Friday, June 7, 2019

The Kingdom of Syree: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

The king of Questron made me a baron. The King of Syree knighted me. Remind me what Lord British did for me again?
          
The Kingdom of Syree
United States
Everlasting Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 20 May 2019
Date Finished: 6 June 2019
Total Hours: 20
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 30
Ranking at time of posting: 186/332 (56%)

Summary
An Ultima clone right down to the keyboard commands, The Kingdom of Syree nonetheless tells a somewhat original story about a hidden wizard seeking to overthrow a kingdom that has achieved peace for the first time in millennia. In true Ultima style, the player slowly gathers clues from NPCs in castles and towns, collects artifacts, and develops his magic ability. While the game uses Ultima IV-style keyword interaction for NPCs, it unfortunately uses very basic Ultima II-style combat, and its few spells are far more useful for puzzle-solving than for defeating monsters. Although the game doesn't last too long, its indoor areas are a bit too large, making it difficult to track down every crucial NPC.
    
***
      
The Kingdom of Syree isn't going to be "Game of the Year" for 1992, or even my favorite Ultima clone, but it managed to pull off a few original ideas and surprises before the end, and I concluded feeling relatively satisfied.

The six major steps of the game turn out to be:
         
  1. Amassing enough gold to afford equipment and transportation
  2. Amassing enough gold to increase attributes in the dungeon Kehol, then trading some of those attributes for wisdom to gain magic points
  3. Finding clues as to the game's various spells, some of which are necessary to navigate
  4. Finding the Sword of Emara, the only weapon that can kill the evil wizard
  5. Delving all the dungeons to learn the "Dispel" spell
  6. Finding, revealing, and killing the evil wizard
        
I had accomplished the first three goals during the first two sessions. It wasn't much longer before I checked off the third goal, although it was a bit odd. The corpse of King Emara in his sarcophagus had told me to ask about the SABER in the city of Coel, but doing that revealed nothing at all. Instead, I found the sword with clues from other cities.

In River Bend, someone told me that "Shepard" said that the Saber was in the Valley of Haunts. I tracked down Shepard in Doe Shameh, and he said that to enter the Valley of Haunts, I would have to go to coordinates 19,42 (just north of Lost) and cast the YASHAB spell, then go as far north as I could, then "die an unnatural death." I already knew how to do that with the MAVETH spell.
         
The character kills himself.
         
YASHAB ended up taking me into a few squares in the middle of a mountain range. I did what Shepard said, went north, and cast MAVETH. The game said that I died, but then I woke up in a completely dark dungeon. Fortunately, in Garrett, the former court wizard (now being tortured for not giving the same information to King Dakar) told me that once I was in the "spirit world," I should go 20 west, 8 south, 3 west, and 5 north, then search for Emara. I followed those instructions and got the sword.
          
Finding the Sword of Emara in the dark.
           
Unfortunately, at this point I was stuck. Leaving the dungeon with the SEQUITU spell just put me in the same mountain squares with no way to get out. It was only by making another circuit through the towns that I found a new NPC in Lost who told me that ANASTASIS was a spell of resurrection. Casting that while in the Valley of Haunts put my character back on the mainland, outside Lost, with the sword in hand.

The rest of the stages took me a while because I misinterpreted the clues to mean that the "Truth" spell (ALETHEIA) is what would break the evil wizard's facade. In the end, I never found any use whatsoever for ALETHEIA. I suspect it works on one or two NPCs whose advice either I didn't need or got by simply cycling through all the letters of the alphabet.

"Dispel" turns out to be EMETH, which you piece together by mapping the bottom levels of each dungeon. The last level of each of the five dungeons always turns out to be curiously open, and when I mapped the first one--Mysti--I realized it looked like a letter "E." From there, it was easy enough to pick up the others. I didn't know the order to arrange the letters, but there are only so many combinations. (Technically, there are 120, but I could eliminate those beginning with TM, MT, HT, and so forth.) Fortunately, when you cast a spell that doesn't exist, the game says "no effect"; whereas when you cast a real spell in the wrong location, it says "failed!" So I just had to try combinations of the letters (THEME, HETEM, etc.) until I got the right message.
          
The three levels of the dungeon Mysti, including the "E" at the bottom.
           
I already had a sense that King Dakar of Garrett was probably the evil wizard, since he had a torture room where people were boiling in pools of fire. Also, Grover the Terrified in Yew claimed that Dakar was not what he appeared. I headed to Castle Garrett and cast the spell in front of the king.

It turns out that EMETH not only dispelled Dakar's illusion but the entire castle's, which was a hellscape of fire, guarded by balrons and dragons. I died the first time when monsters killed me before I found the wizard.
            
Just in case you weren't sure where the wizard was.
        
Things got much easier when I figured out that the wizard was in the far southern part of the city, and I was able to wait until I reached that area before casting EMETH. I doffed my armor to protect myself from his magical attacks (previous NPC clues had told me that skin is the only protection against "unnatural" magic). I killed him with a few blows of the Sword of Emara.
           
Note that the wizard is said to be inhabiting "the corpse of King Dakar."
     
The endgame consisted of a brief ceremony in front of the King of Syree, who knighted me "Sir Chester." Some final words set up the sequel.
              
Note that the king has stolen the Sword of Emara from me. I just have a generic "greatsword."
        
One unsolved mystery has to do with the city of Phanteo Eifcon, which sits on an island in a lake. The "part water" spell (BADAL) doesn't allow access to the island--it only seems to work at the Dungeon of Water. After I won the game, I reloaded and edited the save game file to put my character on top of the city. The game wouldn't even acknowledge it was there. I'm not sure what was going on with that. Maybe the developer never programmed the city. Or maybe I was supposed to find a hidden way into it, and its NPCs would have made some of the game's steps more obvious.
              
BADAL causes this land bridge to appear to the Dungeon of Water, but it works nowhere else.
          
A couple of other oddities have to do with blatantly incorrect information coming from NPCs. For instance, the ghost of King Emara told me to ask around the city of Coel about the SABER to get information as to the location of the Sword of Emara. That keyword got me nowhere, and I learned nothing about the sword in Coel. Another NPC said that the entrance to the Valley of Haunts was near Phanteo Eifcon, which it wasn't. You're thinking maybe these were lies that ALETHEIA was supposed to expose, but I tried the spell and it didn't make the NPCs say anything different.

Aside from those elements, I liked how the plot came together, and how the wizard was literally disguised (although we've seen that plot twist in Might and Magic) rather than in an obvious evil castle. In a GIMLET, the game earns:
            
  • 3 points for the game world. The backstory has just enough detail for a game of this scope, and the map itself is nice. Unfortunately, the game doesn't remember any of your own actions. I'm waiting for an Ultima clone where NPCs stop telling me where to find the Sword of Emara when I have it in my hands.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. There isn't much to it, but I liked the way experience adds directly and immediately to your maximum hit points. Using altars to develop attributes worked fine, too.
  • 4 points for NPC interaction, a clear strength of the game. I'll never get sick of keyword-based dialogue, although I like to see more role-playing opportunities within that dialogue.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are nothing worth commenting on, but the game had some satisfying puzzles.
  • 2 points for magic and combat--definitely a weakness. Combat couldn't be more basic. While I liked the acquisition of spells via clues, and some of them were useful for navigation, I never cast a single combat-oriented spell.
               
Specifying "attack" and a direction is about as tactical as this game gets for combat.
          
  • 2 points for equipment. You have only half a dozen weapon and armor types, some keys, and a sextant.
  • 4 points for economy. It's not very complex, but it remains relevant throughout the game. When you don't need money for equipment anymore, the altars serve as a useful money sink.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no side-quests or options.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The icon-based graphics are fine. Most of this score goes to the interface; I'll always approve of games where each command is mapped to a different key. 
  • 5 points for gameplay. Syree has a surprising amount of nonlinearity; you can even rent a boat if you want to explore the world before you can afford to buy one. I found the difficulty and pacing just about right, too.
       
That gives us a final score of 30, not epic, but higher than I expected when I started.

I spent some time (in vain) trying to track down the game's author, Thomas Steven Himinez, whose life seems to define the word "eccentric." He claimed in the game manual that the game was based on the "books by Lord Steven"--a fact amusingly parroted by multiple web sites, as if said books actually existed. To get in touch with the author and pay the shareware fee, users were asked to go through a BBS belonging to a doughnut shop in Los Angeles. "Lord Steven" did eventually publish a trilogy about a couple of tigers, which was turned into a play and an audio drama, and as I mentioned in the first entry, he got involved in the Doctor Who audio dramas. At some point, he changed his name to Thomas S. Lonely Wolf, began contributing to conspiracy and "prepping" web sites, and moved to a remote town in the Pacific Northwest, apparently anticipating imminent nuclear war.

We'll see Lord Steven's work again in The Kingdom of Syree II: Black Magic (1994) and The Kingdom of Syree III: The Depths of Hell (1998). It doesn't appear that the games ever stop being Ultima clones with iconographic interfaces and very basic, Ultima I-style combat. But the graphics and sound improve a bit, and by the third game he's doing some interesting things with still images during cut scenes.
            
From the character creation part of the third game.
        
Speaking of sequels to Ultima clones, my random approach to title selection has scheduled Telnyr II next--perhaps a bit unwisely. We'll see if my patience holds.


22 comments:

  1. There's something extremely Ultima about doing magical rituals to enter the land of the dead and come back. Less Ultima for the endgame to involve actually fighting a combat like some kind of caveman, though.

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  2. Another great entry.

    I feel like we are in a golden age of the CRPGA.

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    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlfGRVRqj4M

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    2. Nice, the best is yet to come.

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  3. More Hebraisms: BADAL (בָּדַל) means "he divided," YASHAB (יָשַׁב) means "he sat (down), settled," and EMETH (אֶמֶת) means "truth." The correspondence is not always clear; the last one could be a reference to John 8:32, or it might be a nod in the direction of the legend of the Golem (which was deactivated by erasing the first letter of the Hebrew word written on its forehead, transforming "truth" to "death").

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    Replies
    1. That's funny. I spent way too much time trying to work out anagrams for those.

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    2. Good catch, Chuck. I'm a native Hebrew speaker, yet I missed BADAL and YASHAB. In my defense, both are transliterations of the root form of the verb, which you'd rarely encounter in the wild.

      Some ideas about the reasoning behind the spell name choices:

      EMETH - Both your ideas are plausible, but it might also be simply using Truth to dispel illusions.

      BADAL - The word is prominently repeated (in conjugated forms) in Genesis 1, the creation story. It is used in the sense of separating and differentiating (light from darkness, sky from sea, etc), and in that context might also imply the act of creation itself. So - creating land from water? Another possibility - an allusion to the parting/dividing of the Red Sea. I'd say that's the more likely interpretation, only the word BADAL is never used in that particular story.

      YASHAB - That's a though one. Then again, you're hardly likely to find a Hebrew word for "teleportation" in the bible, now are you? Maybe "settling" as in "moving to a new place"? Somewhat of a stretch. Maybe a (mangled) conjugation of SHAV/SHUV, which means "To return"? Even more of a stretch, and would entail a deeper knowledge of Hebrew than I suspect the developer had.

      On a a different note - Addict, I just noticed that "Spellcraft" appeared at the bottom of your upcoming games list. I'm eagerly awaiting this one! I finished the game back when it was released and greatly enjoyed it, but it seems like I'm about the only person on Earth to have actually played it.

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    3. I just had a bit of fun playing with Google Translate to see what you were talking about re: truth/death. I was having a bit of trouble until I realized Hebrew reads right to left rather than left to right; I kept erasing the first letter on the left. It also helped that I used your particular word (EMETH (אֶמֶת)) for truth since there seem to be a few synonyms. Learn something every day!

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  4. Which remote town in the Pacific Northwest did he move to?

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    Replies
    1. That actually sounds like a pretty decent outcome, nuclear war or no.

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    2. I already feel like maybe I crossed the line assembling so much information about a person who chose to be anonymous on his actual game. I don't need to publish his address and the names of his family members, too.

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    3. Yeah that's fair. I live in Portland, so being in my neighborhood made me curious. You are totally right tho, if he wants to be anonymous, he should totally have that right.

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  5. good and fun, keep up

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  6. "Remind me what Lord British did for me again?" You used to be a peasant in Akalabeth and Lord British knighted you at the end of the game ;)

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    Replies
    1. That's true. The pre-Ultima halcyon days in which he actually showed gratitude instead of sending me home the moment I finished whatever task he had for me.

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  7. I'm not sure why, but the info on the author ending with him turning into a conspiracy nut preparing for the apocalypse looking like it's there as an afterthought is funny as hell to me. Not the actual info, just it's placement, to be clear

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  8. There's a real out-there conspiracy theorist on youtube named 'Lord Steven Christ' who, finding flat earthers too vanilla, believes the world to be concave. Also, as the name implies, he has Thoughts on religious matters. Any relation to our man?

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    Replies
    1. No, although there are some of the same themes in his rantings, this is not the same person. "Lord Steven Christ" is Steven Joseph Christopher, and he lives in Texas.

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  9. Another great entry ... it was very enjoying to read your comment on this classic.

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  10. The last pic looks like a typical german countryside village straight from the 80s... I wonder where he got that pic from

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  11. You confused me with that reference to the "Doctor Who Audio Dramas". The product you're referring to, that has a Thomas Himinez attached (not really sure if it's the same guy) is basically the equivalent of community theatre - unlicensed, non-commercial, audio fanfics.

    The phrase "the Doctor Who audio dramas" would more usually be used to refer to Big Finish's range of full-cast licensed productions, which Himinez does not appear to have had anything to do with.

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  12. That idea of "game of the year" is really great. Would you mind adding a badge for "GOTY" for each game deserving it at the list of games by year?

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