Sunday, October 14, 2018

Game 306: Legends II (1989)

         
Legends II
United States
Asgard Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1989 for TI-99
Date Started: 9 October 2018

It was about a year ago that I looked at Legends (1987) for the TI-99, a platform that was already three-years discontinued. By 1989, it had been five years. And yet Asgard Software was still pumping out titles for its little cult following. Legends II is explicitly "dedicated to the TI community," according to the manual. "Daily we keep the TI legacy alive and with each passing year we create our own legends." Ironically, this was the company's last year, but it was a busy one, releases include a third version Tunnels of Doom anthology and four ports of Infocom text adventures.

You may recall that the original Legend was a Phantasie-inspired romp to defeat a warlord named Ashtar Creel. I liked that it used Phantasie's approach to dungeon exploration, but I thought the character development was limited and the combat far too frequent. It was also very grindy; to win I had to pretty much grind to the highest level before I even seriously attempted the dungeons.

Legends II--unimaginatively subtitled The Sequel everywhere but the title screen--doesn't begin with much of a backstory. The four-person party (every player gets a fighter, ranger, cleric, and wizard), bored after defeating Ashtar Creel, sets sail for a newly-discovered continent, hoping to find something to do there. They're shipwrecked on the way, and they wind up in the town of Grumble on an island called Femble.
         
A tavern tale hints at a bigger plot to come.
        
The game doesn't support any character-creation process. You either have to play with the (weak) default party or import a Legends party, which reduces them all to Level 3 but maintains their hit points and most of their equipment. I had trouble with the import process, so Adamantyr supplied me with a clean installation that includes a default party with appropriate attributes but lousy equipment. I changed the names.

Grumble, the only town on the new continent, has an inn, a potion shop, a temple, and a training hall, but oddly no weapons shop (you have to find all weapon and armor upgrades). Legends had only one town, too, but the rest of the island was dotted with inns where you could rest and heal. Instead, in Legends II the ranger occasionally finds "safe havens" for resting while you explore the outdoor landscape.
        
Options in town.
       
Every time you leave Grumble, you set a difficulty level for the monsters you encounter, on a scale of 1 to 10, the lower the easier. The setting affects not the type of monsters but their hit points and damage levels. Higher risk yields higher rewards, but it takes a while to build up to those higher settings. Just as in the original, in advancement my characters are hampered far more by lack of gold than lack of experience.
          
Sure, that will only take me about 70 combats to earn.
          
Movement is accomplished with the ESDX cluster, with a few other keys to perform special actions inside and outside of combat. The game checks for random encounters based on a number of cycles rather than the number of moves. This is highly annoying. Not only are you penalized for not immediately moving the moment that you have the ability (after a few seconds, the game inevitably rolls a random encounter), but in the modern era you can't crank up the emulation speed to get other things to run faster unless you're prepared to deal with all the extra combats.

Combat hasn't advanced at all since the first game. It's basically Phantasie's system without the little character animations. There are only a couple dozen enemies in the game.  Upon meeting an enemy party, you can choose to fight, intimidate them, greet them, surrender to them, or flee. Anything other than "fight" gives the enemy a free round of attacks if it fails. "Intimidate" is a great option. If it succeeds--which it does enough to make it viable--you still get the experience and gold from the combat, without having to fight anything.
            
I'm glad I didn't have to fight these guys. They eat armor.
           
If you choose to fight, you have options to thrust, parry, lunge, or cast a spell. Actions execute immediately instead of waiting until everyone sets up. The spell selection is small--eight each for wizards and clerics and six for rangers--and they can only be cast in combat. As in Phantasie, many are simply variants in power of the same base spell; for instance, the wizard gets "Firestorm1," "Firestorm2," and "Firestorm3." There are no mass-damage spells, which I somewhat like, as it makes me more likely to cast buffing spells like "Strength," "Protection," and "Prayer" in combat.
         
Fighting a cute giant snake.
        
Dungeon exploration offers the same weird dichotomy as in Legends, where half the dungeons offer traps and treasure chests but no monsters, and the other half offer monsters but no traps or chests. The first type of dungeon is attached to Grumble and is the first one that you explore. Legends started with some of the dungeon levels exposed, but the sequel makes you move to find every available square. It doesn't even open up the squares around you; you have to actually move into walls to see if you can go that way.
              
Threading my way through the dungeon. The dot indicates a special encounter.
           
Chests are often trapped and have to be disarmed. They might hold gold, potions, or equipment. You have to keep careful track of your current weapon, armor, and shield because when you find something new, you don't have an option to review what you're already carrying before deciding whether to keep it or leave it. One trip through the starter dungeon mostly made up for the paltry equipment my characters imported with.
            
I think most of my guys have better weapons than this.
            
The pair of games does a good job with narratives and encounters that develop the backstory and propel the main quest. I wish more titles of the era, independent and commercial, rewarded exploration with an occasional bit of text. (A text card like the one below at the end of each Shadowkeep level would have incentivized continuing to play it.) Grumble's tavern offers hits of gameplay elements to come. Rooms and hallways in dungeons have brief descriptions, and special encounters, annotated with a dot, sometimes offer role-playing options.
           
A signpost on the starting island.
       
An intertitle at the beginning of the Grumble dungeon explains that it's used for storage as well as the city's famous water and sewer system. As you explore, you repeatedly encounter a guide leading people through the sewers. On Level 2, there's a maintenance man who sells some tools to the party, and on Level 4, you run into the city's mayor, in hiding from assassins, who gives you a key to a special room at the Zen Outpost.
          
If Crusaders of the Dark Savant presented its text like this, I'd have a lot less of an issue with it.
         
Back on the surface, the tools are necessary to repair the drawbridge connecting the starting island to the next one to the south. I know from peeking at the map on Adamantyr's site that the game world consists of an absurdly long chain of islands running from north to south, none wider east-west than a single game screen but occupying perhaps 13 screens vertically. Apparently, Donn Granros has said that players of Legend complained of the open-world nature of the first game, so in this one the authors decided to feed them the dungeons in a linear order.
          
Good thing we bought those tools!
        
The problem with this approach is that you can only level up and heal in Grumble. And while you can quit and save in camp in the wilderness, every time you reload, you're back in Grumble. This is going to get annoying towards the end of the game when I'm far afield, want to save to avoid losing progress, but then have to trek all the way back to my position from Grumble again. (And the Classic99 emulator doesn't offer save states, so I can't cheat this process.) The overall setup seems to suggest that, once again, the player is best off doing a lot of grinding near Grumble before heading out into the open world. Fortunately, as long as you check in once in a while, grinding is as easy as weighing down the "1" key, since that key acknowledges messages, choose to fight, and chooses the "thrust" action each round.
           
Signs warn of strange happenings to the south.
         
I've explored about four screens to the south. It appears there are going to be special encounters at a lot of the bridges. I found the second dungeon--a monster one, this time. But I'm relying on the idea that all dungeons are visible on the screen and don't require you to poke around the map. Anyone who's played the game--which is probably just Adamantyr--please let me know if I'm wrong about this.
         
It's a tough call, but I'm thinking "no."
         
Just like its predecessor, Legends II is not a fantastic game, but it's one of the few fully-developed RPGs for the TI-99, and it offers enough of interest to keep me going. I look forward to seeing how or if the story develops and what the main quest truly is. One of the tavern tales suggests that Ashtar Creel isn't really dead, and another says, intriguingly, that "they somehow snatched this great king from a parallel world," likely to hold him for ransom. Are we going to end up rescuing Lord British in a non-Origin game?

Time so far: 4 hours

25 comments:

  1. Yes, all dungeons are visible on screen, Below Grumble is the only one slightly hidden as it's at the town entrance.

    When I first played it I was exploring all over wondering how the heck I was supposed to fix the drawbridge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe we can get the Addict to do a special review of your game when it is ready for prime time!

      I still find it peculiar that they writing games for the TI in 1989... ours was long since consigned to the attic and our Tandy 1000 was already getting long in tooth.

      Delete
    2. I'm working on it! Combat engine debugging is ongoing. I think I can have the engine complete by end of '18 at least. That said, Chet follows order of release, so my game is a LONG way off.

      A lot of "obsolete" computers were still having software produced for them in that era. Part of it was there was still a bit of money to be made, the other is that newer computers were so expensive that many users just kept what they had going.

      By the early 90's though, most of the older home computers finally lost what was left for support. I boxed up my TI after I got a PC and didn't get it back out until I was going for my CS degree and it re-awoke a lot of my old programming interests.

      Delete
    3. @Arthurdawg
      There are still programmers who create games for the Commodore64 in 2018, so why not.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous - yeppers... I have no problem with them doing so either, just thought it was plucky of them to still work on the TI. I have many fond memories of playing Tunnels of Doom late in the night!

      Adamantyr - I'm keeping up with your blog too, I think I may have posted under my real first name there but have left you some posts! Definitely true about the expense of those older computers... I look back on them now and it is mind boggling how much they have come down in price.

      Heck, I read an article about the guys who still homebrew Atari 2600 cartridges the other day. I think they just enjoy seeing how much they can do with such a limited platform!

      Delete
  2. The town scene in Grumble looks real cute, too bad there weren't more towns.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I always thought that too! The graphics in Legends II are even slightly better than the first one.

      Delete
  3. Infocom games for the TI!? I need to dig into that more... I had no idea that they allowed another company to port the Z-interpreter like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's what MobyGames says, anyway. I hope they were "official" ports.

      Delete
    2. I think they had to truncate them to fit the typical memory of the TIs... but don't quote me on that. Jimmy that writes the Digital Antiquarian has written a number of long articles on the Z machine and the limitations it had in its various incarnations if you are interested. He references Addict a good bit so I hope it is ok to post about him!

      Delete
    3. They were official ports. Several titles were not available on the TI due to memory limitations. The later Asgard releases were done with permission and used an 8K supercart to give them the necessary memory.

      List of Infocom releases for different platforms:
      http://atariage.com/forums/uploads/monthly_09_2010/post-2851-128466161569.jpg

      Delete
    4. Obligatory Mobygames rep here, they are pretty uptight over there about documenting only official, authorized releases.

      Delete
  4. You wrote: "Date Started: 9 October 2018
    Date Ended: 11 October 2018
    Total Hours: 1."
    But after playing 4 hours the game is not yet over. Something's not right!...

    Anyway, this one seems interesting. At least, with less (long) speeches than Wizardry VII

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry--it wasn't supposed to go after "Date Started." I originally, optimistically, thought I could cover it all in one entry.

      Delete
  5. The heck is up with commas in the text screens? They look more like grape emojis...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They're flower fields from the main map. In TI Extended BASIC you had a fairly limited number of characters to redefine as graphics. Note that periods are orange too; every 8 characters had to share a color.

      Delete
  6. Somehow the monsters completely fail to intimidate here.
    They look a bit as if they wish they were somewhere else.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I remember seeing this and other Asgard Games in the Triton catalogs back in the 80s, but we only had the base model 99/4a and thus couldn't even run games like this. I was so jealous of all those lucky people who could run Legend and Legend II. They sounded incredible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was in the same boat myself! I got my PEB as a birthday gift in summer of 1987, and could finally start playing a lot of the more deluxe games.

      That's an issue even today with the modern hobbyists; PEB's are still relatively uncommon and very expensive to ship, so a lot of sidecar options are available now. The best combo is a 32K sidecar with a Raspberry Pi interface which gets you a fully emulated disk system with WiFi to boot.

      Delete
    2. I still have the old 99/4a in a box somewhere. The biggest challenge for me is finding a TV with antenna input screws for the RF Modulator.

      If I ever get time, I'd love to break it out again and start upgrading and modding.

      Delete
    3. You can purchase monitor AV cables that negate the need for the RF modulator. You just need to have a TV that has a composite (yellow socket) hook-up and classic red/white audio plugs, which can be had for cheap.

      Delete
  8. I know they have their issues but I can't get over how appealing these games are to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you want to elaborate this a bit, I'd be interested in reading.

      Delete
  9. Small request: links from the spreadsheet to the blog post beginning for the game!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just use the "Search This Blog" and the name of the game.

      Delete

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