Monday, May 22, 2017

Magic Candle II: Won!

What would victory be without food?
   
In a comment on last week's entry for my 250th game, Tristan Gall thanked me for "250 LPs for people who enjoy being part of an adventure when they don't have the time or energy to go on their own." My entries on a game don't quite constitute an "LP," of course--I don't cover every twist and turn--but I do try to be somewhat detailed and hit upon the major plot points.

At times like this, I feel bad for readers looking for something like an LP. Towards the end of a game, impatient to finish, I often push myself well past the point that I should have stopped and written one, two, three, sometimes even four entries. Then, when it comes time to write something, I balk at the idea of covering so much detail and end up summarizing more than I intended. This will be the case with the remainder of The Magic Candle II, which took me just shy of 20 hours to finish after my last entry, most of that time navigating several maddeningly-large dungeons.
      
A party member summarizes why winning the game took so long.
      
Let's do a quick plot recap. The Magic Candle concerned a quest to shore up the titular prison of wax and tallow in which the demon Dreax had been kept for thousands of years, after he tried to invade the peaceful land of Deruvia from his homeland of Gurtex. That game started just after the "four and forty" warriors and mages guarding the candle suddenly disappeared.

After that quest was completed, King Rebnard of Deruvia decided to take the fight to the enemy, crossed the eastern ocean, and established his court on the island of Oshcrun, just off Gurtex's western coast. At the same time, the hero from the first game (Gia, in my case), decided to join the expedition and search for the fate of the 44 guardians. I assumed Gurtex would be a demonic hellscape, but it turns out that it has enclaves of humans, elves, dwarves, Eldens, and Aletsens (the latter two both ancient races presumed dead). Even the monsters, like goblins, orcs, and trolls, are organized into towns and villages.
    
The demon Zakhad rules from Castle Katarra.
     
Over the course of the quest, we've learned that 40 of the guardians were slaughtered during the attack on the original magic candle, but the most powerful 4--all Eldens--were taken prisoner by the demon lord Zakhad, shipped across the ocean, and imprisoned in candles of their own. One of them, Zidoni, escaped during the journey.

During my quest, I've found three ghosts from the slain "forty" occupying various rooms in various dungeons, each with a scroll that, when researched at one of the game's three libraries, imparted the information necessary to free the associated Elden from his candle. In the middle of my quest, Zakhad sacked the king's throne room at Oshcrun, blinded the queen, and demanded Prince Jemil as a hostage. Zidoni showed up in the middle of the fight and disappeared with the prince. Later, I discovered a prophecy which indicated that the prince would defeat Zakhad, but would need the fabled Orb of Light to do it.
      
Freeing one of the "four" from a magic candle.
      
As I was wrapping up my last entry, I had just found the necessary tools and information to complete the rest of the game, including the gray scroll, which I needed to free an Elden from the Candle of Anguish (in a dungeon I'd already cleared) and a magic conch shell needed to calm the southern waters and allow my party to sail to some uncharted islands.

As this final session began, I returned to the first god I had awakened, Marior, who gave Lupi and Eflun the same boosts he had previously given the rest of the party, including +1 strength. This was enough to allow Lupi to wield her own bow. I then returned with the gray scroll to Telermain and researched the Candle of Pain.
      
Wow, 5! Don't hurt yourself with all that power, Lupi.
     
Hopping aboard a ship, I sailed it to the islands south of Gurtex, using the conch shell to clear the storms.
     
     
There were two islands, one quite large, and for some reason the "Teleport" spell didn't work on either of them, so I ended up fighting a lot of random combats. The largest island held a town called Pentyne, populated by the mysterious Altesens. They didn't want anything to do with the outside world and seemed upset by both my presence and that of some sorceress named Somona, whom I heard about but never found.
   
Lady, if I hadn't figured this out by now...
     
The centerpiece of Pentyne was a temple. As soon as I entered, the Altesen priest howled that I had fulfilled the prophecy, shoved the Orb of Light into my hands, and showed me the door, glad to be done with their part. They were happy enough to recite the Orb's prophecy, though, which included lines indicating we would need to "stride along the lands, [searching] for signs of pain and power...on arm, on head, on limping leg" and that by offering the Orb to the people so afflicted, "a touch transforms the glowing globe."
      
The Altesen washes his hands of the whole thing.
      
I instantly knew two of the people that the prophecy was talking about: Wartow in Wanasol, who bore the sign of the sun on his hand, and a lame boy named Timm in Telermain, who had a mark of a star on his knee. Returning to them with the Orb, I offered it to both of them, and sure enough something happened when they touched it.

I didn't know who the third person was supposed to be, but both Wartow and Timm had given me full paragraphs (from the paragraph book) when I originally spoke to them, so I reasoned that the third would do the same. Searching for "mark," I unfortunately came upon a paragraph I hadn't received in the game, indicating that it belonged to someone named "Moongold." The context of the paragraph made it clear she was in the nomad's camp. I returned there and hunted around until she appeared, gave her the Orb, and finished that bit of the prophecy. I cheated a bit there, but I'm glad I didn't have to run around talking to every NPC again.
     
The Orb turned out to be a pretty stupid plot device. Fair warning.
      
A quick return to Ruz--a dungeon I'd already cleared--freed the Elden Zulain from the Candle of Anguish. He said to meet in Wanasol Hall once I'd freed the last one. I assumed he must be in Namaz, a dungeon on the island next to Pentyne, whose password I had obtained in that city.
     
Entering the dungeon Namaz.
     
Namaz was six small interconnected levels. It was full of snakes that required the "Repel" spell, and another annoying area where I had to treat the party configuration as a puzzle and carefully thread my way through a corridor full of teleporters. In the end--and I'm glossing over a lot here--I freed Zewinul from the Candle of Pain.

Back to Wanasol Hall. There, the three Eldens told me that Zakhad had imprisoned Zidoni in the Candle of Death. Since Zidoni had been running free just a little while ago, I'm not sure how he ended up in Zakhad's clutches. They gave me a blue scroll to free him and told me to reach Zakhad's castle, Katarra, by going through the dungeon of Mandarg, for which they had the password.
     
Another nice summary of the final dungeons.
     
Mandarg was another huge dungeon, and my only goal within it was to find an iron key and then find my way to the door to Katarra. Katarra consisted of a single large level with two towers with a few smaller levels. The towers were named after Dreax and Dragos. Dragos, you probably don't remember, was the name of the villain in developer Ali Atabek's first game, The Rings of Zilfin (1986), and one of the NPCs in this game actually makes the connection, describing the events of Zilfin as happening "long ago, in a land far away."
    
Reis was indeed the name of the PC in that game.
     
Both Mandarg and Katarra re-introduced Doombeasts, who make five mirror images of themselves as soon as battle begins and permanently drain your attributes. I described the strategy I used to identify and defeat them a few entries ago. Worse was a new enemy--"Deathknights"--which seemed to be waiting at every corner of Katarra. Their ambushes were so numerous and deadly that I finally started quitting in frustration and reloading when I met them. For those that couldn't be avoided--and for all rooms--I kept Gonshis (multiple attacks) and Mirgets (first attack does 3x the damage) burning at all times.
    
A new and relentless foe.
     
By far, the more difficult part of the final dungeons--Namaz, Mandarg, and Katarra--was simply finding my way from level to level and to the dungeons' objectives. They were all full of teleporters, some of which could only be activated by particular party formations that allowed stepping on otherwise inaccessible squares. You basically have to have someone in your formation step on every square in the dungeons--which means triggering every ambush, dispelling every snake, and so forth--just to be sure. By the end of the process, I was playing like a jackass, reloading after every unwanted teleport and unnecessary combat.
       
This party configuration is the only one that will let me move one square to the south--where there's a necessary teleporter.
     
The culmination of the Tower of Dreax was a room labeled "Chamber of Zakhad," but inside was just a bunch of pathetic orcs who paid me to let them flee. I couldn't find anything else to do in the tower, so I returned to the base level of Katarra and eventually found my way up the Tower of Dragos.
      
This was a bit anti-climactic.
     
That tower culminated in an actual final battle with Zakhad and a host of spellcasting enemies. He didn't have a villain's speech or anything--just a note that he locked the door before combat so we couldn't flee. I entered the battle hopped up on every type of herb and mushroom the game offers, and I had Eflun cast "Jump" to put my best warriors as close to Zakhad as possible, although he made it hard by starting out in a corner. With a combination of "Jump" and swallowing Mirgets before each attack, I was able to take out Zakhad's allies in the first round.
     
Killing the big bad in the game's final battle.
     
Zakhad wasn't so hard despite having nearly 1,000 hit points. He made himself invisible and cast spells like "Forget" and "Acidball" and "Zapall," but with my Mirget-fueled attacks, he only lasted a couple of rounds. I was confused when he actually died. Dreax, his underling, had been set up as an enemy so powerful he couldn't be slain--only imprisoned in the candle. 

With Zakhad dead, I read the blue scroll and freed Zidoni from the Candle of Death (in the same room). He told me to go get King Rebnard and meet all the Eldens back at Wanasol Hall.

I reluctantly gave up Lupi to make room for Rebnard. Via a couple of teleportal chambers and a boat ride, it wasn't long before we were back at Wanasol Hall with Rebnard himself in the party.
     
Rebnard kind-of sucks at everything.
     
There, Zidoni revealed a plot twist so goofy it's hard to believe I'm writing it: to protect Jemil, Zidoni "placed him inside the egg of the giant Oolau bird." He instructed me to find the Oolau's nest, use the Orb of Light to scare the bird out of the nest (like our swords couldn't have done that), and have Rebnard whisper "Jemil" to free him from the egg.
          
"The Eldens stared stonily at us for a few seconds, but then their facade broke. 'We almost had you!' they shrieked, amidst howls of laughter. 'Trapped in an egg! You should have seen the look on your faces!'"
         
Of course, Zidoni had nothing to say about where the Oolau nest could actually be found. Fortunately, I remembered researching the topic at the Telermain library early in the game, probably at the behest of some NPC, consulted my notes, and learned that the bird nests in the Gull Islands off the northwest of Gurtex. Another teleportal trip brought us close enough that I could cast "Teleport" to get us to the island.

There, we found the nest and did as Zidoni instructed, shooing the giant bird and freeing Jemil from its egg. Afterwards, Jemil expressed an intense desire to hold the Orb of Light. With no other options, I gave it to him. The game's writers hadn't been batting 1,000 in these final hours, but in this last section, it's like they completely forgot how to write. Here's a transcript.
       
I have a bad feeling about this.
     
Suddenly the demon Zakhad appears! "Just as I planned," the demon snarls. "The King, the Prince, and the despised Gia, all in my power! Prepare for your doom!"

Eflun says: "A trap! We should have known that the demon was not truly dead! But we have the Orb of Light to protect us!"

Prince Jemil raises the Orb. Its glow focuses into a beam of purest light. Jemil aims the beam at Zakhad and says: "Go far, far away!"
      
"The prince's lack of precision sent Zakhad back to Deruvia, where he now rampages unchecked" would have been a good setup for The Magic Candle III.
      
The demon shrieks and slowly fades away. "This time for good," says Eflun. "Zakhad cannot be killed, but he can be banished. His Highness did very well!"

"Better than you may think, Eflun," says the Elden Zidoni, appearing from nowhere. "It will be many ages before the demon can even approach the world of mortals again. Zakhad's pall of Darkness has departed from Gurtex completely," Zidoni continues. "One happy effect is that your human Queen can see once again."

"Was Momma blind?" cries prince Jemil. "Oh, how sad! We must go home to her at once!" 

"As you wish, young Prince," says Zidoni. The elden begins to whisper, and the party is magically transported!"
    
What kind of mama's boy spells it "Momma"?
        
So let's unpack this a bit. Prince Jemil managed to fulfill the Prophecy--which, by the way, is the laziest storytelling trope imaginable--in only the most technical of senses, was completely inept at it ("go far, far away!"), and still somehow managed to banish the demon to another dimension. Eflun knew that Zakhad couldn't be defeated in combat but didn't bother to tell the party when it actually mattered. Meanwhile, it was somehow Zakhad's "plan" or "trap" to get us together at the bird's nest, except that in order for that to be true, he would have had to be working with Zidoni, which he clearly wasn't, and in any event his "plan" didn't count on us having the Orb of Light, although if we hadn't had it, we wouldn't have have all been together in the first place. The queen is magically healed of her blindness despite the paragraph making it clear that the blindness is physical (i.e., her eyes were ripped out). Oh, and Zidoni is capable of transporting us all immediately across vast distances but doesn't offer this power when lives are on the line.
      
For 95% of the game, I barely thought about Prince Jemil. Now, I hate him.
     
The final scenes redeemed the game a little bit. They depict the party at a banquet with Rebnard, who recites the names of each of the party members and says something nice about them: "Strong and trusty Eneri; the mighty warrior Sakar; Buzbazgut, the most unusual companion, but the most loyal; the Great Eflun." I half expected Buzbazgut to jump up, reveal his secret plot to get close to the king by joining Gia's party, and then stab Rebnard with a fork. That would have been a twist ending.
      
He was the worst fighter I had. I have no idea why I kept him the whole game.
     
Fittingly, Gia also insists that the assemblage toast the other NPCs who participated at various points along the way--in my case, Rimfiztrik, Princess Lupi, Lady Subia, and Perin the halfling. Unfortunately, the literal final words concern Jemil being sent to bed by his mother, at which point the player has no options but to save and quit.
      
These should be no game's final lines.
    
I don't know why I'm being so hard on it. The game offers an actual plot and a proper conclusion, which is more than we can say for 90% of the games of the era. In the summary and rating, we'll have to explore how a game like this can be good, yet still somehow unsatisfying.

Final time: 71 hours

36 comments:

  1. "Just as I had planned" being uttered near the end by a villain is one of my most hated phrases in games/books/movies because it usually makes no sense or was literally impossible that it was their plan, and even if it was it is usually the worst plan possible.

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    1. It is even worse if he did planned for it, just because he wanted to end evil by becoming evil and letting heroes slain him. Now THAT is pathetic.

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    2. Yep, it's right up there with prophecy as a plot device. Lazy writing 101. Which is quite astonishing after all this setup with candle prisons, dormant gods and lost races.

      Then again, it's not like they finished the game with the random appearance of a nude sorceress just because they could, right?

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    3. HaHa!!! You three are now trapped forever! Just as I had planned you have written the words as foretold by prophecy!

      A classical trope revisited... but agree, too bad they didn't have a better ending that segued into MM III - Prince Jemil tosses a truly terrible tacky tantrum!

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  2. That sounds like an interesting game in general. One nitpick:
    Deathknight or Dreadknight, or either, or both? :D

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  3. Well that's a silly ending.
    Seems like the game didn't realize its full potential, especially with the combat system with its overpowered spells/shrooms and overreliance on ambushes. I'm curious how the GIMLET will turn out compared to MC 1.

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  4. Before getting banished, did Zakhad scream: "I'll get you next time, gadget!" ?

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    1. Rather "And I would have gotten my way with it, if it weren't for you meddling prince!"

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    2. "You'll pay for this, even if it is the last thing I'll ever do!"

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  5. Maybe your posts are EPs then :p

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  6. Yeah, I don't come along to your blog looking for a literal transcription of the game / extended Lets play. I think we would all get a bit bored about it towards the end, particularly in the current decade where lengthy repetitive dungeon combat is expected. Nothing seems to have really changed gameplay wise towards the end, so skipping over repetitive stuff is fine.

    I really like your blog for the combination of:
    1. Setting out the basic then advanced gameplay mechanics and systems, and importantly how they relate to either contemporary RPGs or previous entries in the series
    2. Critique of the gameplay mechanics and design (ie your comments on the story in this post)
    3. Summary of how the game proceeds / progression / some story recap - i.e. recounting how you progress through and "win" or finish the game. Some summary (like I went through a very very long dungeon, no new mechanics or progression systems of note happened) is fine - good even!
    4. The final GIMLET rating - again placing the game in the context of its time is an enjoyable aspect of this.

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    1. Agree totally... I'd love to have time to play a few games sometime in the next few years, but doubt I can stomach the grinding that many require. That means I'm limited to 1-2 games or just finishing Ultima 7. I like to think about the other games, but there is no way I'll ever have time for more than a few (or none) and I appreciate your reviews greatly.

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    2. @Talorc: Agreed.

      For me, somewhere in #2 I'd also throw in "warnings about potential game-breaking bugs, emulation glitches, insoluble (or seemingly) problems", etc. And for #3 I'd throw in "answers to questions about the game (or its background) that are nowhere else to be found on the Internet". Sometimes the Addict's most challenging experiences make for the best blog posts.

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  7. I like your way rather than an LP, you leave enough for me to play the game if I want to without feeling that I've played it before. And yeah that ending doesn't really make and sense, I wonder if the writers just couldn't figure out how to end so I slapped in something silly. Still the banquet was a nice touch.

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  8. also I got my answer to an earlier comment - YES you can take back new party members to previously visited Gods and get the buff for them as well ;-)

    http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com.au/2017/05/the-magic-candle-ii-burning-bright.html?showComment=1494153132070#c8952448492666058342

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  9. I'll bet Perin was probably crying when he was invited to join the celebrations from the forge.

    Was he titled as "He Who Toiled To Finance The Heroes"?

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    1. I bet Perin was happy to just sit around and smith rather than having to chase around his ungrateful shrew of a wife and rescue her while his bro's were off having epic adventures!

      Delete
  10. I wonder why you set up such a rich story when you never have an idea how to solve loose threads in the end.
    I also wonder why a game designer thinks that creating frustrating dungeons is fun. The last dungeon with its stupid riddles sounds like something I would have either given up or brute-force reloaded, depending on how the game got me so far. Maybe this is connected to the unsatisfying ending and the game just wasn't meant/expected to be completed.

    The engine looks like you could create a really good game out of it, so this is really a shame. The constant use of buffs (herbs and mushrooms) also sounds quite annoying, since you are in constant fear of losing them in an irrelevant fight.
    But buffing is something very few games get right, far too often you have an encounter, find out the buffs you need and then have to reload. Especially D&D games have this problem.

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    1. The final dungeons probably represent fatigue on the author's part... this was in an era when teams were small and the transition was just starting to move to a design team with a producer, director, and an organizational chart. Jimmy Maher who blogs at Digital Antiquarian just recently reviewed this concerning Origin as they approached Ultima 6 and Wing Commander (I hope it is ok to reference DA, I know Jimmy and Chet have referenced each other through the years and their blogs are complementary!). The annoying dungeon issue pops up in other games as well - I think the pressure to make the game world bigger and take the game from 30-40 hours play time on average to 60-80 (for "value" as games were expensive at the time as 50-60$ in 1990 inflates to 100$ today!) often resulted in excessive and obnoxious use of the limited technology they could put in their game engine.

      Arthurdawg (can't get google to sync so I'm anonymous for a couple of posts above)

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    2. Buffing is one of the (few) things the recent and very excellent Lords of Xulima got wrong, imo. In the beginning, paying the local priestess for buffs (35g for a party-wide buff) is superior to getting pieces of basic armor (which start from 100g apiece)

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    3. Gee, I bailed on Lords of Xulima pretty quick, I thought it was awful.

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    4. Overall, the advantages the mushrooms give you is too significant, and their cost too insignificant, to not simply have them in your system most of the game. Adjustments to price or potency would have benefited both MC titles.

      I liked Xulima, though I didn't get much further than my one entry on the game. Too many games on my list.

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    5. I think Xulima is a solid RPG overall with some extra originality in small things that make it an excellent game. From the formation system to the area xp, it's one of those games I'd recommend any RPG fan to give a go.

      (Not to mention I love the bird's eye view!)

      Delete
    6. I think removing the need to use sermin for just walking around by turning stamina into magic points and then making potions and mushrooms a lot more expensive/scarce would have benefitted these games greatly. It also would make it a lot more fun to find them in a dungeon chest if they were scarce. Too bad older games had no modding to help with issues that could turn a good or average game into a great game.

      Delete
    7. I don't think it had anything to do with org charts, eh? The game goes on, the ending dungeons should be harder. Plain and simple. Oh, the players found them annoying? Well developers are developers, they don't play their games.

      Something that's still a problem today, even with the gigantic teams and spiffy org charts.

      Delete
  11. Anyone else getting a distinctly Dragonlance vibe from a few of these details?

    Moongold --> Goldmoon
    Katarra --> Kitiara
    Plus Deathknights and mystic orbs...

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    1. I just read Dragonlance for the first time in February. I can't believe I didn't see this. Now I can't not notice it. The guy must have been a huge Hickman/Weis fan.

      I'm pretty sure the mage in Dragonlance also does a super powerful full-party teleport in the last scene which he can't do any of the other times that it's important in the story.

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  12. I am now... explains the strange sense deja vu... Dragonlance was probably at close to a peak in popularity at that time.

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  13. Never played this game, but I always wanted to. I remember being a wee lad and drooling over the game box.

    I just noticed CONAN is coming up. Played that one a lot, even though it had a clunky player interface.

    DEATHLORD!? Wow... have to really tun in for that one. That I think is the hardest and biggest RPG I recall playing as a kid. Never finished it but loved playing it. Wasteland Meets Ultima 3 Meets Oriental Mythology.

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  14. You mentioned getting an anti-doombeast spell. Did you ever get to test it out, and did it work?

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  15. It is too bad some of these more interesting mechanical systems never got the time to really be polished to a mirror shine, the way some tabletop games have. It would be really cool to see how Magic Candle would have evoloved if it had kept getting sequels into the late-90s, with its combat systems being improved each release. Imagine this combat engine and flexibility, paired up with an Infinity Engine era interface and graphics, and with years of slowing getting the rules to work better and be less cheap.

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  16. Also, it would be cool to see an RPG based around the multi-party mechanics we've seen flirted with. So you'd dispatch parties between cities, then play with a secondary party while they travelled. You could specifically have characters who work on building weapons, and whatnot.

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    1. It's pretty much what tabletop players do in D&D, splitting parties to do their own stuff then gather up again to tackle an epic quest arc.

      Delete
  17. I recently finished this and I have similar thoughts about the ending. Frigging Jemil stealing your victory. You'd think given the series' name and what happened to Dreax that you would need a Magic Candle to seal Zakhad.... I thought they were setting Jemil up to be the hero for the next game but he's not even playable there. So what's the point?

    I'm impressed you used Buz. Hes probably the worst character in the whole game. It seems like you were underpowered for the end, like you missed a lot of the god boosts. If you're sneaky, you can actually avoid every single fight on the first floor of Katarra. I was powered up enough I never had a battle go past 2 turns with timestop, even the final fight.

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    1. "It seems like you were underpowered for the end, like you missed a lot of the god boosts." And yet I found the end pretty easy, which says something about the game.

      I just re-read this entry, and that business with Jemil bothers me more than I indicated when I posted this. It's not just that he makes the killing blow; it's that he's such an idiot about it.

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    2. It definitely seems as though the game's mechanics don't support high-level play very well. I had the most fun when my characters were low level and I was just scraping by fights. It's too one-sided at high levels.

      Just wait until Magic Candle 3 though; it inflates the difficulty in some annoying ways.

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