Saturday, December 30, 2017

Spirit of Adventure: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Is it just me, or does "Lamarge" sound like the name of a 1980s drag queen?
         
Spirit of Adventure
Germany
Attic Entertainment Software (developer); Starbyte (publisher)
Released in 1991 for DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST; 1992 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 12 December 2017
Date Ended: 29 December 2017
Total hours: 29
Difficulty: 3/5 (Moderate)
Final Rating: 44
Ranking at Time of Posting: 239/276 (87%)
      
Spirit of Adventure's roughness around the edges is illustrated in how much I left undone despite winning. After getting the final screen, I consulted some German message boards and found that I'd missed one entire dungeon (Segan's Tower) and one entire town (Turmalin), each with their own quests. I never finished Rialdo's Castle. I never found 3 of the 18 runes, which is fine because I only ever mixed 5 spells and cast an offensive spell in combat less than a dozen times. I never upgraded to the best equipment, never found out what some of my equipment was for, and only tried a few magic items in combat during the last battle of the game.

And despite all of this, I kept a fondness for the game until the end. It had some fun quests, a couple of interesting puzzles, a decent twist in the plot, and better combat tactics than I really found time to use. That I could miss a few areas means that it had genuine side-quests, something that remains rare in the early 1990s. It was a good foundation for Attic's later offerings.
        
The city of Elfrad. Major roads keep their names despite a couple of 90-degree turns.
     
Most of my hours since the last entry were spent mapping the city of Elfrad. Like Brataya, it had its own story that I had to piece together afterwards because I hit the key encounters in the order of my mapping, not in a logical plot order. The summary is that the mayor, Prior, wanted me to help him rid the town of evil by helping the "runemaster" unite the six "rune rings." I had collected two of the rings in Brataya and needed to get four more in Elfrad. The problem was that the ring owners had been mysteriously dying, so they were all in hiding.
       
You don't seem the name "Olbrecht" enough in English-language RPGs.
      
I had to track them down in their various bolt holes. One needed my help fighting some demons, one was in the morgue and I had to get someone to let me into the morgue, that kind of thing. There were a couple more interleave puzzles that were again redundant because you solve most of the game's puzzles just by showing up at the right place.

Ultimately, I got all six of the rings and brought them to the runemaster. He rewarded me with six runes and a "demon skull." The nature of the evil in Elfrad and how the rune rings would destroy it was left a bit vague.
    
By the game's own logic, the "Resurrection" spell ought to be something like life-magic-body, but instead it just hammers away at "life."
      
After Elfrad, I returned to the overworld and explored it systematically, although still managed to miss several locations. Besides another temple--where I created a couple of "fire blast" spells--the only other new location I found was a magic portal in the mountains. It offered transport to "Talusia" or "Garth." When I tried to go to Garth, I got a message that a mysterious force pushed me back. Talusia turned out to be the place I was already in (I guess the world is Lamarge but the island is Talusia? Or maybe the reverse? Also, "Talusia" is alternately spelled "Taslusia" on one screen). I figured this was something for an expansion and left it alone.

Lacking any other ideas, I returned to Rialdo's Castle and tried to finish it, but a corridor that had previously been open was now cut off and I couldn't figure out how to get it open again.

About this time, I remembered that Yakka Deepshaved, an NPC in Moon City, had offered to tell me the name of the leader of the Dreamers (the drug-pushing cult) if I could tell him the name of the mayor in Elfrad. Now that I knew the answer (PRIOR), I returned to Yakka. He told me that the Dreamers are led by someone named Tibuk, who is "somewhat out of this world because he appears to be everywhere at the same time." I knew that I had heard the name before, so I consulted my screenshots and found that he was the person that the demon-possessed Radin had been writing to from Brataya. The same screenshots also refreshed my memory that Radin had been possessed by a "Garthian" demon.

Things were coming together. I returned to the portal and this time, it allowed me to pass through to Garth, which took the form of a relatively nondescript dungeon. Early in my explorations, I found a stockpile of Opitar; clearly, the drug was being shipped to Lamarge/Talusia from another dimension by Tibuk, a Garthian demon.
      
And why can't my characters become dealers? Isn't this a "role-playing" game?
     
"Garth" ended up being a long maze of secret doors and multiple staircases up and down. There were only a few enemy types--"Guldrons," "Gorcerers," and "Garthians"--but each was capable of mental attacks that severely damaged my party. Even with mental shields on, and the "Booster" skill recharging mental damage, and running from as many fights as possible, my party was roughed up. I had a mental healing spell, but my healer was only capable of a few of these before her magic bar needed to recharge. Potions helped a little. A lot of the time, I left my characters standing idly in a corridor for 20 minutes, playing SpurguX in another window, as their bars slowly recharged.

Let me break off the narrative here to talk a little more about some of the game logistics. First, combat. It's reasonably tactical and yet invites you to be lazy. It starts with the magic skill that each character has active in the background. You can change these at any time, and some enemies respond better to certain skills. For any spellcasting enemy, for instance, you almost certainly want someone running "Sizzle." This also prevents you from casting your spells, but it's usually worth it.
        
Titania switches among her three healing abilities depending on what we most need.
     
Right away, the laziness factor comes into play. If I'm mapping a dungeon, I probably have "Compass" activated. Now combat comes along. Do I have the lead character switch her skill to something combat-oriented, then switch it back again when combat is over? Or do I avoid taking those extra 20 seconds and just plow through combat with the useless "Compass" remaining active?

The considerations continue as you set your actions for each combat round. Through experience, you learn whether enemies most often respond to mental attacks or physical attacks. You might be attacked by multiple groups of enemies with different strengths and weaknesses. Every combat round, you have to decide whether to micromanage the party and set everyone's attack type and target anew, or just keep pounding the "1" key and using the same set of attacks over and over. Yes, the option should be clear for any serious RPG fanatic, but the combats get boring, and if you're trying to alleviate the boredom by simultaneously watching the new season of Travelers, as I was, then it's easier to pound the "1" key and then pay to heal everyone later. Until Garth, no individual combat in the game is really that threatening. Garth changes things with a one-way door that keeps you trapped in the dimension until you find the exit, and suddenly every physical and mental hit point is precious.
    
Sometimes, a dungeon corridor offers this.

And sometimes this.
         
Partly enabling laziness is the fact that no enemy is completely immune to an attack type. There are some brainless enemies like ghouls that don't even have a mind to affect with mental attacks, and some non-corporeal enemies like ghosts that can't be hit with physical attacks. And yet each is still susceptible to critical (instant-kill) versions of both attacks, which come along maybe 1 out of every 12 hits. Thus, by just spamming one or the other, you will eventually kill everyone. This is all a good thing, I hasten to add. I like that the game rewards you for careful planning but also gives you an "out."

I'll also mention that throughout the game, the correlation between the difficulty of the battle and the experience and gold rewards is about 0. There are combats that last 30 rounds and leave you in tatters that deliver 30 experience points and 50 gold pieces, and others against single enemies that will leave you 150 experience points and 300 gold pieces richer. You learn to pick and choose your battles quite quickly. Dwarves are gold mines. So are bandits, but you don't want to fight too many bandits because they steal your stuff. You get the stuff back at the end of the battle, but you have to re-distribute and re-equip it, which is annoying. "Mage lords" are a good experience/gold balance. So are witches. It's almost never worth it to fight long battles against multiple parties; if you can't flee in the first round, you just have to keep trying.
       
The most frustrating message in the game.
      
Almost all the game's battles are random. There are fixed combats in less than half a dozen locations that I found. Thus, whether to fight at all, and particularly whether to continue fighting round after round, is almost always a player choice. Fleeing is a much more tactical, calculated decision here than in most games. If you fought every combat and never fled, you'd hit the max level within the game's first 8 hours, but you'd probably quit out of boredom before finishing the first city.

I'm sorry I never really got to experience the magic side of combat tactics. (If anyone has a link to a full list of spells, I'd be interested in seeing it.) I made the "fire blast" spells that the manual recommended, but I could only cast a few of those before all my magic points were gone, so it didn't seem worth the effort to experiment with higher-level spells. Healing spells helped a little, particularly in the final dungeon. Some spells I never mixed because I lacked the runes, some (like "Resurrection") because I lacked the power. "Awaken" would have been useful but I never found a second "Mind" rune needed for it. "Light" is a bit of a mystery (as are the associated skills and torches) because all the dungeons are perfectly lit. There's a seed of a good idea in the spell system, but to acquire all the runes and get strong enough to mix the most powerful spells, you'd have to artificially extend the life of the game.

I also ended the game well before I maximized my inventory options. Shops in Brataya and Elfrad sold high-level magic weapons and armor, but I never had enough money for them because I spent so much on healing. Another unexpected expense came when the game wouldn't let me leave the city I was in because my "map crystal" was out of charges. I had to pay over 3,000 gold to recharge it.
          
That's a lot of money for something I didn't even realize I would have to pay for.
       
Again, this is a good thing. It means the economy is strong enough that you never run out of financial aspirations. I could have grinded more for gold, or tried to economize better and spend less on healing. I'm not complaining.

Perhaps one complaint, though, is the mysterious nature of some of the inventory items. One of these days, I swear, we'll enter the era in which in every game, you can look at an inventory item and tell exactly who can wield it, what it does, and how it compares statistically with other items you have. There will be a clear distinction between quest items and other items. In Spirit of Adventure, I kept a bunch of gems throughout the game because it wasn't clear they were sale items and not quest items. I have a "skeleton key" that never came in handy, a "Radin's cape" that I can't wear, a "healer's ring" that I can't put on (seriously, what is that for?), torches that I don't need, and scrolls that tell me nothing about what they do. More important, I have no way to gauge the relative worth of items. How much better is an iron shield over a wooden shield? Why can't I wear both a "mystic cape" and armor, and if I have to choose between them, which is best?
         
No, why would you be able to equip a ring? That was stupid of me.
     
The final dungeon comes to an end when you encounter a Garthian behind a secret door. The positioning of the secret door ought not to be possible by the game's normal conventions in which there's 10 feet of wall space between corridors, but fortunately I was checking every wall. When I met the Garthian, named Gothaur, the first time, the game said it was "impossible to understand [his] tongue." I just had to brush past him and find a staircase back to the exit.

Fortunately, I knew where to acquire new languages--at 2,000 gold per lesson!--in Elfrad. I bought Garthian for one of my characters--I know of no reason to learn the five others--and returned to the dungeon. This time Gothaur had a lot to say.
         
Gothaur is like a DEA agent of his dimension.
     
Gothaur related that Tibuk was a fellow Garthian, using the portal to traffic Opitar to Lamarge and something called "Robiks" back to Garth. Tibuk was occupying a human body on our side. He gave me a horn that I could use to close the portal. I exited, returned to Talusia, and blew it.
          
Closing off inter-dimensional travel just to stop a drug problem seems short-sighted.
      
The question was then how to find Tibuk, but I had that figured out. Since the beginning of the game people had talked about how Rowena, head of the monastery in Moon City, had been different lately. I returned to her, and she immediately confirmed it, screaming that she had "hired [us] to fail." She put on her Garthian face and attacked.
       
Asked if he wanted to also transform the rest of his body, Tibuk looked down and said, "Nah, I'm good."
      
The battle was pretty pathetic--no single creature poses much danger in this game. To help, I employed a couple of magic items that I'd been saving for a tough battle, including Rialdo's Staff, which does up to 200 poison damage (a normal physical attack does less than 30). She soon died, her body turning to mist and fleeing to the vaults.

I pursued her and found an upright coffin with the paralyzed forms of Rowena and some guy who was never explained. Tibuk re-formed and attacked, killing us in a scripted way with no chance at defense.
      
What is the cat doing there?! Is the cat the real villain?
      
For a while, I though this might be the legitimate end of the game. I have some experience with German CRPGs, after all; among other things, I'm still not convinced Dungeons of Avalon was winnable.

But I decided to circle the city and see if any of the NPCs had anything to say in response to TIBUK. When I visited Yakka Deepshaved again, he had some new dialogue based on my possession of the horn. At the conclusion, he said, "You made it! Tibuk is destroyed and the Dreamers can't sell Opitar to humans any longer." What!? How did Tibuk get destroyed? I went to the monastery to confirm it and, no, Rowena wasn't destroyed. She turned into Tibuk and attacked again. But this time, after I defeated her the first time, the game let me fight Tibuk a second time in the vault. So I don't really know what happened there.
      
Tell me something I don't know, Ramirez.
     
Tibuk was no harder than the original Rowena battle, though. He soon died and I got the winning message above. It was a bit of an anticlimactic ending, but at least it wrapped up the plot. Since everyone had told me that the game was "unfinished," I half expected that to translate to the lack of a plot resolution.
   
That staff is a bit overpowered.
    
In a GIMLET, I give the game:

  • 4 points for the game world. It isn't terribly well fleshed out--in particular, the different races don't seem to mean anything after character creation--but the drug plot is at least somewhat original, and the various locations hold together thematically.
         
The street names added a lot of flavor to the cities.
     
  • 4 points for character creation and development. There aren't many choices during creation, but at least you're choosing from a fairly original selection of classes and races. Leveling up is rapid enough and feels suitably rewarding.
      
Orithia levels up while the developers leer at her.
     
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. I wish the developers had offered more than three NPC portraits, but you'll never find me rating a keyword-based dialogue system poorly, especially when thoughtful use of those keywords can flesh out the lore and history of the game world. It's not Ultima-level quality, but it's still good. 
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. Half the monsters come from a standard fantasy template, half are original to the game. What I like here is that the type of monster matters for more than just how hard they hit. Their various types of attacks, defenses, and special actions have you adjusting your own tactics accordingly. That's what a good RPG bestiary should do. I also like that you can pick your battles and engage in what you might call "tactical grinding." Non-combat encounters are less plentiful and less impressive and offer no real role-playing.
         
This guy looks a lot more difficult than he turns out to be.
     
  • 5 points for magic and combat. See my comments above. Magic plays a lesser role here, but in some ways that creates a more balanced game. Most RPGs are so magic-heavy that regular combat actions are almost rendered superfluous at higher levels.
  • 3 points for equipment, strengths and weaknesses already discussed. 
    
Titania: "Is it a trash can lid? A table top? What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
     
  • 5 points for the economy. It could use more complexity, but it never gets to the point that it doesn't matter, which is the most important attribute.
  • 4 points for quests, including a clear main quest and several side quests. No alternate endings or role-playing options, unfortunately.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface, all of which are functional if not remarkable.
  • 6 points for gameplay. I like its non-linear, open world; I just wish there was a little more in it. More locations, but smaller, would have been a better approach. Aside from the ease of the final battles, I thought that both the difficulty and length of play were both right on target.
          
That gives us a final score of 44, which as I suspected puts it between The Bard's Tale (34) and Might and Magic (60). It's much higher than I expected going in. Earlier this year, a commenter suggested that I would "rant" about the ending, and I'm not sure why. It wasn't great, but it wasn't the shaggy dog joke that, say, Fate: Gates of Dawn was. Another commenter mentioned that it "promises more than it can deliver." I think that's a bit extreme. It lacks polish, certainly, but it at least tells a complete game. If some of the areas aren't finished, I can hardly complain given that I didn't explore all the areas that were finished.
          
I have no idea what's happening in this box image. Neither, apparently, did any of the developers.
       
Like many European games, even with English releases, it doesn't appear that western media much noticed Spirit. Computer Gaming World described it only briefly in a larger column about foreign games. European reviews were all over the place. PC-Spiele '92 gave it a 60/100, complaining about the lack of an automap (seriously, that bothers me in 2017 reviews, let alone from a year barely out of the graph-paper era) and the difficulty of early combats, which suggests the reviewer didn't make much use of the "run" feature. Power Play (75/100) laments it as another Bard's Tale rehash. But ASM (80/100) called it a "strong adventure game" with a lot of positive features, and Joker Verlag (84/100) called it a "brilliant heroic epic in German."

Every review notes its Bard's Tale ancestry, and that isn't in question. But what Spirit of Adventure does better than The Bard's Tale--what Might and Magic does a lot better--is provide a much greater sense of variety. Offer uniformly-size map after map of trash mob battles culminating in maybe one special encounter, like all Bard's Tale games do, and you've got a recipe for frustration and boredom. Spirit offers locations of different shapes and sizes, with multiple special encounters, side-quests, and low-key enemies that don't have both sides playing quick-draw on a NUKE spell every combat. Like I've said, it's not perfect. It could have used less town and more dungeon, for instance. But it was well-balanced and it didn't drag on forever.
  
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have been a good experience for the developers. I get most of the story here from blogger Christian Genzel, who interviewed developer Guido Henkel in 2014. What I like about this article is that Genzel focused nearly exclusively on Spirit of Adventure rather than Henkel's more famous titles. In the interview, Henkel says that the game was supposed to have been subtitled The Dream Master as it was going to kick off an entire series under the Spirit of Adventure umbrella.

Henkel says he and co-developer Hans-Jürgen Brändle were influenced by The Bard's Tale, Wizardry, The Magic Candle, Might and Magic, and Tunnels & Trolls. It's tough to detect the influence of some of these, but they could have gotten their devotion to keyword-based dialogue from The Magic Candle.

What Genzel calls in in the interview "red herrings"--the Thieves' Guild, the other languages, the port in Brataya, several objects--were all supposed to play a role in expansions and extensions. The team envisioned multiple modules spanning from a central core.
       
I'm sure glad I spent money on all those other languages!
      
Repeatedly, however, Henkel mentions friction between the development team and their publishers at Starbyte. The publisher insisted on rushing production, developed the box and other production materials with no input from the developers, and cheated the developers out of their fair share of the royalties. They commissioned a Commodore 64 version of the game (in German only) with no input from the original developers. I couldn't get it to run (it kept asking for a disk that didn't exist in the package I downloaded), but reportedly it uses a top-down interface rather than first-person, and I can verify that the graphics are awful.
      
Exhibit A.
      
Sick of "making other people rich," Henkel and his colleagues determined to publish future games under their own label. This unfortunately led to an abandonment of Talusia and Lamarge but gave us the three Realms of Arkania games (1992-1996), which use an update of Spirit's engine. Their success landed Henkel a job at Interplay, where he produced Planescape: Torment (1999) and Neverwinter Nights (2002). Since leaving Interplay, he has been involved in mobile gaming and novel-writing.

We'll be seeing the Arkania series quite soon, so I'm glad I got to see this precursor. Spirit of Adventure isn't quite a "forgotten masterpiece," but it does perform better than you'd have any reason to expect. That's a refreshing change from the other titles this year.

46 comments:

  1. Congrats to your win. Good to see that you enjoyed the game. You only missed Segan's Tower which is west of the Dimension Portal. It costs a rune to enter the dungeon and gives you Segan's Staff that allows you to resurrect.

    Now I'm looking forward to your play of Blade of Destiny where Attic was not repressed by a publisher.

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  2. Regarding the ending, just consider how dumb it is for a criminal mastermind to hire someone to unravel his own plot? Even if the party fails, what is he to gain from it?

    I don't have a list of spells, but I remember there were summons that, unlike most other games, had no expiration date. You gained a permanent and quite powerful 7th party member that stayed with you until killed.

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    1. That's a good point, but if there's an excuse, it's probably that the Cult was insisting that SOMEONE be hired, so Rowena didn't have much of a choice. She picked a group that seemed inept and didn't count on their ability to "level up."

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  3. For documentation purposes, here is the list of spells I found/I got from a walkthrough:
    Life Hardness Body -- healing
    Life Softness Body -- group healing
    Life Hardness Mind -- mind healing
    Life Softness Mind -- group mind healing
    Life Combat Body -- summons friend
    Life Life Life -- resurrects
    Light Light Light -- light
    Mind Mind Mind -- shows direction?
    Combat Light Magic -- reflects magic
    Death Softness Body -- cloud of poison
    Death Fire Body -- fireball
    Magic Knowledge Magic -- detect magic
    Mind Mind Light -- wake up
    Softness Softness Body -- teleport
    Seeing Knowledge Earth -- locate stairs
    Earth Softness Air -- remove wall

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    1. I think almost all combinations of 3x the same rune lead to a spell. E.g. Earth Earth Earth permanently summons an earth spirit as a companion, though I never used it as you need a free slot in your party.

      I made an Excel sheet with all the combinations I found. I don't have it available right now, but can upload it later.

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    2. "I never used it as you need a free slot in your party" - I distinctly remember the summon taking the 7th spot, where the compass icon is. But I might be wrong, my memory is very unreliable.

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    3. It bothers me a bit that using three runes of the same time subverts the game's "source-path-target" logic. A "light" spell ought to be something like "light-air-seeing" and not just "light-light-light."

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  4. Critical hits can only be landed by the Samurai classes. Having two of them made the final combats exceptionally easy for me. I think you had the optiomal party composition - I had two priests instead of two mages. But mages have the better talents and their psi attacks are much better than the bows priests can use.

    As for the endgame, IIRC you have to talk to Yakka first as he recharges your horn, which you need to be able to fight Tibuk. Something must have gotten mixed up with the text there.

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    1. Yeah, that definitely didn't come through. I think the game accidentally selected the wrong text block for Yakka's dialogue or something.

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  5. I'm fairly sure that a 44 makes this the highest rated game not originating from the USA.

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    1. I think it's for the best that Knights of Xentar is not the top-rated non-US game anymore ;)

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    2. Well I think Fate had the title before this, it was 2 points higher than KoX.

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    3. Oops, master games doc lists it as American so I missed it.

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    4. Fixed the error. It's definitely close. The first 40 hours of Fate are better than Spirit of Adventure, but the latter knew when to quit.

      KoX being so high is a little embarrassing, but I can't ignore that it was a decent game with some innovative ideas beyond the erotica. Most European games have been Bard's Tale clones--the "clone" part isn't so bad, but BT is fundamentally a boring game--or relatively clueless about what an "RPG" really is.

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    5. I haven't been maintaining that "country" field well. I had Captive as a US game, too, when it should have been UK. I had The Ormus Saga as "Unknown" instead of Germany. I wonder how many other mistakes are in there.

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    6. KoX being so high is a little embarrassing, but I can't ignore that it was a decent game with some innovative ideas beyond the erotica.

      What were its main innovations, in your opinion? I'm honestly curious whether those things were new to Xentar, or might also be present in earlier JRPGs outside of your mandate (either untranslated or console-only). If the former, then it sounds like Xentar deserves a lot of credit that's effectively been obscured by the T&A.

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    7. Yeah, you may be right. Perhaps everything I perceived was a normal JRPG element, and I just don't have history with them because of the language and console issues.

      First, the approach to combat, including the learning system and the way spells worked. I didn't like it as much as truly tactical combat, but it wasn't bad for a more fast-paced system. Then there was the depth of interaction with NPCs (no pun intended). There aren't many RPGs up to this era that make you feel like you have real RELATIONSHIPS with your adventuring colleagues. The economy was well-structured. I guess those were the major things.

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    8. Yeah, that's pretty standard jRPG fare, except for combat (jRPGs usually use a menu combat system clearly inspired by Wizardry). KoX is a pretty mediocre example of the genre, but it is a solid mediocre rather than a soft one.

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    9. The only other ones where I think you have the country wrong are Mafia (Germany, despite the setting) and Rance (Japan).

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    10. I fixed Mafia, but where did you see Rance listed as anything other than Japan? It wasn't even on my active list at all, for some reason.

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    11. Hmm, now I'm not so sure. I noted it down when I went through the list, but it does seem to be Japan, must have misread.

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  6. That Olbrecht looks like Batman without the ears.

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  7. Personally, I think Lamarge sounds like Large Marge's username if she ever discovers the internet.

    Congratulations on finishing another game and getting one more step closer to end of a year. Strange to think that with a little more polish this game could have been a frontrunner for GOTY. Consider, it took an established, familiar interface, improved it, and spiritually set the stage for a deeper, more popular, and more satisfying rpg experience that we'll see soon. Additionally, even accounting for its unfinished state due to friction between the developers and publisher, it still sounds like a competent game. I do understand the reasons why it won't be GOTY, but even still I'll download and play this one based on its recommendations.

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    1. Frankly, for GOTY, just about everything has a shot right now.

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  8. Uplifting end of the year, congratulations. May a streak of first-class-titles begin...

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  9. Let´s see how you like the Arkania series. The pen and paper version was my first roleplaying game when I was a kid but I could never get into the computer games. IIRC my party was sick most of the time and I hated the battle screen that allowed you to fire missiles only in straight paths and not diagonally.

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    1. They fixed the missile weapons with the 2nd title, although that made bows a bit overpowered.

      Star Trail had so much quality of life improvements but I liked the scenario of the first better, would love to play the first one in the engine of the second...

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    2. Also with the sickness they took an odd way with realism, sleeping bags, shoeware and clothing fitting to the weather reduces the chance of getting sick

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    3. I remember DSA as more aimed at being "realistic" then being fun. Had a hard time with it, but still completed part 2 and 3 somehow.

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    4. personally, i loved that bit of "realism" in DSA games. And to this day Star Trail and Shadows over Riva are my favorites.

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  10. IMHO,you can remove heroes of the Lance from the list. Although, is incredibly short (I finished it in a couple of hours when I was a kid) it doesn't have any character leveling

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    1. It's interesting from an historical perspective, HotL was one of the original three series that SSI launched when it secured the D&D license and is the first of the so-called 'Silver Box' line, but is 100% a sidescroller, not an RPG.

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    2. Because it's "incredibly short," I think I'm going to make an exception for it. I've always been curious about the game for historical reasons.

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    3. It looks like you're hitting 1988 in your 'mop up' list at the same time you're hitting 1992 in your main list. Was this intentional or just a happy coincidence?

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    4. No, that was mostly a coincidence. Though I noticed it was close a couple months ago and might have sub-consciously adjusted the length of entries to ensure that it happened.

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    5. I had HoTL for the ZX Spectrum, and i think it took two whole tape sides for it to load. And then had to reload every time after losing.

      I realised fast enough that it was not worth it.

      Some years later i bought it on a bargain bin for the Sega Master System, and even with instant loading, it was still rubbish.

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  11. I normally never think to use the "run" option in games like this; I figure (possibly through being trained by other games) that either I'm not supposed to be in this area at all, and reload, or that I'm supposed to be here and should therefore be able to beat the monsters, so I fight to the death.

    Games where you can be *supposed* to be in an area, but still some of the combats are too hard for you, are either comparitively rare, or else I dislike them enough I've self-selected out of playing many.

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    1. That used to be my way of thinking, too. Running still bothers me a bit for that reason. In this game, it helps that there's no penalty for trying; I think the developers intended that you approach combat strategically. Most games give the monsters a free attack or otherwise "punish" you for trying to flee.

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    2. I find that the value of running away is directly proportional to the cost of death. In games where dying can be cured by a cheap consumable, and/or saving opportunities are common enough that even a party wipe (or your only character in solo games) doesn't hurt too bad, I never run away - any encounter tough enough to run from is likely to be rewarding enough that you're better off losing half the party and triumphing.

      In games where death is mildly expensive, I run more often, but usually fight through out of stubbornness or greed. The cost-benefit situation becomes much more complex.

      In games that feature permadeath, I run all the time, because permanently losing a companion (or having to start the game over) is a hefty cost and outweighs most possible rewards.

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    3. Yes, that's an excellent point. And since in Skariten, saving is only done in towns and when you enter dungeons, you stand to lose a lot of progress when you die. Somewhere between "mildly expensive" and "permadeath" depending on where you last saved, I guess.

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    4. Not Skariten. Spirit of Adventure.

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    5. I always thought that overly strong enemies was one of the 2 "area gates"; with the other being barriers that can only be removed after plot advancement.

      The reason for presence of the latter is straightforward for story continuation; especially for narrative-heavy JRPGs.

      The former, however, exists for many reasons, including story continuation because some part of the later game may require spells only available at certain level; having a recuitable companion in the new area who is about the same level as these stronger creatures and devs don't want your character feel outgunned when the companion joins; just pure padding to add playtime.

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  12. Looking back at the original entry, I see the white cat in the "game over" screen is also at "Rowena's" feet when "she" first explains your mission. I suppose the cat is therefore a subtle clue that "Rowena" is, in fact, the villain.

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  13. The Runemasters guy looks like Sean Connery :D

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  14. This site has an overview of all the people they copied for the graphics: Sean Connery, Batman, Christopher Lee, etc.

    http://www.hg101.kontek.net/tracing/tracing6.htm

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  15. The Amiga version of SoA have a nice cinematic intro, that is missing in the other versions. You can watch it here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zuv48snZlYA

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