Saturday, July 13, 2013

Moebius: Won! (with Final Rating)

There are no CRPGs I don't win. There are just CRPGs I haven't won yet.

Moebius: The Orb of Celestial Harmony
United States
ORIGIN Systems (developer and publisher)
Released 1985 for Apple II, 1986 for Commodore 64, 1987 for Amiga, Atari ST, and DOS
Date Started: 28 July 2010
Date Ended: 13 July 2013
Total Hours: 18
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 24
Ranking at Time of Posting: 28% (29/105)
Ranking at Game #404: 165/404 (41%)
Long-time readers know that I didn't give Moebius enough ink when I played it three years ago. To the best of my recollection, I made an initial posting and got extremely turned off by the character icon. About that time, I went on a couple of back-to-back business trips (there's a 12-day absence in my blog), during which I played the game sporadically but never developed an affinity for it and decided not to write any more (or even do a GIMLET) by the time I got back.

But a few weeks ago, when I saw that its sequel, Windwalker, was coming up on my list, I figured I'd better sit down, finish it, and give it a proper rating. It took me about 10 hours (in addition to the 8 I invested in 2010). I still didn't like it much, though I praise the game a bit for offering eastern themes in an era when anything outside of Tolkien-based high fantasy was pretty rare.

The evil "conspiracy of darkness."

Here's the back story of the game, from my original posting:

The game takes place in the formerly-peaceful realm of Khantun. The evil monk Kaimen has stolen the Orb of Celestial Harmony from his master, Moebius the Windwalker, and has set up a fortress on the Plane of Fire from which he is wreaking havoc across the land. Since the Orb "holds in effect the forces of dissolution that are inherent to our land" and allows passage through the elemental realms, Moebius is stuck on his own plane and Khantun is suffering a variety of natural and monster-based disasters. Complicating things is that Khantun has no army ("since the Windwalker showed our people the path of peace, there has been no need") to stand against Kaimen's horde of evil monks. That tasks falls to the player and the aged monks who will aid him.

After you spend a bit of time training in hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, and "divination," you begin the adventure on the plane of earth. The character proceeds through earth, water, air, and fire.

On each plane, you have two shrines to liberate.

Each plane features two shrines (one yin, one yang?) that must be liberated before you can proceed through the gate to the next shrine. This involves defeating the "evil monks" that have taken residence there, freeing the captive priests, and leading the priests to the vacated shrines. There's also a boss "overlord" on each level, though I don't think it's strictly necessary to defeat them (hard not to encounter them, though).

Leading the priest to his shrine.

Exploring the lands is like trying to take an exam while someone keeps running up every 5-20 seconds and blasts an air horn in your ear. The game seems hell-bent on annoying the player as much as possible. It seems that every few seconds, there's an earthquake, a rainstorm, a rockslide, a heat wave, or some other natural disaster that you have to stop and acknowledge. There's a day/night cycle, and at night torches blow out or burn out with such frequency that you might as well not bother to light them. Enemies respawn constantly and attack you from all directions. "Guards" will often paralyze you for a few turns and steal your things (there's no way to avoid this), forcing you to chase them down and get your stuff back. Moebius the Windwalker doesn't stop popping up with a vision to tell you how pleased he is with your progress. Even when nothing is happening, the eyes of the PC shift back and forth and yin-yang symbols rotate constantly in the corner.

A typical Moebius screen. An assassin approaches from my right while a palace guard lurks in the lower left. There are two buildings in the lower right that may contain enemies or NPCs. Meanwhile, there's an earthquake going on.

During all this, you need to keep a careful eye on your food and water. They deplete quickly, and when they hit 0, you start to lose body points. There are fresh water points throughout each map, so keeping a full waterskin involves little more than backtracking. Food is tougher; you essentially have to kill enemies for it and loot it from their bodies. I ended the game starving, but by then I had enough potions to replenish the hit points I was losing from starvation.

Much of the difficulty in the game comes in the form of navigation puzzles. None of the planes are particularly large, but it's hard to get from one place to another. You have to cleave through trees, bust up stone barriers, and navigate currents between islands. The graphics of the game often make it difficult to see where the paths are.

There are only three regular foes in the game: palace guards, assassins, and evil monks. When you fight them, you're taken to a side-view action screen in which you can perform various types of punches, kicks, and slashes (depending on whether you had your weapon active when you entered combat) as well as blocking with the SPACE bar. A lot of sources suggest this combat mechanism was inspired by Karateka, though I can't imagine that Karateka sucked this bad. There's basically one strategy that works for every foe: time a downward slash or kick as they approach. Repeat over and over to win. Whether other attacks connect seems to me almost entirely random, and I couldn't figure out any strategy that would have been informed by carefully watching enemy movement.

Sparring with a palace guard.

Evil monks will melt your sword if you engage them wielding it, so you have to carefully watch for them and sheath it if they approach. You can only fight them hand-to-hand.

He doesn't have any such restriction, though. He gets a staff!

You have the option to toss a shuriken (one hit = death) at any foe if you can time it right, but you get far less experience (and no items) from the kill, and shurikens run out easy. I used them a lot, in conjunction with the "paralysis" spell, on the final level just to get by all of the evil monks.

With "paralysis" in effect, I prepare to hurl a shuriken across the fire and into the forehead of the evil monk guarding the gate out of this hell hole.

Theoretically, you can also trade fireballs with the evil monks inside the shrines. I could never seem to hit them, though, while they didn't have any problems hitting me, so it was easier for me to just fight them by hand.

If you die, you'll be resurrected as long as you have a "life" left (yes, this is is a CRPG with "lives"). You start with three and get one more every time you liberate a shrine. The game saves automatically when you die, so you can't just reload. If you run out of lives, the punishment is a little bit harsh considering you were trying to save the world.

There are NPCs in the game, and talking with them is important to get various clues to help you get through the levels and figure out the magic system. They also give you various items. You have to be careful not to talk with them while your sword is active, though, as they get scared and run away. There's an option to ask any NPC to follow you, but I can't imagine why you'd do it except for the priests you have to lead to the temples.

I'm not sure watching his eyes is even possible in this game.

Enemy bodies, scattered chests, and NPCs deliver various items. Torches are plentiful but never work. Whetstones are needed to sharpen blades dulled by hacking through trees. There are body and mind elixirs to restore those attributes. There are also a variety of special items: a hammer to break through rocks, a lens to view where various creatures are on the map, an amulet to solve a puzzle on the plane of air, and a pair of gauntlets to pick up the Orb of Celestial Harmony on the plane of fire.

Technically, random skeletons hung up around the world also drop items. I always got the sense I was doing something "bad" in attacking and stealing from them, and I never needed items so bad that it was worth it.

I didn't get a handle on the magic system until late in the game. As you rescue priests and liberate shrines, you're given various "artifacts" that you first have to identify through the "divination" mini-game, in which you have to use the arrow keys to keep a constantly-agitating yin-yang symbol inside a box.

Once you identify the artifact, to "invoke" it, you have to have the right reagents. You generally get them from various creatures in the game, like pandas, tigers, and water beetles. However, these are only found on specific maps, so if you make it to the plane of water without collecting any panda fur, for instance, you won't ever be able to cast the "spirit" spell. Although there were six artifact-based spells offered in the game--"ventriloquism," "paralysis," "teleport," "invisibility," "were-spell," and "spirit"--I only ever used them a handful of times, and generally just to solve puzzles.

Invoking a magic charm.

There's another dimension of magic. If you "fast" long enough, you get the ability to pray for a special effect, like healing or curing poison. I never used this at all and didn't figure it out until I read a walkthrough at the end of the game. Apparently, I needed to talk to the priests after I delivered them to their shrines to get the words necessary for each prayer. It didn't occur to me to converse with them after I'd delivered them to the shrines.

The planes of earth and water were pretty straightforward. It was just navigating, fighting, and rescuing priests. The plane of air was a lot harder, and I spent half the game or more in this one area, trying to solve the puzzles. The gate out of the plane was across a void, and I needed to polymorph myself into a condor to fly there. This involved first getting the artifact for the "were-spell" from a demon minstrel. It took me a long time, and several helpful NPCs to figure out how. Basically, I had to wait until he stopped trying to attack me and instead played a song. Then I had to cast "paralysis" to freeze him in minstrel (non-demon) form, then wear a special amulet while approaching him, and finally un-freeze him.

Gee, thanks.

Even after getting the artifact, I had to spend a while tracking down where the condor (who buzzed around my head and attacked me during the day) bedded down at night so I could get its feathers for the spell.

Polymorphed into a bird, I fly to the exit.

The plane of fire was difficult for a different reason: the two captive priests were on an island, I had to lead them across the water to the building with their shrines. But as you swim through water, you slowly sink, and I kept losing them under the waves. It took 10 or 12 trips before I could successfully lead them across.

Trying to lead a priest across a lake before we both sink.

The end game came when I liberated the last shrines and defeated the final "overlord" on the plane of fire. Then, wearing the golden gauntlets, I lifted the Orb of Celestial Harmony from its pedestal and brought it through the gate to the astral plane to Moebius, who said:

Behold the return of the Orb of Harmony! The heavens and earth will sing the praises of your victory! You have restored peace and harmony! You have become a Star in the Firmament! In you I am well pleased! Write to me about your journeys...and I will send you my congratulations! Your fame shall be known by all!

The game otherwise doesn't give any indication who, specifically, to write to get those congratulations.

The Orb of Harmony at last.

Let's do a quick GIMLET:

  • 3 points for the game world. The game makes it seem like it's going to be interesting and original, what with the möbius strips and taijitus, but these are just window dressing. The plot itself is a bunch of silliness with no twists, lore, or intrigue. It's barely referenced during the game.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. There isn't much you can do during creation. Development is relatively swift and rewarding--you definitely get more powerful as your level goes up. Moreover, Moebius pops up and gives you a little haiku every time you reach a new level.

Now I get to fight the forces of Voldemort.

  • 3 points for NPC interaction. Disappointing for an Origin game. You can basically just say "help" to the NPCs, who may give you an item and a one-line bit of lore.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. This game may have the lowest number of different enemy types of any CRPG I've played. They don't really behave much differently. The "boss" battles were often far easier than random battles against mooks. There are no real puzzles or role-playing encounters in the game. You do get lots of respawning and grinding opportunities.

Fighting the final overlord against a backdrop of fire.

  • 2 points for magic and combat. If you're going to have an action-oriented combat system, player dexterity ought to count for something, but I really couldn't see any clear tactics in this game. Combat swiftly becomes rote and tedious. The magic system is original but ultimately underwhelming and faulty.
  • 2 points for equipment. There isn't much of it, and most of it is for puzzle-solving. You don't get much in the way of equipment upgrades, save replacing your sword with the overlord's and getting the priests to bless your sword when you rescue them. At no point, can you see what the effects of these changes are except in combat itself.

The "population lens" was a useful item that showed me where other beings were, relative to me.

  • 0 points for the non-existent economy.
  • 2 points for quests. There's one main quest, no branches, no options, no side quests, no role-playing.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and inputs. I thought the graphics were silly and jarring, and the sound was invasive and annoying. The interface worked well enough, though I think the combat system could have been mapped to better keys.
  • 3 points for gameplay. Linear and not replayable, it only gets points for moderate difficulty and a quick pace.

So for those who read my blog and always wondered if Moebius was any good, the answer is basically "no." The final rating of 24 puts it in the lower tier of 1980s games. It's yet another "between-Ultimas" Origin misfire. But I'm glad I was finally able to give it a rating.

This was creator Greg Paul Malone's first credited game. He worked on a number of other ORIGIN titles during the late 1980s and early 1990s (Omega, Knights of Legend, Ultima VI) and somehow appears at New World for Might & Magic III in 1991. In the late 1990s, he produced the Duke Nukem 3D series for 3D Realms Entertainment. Today, he works as a technology director at a school in New Mexico.

Windwalker, the sequel to this game, is coming up in a few, and judging by the screenshots, they kept the action-oriented combat and disembodied heads. I hope they improved other aspects of gameplay.

I guess it's time to stop procrastinating on Sword of Aragon now.


  1. "Now I get to fight the forces of Voldemort."

    That reminds me, I need to fire up my Game Boy Color player and give my Harry Potter RPG another try.

    Congratulations on winning another CRPG that, from your description, would drive me absolutely crazy if I tried to play it! Did you actually run out of lives and have to start the whole game over from the beginning?

    1. No, my first character made it to the end with five lives left. I started up a new character and deliberately drowned myself three times to see what would happen.

    2. I loved this game, but of course, I played it in 1988 when it was brand new. I was talking about just tonight with a buddy I hadn't seen in ten years.

  2. Damn, I had forgotten this was an Origin game. Your blog is really destroying the rose-tinted lenses I had on for the company. It seems there are two types of Origin games: Ultimas, which are good, and not-Ultimas, which are terrible.

    1. Origin's Wing Commander series, beginning in 1990, was very good. So the BUS (between-Ultimas-syndrome) eventually loses its wheels. Of course, Wing Commander isn't a CRPG, so we won't see it on this blog.

      After 1990 Origin pretty much gives up on developing non-Ultima RPGs, though they do publish both Shadowcaster and System Shock 1.

    2. Don't forget Autoduel, Ogre, Bioforge, Strike Commander, and the Crusader games (No Regret and No Remorse). All amazing.

      Actually, I'm surprised Autoduel didn't make an appearance on this blog. Especially considering Space Rogue did...

    3. Autoduel did in fact turn up on this blog.

    4. Weird, how'd I miss that? Thanks for the link.

    5. Autoduel wasn't my cup of tea either. Bought it for the Atari and was greeted by black&white graphics (the Atari conversions by Origin pretty much always sucked for international customers because of their NTSC dependancy) - but that wasn't the real problem.
      Hectic circling of enemy cars, cities that are nothing more than elaborate menus (you have to run to each of the buildings) and a sucky copy protection scheme.
      Eventually I made a mistake and copied over one of the original game disks (don't ask - I still don't know how I did it but the game was destroyed) and my pain ended. Never looked back.

    6. Even the Ultimas don't bat a thousand. Basically, we have three good Origin RPGs from the 1980s: Ultimas III-V. (And even that's being a little generous, since Ultima III is mostly "good" in a historical sense.) I'll allow that maybe I just didn't "get" Autoduel, and it should be on the list, too.

      I can't comment in the non-RPG. As a whole, the company seemed to get a lot better in the 1990s.

    7. Even though I enjoyed Autoduel as a game, I don't know that it was a great CRPG. Part of the enjoyment came from seeing the Car Wars system brought to the computer, and transformed into arcade-style play. A good game? Yes, I thought so. A good CRPG? I'm not so sure.

  3. "There are no CRPGs I don't win. There are just CRPGs I haven't won yet." So, Faery Tale Adventure is up next then??? ;)

    1. And Wizardry 4??? ;)

    2. The only way to win Wizardry 4 is not to play.

    3. Wizardry 4? I sure hope not. The last thing I want to see, as a reader, is this blog bogged down for months as Chet tries to legitimately defeat that masochistically hard and tedious game.

    4. I know of one guy who beat it legitimately (back when it was first released, no hints, ultimate ending, even). While he hasn't blogged about it (given blogs did not exist in the 80s), he has some posts about Wizardry 3 in his archive.

    5. I've no doubt it's perfectly possible to beat this game with no hints or spoilers. But... is it really worth it? I fall heavily towards no.

    6. There are no Bard's Tales the Addict has not won. There are only Bard's Tales he hasn't won yet.

    7. I know I was setting myself up with that caption. In all seriousness, I at least played all those games long enough to determine whether they were good.

    8. Maybe you should phrase it as ""There are no CRPGs I don't play. There are just CRPGs I haven't played yet.""

  4. I had always wondered about those not-Ultima Origin games. I always thought I was missing out on something great. It's good for my soul to know I didn't miss much. I always see them on abandonware lists and consider downloading them, but never do.

    1. You've actually missed out on a lot. See my above post.

    2. RPG-wise though, I don't think much is really missed. I had forgotten the "Commander" series of games were Origin and I also loved the Crusader series of games and System Shock. But Origin's RPG record is not that great.

    3. Nope. Autoduel and Ogre were Steve Jackson Games. Strike Commander was a dog that ran slow on a blazing-fast 486-66/DX2. Didn't miss much.

    4. Nope. Both Autoduel & Ogre - the computer games, not the P&P stuff! - were developed & published by Origin.

    5. I think maybe Harland's point was that neither Autoduel nor Ogre was conceived as an original game by Origin.

    6. It doesn't matter who conceives something as P&P - only the translation (not: conversion) to the computer/console matters.
      And it doesn't even matter for the P&P players - they will either generally hate or ignore it. A computer game is completely different, after all.

      However, if the computer games designers do a good job of integrating the source material a decent game for us regular CRPG Joes may pop out.

  5. I guess it's time to stop procrastinating on Sword of Aragon now.

    Huzzah! SoA is awesome, though I think you will find that its effective RPG credentials are somewhat slim. I have memories of playing through the campaign for months (it was however quite slow on contemporary computers), but I think you will determine soon enough that it has nothing more to teach you.

    1. Yea, I played the heck out of SoA back in the day, tho I'd hesitate to call it an RPG, per se. But it does seem to fit in the same lineage as a few older games reviewed on this site.

    2. *keeps waiting*

  6. Although I am totally and literally paralyzed by choice (I have literally thousands of games on my computer, and about 100 games for the 7 consoles I have (N64, Dreamcast, PS1, PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360), I have always been on the cusp on trying this game but never actually fell over the lip. From your blog post, I am thanking Dzark-Khazh, the Demon-God of Dreams, that I didn't. Man, what a stinker of a game. And I've played some stinkers. Plus, eaten some mighty gassy foods...

    On that note*, ciaoueux

    *can YOU catch all the puns and injokes?

  7. Why is it that whenever you have a pose, "Won! Such and such a game (with Final Rating)," or Game: Final Rating is it always

    "Final Rating: (to come later)"

    at the top of the article? You've done the GIMLET, what else is there to wait for?

    There are the spreadsheets, and the scores are in the articles anyway, so this is obviously not really important--don't interpret asking about it as complaining about it--but since I have absolutely nothing to say about Moebius, I figure this is as good a time as any to see if you'll satisfy my curiosity.

    1. Some people complained that by putting it at the top of the new reviews, I was spoiling the suspense for first-time readers. So I leave it blank for a few weeks. Then, when it's no longer new, I go and plug the figures in.

    2. I feel it would be less work for you if you just put all that info (with completed final rating at the bottom) as a nice end-cap to your final ratings rather than at the top as some kind of continuation of standard videogame reviewer convention (actually, I think I have seen some reviewers already break convention, so you wouldn't be a maverick). Don't sweat older posts. Just edit this one and continue the new format from there.

  8. I was a huge fanboy of Origin/Garriot and Roberts during this era. Origin just seemed to be on a roll back then with hit after hit.
    The Ultimas and Wingcommander series, The Crusader series, System Shock, Ultima Underground. Cloth Maps, detailed back stories and propaganda like the "Claw Marks" ship newspaper that came with WC. Metal ankh's and moonstones included long before the modern pre-order nonsense.
    They really were creating worlds back then.

    1. nitpick:
      Ultima "Underworld", not "Underground"
      -- for those that want to search for these games.

  9. Um, Duke Nukem 3D was one entry in the larger Duke Nukem series, of which the main series has had 4 gamee (I, II, 3D and Forever, the first two being platformers, 3D being an amazing, seminal FPS that was miles ahead of anything else at its time, and Forever being a steaming pile of dreck tha took over a decade to make) h

    1. I said "Duke Nukem 3D series" because it's a sub-series in the larger series, consisting of several episodes, expansions, and upgrades.

  10. I see that a couple of titles (at least Nightmare on Elm Street and Phantasy Star II) have disappeared from the Master Game List. I guess they weren't RPG's enough, or were dropped for other (equally valid) reasons. Now there is only one 1980's game yet to enter the "Recent and Upcoming" list, until the turn of the decade. 1990's, here we come! :) Lots of great games ahead, peppered with lots of bad or mediocre ones.

    1. I checked out a couple of them and found they didn't really satisfy my criteria for RPGs. NoES wasn't even close. I dumped Phantasy Star because it's a console game that's only available in a "Windows" version via an emulator, which of course I could do with any console game of the period.

      But I might still check it out, along with other console games. I'll have an announcement about that in my 1989/1990 transition posting.

    2. I don't think Phantasy Star II is a good use of your time. It took me over 30 hours to get through because I was mapping on my own. I invite you to read my review to get a good idea of the game. Out of all the games I've played through so far, it's second to last when it came to my enjoyment (Wizardry being dead last). If you're looking for an early console RPGs to get a feel for the evolution, I'd suggest starting with the first Phantasy Star and building up from there. It stands up well against it's peers (Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest II).

      I can recommend more as I get through the games, but my past experience has a lot of gaps. I can definitely say others' suggestions such as Final Fantasy IV (III in the US) and Chrono Trigger are good, but their active combat (monsters attack while you consider your moves) might not fit with your play style.

    3. You can use a non active form of combat in FF4, if I remember.

      That said, quite proudly despite how bad the game really was, I'd declare I managed to take out NoES with no assistance and I'd call it a Zelda (1) styled platformer with a very minimal sense of character development (though you do have five characters to choose from, there's only a miniscule difference in the characters, and leveling is just 'saving' one of the other characters to get life/special powers.)

      Fun, but bad game, made inexorably better if you don't mind Freddy 3. I'd actively recommend against it... and I kinda like it. :)

    4. Am I the only one bugged that he might play PS2 without playing PS1, or am I just crazy like that?

    5. Not likely to happen. After this discussion, I removed all PS games from the main list, though I'm working on a plan for a non-DOS/PC list, which I'll unveil soon.

  11. Hmm, Phantasy Star II fits all criteria, probably more so then Rings of Medusa.

  12. I think you will like Windwalker better. I like Windwalker for nostalgic reasons, but reading and seeing the gameplay for Moebius makes me really wonder. I'm not saying Windwalker will knock your socks off -- I don't think it is that impressive of a CRPG...probably about average...certainly no Ultima or Might & Magic, and not even a dark horse like Uukrul. That said, I think you will find it significantly better than its predecessor.
    I primarily like Windwalker for nostalgic reasons...and there are a couple of small but nifty innovations...but I just couldn't get into Moebius when I tried. It will keep your favorite part of Moebius intact -- the same basic setting.

  13. OMG, my older bother had this game, and when he was away at college in the late 80's and i was around 13, i'd play it. i LOVED this game! was just trying to explain it to someone and found your blog. the nostalgia is huge! i wish there was a way to still play it on a modern-day computer (is there? because i would pay for a way to do it). thanks for the memories. man, i miss this game!

    1. Yes, you can play it the same way I did: download the DOSBox emulator for your computer and find the game files on an abandonware site.

  14. Played this game on the C=64, at the time it was a larger and more complex game than I was used to. It was also very evil in that it started each fight by removing 1 "life" from your prevoius saves, so there was no cheating possible - you couldn't pull the plug half into a fight you were about to lose.

    I later played the game on the Amiga, and it was actually easier on the Amiga, not to mention loading times were cut down to nearly nothing compared to the c=64 version. The PC version seems similar to the Amiga version.

    I also played Windwalker on the Amiga, I have to say I like that game too but Moebius is better IMHO, especially if compared to other games of the same era.

    While I consider Moebius to be one of my all time favourite games, today it seems a bit "simple" and repetitive. But if you put your 1985 goggles on it's a great game.

  15. Did anyone notice the Monster Manual II ripoff devil picture? It's the red panel with the devil holding the whip. That is exactly taken from the Moloch drawing in the devil's section. Just a fun detail. Love the blog, I'm going through it by year and it's very interesting and entertaining. EY

  16. "The "boss" battles were often far easier than random battles against mooks." It's amazing that mooks are such good fighters given their stupidity and incompetence. Ironically all the things the character does on his adventure sound fun and interesting. Too bad the actual gameplay is horrible.

  17. The 4th pic looks like a mess of tiles. Did the game glitch up, or is it supposed to look like that?

    1. It's supposed to look like that. It's just the game's weird aesthetic. We're on sort of a peninsula of land (in the cosmos), walking along a strip of grass tiles beneath some forest and mountain tiles.


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