters.
  • Kharin to Crystal Castle. At this point, I realized that before I dumped Min and replaced him, I needed to train another character's charisma.
  • Teleportal chamber from Crezimas (in Crystal Castle basement) back to Port Avur.

  • Boat from Port Avur to Fubernel, then walk to Bondell.

Rexor learns how to win friends and influence people.
  • Bondell to dungeon of Khazan, where I used teleportal chamber to go to Yberton, near the Crystal Castle. Here, I replaced Min with Dokar.
  • Crystal Castle to Kharin to pick up armor.

  • Kharin to Theldair.
  • Theldair to Merg, then (because of a clue) back to Theldair, where I got Sherro's High Call, the chant needed to summon the Unicorn and get his ring.

Queen Fay's court.

Between Theldair and Merg, I heard lots of information about Somona the Sorceress, counselor to Queen Fay of the elves, now a prisoner in the dungeon Bedangidar. Apparently, Somona is the only one who can help me with Elven Dream Dust, so I'll have to go rescue her. Unfortunately, I don't have the chant needed to enter the dungeon yet; I'm told a dwarf has it, and I suspect he's back down in Kharin.

This monk is about as helpful as Smith the horse.
If you've lost track of what I'm doing on the main quest, right now I'm trying to assemble all of the items and chants I need for the ritual to restore the Magic Candle and keep the archdemon Dreax imprisoned. These are the items I need, and the clues I have:

1. Ritual of Awareness: found in a book called Zilmaeron, kept in the Tower of Ruhan on the Sunken Isle. To get to the island, I need to "raise" it first by simultaneously pulling on three levers (via party-splitting). I have the locations of two of them.

2. White Amulet of Light: Tombul the Merchant in Delkona sold it to the merchant Faruk, who gave it to the knight Farahd from Sumruna, who list it in combat and thinks it's in the Furnace of Hades on the dungeon Sargoz. Sargoz, the "Lost Dungeon," cannot be accessed by anything except a teleportal. I can get there from Lake Kumalis or the tower of Thakass. I fond a teleportal combination in Khazan, but I don't know which starting point it assumes. I also assume I'm going to need to find a stolen elven cloak, which "protects is wearer from the hottest flames."

Unless it splits six ways, my characters are going to have a bit of a brawl.

3. Green Ring of Order: The Last Unicorn has it. Now that I know Sherro's High Call, I can return to her and get it.

4. Blue Ring of Power: In he tower of Thakass on Wizard's Isle, held by the "Mad One."

5. Bubble of Captivity: No idea.

6. Elven Dream Dust: Have to rescue Somona from the dungeon Bedangidar, but I have to find the words of entry first.

7. Crystal Dust: Already obtained it from Crystal Castle.

8. Three Words of Will: Written on three obelisks. I have two of them.

9. Shir-Aka Ash: Said to be kept by the wizards in Shiran.

A wandering elf breaks the fourth wall by telling me numerically how much charisma I need to speak to the wizards of Shiran.

Still a long way to go, then. I think my next moves will be to head to Lymeric to get the Ishban spellbook for Dokar, get the ring from the Unicorn, explore Bedangidar, and head to Shiran.

I'm still enjoying the game, particularly the plotting, but I am heartily sick of combat, which is another reason I'm glad I have Dokar to shake things up. I also wish there were more side-quests in the game (the  only ones that really count are the enemy towers in some towns), and more ways to develop your characters. Although there are no "levels" in the game, I feel like I'm at the equivalent of max level, with plenty of the game still to play.


  1. You could always cycle through all the alternate characters and level their stats as you go as a 'sidequest' to go through all possible party compositions...

    1. Yeah... Thankfully, I think the countdown timer eliminates that possibility.

    2. The countdown timer can be reset by the ritual at the starting castle :)

    3. I thought that just granted another 60 days or so.

    4. Yeah but it can be used ad nauseum. When the 60 days are almost over... ask for another ritual!

      The game doesn't really have a time limit as long as you remember to go back for rituals.

    5. I don't know why they just didn't stick that sorceress in the Magic Candle's chambers and constantly add more time. It would have saved me a lot of trouble.

      It turned out I actually had plenty of time to implement Sarah's idea, although I would have found it a little mid-numbing.

  2. Glad you got rid of Min. However, you'll soon find out that 2 wizards is too much :) Another hunter like the hero soon becomes great at fighting and great at spellcasting.

  3. In keeping with the candle theme of the blog titles, this should be called, "Abra Candelabra." XD

    Okay, now off to finish reading this entry...

    1. You were supposed to read it kind-of like that. Mentally delete the colon and space between "Candle" and "Abra."

    2. And now I have this song stuck in my head:

  4. What's really interesting about this game from your coverage is that the experience is that of a planned expedition, with costs, budgets and pre-planning going into it. This really is the first game of this type we've seen, isn't it? Wizard's Crown is crunchy but it doesn't feel like a journey. Other rpgs have micromanagement, but they focus it all on combat. Here even the adventuring aspect is focused on finding clues that span the game globe, it's really fascinating. It takes that from Ultima, obviously. But you could cross Ultima's world in 10 minutes, and it just costed abstract 'food'.

    As much as I like this game, I can't picture myself playing it. I'd lose steam. But I sure as hell would be the fascinated eight year old that would look over the crazy uncle's (that's you) shoulder as he went through it and it'd probably have a significant impact on my imagination.

    1. The "planned expedition" aspect is true at the beginning. Once you get more gold than you need, and can keep stocks of 99 of each mushroom for each character, there's a lot less planning to do.

  5. So, is it safe to say that you afe starting to get tired of the game. with still a lot more game to go? Hmm, that is truly a bad sign.

    1. This is how most people react to the game, myself included. It's fun at first but then it just slows to a crawl. . .
      But really, the gameplay isn't what the game's about.

    2. By process of elimination, are you saying what the game IS about is the story?

  6. It sounds like you are supposed to swap out more of your characters at the Crystal Castle. Everyone was screaming at you that they have higher stat maximums, and now you are complaining that you've hit the stat maximums.

    1. Fair enough. It turned out not to matter much, anyway. There were only a few places during the rest of the game where combats were notably hard. The maximums my existing characters had were sufficient.


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