|Emerging into a new area.|
The Eriankeller dungeon had culminated in a set of stairs going down. I took them and found myself in a new dungeon called Philgoel-Tunnel. I prepared myself for another 20 x 20 square, but the dungeon turned out to be an extremely long, linear tunnel of several hundred squares with only a few, brief, dead-end branches. Once I realized what was happening, I didn't even bother to map it.
|Going through a long tunnel.|
As with the previous level, I had to stop frequently and translate (both in-game and out-of-game) several messages found along the way. Incidentally, these messages aren't part of the text extracted and translated by my helpful commenters, so I'm having to use my own resources for them. The one above is clear through beispielsweise, and then I get lost. Something like, "All is relative. Depending on the position of the viewer, for example, a planet may revolve around itself or its sun"?
The others were a little easier. One was simply a road sign indicating 145 steps to Lauree (where I'd come from) and 28 steps to Nomiris. Another said something like "intelligence means knowledge, creativity, and power of deduction." I don't know exactly what to make of a message like that or the one above. Are the developers just throwing some philosophy at us, or are the messages somehow relevant to the plot of the game?
There were lots of encounters in the tunnels, with beasts called things like "lacoons" and "drakans" and "stix." Once again I'm reminded that while Dungeons and Dragons games can get boring and derivative, at least I know what the monsters can do and how much I should fear them. Games that generate their own bestiaries, like The Bard's Tale, Questron, and Antares make it difficult to remember who I should be afraid of.
|It looks scary, in any event.|
So far, none of the monsters in Antares have been very difficult. They vary only by whether they inflict physical damage or mental damage--and which, in turn, they're most susceptible to, something that my team can remind me with the beraten ("advise") option. Generally, when my attacks hit the creature, it's an instant kill. The only real trouble I've had is when I get swarmed with large groups of enemies and they get to go first in combat (I'm not sure how the game determines this; it varies even with the same foe). Occasionally, I have problems when my party members really need to sleep but I can't find a safe place to do so.
Anyway, the Philgoel-Tunnel eventually emerged in the city of Nomiris, where I got a cut screen with a few paragraphs of text:
The end of the tunnel is reached. You enter a new city: Nomiris, built by the Vunorers for their subjects in the middle of the desert. You feel you are on the right path. The empire of the Vunorers, oppressor of many nations on Kyrion and other planets, lies in front of you. You are sure that something special will happen on Antares V. You are confident that one day you will show the Vunorers the true meaning of fear. The time might still be far away but heroes are not born every day either.
So some weird stuff here. A few screens ago, my characters were just learning about the different races on the planet, but somehow we now know that the Vunorers are "oppressors of many nations on Kyrion and other planets," and my team has somehow made them our personal enemies. Also, I think this is the first mention of Antares having a numeric suffix.
Nomiris introduced some more sci-fi looking wall textures. The map turned out to be 20 x 20 again, but it changed the rules of the first map. On the first map, some of the "walls" were doors leading into houses, but those houses didn't occupy physical space. Here, they do. Literally every wall in Nomiris has a door, most leading to empty houses, some leading to advertised shops and services, and some leading to hidden shops and services. One of the latter is billed as the "meeting room of the Resistance." This would be the Resistance against the Vunorers, I guess. I upgraded a couple of my party members to Walther PPKs, which I wouldn't have expected to find on alien worlds.
|A store run by the Resistance.|
One of the doors leads into some kind of transport hub, I guess. Check it out:
The screen is different than any other presented in the game so far. It's interactive, and moving the mouse alternately highlights the "exit" and "ticket" options. Choosing "ticket" takes me to a screen that says, "Please enter your PIN." I hope this is something that I find in-game and not some kind of copy protection.
One Nomiris door leads to a new dungeon, called Sakral. So far, the game has been very linear in the presentation of its maps, and it appears that isn't going to change.
Since I don't otherwise have a lot to report from this session, I thought I'd discuss combat in more detail, because although it begins with a Bard's Tale base, it has a lot of quirks. You begin with a list of your foes, who can attack in multiple groups of multiple enemies each; I've faced as high as 30.
You start with three options: kämpfen (fight), beraten (advise), and flüchten (flee). Sometimes "advise" isn't there, and I don't know why.
|The beginning of combat.|
"Advise" takes you to a sub-menu where you can "consider opponents," "negotiate/bribe," "rob opponents," and turn their portraits on and off. If you "consider opponents," some party member will offer a paragraph that both assesses the relative difficulty of the enemy and reminds you what types of attacks are most likely to work. The paragraph only comes up if you've faced the enemy before, though; if not, you just get a sentence to that effect.
Eva says, "Has anyone here seen an opponent?" [I assume that's smack talk.] and adds: "The creature has no idea of psi and special weapons, but it bites. So it is best met with tough weapons."
I haven't negotiated yet--it's a mechanic I almost never use in RPGs--but if you select it, you enter an amount of money to bribe the enemy into going away. Similarly, "rob opponents" has never worked for me; the game just tells me that I'm fehlschlag ("busted").
|"The opponent takes the money but still insists on a fight."|
Back on the main screen, fleeing of course extricates you from combat at a small cost to your morale. Since successful combats increase morale more than fleeing decreases it, it's not hard to keep it high. If you do get it very low, by fleeing from many combats in a row, party members will refuse to act in combat. I should also note that fleeing doesn't always work, especially against flying monsters or large groups.
Fighting gives several sub-options for each character that you line up one-by-one: attack (with the equipped weapon), use item, "psychological action," defend, cook, and heal. (Cooking and healing require food items and healing items, respectively). "Psychological action" has a further sub-menu with "telekinesis," "hypnosis," "group hypnosis," and "psychological defense." Not every character gets all options; only my ball of energy, who's highly skilled in psychologie, has "group hypnosis," for instance. The psychological attacks, if they work, generally result in immediate enemy deaths, so I guess we can assume that "hypnosis," for instance, is followed by the swift decapitation of the momentarily defenseless creature.
|Attack options. This creature responds to physical damage, so I'll probably have everyone angreifen.|
"Group hypnosis" seems to be the only attack that targets more than one enemy. There are no multi-enemy physical attacks--at least not yet. Maybe if I get automatic weapons or bombs or something.
Naturally, some enemies are more responsive to either physical or mental attacks, and some are completely unresponsive to one or the other. If my ball of light is sleeping when I enter combat with an ektoclone, for instance, I really just need to flee because he only response to mental attacks and no one but Cubic is strong enough to make them reliably.
Once you line up the attacks and execute them, messages start appearing indicating what each character and enemy did, and the results. Sometimes enemies go first and sometimes the characters do, and I don't know how the game determines the order. It makes a huge difference, especially when fighting large groups that are either a) going to attack me one-by-one and perhaps kill someone; or b) all get wiped out before they can attack by Cubic's "group hypnosis."
Watching the selected attacks execute is easily the worst part of the game. The descriptions of your attacks and enemies' attacks scroll by so slowly that I want to scream, and unlike other games of this ilk, there's no way to speed up the text in a setting or by hitting a key. [Edit: it turns out there is! I was overlooking a scroll bar. Thanks to the commenters who pointed this out.] I once faced a party of 30 enemies in one stack. I tried to "group hypnotize" them and it didn't work, and the individual messages saying that it didn't work on each enemy in the stack took about 3 minutes to scroll by. Then I had to sit through another 3 minutes of each enemy attacking my characters. This game desperately needs a "quick combat" option.
|Oh, come on!|
At the end of combat, you're told how many experience points you earned, and so far there seems to be little relationship between the difficulty of combat and the number of points. I'll spend 10 minutes fighting a stack of bugs and get 300 points only to kill a single raptor in my next combat and get 1,500. Some enemies also drop "kaley" (the game's currency) and occasionally weapons, armor, healing items, and food items.
|Doesn't "Erfahrungs-Punkte" sound like a rock subgenre?|
A worse foe than any enemies on the screen is the food meter, which inches downward relentlessly, no matter what screen you're on. (Both the food meter and the energy meter decrease in real-time, not based on turns.) It even decreases in the middle of combat, and more than once I've had to reload after coming out of a long combat and having a character instantly starve to death. This is apparently why you can "cook" in the middle of a battle. Refreshing the food meter means buying food in a food store (or finding it from slain enemies, which is spotty) at fairly high prices; most of my money goes towards food. Limited inventory space means that you can't carry much food with you. Food stores aren't open at night, and a couple of times I've stood outside the food store, hoping that the sun would come up before the food bar completely depleted.
|Burglary would be defensible here.|
- I've been carrying around a "Disk-Man" since the beginning of the game. I finally thought to try to "use" it, and techno music came blaring out of my speakers. That was only fun for about 3 seconds, but it solved the mystery of why there was a "sound on/off" button in a soundless game.
|Note the little music icon in the upper-left, too.|
- Leveling up isn't very exciting. It happens completely behind-the-scenes, automatically, and is not, as I thought earlier, accompanied by any increase in attributes or skills. I frankly don't know what it does for you.
- Based on some experimentation after our discussion last time, I'm convinced that "SW" refers to physical defense and "SB" refers to mental defense. You can equip multiple items to increase the stats (e.g., armor, gloves, and boots), but inventory space is so limited that I've been restricting everyone to one item each.
We've seen a lot of rare and unique elements in Antares, including the variety of character types, the separation of physical and mental "hit points," the cooking system, the ability to assess opponents, the morale meter, the on-screen dangerousness rating, the sleeping system, the translation system, the relative coordinate system, the method for identifying items, and the way that you can have characters speak their current concerns. As I pointed out with Legend of Faerghail, however, just because something is innovative doesn't mean it's good. I can't say I'm really enjoying the combat system (which, lacking spells, offers even fewer tactics than The Bard's Tale) and constantly having to watch food and energy levels during exploration. There simply aren't enough good RPG mechanics to make it an enjoyable experience.
In such cases, you at least hope that the plot is interesting, but so far, it seems ill-defined and juvenile. That leaves me playing for no reason than simply to not quit. I'm not going to quit--at least, not just yet--but we've definitely entered the "more work than fun" stage.
Time so far: 13 hours
Reload count: 18