Saturday, May 26, 2018

Legend: Summary and Rating

           
Legend
United Kingdom
Mindscape (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for Amiga, Atari ST, and DOS
Published in the United States as The Four Crystals of Trazere
Date Started: 7 April 2018
Date Ended: 21 May 2018 
Total Hours: 33
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 37
Ranking at time of posting: 221/290 (76%)

I really struggled over whether to quit this one. On the one hand, it was getting a little better. On the other, it was simply exhausting. Combats in Kilijan's Dark Tower became difficult enough that each one was a nail-biting fight to the death, requiring all my best tactics and spells, and even then I had to reload half of them. Most RPGs give you maybe 10 throw-away battles punctuated by the occasional significant battle. In Legend, none of the battles are throw-aways. A random encounter in a corridor you just cleared can absolutely destroy you, with enemies pouring in from all sides, a new one arriving to replace every one you've slain. I swear, some battles go on long enough that the game decides to generate a new random battle while you're still fighting the old one.

My inventory got so overloaded during the third level of the Dark Tower that I decided to make the journey back to the main map, with all of the random combats in between, to sell the excess goods, donate money at temples to restore luck, and level up. I did all of these things, then couldn't force myself to re-enter the tower and wind all the way back up. I sat on it for a couple of days. Finally, I decided I'd quit if someone else online had documented the endgame.
               
As far as I made it: the stairs going up to Level 4 of the Dark Tower.
            
My, has someone. Starting in November 2011, a YouTube member named Dzyu played the game over 102 videos, ending in May 2013. His videos were invaluable in documenting the endgame. (Another worthy LP series was started in June 2015 by FSSZilla, but as of her 83rd video in November 2017, she hadn't won.)

The Dark Tower turns out to be five levels. At the top, the player defeats Kilijan (who is immune to "Disrupt" and "Paralyze") and gets his magic staff, either keeping it or turning it in to the Ancient for a reward. Somewhere in the Dark Tower, the player finds a skull key that opens up Levels 3 and 4 of Fagranc. Once you clear those, you have to visit taverns to hear of the discovery of a "power gem" in the sewers of Balenhalm by some "ratmen." Balenhalm is a single large level.

Next up are two levels of Moonhenge in the northeast corner of the map. It provides the keys necessary to explore Levels 5 and 6 of Fagranc, which in turn provides the items necessary for the two levels of the Unshrine (which jumps around the map), where the party contends with Tetrahagael, the Chaos Lord. This is apparently an exceedingly difficult battle, as the Chaos Lord has magical protections (which you have to dispel), immunities, and very high hit point total. The Chaos Lord has the key necessary for the eighth and final level of Fagranc.

While exploring the dungeons, the party members also find the titular four crystals of Trazere, each of which boosts the defenses of one of the towers on the overland map. Between dungeons, the party has to reconquer cities seized by the enemy and provide gold to boost staffing at the towers.
      
This is the kind of statement that would make a robot's brain explode on the original Star Trek.
       
After delivering the fourth crystal, the party discovers that King Necrix himself is responsible for the evil taking hold in the land. ("Necrix" always sounded like a suspicious name.) The party must assault the king's fortress, fight up three levels, and slay him at the top. It took Dzyu over half a dozen attempts. Watching this part of the video gives you a sense of the complete chaos that is combat in this game. Even watching instead of playing, I can't tell what's happening most of the time. Spells are exploding all over the place, characters die in seconds. It's so crazy that in the fight where he finally kills the king, he doesn't even realize it for a few seconds.
          
A typical shot from the final battle.
            
Even after killing the king, Dzyu has enough trouble with the chaos beasts that he runs into an adjacent room hoping for better terrain, and in the midst of combat accidentally reads a sign--and unwittingly concludes the game. (To his credit, he recorded a final video in which he completed the combat before reading the sign.) He's clearly let down by the lack of denouement after so many hours ("I think I would have preferred at least some artwork"), but he remarks that he should have expected it given the sparsity of story throughout the game.
             
The winning screen.
        
The sign, of course, confirms Legend as a prequel to Bloodwych, the idea being that the Bloodwych now take over in the place of Necrix, reign peacefully for a while, and are then usurped by Zendick in the first game.
           
Dzyu's late-game spellbook.
       
Throughout the videos, Dzyu clearly enjoys the game for its spells. A late game screenshot shows his current recipe list, which I make out as:

1. "Missile-Disrupt-Disrupt-Disrupt-Damage-Damage-Damage." An all-purpose "blast the hell out of a targeted enemy" spell. "Disrupt" is more powerful than "Damage" but some enemies are immune to it, so I'm sure the goal here was to have a spell that would devastate anyone.

2. "Surround-Damage-Damage-Damage-Missile-Damage-Damage-Damage-Surround-Damage-Damage-Damage-Missile-Damage-Damage-Damage." This one is similar to my "fill the room with fire" spell, but jacked up to the maximum possibility.

3. "Heal-Heal-Heal-Continuous-Heal-Heal-Heal." The best I can figure, this immediately triple-heals the caster, then creates a square of healing magic in the room that other characters can walk or teleport into.

4. "Missile-Surround-Vivify-Heal-Heal." This allows the caster to resurrect any dead characters in a 9-square radius and then immediately heal them a bit.

5. "Regenerate." His only single-rune spell lets the caster regenerate quickly.

6. "Missile-Teleport-Speed." Allows the caster to send one of his colleagues to another place in the room and simultaneously give him extra attacks.

7. "Teleport-Regenerate-Speed-Antimagic-Surround-Teleport-Regenerate-Speed-Mystic Weapon-Antimagic." A kind of holistic pre-combat spell that gives each character the most important buffs and allows him to place himself anywhere in the room at the beginning of combat.

8. "Missile-Forward-Missile-Teleport." No idea. I'm guessing this was a solution to his last puzzle somehow. He doesn't have any of these mixed, which bolsters my hypothesis.

9 & 10. "Missile-Paralyze" and "Missile-Dispel." Both quick spells to affect a single target.

Analyzing some of the videos, "Teleport" is the real workhorse, and it makes sense that "Cloud" objects (rings, potions, wands, helms), which cast the spell, are vital to the party's success. They're the key to placing characters in strategic positions at the outset of combat, and to ensuring that the assassin is well-placed to use his backstabbing abilities. The spell also gets wounded characters out of combat and to healing squares.

My GIMLET combines both my experiences and what I observed in Dzyu's videos.

1. Game World. Neither the game world nor the story is well fleshed out, consisting primarily of allusions rather than real descriptions and sensible bits of lore. The game's "twist"--Necrix being the evil lord behind the invasion--doesn't really make any sense. Why didn't he undermine the "good" armies? Why did he send the party to Fagranc? It's too bad, because the connections to Bloodwych would be more meaningful if the story in either game made more sense. Score: 3.

2. Character Creation and Development. There are limited options during creation, and I feel that the number of levels achievable during the game (about 12) is a little low given the difficulty of combats. You have no choices while leveling up--you just get a random selection of stat upgrades. On the plus side, each of the four characters plays a pretty stark role. You can't just treat them all like fighters. You have to carefully equip and position them in ways that call on the strengths of their classes. I also like that the four classes--berserker, troubadour, assassin, and runemaster--are just a bit different than the standard fantasy RPG roster. Score: 4.
             
A late-game troubadour, from Dzyu's LP.
         
3. NPC Interaction. I'll give a point for a few people in the various towns, but really those are more part of the "encounters" or "economy" than true NPCs. Score: 1.

4. Encounters and Foes. As a somewhat non-visual person, it particularly annoys me when games don't name their monsters or use color to distinguish types or difficulty, and this game does both. The monsters in the game are a varied selection of humanoids and beasts, some of which do physical damage only, some of which are capable of magic, some of which have magical immunities and protections. I suspect it becomes important to note which is which, and I don't like having to fill notebooks with things like "bluish guy that looks like a minotaur--can self-teleport." 

The other aspect to "encounters" is the puzzles. I ran hot and cold, as I do with almost any game that features these sorts of mechanical puzzles (cf. DarkSpyre, Chaos Strikes Back). I thought some were too difficult and others offered the right level of challenge. They seem to get pretty crazy towards the endgame. Score: 4, but those who like puzzle-oriented games might boost this to a 6 or 7.

5. Magic and Combat. The magic system is obviously the highlight of the game, offering potentially thousands of creative combinations. I would love to have this type of spell system, maybe with a few more effects, coupled with a proper tactical combat system--either turn-based like the Gold Box games, or real-time-with-pause, like the Infinity Engine games.

The combat system actually offered in Legend has too few tactical options for non-spellcasters, is too chaotic and confusing, in too tightly-confined territories, with poor pathfinding and AI. It undermines most of the positives of the magic system. Score: 5.

6. Equipment. A positive that I probably didn't focus enough time on. Each character gets a variety of weapons, shields, armor, helms, gloves, boots, amulets, rings, wands, potions, and special items like the troubadour's various instruments. Upgrades are fairly regular. For regular weapons and armor, you can easily see their effects on your various statistics. For magic items, you have to experiment and study the effects (or take them to the Ancient for identification), but the totality of the items allows all characters to wield some magic and thus increases combat tactics. I also like that the available items in shops changed throughout the game, and that the treasures were randomized rather than fixed. Score: 6.

7. Economy. Another strong point. Between equipment, leveling, runes, reagents, donating at temples for "luck," and fortifying towers, money remains relevant until the end of the game. Score: 6.

8. Quests. There's a main quest with multiple stages, but I don't think there are "side quests." One of the stages, at least, gives you a single choice, but in general you're on a linear rail throughout the game. Score: 3.
           
You have to love "I shall kill you all myself . . . Guards!"
          
9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. I rather like the oblique-angle graphics and the various dungeon scenes they create, and I didn't have any problems with the interface, which offers redundant mouse and keyboard options--with the exception of targeting (sometimes). Sound, on the other hand, is only serviceable, consisting of the "ding-ding-ding" of weapons while the same troubadour tune drones endlessly in the background. Score: 4.

10. Gameplay. Here's where it all falls apart by hitting every element of the Unholy Quartet: too linear, too hard, not replayable, and above all, too long. I'll give a point in this category in recognition of the outdoor map, which allows relatively free exploration between the dungeons. Score: 1.

That gives us a final score of 37, just above my "recommend to check out" threshold, but not quite all the way to "good."

Anthony Taglione, responsible for both this and Bloodwych, is clearly a talented programmer with some good ideas. Both games started with a popular base (Dungeon Master in the case of Bloodwych) but brought their own innovations. Neither Bloodwych's cooperative multiplayer nor Legend's magic system have anything quite like it among their predecessors. But both games commit the fatal sin of not knowing when to quit. Neither 1989 nor 1992 was ready for 100-hour games; the hardware and software of the time simply didn't support enough content. Even today, I regard a game that requires 100 hours with a jaundiced eye, although I have no trouble with games that allow for that length. I trust you can see the difference.

Of course, even given any memory- and space-based limitations, this small series is still pretty paltry when it comes to actual story. And both games reward dozens of hours of gameplay with a single screen of text at the endgame. I would have shared Mr. Dzyu's expectation for at least some artwork, particularly since Legend featured an animated introduction.

Computer Gaming World overlooked this one, but Dragon got to it and gave them an uncharacteristically-low 3/5 stars, calling it a "decent effort" with an original magic system but "limited character creation," confusing combat, and an unintuitive interface. European reviews mostly ran in the 80s and 90s (though the German Play Time gave it a 56). Unfortunately, I can't quote any of them because the site I use to find full-text magazines from the period is down. Given the light standards of journalistic integrity that we've seen in most European Amiga magazines, it's hard to imagine that many (if any) of them made it to the end before reviewing the game, and I feel that the interminable length and abrupt conclusion are key parts of the game.

We aren't done with the world of Trazere. 1993 will bring Worlds of Legend: Son of the Empire. Judging by the screenshots and game description, it is simply Legend with different maps, featuring a quasi-East Asian theme. In 1994, we'll face Hexx: Heresy of the Wizard, which appears to be an updated variant of Bloodwych. Those will be our last experiences with Mr. Taglione, as the other offerings from both him and co-designer Peter Owen-James are action and adventure titles (1993's Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1997's Alpha Storm).

We'll clean up a couple of 1988 offerings before getting to the next 1992 game, starting (maybe) with Seven Little Horrors, a bizarre German game from Motelsoft. I'm having trouble with the interface and have written to the publisher for help. If I can't figure it out in time for an entry, we'll move on to the easy-but-bland Talisman, a roguelike for the Atari 800.

*****

I was really looking forward to trying the first version of the long-running UnReal World. Released in 1992, version 1.00b is completely unrecognizable to a player of later versions, with a vastly different interface, different rules, and a high-fantasy setting (rather than real-world Finland). But I can't get it to run. I can run the character creation program and the world setup program, but the main program offers four options, each tied to a function key, and none of them activate. I've verified that the function keys work in DOSBox with other programs. If I can't get 1.00b to run, I have to wait until 1994 for the next major release.

26 comments:

  1. I was able to start playing with Dosbox 0.74 (F1 - F4 worked) URW 1.00b downloaded from here:

    http://www.unrealworld.fi/urw_devhist.html

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    Replies
    1. That's the version of DOSBox I'm using, and that's where I downloaded the game. Weird. I wonder what the difference is.

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    2. I even restored the default configuration file.

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    3. Have you tried increasing cycles? Function keys stopped working when I decreased Dosbox cycles to 4000. At that point the music also started becoming slower.

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    4. I tried setting cycles=auto (this is the default) and then it didn't work anymore. With cycles=20000 it works.

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    5. Okay, yeah, that does it. Thank you. I never would have hit upon that solution. Why does the number of cycles affect whether the function keys work?

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    6. Somehow it gives higher priority for updating that little animation and updating the music than checking the keyboard. I fix SW bugs for living so intuition often goes right...

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    7. I played Amiga version under WINUAE emulator. Everything worked technically perfect, but it also didn´t make game better :-) Quick frustrating battles kill this game.

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    Replies
    1. Repost on an article that has anything to do with your review (like my KoX review) and I'll leave it.

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    2. I'm not sure anyone will see it there, but I understand. I'll do that.

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    3. Hello Kurisu, your post will show up on the recent posts page. And since it is so rare to see a post removed by Chet, I'm actually regularly checking if you have reposted already. So at least one person will see it!

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  3. I guess my more positive impression of the series is due to the fact that it's based on the much shorter Son of the Empire, which has almost twice fewer levels. Plus I like the puzzles.

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  4. If it had an active pause, less content, the content was less punishing, and had even just a little more world building, it'd have ended up near the top 10% of games and would be a cult hit.

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    1. There's something to that, assuming you mean "less combat" instead of "content." By the end of my experience, I wasn't so much disliking it as just not seeing myself continue to play it for another 60 hours.

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    2. It's insane that a game with over 100 hours of content ends with your party at level 12ish.

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  5. "Unfortunately, I can't quote any of them because the site I use to find full-text magazines from the period is down."

    Here is another Site with scanned Tests from this period of time. But all the Tests are from german Magazines.

    For Legend its

    http://www.kultboy.com/testbericht-uebersicht/2188/

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  6. Regarding Motelsoft's "Seven Little Horrors", the creator's English seems to be rather abysmal judging from the English version of his official website, so if you need any help communicating, I can translate English-German and German-English for you.

    The game looks interesting enough that I'm willing to give you a little help with it :D

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    Replies
    1. To shed some first light on the arcane interface, I can translate the relevant parts of the readme for you. I haven't played the game myself yet (gotta familiarize myself with the Atari ST emulator first) so I can't comment on these instructions with my own experience.

      How to play:

      > Key "1" to switch character

      > Click on the names to take up special magic units

      > Click on the character portrait to show the character's statistics

      > Clicking on the bars below the portraits selects this character as the active one in combat

      > To enter the labyrinths, click on the red arrow

      > To walk, click on the direction in the game screen

      > There's a roll on the screen (Walze literally means something like a rolling pin, so probably refers to some kind of panel that looks like a rolling pin?)
      Secret Object
      To take it, click on the roll

      > Big map
      Different cities (Labyrinths)
      One healing location
      One saving location
      One training location

      > All cities named as level ??? are battle labyrinths
      These might contain one of the seven items you are required to find

      > Cities without a level in the name should be visited later on. You can buy the "Ulak Plate" there, if you find the old wizard and have enough money

      > The final battle happens in a city for which you require a key and the seven critical items. Before you got all of those, you can't enter it.

      ########
      YOU CAN ONLY SAVE YOUR GAME ON DISK 2, AND ONLY ON DISK 2!
      ########

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    2. Thanks for the translations, Frank. I think I have the interface figured out. I was puzzled about combat at first, but I understand what's happening now. It's not a terribly interesting game tactically, but there are a lot of fun visuals.

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  7. I didn't know there was a fantasy version of UnReal World. Should be interesting.

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  8. No complaints from me that you stopped playing this game. I could not bring myself to play it, love tactical challenges and this certainly didn´t sound like it.

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  9. It´s nothing so important, but one thing came in my mind. It seems to me, that Chester tries to keep his statistics as accurate as possible. I completely understand the decision to stop to play this game, but it seems it would be candidate to the list of "Longest played" games. Would not be good to make some estimation of the time based on the progress till now and put it to the list with asterisk?

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    Replies
    1. Perhaps it is better to keep the playing time accurate and check to see whether Chet finished it or not?

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    2. I think “so long and tedious that it overcame my compulsion to finish everything” is descriptive enough without padding stats.

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  10. This game's like a tin of military ration biscuits- very filling but bland.

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