Friday, December 21, 2012

Drakkhen: Final Rating

This was my most successful combat with the Prince of Water in about 15 tries.

Infogrames Europe
Stéphane Baudet, Richard Bottet, Michel Royer, Laurent Salmeron, François Marcela Froideval
Released 1989 for Amiga and Atari ST, 1990 for DOS, 1991 for SNES
Date Started: 12 December 2012
Date Ended: 21 December 2012
Total Hours: 16
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 35
Ranking at Time of Posting: 48/82 (59%)

I'm taking the unusual step of writing the "final rating" posting before the "won!" posting because a) otherwise, I would have nothing to post today, and I haven't gone more than two days without a posting since November 14; and b) I'm not sure if I'll ever win despite a willingness to try.

Let me explain what brought me to this lowly state. When I last posted, I was on a long quest to get the eight "tears" from each of the Drakkhen princes and princesses, some from their willing hands, others from their cold corpses. The "good" side included the Princesses of Fire, Water, and Earth, and their leader, the Prince of Air; the "bad" side was led by the Prince of Fire and included the Princes of Earth and Water and the Princess of Air. The next stage of my quest was to visit the castle of the Princess of Fire and find out what happened to her.

This is what happened.

The Princess's castle had been invaded and ransacked, and the game wouldn't stop giving me messages, in literally every room, about how devastated the place was, although these messages were of the "tell instead of show" variety.

I see neither head nor blood. Nor a statue, for that matter.

The princess was slain on her throne, but I got her tear.

The Prince of Air showed up and bade me go and kill his rogue sister.

Ugh. That meant trekking through the tundra for an hour again, trying to find the castle (which isn't off a main road), but I did it, and after falling for the damned door-locks-behind-you trick again...

Oh, for %)*$'s sake.

 ...I encountered the Princess and killed her. The battle took me three tries, and even then the best I could do was get out with one character dead. This is one of the few games where you just have to suck it up when one of your characters dies, because you rarely come out of "boss" battles unscathed. The Prince of Air thanked me, saying he couldn't have brought himself to personally kill his sister.

That doesn't explain why he won't personally kill the Prince of Water, though.

He gave me his tear and sent me to kill the Prince of Water.

A rare CRPG villain perfectly capable of carrying out his threats.

Like his kin, Prince Haaggkhen has devastating attacks that destroy my armor and kill me in one blow. Unlike his kin, he seems impervious to my weapons. I can maybe do 4 or 5 hit points of damage against him before a single of his attacks kills me, no matter how many protective spells I cast ahead of time. "Shield" and "Invisibility" do nothing; "Anti-Magic" does nothing.

It's possible that success is supposed to rest on one of the offensive spells, like "Paralysis" or "Anti-Matter," but this is a recurring problem with my version of the game, at least: ranged attacks and ranged magic just don't work. Offensive spells don't hit the enemy, arrows shot from the bow do nothing, and healing spells cast at my own party members hardly ever heal.

So the only hope I can see is to keep grinding and hope that higher levels with more health allow at least one of my characters to live long enough to kill the damned Drakkhen. The problem is that this will take a long time, even if I just leave the game to grind for me, and I'm not sure it will help. It's not like I can "almost" win against the Prince of Water; I can't even touch him.

I am going to give it a try--probably while I play the next game in another window--but in the likely event that all the grinding in the world does nothing, I'm going to offer my GIMLET now.

1. Game World. Set on an island, the game world is small, but in a way that makes thematic sense. The manual and game tell an interesting, if not always coherent, story of a newly-discovered island with a newly-discovered populace of dragon-blooded creatures who pose a threat to the human world. I would have liked to see how it ended (and I'll probably watch it on YouTube if I can't win myself).

The world isn't very dynamic, though. As you progress through the quests, you're told about armies amassing and sacking castles, except that the castles are already sacked at the beginning of the game. The world doesn't "change"; you just uncover bits of the narrative as you progress to key plot locations. The only permanent effect that I could see is that slain Drakkhen princes and princesses remain dead. Score: 5.

2. Character Creation and Development. Like a couple of other recent games, you're forced to play with specific classes: fighter, scout, priest, and mage. They have different capabilities and restrictions, but there's no real "role-playing" associated with the character classes. The list of attributes and choices are RPG standards, and as in most games, you get experience from killing monsters, and thus progress in levels. You achieve an almost immediate imbalance in character levels owing to the game's method of assigning experience points to the character who made the kill, and it becomes difficult to make this up during the game. Character leveling provides more health, magic, and spells, but otherwise isn't very satisfying. Score: 3.

These stats, particularly strength, end up being very important, and it's worth investing the time at the beginning of the game to re-roll.

3. NPC Interaction. The NPCs in the game consist of some named Drakkhen princes and princesses, residents you encounter at houses, and the crazy old guy that keeps showing up on the road. There are no dialogue options with these NPCs; you just hit the question mark icon and get what they have to say. The game provides two dialogue icons--"wave hello" and "impress"--that, as far as I can tell, do absolutely nothing. It's way too easy to accidentally leave the "attack" button checked when encountering a non-hostile NPC. The NPCs are intriguing, if entirely one-way. Score: 5.

It's often difficult to distinguish NPCs from things you're supposed to kill.

4.  Encounters and Foes. The game has some of the most interesting-looking encounters of any game I've played so far: wyms and rocs that swoop down on you from above, a wide variety of beasts and humanoids, and some truly bizarre foes, like the shimmying woman and the robots with the laser chests. The problem is that they're utterly uninteresting beyond their appearance. There's no real variety in their approaches and attacks, no way to interact with them, no strategies to employ (besides fight or flee), and no choices. There are a couple of "puzzles" relating to getting into castles and finding the right runes, but nothing too challenging. The enemies aren't even named. In essence, the game provides interesting monsters but not interesting encounters. The good news is that there's lot of respawning and plenty of opportunities for grinding. Score: 4.

These guys scared me even when I knew I could defeat them.

5. Magic and Combat. Very, very bad. Combat is a free-for-all, activated with a single button, and bereft of any "tactics" other than the few that different spells provide. However, since it's functionally impossible to switch spells in the middle of combat (without giving the enemy chances to pound on the characters without retaliation), to use spells as "tactics," you have to know what you're facing ahead of time. The selection of spells is fairly paltry and uninteresting. Score: 1.

6. Equipment. Not fantastic, but not bad. You do have a fairly solid variety of things to wear and wield, and it remains satisfying throughout the game to get better weapons and armor from castles and random monsters. The problem is that there are hardly any names for things. Two pieces of armor might both be called simply "cuirasses," but one has 10 points more armor protection than the other. Rings and scepters are just called "ring" and "scepter" no matter what they do--even in the shop, where knowing what kind of ring or scepter would make a difference in whether you buy it. Some of these items bestow "abilities," which are not explained. Some of them seem to do nothing despite selling for quite a bit of money. There are potions, but their runic names don't necessarily correspond with the spells of the same runes, so I'd have to keep notes to remember what they do, and I never bothered. Finally, there's no way to really tell what kind of damage weapons do, although the sale price gives you an idea of what's "better." Score: 5.

That's nice that the ring costs $2,850. What does it actually do?

7. Economy. There's plenty of gold, but the only reason to amass it is for resurrections, and the game has such a stupefyingly awful system for this (the character to be raised has to have the gold, but the only place to "pool" gold is in the weapon shop, nowhere near the temple) made me want to delete the game. The swordsmith hardly sells anything of value, and the only reason to visit is to sell stuff and get more money for resurrections. Score: 3.

The priest refuses my request for resurrection with rhyming trochees.

8. Quests. There is one main quest, revealed slowly (and a bit oddly). As far as I can tell, there's only one possible ending, no side-quests, and no role-playing. Score: 3.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. Probably the best part of the game. As you can see, it's one of the best-looking and best-sounding games I've played so far, with cool enemy animations, changes to backgrounds and lighting from day to night, artfully-composed castle rooms, and satisfying background sounds associated with combat, spells, and interacting with the environment. But I have to subtract points on the "interface," which was continually frustrating. Horrible pathfinding, characters who refused to go where I clicked, and similar problems plagued my gameplay. Score: 5.

10. Gameplay. The game has a non-linear game world (you can walk anywhere from the beginning, although you probably won't last long), but a fairly linear plot, in which you progress from castle to castle in a specific order. For this reason, I can't see the game as "replayable." Perhaps the bigger problem is that the designers seem to be sociopaths. The game has a shocking number of ways to deliver instantaneous or near-instantaneous death, even when you do nothing "wrong." Demon dogs that erupt out of the ground from bumping into gravestones, dragons that swoop down and destroy you without allowing you to get in a single hit, lethal splotches of water, trapped drawbridges, castle doors that chomp on you, one-way doors that lock behind you, and (as we see above) enemies who are simply unbeatable...these all conspire to create a game of laughably high difficulty. At times, I was impressed with the game's audacity, but for the most part, I was annoyed with the constant reloading.

And the game just drags. The world isn't all that big, but you have to grind so much that hours and hours pass between interesting things happening. I think I spent more time standing around the wilderness waiting for enemies to attack than I did "playing" the game. Score: 2.

The final score of 36 is fairly low but accurately reflects my feelings about the game. It really is too bad; there were some promising things in the game, and in many ways it was ahead of its time. More combat options, a better equipment system, and a slightly lower difficulty might have redeemed the game and make it authentically fun today.

It appears that most readers' remembrances of this game were with the SNES version, which (judging by YouTube videos of gameplay) has some features that make it a little more tolerable. There seems to be a wider variety of equipment, and the equipment actually has names. Wandering merchants that buy and sell gear. NPCs appear to have more to say, and it appears that it's easier to give individual orders in combat. Combat includes "critical hits." Sound is even better. Dragons that swoop out of the sky occasionally give hints instead of just attacking. I'm guessing there are other differences, too.

A screenshot from magmawk's SNES walkthrough. The dragons in my version were never helpful like this.

Drakkhen was developed by a team of French designers at Inforgrames Europe, a company that made or published hundreds of games, including Alone in the Dark and its sequels. It bought the Atari label in the late 1990s and renamed itself the "Atari Group" in 2009. It is thus one of the few developers of the era still in business, with their headquarters in Paris.

Drakkhen's development history is a little confusing, and sources are inconsistent. MobyGames says that it was both developed and published by Infogrames Europe--and the French names of all those credited seems to support this. But Wikipedia (supported by the game's own title screen) gives the developer as a company called Draconian, a division of the Japanese company Data East. Either way, the game was a rare RPG outing for them. Data East published a few other quasi-RPGs for consoles, but few that it developed and none for the PC. Infogrames's only other RPGs are Mandragore (1985), which never got a DOS release, and a quasi-sequel called either Super Drakkhen or Dragon View (1994), published by the Japanese company Kotobuki for the SNES.

Computer Gaming World never gave this one a full review, although they did have a brief summary in the October 1991 issue. It reflects my views entirely:

Odd combat style allows for little in the way of tactics or even control during fights. Character movement is occasionally awkward with people getting stuck at times behind obstacles, or the party not following the leader through doorways. Sparse documentation does not provide enough information. Terrible character generation system requires creating the party together; one poor set of stats and you may well have to start it all over again. This one is only for the patient.

I could see where this would trigger fond nostalgia among people who played it when it was new, but despite some good features, I find it a little too boring and frustrating. I'll give it a little more time and then move on to Dragons of Flame. I'm hoping it's a weekend game, because starting Curse of the Azure Bonds would be a nice Christmas present.

Later edit:  I would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone who has ever successfully played Dragons of Flame in DOSBox. I cannot figure out the controls or interface for the life of me, and I'm not finding much online.


  1. I am so sorry that this game reeks with the stench of the dead. It actually fits in with MY memories of the game- I bought it for the Amiga when it first came out in the US, but I never played more than 5 minutes of it :) Glad that my reticence to play looks like prescience :)

    Ah well. Chalk it up to experience and on to the next! Avaunt!

    1. Ahem, ah, "First", I think the saying goes? Yes? Whysoever that seems to be a good thing, I don't know, but I think I am still owed a brownie point.

    2. I actually do wish I could win it. It has a potentially-interesting story. I've been running it in the background all day, letting the characters grind, so I can try one more go at the Prince of Water.

  2. Next time, on the screenshots? Move the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen so it doesn't appear. I keep wanting to move it out of the way in the screenshots.

  3. Others have said it, but I appreciate you sticking with these types of games for a while. It would be easy to only blog about the fun games... no doubt enough of those exist... but its fun to see you stick it out and win. But then, I don't want you to get burned out, so do what you have to do. Good job with the blog.

  4. What a pile of...BLEEP those frenchies are trying to get revenge for when they lost the European Soccer championship Ill bet.

    I think you saw enough of the game to make some accurate and entertaining blog posts.

    This blog has been quite prolific recently, check out crpgaddictaddict.blogspot where I comment on this.

    1. Someone ought to start a crpgaddictaddictaddict blog and complain that you've only made three posts since August.

    2. Im doing everyone a favour by not posting

  5. Was this game so bad that it didn't warrant a gameplay video? Or have you switch to animated GIFs instead? Just curious.

    1. No, I would have liked to do a video--maybe I still will--but it requires me to have stuff (i.e., my headset; the native microphone on my new laptop is awful) and be in the right situation (i.e., not in the middle of the night where I'll wake up my wife, not in the middle of a business meeting), and to be cold-free so you can actually understand me. These things haven't come together in the last 10 days.

    2. I so know what you mean. These are pretty much the biggest deterrents from me making videos. Kids, partner, colds (half of the time I get laryngitis along with it). Frustrates me to no end.

  6. "I would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone who has ever successfully played Dragons of Flame in DOSBox. I cannot figure out the controls or interface for the life of me, and I'm not finding much online."

    I haven't played it in ages, but as far as I requires a joystick. Frankly, you're not missing much if you skip it. It's very short (can be finished in 30 mins) and hardly a CRPG.

    1. Well, "hardly a CRPG" turns me off, but "can be finished in 30 mins" sucks me back in. I love it when I can cross a game off my list in one posting.

      I tried mapping keys to emulate a joystick but I'm having problems. Maybe I'll just go buy a joystick tomorrow.

    2. I meant to add, thanks for the insight!

    3. Oops, never mind. I found a reference card:

      I remember buying a joystick for Dragons of Flame (and then immensely regretting it), but looks like it could be played with keyboard. < for left, > for right, / for up and ; for down. = for the button. That sounds incredibly inconvenient, but...

    4. On my game it's:

      - left/right arrow keys or numpad 4 & 6 to move left/right
      - up/down arrow keys or numpad 8 & 2 to move up/down
      - in overhead view: up/down+left/right to move diagonally
      - in side view: up + left/right to jump, down + left/right to dodge/crouch in combat (?), up + left/right + numpad "+" to attack high, down + left/right + numpad "+" to attack low, left/right + numpad "+" for standard attack.
      - numpad 0 changes the view (overhead/side)
      - numpad . seems to use spells
      - space opens the menu
      - R to Rest
      - T to Take
      - U to Use
      - I to Inspect
      - O to Open
      - P to Put
      - S to Shut
      - D to Drop
      - G to Give
      - C opens Clerical Spells
      - M opens Magic Spells
      - H opens character stats
      - J is Joystick calibration, not sure how that works
      - X opens the experience points page
      - Q appear to open an overhead map of the area, with numpad "+" to exit the map view

      This is just what I was able to figure out after installing the game, so there's probably stuff I missed. I'm not sure what else is there to say about the controls, but I think if you have a laptop with no numpad you're screwed unless you remap the numpad controls to something else in DOSBox (or perhaps you can connect an external keyboard).

      Otherwise, the game seems to be very similar to Heroes of the Lance, only with better graphics, a modified control scheme and probably a few new gameplay elements.

    5. I forgot to mention that numpad 1, 3, 7, 9 are for diagonal movement or for high/low attacks.

    6. I appreciate all of the help. I do have a keypad on my laptop, bu the keys clearly aren't mapped the same way. No key I press gets me out of side-scrolling view and back to the overhead view, and no key I press seems to attack.

      There's lots of other weird stuff, like the ESC key suddenly stops working, and I get stuck on menu screens. I'll keep messing with it.

    7. Maybe you need to turn Num Lock on. The version I found makes a big deal out of telling you to "ensure NUM LOCK key is on" every time you start the game.

  7. While personally I would have abandoned the game long, long ago - I'll chip in about that final battle. I checked a walkthrough again for tactics about the last battle. However, the walkthrough seems to be for the SNES version, so it's very possible it won't work for you.

    The fact that it doesn't describe the final battle as that much harder than the previous boss fights is also a bad sign.

    I don't think it's really spoilerific, so I won't use code. Anyway, the walkthrough suggests every party member use "Ghost Staves" or cast invisibility on themselves (that should make your guys harder to hit apparently), then the fighter and scout should attack, while the priest and the magician use the spells fire ball and/or anti-matter. I guess this last part might be possible due to the problems with magic in your version?

    1. Obviously I meant "impossible due to the problems with magic in your version"... doh.

      And tactics FOR the last battle.

    2. Yes, I think the ranged glitch might be fatal. I've been searching around online, too, but it appears that everyone else who played this game played the SNES or Amiga versions. I couldn't find a single PC walkthrough. Damn you, Andrew Schultz!

      No "Ghost Staves" in this version--or if there are, I never found one. There is invisibility, and it does help, but not enough.

  8. Not worth it. I'd advice against spending any money on that game. Besides, I can't think of many other games that require a joystick...and none of them are RPGs.

    Maybe you could play it with some emulator instead. It was released on just about every platform, including C64, Amiga, Atari ST, NES and Spectrum.

  9. If I'm not mistaken the SNES version is massively different from the PC versions.

    are you going to try and review that version as well?

    1. I'd not think it likely. If he was going to leave the pc platform for a quick jaunt I think he would be better off with black crypt (amiga) and chrono trigger (snes) rather than revisit something he tried and struggled through already. There might be more non PC rpgs that could be said to be worth playing but those two would be the foremost for me personally and addict has stated his reluctance to do much on other platforms.

    2. Boroth is right. The list of PC RPGs is long enough that I set a PC-only rule early on. While I'm open to occasional forays into other computer emulators (you'll see one tomorrow, in fact), there's no way I'm getting into the console world.

    3. Actually, I found a way to get Chet to play all the games. Two actually. The first is we invent uploading, ah la Eclipse Phase, then upload Chet's brain. Then Chet can fork himself, so he has a limited subset of himself either working or playing games, while the other does...the other. Then he reemerges himself and suddenly gets the entire experience of himself playing the game instantly.

      The second is we sacrifice a bunch of virgins and turn Chet into the demigod of historic CRPGs.

    4. Or someone could send me, oh, about $1.5 million, and I'd devote myself to the blog full-time for the next 10 years.

    5. My way sounds easier. Also, I'm sure this would result in Chet looking like Adam Jenson from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

  10. Chet, are you gonna use (some of) your old Pool of Radiance characters for Curse of the Azure Bonds, or roll a new party?

    I don't know how much you remember from CoAB, but it's definitely one of the hardest Gold Box games. A single class magic-user is IMO essential in the first area and a good Fighter/Thief is extremely useful due to their backstabbing ability in the second, Drow (against whom magic will have little effect) infested area.

    1. No, I'm going to have to replace most of them. I'll explain why in the first posting.

      The max level for fighters in CotAB is 12, but every race other than human caps much lower The best is dwarves, with 18 strength or more, who cap at 9. (And, of course, only non-humans can be multi-classed.) So if I have a dwarf fighter/thief and his fighter class caps at 9, what happens to all his experience from then on? Does it all go to his thief portion, or is half of it wasted?

    2. Half of the XP goes to raise his Thief skills, and half is wasted. But he will still be better than a single class Thief.

    3. The problem is, that will continue all through the next two games, too.

      Looks like you're safe, by the way, 'cause you were a human. Unless I decided I don't really need a fighter.

    4. Was CotAB the first gold box to add Paladin and Ranger?

  11. Talking of Gold Box games have you ever played the Buck Rogers one before?
    You are really in for a treat!!

    1. No, never. Looks like I'll be hitting that next year.

  12. As to Curse of the Azure Bonds - I don't know what your policy will be regarding walkthrough, but there is a one-battle nuke hidden in the first area. It is pretty much the only way to win the final battle without massive luck or near-optimal party selection, and it is definitely the only way to win the Bonus Boss battle.

    Seriously, CotAB is hard (as in, you should definitely play with two saves, one just before entering dungeons and another one throughout the dungeons) but the final battle is just horrifying.

    I'll give some suggestions on party selection if you want, there are some basics that you really should keep in mind.

    1. The end battle is not _that_ hard, compared to other areas of the game.
      And the bonus battle _is_ winnable without the "one-battle nuke". You just have to exploit the poor AI and pathfinding of your enemies to lure them out a few at a time, and use a Hasted and Enlarged Fighter/Thief to do most of the killing.
      But I agree that picking an optimal party will be important for CoAB.

    2. I do not remember the end battle being *that* hard. The battle I remember having most trouble with is the boss battle of the second area.

      The bonus-battle is fun though very hard if you do not use cheap tactics.

    3. I'd remember two fights which were totally out of scale on character levels on this game. I suppose you talk about them (Syvtug bs oynpx qentbaf ba pnireaf arne Unc naq Orubyqre Pbecf va Gbjre bs Bknz)... Thought the latter was made just to humilitate players.

    4. All right, please be careful, guys. Anonymous, my policy about walkthroughs is the same as always: I don't use them. So if I screw up and don't have some important item at a key battle, you get to all watch me rage and rant as you laugh at me.

    5. I encourage people not to post hints or spoilers before he even plays a game. Here's why:
      If you think about why we love this blog (and these games) it is largely about discovery and exploration. If you post stuff that skews Chet's experience to more closely resemble your own, then you are actually reducing everyone's opportunity to "re-discover" these old games from a fresh perspective.

    6. I agree with Dave, please save the hints and spoilers until he's played for a while. I understand you're excited to share the game, but really, allow Chet his own experience with the game.

  13. About Dragons of Flame... you have a pretty good manual here:

    This is for amiga version, but should be similar for DOS. "Joystick button" is mapped to the '+' on the numeric keyboard. So, to attack, hold '+' and one of the numeric side keys (1, 4, 7, 3, 6, 9).

    Hope this helps. This one looks weird and original, it'd be a shame to skip it.

    1. Replacementdocs had a full PDF version of the manual, which was nice. It just doesn't have the "Quick Reference Card" (which contained the controls) for the PC, only the C64. The key commands on that mostly don't work, particularly because one important key is the "Commodore" key.

  14. Regarding Nethack 3.0.9:
    I'm finding that this old version is actually far more unpredictable than newer versions. It is far more likely to throw giant packs of orcs and killer bees at you. It's been so long since I played this old version that I was expecting it to be easier, but I'm finding it harder in the pre-Castle portion of the game. I think it will be easier in the post-castle portion due to the simpler "end game". We'll see. It's been 23 years.

    1. Ha! It would be funny if most of my NetHack schooling was being completed in the most difficult version, and I found later versions a breeze in comparison.

  15. The interface for interacting with containers was changed at some point to make it much easier to use bags. Also the pickup/drop interface was changed to be much more versatile. I'm finding item manipulation to be the most annoying thing about playing 3.0.9.

    The ability to swap places with your pet was also added at some point (not sure which version). That makes the pet far more useful as an ally, and far easier to move past.


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