The Ormus Saga is a little Ultima clone, written by a developer named Mike Doran for the Commodore 64, and offered on diskmag by the German publisher CP Verlag. Unlike Antares, in which I am currently also mired, Ormus offers its text in English. I haven't been able to find anything about the author, whose name doesn't sound German. In any event, this game is the first in a trilogy, which continues with The Ormus Saga II: Guild of Death (1993) and The Ormus Saga III: The Final Chapter (1994).
If there was any documentation for the game originally, I can't find it, but it isn't very hard. It doesn't even use the keyboard (except to type the character name); all movement is through the joystick. Pushing the button calls up a list of commands that would be executed by keystroke in a better game, including attacking, casting spells, and using items.
|I approach a village to the south while an orc party (or something like that) approaches from the north. I've hit the joystick button, so the game is showing me my various outdoor menu options. I'm very low on hit points.|
The game is set in 1227 in the land of Beryland. The Ormus Cult has taken over the realm, and the PC has decided to do something about it. Character creation is just a name, at which point the PC starts on "the southwest shores of Beryland," next to a city called Remfield. He's got 60 hit points, 210 experience, 300 gold, 12 food, 9 strength, and wisdom.
|The back story from the game's introductory screens.|
Cities are just menus, where you can engage in conversation with a fixed number of menu NPCs; attack the same NPCs (haven't figured out why you'd want to do that yet); sleep at the inn to recover hit points; check your inventory; search the city for treasures (again, a fixed number); hire soldiers (more on that in a bit); buy and sell items; and visit the healer.
Conversation with NPCs is about as verbose as an Ultima game, although you don't get any dialogue options. NPCs tell you things about the world and give you clues about things to check in other cities. At least one NPC in each city offers the location of a treasure, measured in squares north/south or east/west from the current city. I haven't found any of these treasures yet, as all of the locations have had water in between.
|Conversation with "a woman" gives me some intelligence on a "holy word."|
There's not much to do in the outdoor areas except travel between towns, fight wandering monsters (as in Ultima, they show up on the world map and chase you around), and dig for treasure. If there are dungeons, I haven't found them, but then again, I haven't gotten a sense of the size of the game world yet. Progress is hampered by ocean, rivers, and mountains. There are probably multiple islands, since there's an option to buy a ship.
Combat occurs on a separate screen, but not in any way that makes sense. Enemies start some distance from you, but you don't close the gap. Nobody moves on the combat screen. Instead, you aim your weapon with a cursor, and if the cursor is in the same column as your foe, you hit him. Basically, it's as if every weapon is a missile weapon that fires in right angles.
|Fighting two snakes. If I want to hit the "closest" one, I need to move the cursor one square to the right. Two squares will hit the "farthest" one.|
There are 10 combat spells and 3 non-combat spells. They have arcane names (e.g., "EMPAR," "DEASPI," "VEROS"), so I don't know what all of them do. From experimentation, "ESCOB" allows you to disappear and escape combat and "CURAX" cures poison. The others generally fail; I don't know if it's because I'm using them in the wrong circumstances or because I need to achieve a higher level first.
Let's talk about the game's one major innovation: in addition to running around the land as a typical RPG character, you can hire troops and equip them. Troops are alternatives to regular combat--you can send them to fight wandering orcs and snakes and such--but they're mandatory for combats in which you try to seize or defend a city. Occasionally, as you explore, you come across a city that's "++OCCUPIED++" by the Ormus Cult, and to get in and take advantage of its services, you need to take the city. Army-based combat is pretty blunt--you exchange blows that kill a couple of soldiers at a time--and it mostly boils down to which side has more numbers.
|My pathetically outnumbered troops attack the City of Dillingston.|
Occasionally, Ormus Cult forces attack a friendly city, and for some reason, you control the defenders. To assist with this, you can garrison troops in each friendly city. During my first attempt at the game, I was no more than 30 minutes into it when the Ormus Cult attacked the king's castle and wiped out the defenders with superior forces. This caused me to lose the game. I thought this was horribly unfair, but I guess it was just a random occurrence, because it didn't happen in subsequent games.
At odd intervals, the game will suddenly announce that you've reached an "End of Period" and will give you taxes collected from all the friendly cities.
Unfortunately, the game is either horribly bugged or the VICE emulator just doesn't treat it well. It freezes constantly, usually when transitioning areas. This coupled with a lot of disk-swapping and the overall primitive nature makes me want to cut this one short; the only thing that stops me is a reluctance to bail on two games in a row.
- There is no sound in the game.
- There's a day/night cycle in which night reduces visibility as in the last few Ultimas.
- Resting for a night at the inn restores all hit points. It's considerably cheaper than the healer, so I don't know who would choose the latter option.
- Each town sells an extremely limited selection of weapons and armor. Developing in equipment is more about finding new towns than amassing more money.
In short, The Ormus Saga looks like a low-budget Ultima but plays more like a low-budget Sword of Aragon. I'm finding it hard to develop a strategy. I don't know if the best way to play is to hire troops immediately and take as many cities as possible or if I should try to build up my own character first. I suspect that I'm going to have to map, which is always a pain in the neck in a top-down tile-based game. Either way, it's clearly going to take a few postings. This looks to be one of the larger indie games that we've seen so far, so let's give it the full treatment.
Time so far: 3 hours
Reload count: 4