I had been expecting a twist ending to Bane of the Cosmic Forge--something that explained the true nature of the "pen" and perhaps that allowed the player to make some choices about how to use it. I frankly thought it would turn out to be some kind of meta-ending, in which the Cosmic Forge wasn't a literal pen but perhaps the programming interface used to create and edit the world.
With these expectations, I wasn't enamored of the ending, or endings, to the game. Instead of a solution to its mysteries and a true explanation of the Cosmic Forge, we get a cliffhanger and a setup for its sequel. I don't care how many of the enigmas are clarified in the sequel; I have to wait at least two years to play it.
|The game also got a lot sillier towards the end.|
There wasn't much physical space to the game after my last post, just a forest, a Temple of Ramm consisting of four small levels, and a Chamber of the Cosmic Forge with the final encounters. But regardless of the overall size, it took me a long time to traverse the areas because the difficulty of the combats increased significantly. In contrast to most of the other enemies in the game, whom I could generally conquer with fighting power alone (or perhaps coupled with a few sleepy-time tunes from the bard), these areas featured fearsome foes with mass-damage spellcasting, paralyzing, and stoning capabilities. I had to spend a lot more time plotting combat tactics--primarily spellcasting--than before, and my reload count increased significantly. Adding to the difficulty was a lack of fountains in the final areas.
I'm not sure whether my late-game class changes helped or hindered in the endgame. By the time it was over, each character had achieved a level in her new class equal to the one she'd held when she switched from her old class, and if I hadn't switched classes, I probably would have only achieved one more level. On the other hand, the resistances and extra attacks conveyed by that one extra level might have made the difference in a few combats, particularly the last one.
There wasn't much to the forest. I entered it by escaping the jail, which I did by showing my Dagger of Ramm to the guard. He was so freaked out that I had it that he summoned a bunch of allies, opened the door, and attacked. I checked the hint guide after I won, and I discovered that I could have escaped using the magic mushrooms I got from the giant caterpillar, too.
The primary mission in the forest turned out to be getting the Staff of Ramm from an Oracle, but to do that, I needed to answer some cryptic questions, which I couldn't do until I had conversed with Saeran, Queen of the Faeries. She and all of the other faeries were, of course, nude--bottomless as well as topless this time, though their animations were so fast that you'd have to take screen captures to see the few pubic pixels. That is not a phrase I was ever looking forward to typing in a review.
|I guess that's as good an explanation as any.|
In addition to the staff, the Oracle granted me a vision of the final battle against the vampire king, in which I would have to use a "piece of shining glass," the silver cross, wooden stakes, and holy water. I never found the "shining glass" during my gameplay. I later discovered that I needed to chip them off a rock in the forest. I think this made the ending more difficult but, as we'll see, not impossible.
From there, I had trouble entering the Temple of Ramm and fought a dozen battles with gate guards before it occurred to me to try approaching the temple with some artifact of Ramm. The solution turned out to be wearing the goat's head mask I'd discovered ages ago in the castle.
The Temple consisted of three levels that were hard to map because it kept teleporting me among them. It was nonetheless a very linear process, delayed only by a succession of near-boss combats on each level. When I first arrived, I was greeted by the insane wizard Xorphitus and I had to use the Staff of Ramm from the forest to cross a pit of lava. Xorphitus also showed up at the end for a very pathetic confrontation in which I killed him in the first round.
With his dying breath, he asked why I'd killed him, and I said "YOU WERE IN MY WAY," which led me to the first of three endings I experienced; specifically, the "dumb boffo ending."
I'm sorry, but my ladies entered the castle to solve a 120-year-old mystery, not to obtain the Cosmic Forge for themselves. Nonetheless, knowing that this was the proper answer, I reloaded, defeated the wizard again, and answered "correctly" this time. His longer death speech bolstered my assumption that the Forge would turn out to be the tools used to program the game itself:
The world you see is an illusion, only a trick, a reflection of the operation of your own mind...You're searching for the Cosmic Forge, the pen of destiny, and it sounds like powerful magic... But what if it wasn't magic? What if it was...
And then he died before completing the thought.
|No, I killed you because you attacked me when I stepped on the only square available.|
I strode forward down a flight of stairs and was confronted by the vampire king who, in the dumbest twist ever, the game explicitly names as "Dracula." Or, I'm sorry, "D R A C U L A." The first time I stumbled into him, he summoned Rebecca to aid him. Unprepared, I was unable to even hit him in combat and was swiftly slaughtered.
On a reload, I equipped my stakes and holy water before facing him, cast some buffing spells, and used the silver cross during the first round. Weirdly, he didn't summon Rebecca this time. I was able to kill him in four rounds without significant damage to my party. He had a long death speech that indicated he had grown tired of undead existence and was grateful to my party for slaying him.
At this point, Rebecca appeared and expressed sadness over the death of Dracula. She told a different story than the ghost of the dead queen, claiming that it was the demented, evil queen who had ordered the death of the vicar and his mistress (Rebecca's mother), and who tried to kill Rebecca but slipped and fell on her own knife. The queen had said that the king had taken Rebecca as a lover and fathered a son, but Rebecca indicated that the king was only her "protector and benefactor" and that the son had been his with the queen. She warned me of his temperament and gave me a key to his lair behind the Cosmic Forge before departing.
|Wherever you end up, there's a thing called a "shirt" that you might want to check out.|
At that point, I was able to stride forward to the Cosmic Forge, where the game asked if I wanted to take it. On the first try, I said "yes," and met an abrupt ending in which a "strange voice" said "I'll take that!" and I got the end screen as above with no further explanation.
|All that work deserves more than seven words and a generic end screen.|
On a reload, I said "no" and continued through the chamber to the lair of Bela the Dragon. Why the son of the king and queen is a dragon is a little unexplained, but presumably it has something to do with the bane (curse) of the Cosmic Forge. He didn't give me a chance to talk with him and instead howled his agony over the death of his father, attacked me, and slaughtered me in the first round with a "nuclear blast" spell.
|This is kind of a dumb name for a spell. A real "nuclear blast" would destroy the dungeon and kill everyone in the radius.|
I wanted to defeat Bela to see what the alternate endgame had to offer, but it took me more than 20 reloads and I nearly gave up. Most of his attacks were capable of killing at least one character per round; some of them were capable of killing all of them, and he had more than 800 hit points--the most (I think) in the game. However, he also had a weak "acid spray" attack and the combined might of my fighters was capable of inflicting about 150 hit points of damage per round. Thus, I had to keep reloading until he favored his weaker attacks for a few rounds in a row, allowing me to ultimately defeat him with all but two of my characters slain. I resurrected them and proceeded forward.
Out of nowhere, the game gave me an odd and unwelcome turn towards science fiction. In the chamber beyond Bela's was a spaceship, which my party perceived as a "slumbering beast" encased in armor. Despite their misgivings, my party entered its "mouth" and soon found itself among stars. At that point, I got the same end game screen as above.
|Be careful what you promise, Sir-Tech.|
I guess there was a third possibility, achievable if I had distrusted the queen's ghost and discarded the silver cross before my first meeting with the vampire king. In this ending--called the "best" by one of my commenters--the vampire king, after a silly speech, impales and kills himself. Rebecca says goodbye to the party as before, but Bela is not hostile when you approach him. Instead, he offers to take the party on a ride in the spaceship ("we can make fuel from the dinosaur remains up in the forest") to go chasing a "cosmic lord." I read the text of both the vampire's speech and Bela's speech in the hint guide, and I have to say they're both pretty dumb. I rather prefer the ending that I got.
No matter what your ending, the game somewhat nonsensically kicks you back to the Enchanted Forest once you've won and allows you to keep exploring and fighting. I messed around a bit to see if there was anything new to encounter, didn't find anything, and shut it down.
I browsed through the rest of the hint guide, and I was surprised to see that it recommended that characters be at least Level 15 before confronting Bela. That would have taken an absolutely staggering number of experience points, even without my class change. (I achieved a total of about 1.5 million experience points per character throughout the game; Level 15 for most classes requires around 2.5-2.8 million.) I guess some players are willing to do a lot more grinding. Other than that, the hint guide didn't tell me anything I hadn't already discovered through gameplay, except the uses of the "Rock of Reflection" and a couple of longer conversations with NPCs. Oh, and I guess I could have avoided killing the Queen of the Amazulus. I was actually more surprised to see that all of the NPC-related quests had "outs" if you chose to kill them instead, usually by finding some message or artifact on their bodies.
Again, I'm a bit disappointed in the cliffhanger ending, which promises the next game in 1991, but as we now know didn't come out until 1992. It's one thing to have a sequel to a game; it's another to split the plot between games. Yes, I know books and films do it, but I don't find it any more attractive there. Even in series, books, films, and games should try to tell a self-contained plot (if also offering a general series plot), lest the company go out of business or the creators die in between episodes.
I'll GIMLET this soon, and then move deeper into 1990. Perhaps if I'm lucky, I'll be able to play the sequel sometime before the end of 2016.