Friday, September 6, 2019

SpellCraft: Aspects of Valor: Summary and Rating

What awaited me if I had won the game.
SpellCraft: Aspects of Valor
United States
Tsunami Productions (developer); ASCII Entertainment Software (publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS; SNES port developed but never released
Date Started: 27 July 2019
Date Finished: 25 August 2019
Total Hours: 26
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 35
Ranking at time of posting: 243/343 (71%)

SpellCraft is an unusual, original RPG in which an American named Robert learns about a parallel magical universe and, under the tutelage of a wizard named Garwayen, grows from an apprentice to a master wizard. Most of the game consists of a series of missions in one of seven realms: Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Mind, Ether, and Death. As Robert solves these missions, he gets clues to the recipes for several dozen spells, mastering which is the key to winning the rapid game of rock-paper-scissors that soon develops between Robert and enemy wizards. Robert periodically visits Earth in between his explorations of the magic realms, getting clues, reagents, and side quests from various NPCs.

I admire and am somewhat envious of the player that could not only play but excel at SpellCraft. It's too much for me. I so lack the skill set needed to win such a game that it staggers me that winning it is even possible. You're dealing with dozens of spells constantly flying at you from dozens of directions, monsters constantly trying to drive you off the edge of an abyss, and dozens of your own spells through which to shuffle and try to counter enemies, constantly trying to remember which spells work in which domains, while keeping your eye on a bunch of meters and maps. It is so far removed from the careful deliberation that goes into, say, Gold Box combat that it's amazing we consider the games part of the same genre. A Gold Box game is like a good game of chess. SpellCraft is like three simultaneous games of speed chess played while wearing oven mitts.
Usually, when I have to enter "no" in the "Won?" column, it's because I didn't want to invest the time necessary to win the game. Rarely do I feel that I couldn't have won it with a little more patience. Here, I have to admit that the game didn't wear me out or bore me. It simply beat me. I could not react fast enough to the barrage of spells the enemy wizards threw at me. In this, SpellCraft offers a "first"--specifically, the first appearance of a dynamic common to modern games that I described in an entry eight years ago in relation to Dragon Age: Origins:
Most of the time, I have no idea what the #&*$ is going on. Seriously. Combat begins. My party members go into their tactics. I select one of the foes for my lead character to fight. I start using his special attacks. Meanwhile, there's a cacophony of sound as friends and foes meet each other and cast spells. Colors streak across the screen. My character starts sparkling for reasons I don't understand--am I being affected by an offensive spell, or did one of my party members cast a buffing spell? Sten starts calling for healing but then suddenly he's at full health even though I didn't heal him. Liliana starts saying "trap, trap, trap" even though we're in combat and it's unrealistic to disarm traps. My character is suddenly paralyzed and I don't know why. The screen shakes and I go sprawling against at tree--what hit me? Then, all at once, it's over, and apparently we're all alive.
The difference is that in the case of Dragon Age, the game is fighting for you as well as against you. I don't understand what's happening most of the time on either side, but at least some of it is benefiting me. This isn't the case with SpellCraft. My failure to complete the game, and my assessment of why I'm unable to complete it, has implications for any number of future titles. I'll analyze that more at the end.

Shortly after the events I recounted last, I reloaded and re-explored each of the domains until I found the Orb of Eternal Enlightenment in the Air Domain. With that in hand, I was able to re-kill the minion in the Water Domain. This was followed by the revelation that the Orb had now opened up two new domains: Ethereal and Mind. There, as Garwayen put it, "much of what you know about magic in the elemental domains will no longer be applicable." That generated a vocal multi-syllabic response that I will not reprint on a family blog.

On Earth, there were fewer places to visit but also some new places. Jack Hendricks, the paleontologist from Alberta, had moved to Dry Gulch, Arizona. Selina, my flirtatious friend from Salem, was found hiding in Agra, India, without her costume. A new friend named Spiros Talos showed up in Athens. The NPCs continued to give clues about formulas and ingredients.
Spiros Talos delivers some unwelcome news.
I gave up after a couple of attempts to defeat the minion in the Ethereal Domain. The graphics made it difficult for me to determine what was just a starry backdrop and what was a bottomless chasm. In three attempts to assail the place, the minion positioned himself on a thin thread of "land" with chasm on either side, making it impossible to approach and engage him directly without getting knocked off by other monsters. I tried keeping myself in the air with "Magic Wings" but the spell runs out fast, and I kept plummeting to my death before I could kill the minion with other spells. (I think he may have been dispelling it a couple of times.) In the few cases I did manage to do some damage, he just teleported away. I'm sure there's some set of options that would have worked, but I simply don't know what they are.
The confusing Ethereal Domain.
I was able to watch the rest of the game in a series of YouTube videos. There are three full series available, by users Garg Gobbler, Duke Donuts, and Fonze. Mr. Donuts doesn't even try to win honestly, frequently switching to a cheat menu that makes him invulnerable, gives him unlimited spells (he loves to spam "Dragon"), and keeps "Magic Wings" active. "I wouldn't wish a legitimate playthrough on anyone," he says at one point. Nonetheless, the other two seem legitimate, although I think they're both playing with foreknowledge of the game's spells, mixing them as soon as they have the right aspects and words rather than waiting for the clues.

Watching the videos, I experienced a major revelation that nearly made me quit this entry and try again. I hadn't realized that it was possible to cast certain spells, like "Teleport" and various conjurings, off the visible screen. With enough power, you can cast them anywhere on the map, using the attempt to scout the map as you go. This makes a big difference in your ability to find and target specific enemies and to acquire necessary treasures before you're killed. But I slept on it for a couple of nights and still couldn't motivate myself to go back to the game.

The video series let me check out the development of the plot and the ending. The Ethereal and Mind Domains deliver the Damascene Sword and a couple of spellbooks. As usual, the minions seemed to be cool guys who had just happened to become enslaved by their masters.
The Mind Domain has some interesting terrain.
At the end of the sequence, the Earth Master appears to taunt Robert, saying that the Council lured Garwayen away and has now imprisoned him. Robert must circle his allies on Earth to find a series of keys to access the various domains, as the portals in Stonehenge no longer work. Ultimately, he finds Garwayen's soul in a treasure chest. He continues to find upgrades to the other equipment items.

Robert then has to invade each domain and kill the wizards themselves. In the Ethereal Domain appears a "tear-stained letter" that hints at developments to come:
There is a wizard who has sworn himself to the College of ------. He is the most fearsome and terrible wizard of all. This wizard can call on ANY spell of ANY Other college, so powerful is the De----- Magic to which he is sworn. Beware this Wizard, for he is a great liar. His name is --------.
After defeating each wizard, Robert can destroy or preserve their spirits. Garwayen comments either way, usually expressing sorrow at the wizard's demise.
After the death of the final wizard, Garwayen reveals that his body has been hidden in the trunk in Robert's workshop the entire time, and every time Robert went off to battle a lord, Garwayen reunited his body and spirit to work his own mischief. Proclaiming himself the "Grand Wizard of the Universe," he announces his plans to conquer Earth and return magic to the real world, at which point he will become "Grand Wizard of the Cosmos," as if the cosmos is somehow greater than the universe.
Shouldn't you conquer Terra before designating yourself the Grand Wizard of the Universe?
A few new NPCs pop up, a few die, and others continue to move around the world. In the late game, Selina is found in the caves in Lascaux, France. She tells Robert to find the Pearl of the Beloved in the Mind Domain and bring it to her.
Robert must chase Garwayen through each of the six domains, defeating him in each one. When he finds the Pearl of the Beloved, he brings it to Selina, who gives him the Skull of the Marquis de Sade, which allows access to the Death Domain via a portal in Dry Gulch. Later, she gives Robert a Ring of the Full Circle, which allows Robert to use magic in the Death Domain.

The final battle takes place between Robert and Garwayen in the Death Domain. The videos showed so many spells flying back and forth that I couldn't even begin to keep track of them all. Duke Donuts eventually destroyed Garwayen with unlimited castings of "Meteor Storm" and "Dragon."
The chaotic final combat.
Exiting the Death Domain via the correct circle of stones brings you to the Mentor Wizard's Workshop and the endgame cut scenes. It turns out that each of the "minions" destroyed by Robert earlier were actually the wizards of each domain, and they survived, as did Garwayen. Everything that previously transpired was in fact a "rather elaborate ordeal to test the extent of [Robert's] powers." Even Garwayen's betrayal was staged, I guess. (One hopes the NPC deaths were also staged.) Robert becomes head of the council and Selina helps him restore Stonehenge and reforge the link between Earth and the universe of magic. Selina then warns of an "anti-hero" of prophecy who Robert will soon have to face. The two hop a jet to return to the United States, "where the leisurely flight home will allow us time to get to know each other better."
I can think of a few.
The game concludes with a series of humorous newspaper articles covering various subsequent events: a dragon in Stonehenge; Selina kidnapped in New York while Robert fights her abductors; an undead uprising in Romania; and a worldwide shortage of pomegranates.
Isn't the real news that the Chronicle is publishing again after 227 years?
SpellCraft is a tough one to rate, owing to the confusion in categories that I describe below. My best guess GIMLET is:
  • 4 points for the game world. This was a tough rating because the game has such extremes in the good, bad, and weird. The magic realm isn't terribly imaginative, with the same series of maps appearing repeatedly in each domain. But it was fun how you could visit the various locations on Earth, and I liked seeing how they changed for each stage in the game. I want to call the backstory "interesting," but on the other hand it's so, so horribly written.
  • 3 point for character creation and development. There's no creation. "Development" consists solely of hit point maximum increases that you receive at fixed points. Attack and defense scores are more a matter of "equipment" (and hardly seem to affect anything anyway). The method of earning new spells, partly based on accomplishment and partly based on the player solving puzzles, is worth a couple of points.
As far as I got with Robert.

  • 4 points for NPC interaction. The friends you make on Earth have interesting personalities, and again it's fun to visit and cycle through them to see what new tidbits they have to offer. Unfortunately, there are no dialogue options.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The small selection of monsters gets old quickly, leaving your only important "foes" the various simulacra, minions, and wizards that you have to face and counter. There are no non-combat encounters.
  • 5 points for magic and combat. It really is all about magic. The system of acquiring spells is one of the more original seen in my chronology so far, and the enormous variety of spells gives you a near endless set of combat tactics. I frankly thought it was too much, and at some point the game simply lost me. More patient or talented players might increase this category by a point or two.
The final list of magic words.
  • 2 points for equipment. You have four slots in which the items replace each other automatically as you acquire upgrades.
  • 6 points for the economy. It's surprisingly robust. You need a lot of money for spell ingredients as well as jetting around the world, which you can make by selling excess ingredients and artifacts, or by simply buying low and selling high when circling the Earth.
  • 4 points for a main quest with the occasional side-quest involving some kind of item acquisition. I'm also giving a point here for how Death Domain is an optional area in nearly every series of levels.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics work well enough, but I found sound effects minimal. (The music, which I don't rate, is quite good, featuring different themes for different domains and people.) I didn't care for the interface--in particular how you cannot fully use the keyboard for selecting and targeting spells.
  • 1 point for gameplay. For me, it hits all the wrong notes in this category: too linear, too long, and too hard. I gave it a point for some limited replayability based on selecting different schools of magic as the character's specialty.
That gives us a final score of 35, which falls right on my "recommended" threshold despite good performance in some categories. The GIMLET is, of course, subjective and has always been subjective, but it feels necessary to call out its subjectivity more in this game than others. Those who take better to this style of gameplay could easily rate it closer to 50.

Computer Gaming World avoided a full review of this one, but they did cover it briefly in the December 1992 "holiday buying guide." The author said that it "offers the most extensive magic system that we've ever seen in a game," which is fair praise. Dragon gave it 4 out of 5 stars, but the reviewers clearly didn't finish it. Like me: "We had more than one occasion where we battled enemy creatures but were defeated because we simply couldn't find the right spell in time. At other times, it was difficult to successfully face an enemy wizard's volley of spells." MobyGames catalogues only two other reviews: a 79/100 from Power Play and a 67/100 from ASM.

Either Tsunami or ASCII or ASCII's Japanese parent worked on an SNES version of the game but never released it even though it seems to have been completed. A pre-release beta version has made the rounds of abandonware sites. A YouTube video suggests that the conversion preserved few aspects of the original. Some of the character portraits are the same, and domain exploration looks similar but with different (better, frankly) graphics. Combat is entirely changed, however, with the character and enemy moving to a separate one-on-one combat screen. There are far fewer spells and no puzzles inherent in determining their mixtures. There also appears to be no Earth section.
Combat in the children's version of the game.
It would be fun to hear sometime from lead designers Joe Ybarra or Michael Moore about the inspiration for SpellCraft, since it's so unlike anything that preceded or followed it. Ybarra had been a producer at Electronic Arts for about a decade before starting his own company, but none of the titles he worked on show any hints of SpellCraft. Nor are there any clear similarities in the two following titles in which Ybarra is credited as a designer, Shadow of Yserbius (1993) and Fates of Twinion (1993), except for Mark Dickenson's graphical style.
SpellCraft is a new sort of game, and there are some implications to my failure. I would say I'm unlikely to complete any game that requires a) constant reaction to b) real-time enemy attacks, c) in which the attacks and responses are extremely varied; and d) your cues as to the nature of the attacks are purely visual. So, this doesn't rule out all real-time games because most of them only have a handful of attacks and defenses and you can get used to patterns fairly easily. It doesn't apply to, say, the Infinity Engine games because in addition to the visual cues, the transcript tells you exactly what spells the enemy has cast. I frankly don't yet know what games it does rule out, but I can tell you that I've tried a few modern action games (one of the Devil May Cry editions comes to mind), and I simply have no idea what is happening on the screen at any given time. It makes me feel old.

And speaking of feeling old, I began teaching college this week! Specifically, I began teaching students who were not yet born for, or otherwise have no memory of, September 11, 2001. I'm teaching students who never saw any of the Lord of the Rings films in theaters. Students who think of the Star Wars prequel series as "old movies." Students for whom Back to the Future is as recent as The Bridge on the River Kwai was for me. Not only do they have no memory of an original Ultima or Bard's Tale, they were barely alive for Morrowind and the last Infinity Engine game.

Anyway, it's been a crazy few weeks. I hope I can get back on a regular schedule now, but there might still be a few rough patches before I return to the regularity that we saw in April to August. Thanks for sticking with me.


  1. Glad to see you back! Your comments are making me feel old too and I definitely have no interest in this style of combat. Like you, I prefer a more tactical turn based approach like the Gold Box series.

    1. I embarked on Kingdom Come: Deliverance for the game world, quickly got frustrated by the combat, and have now resolved to play through the original Pool of Radiance for the first time ever. It's proving a much more satisfactory experience...

      Also, I just watched Return of the King with my son the other day, and he was awestruck at the thought of seeing that movie in theaters. Getting old has its perks.

    2. What's funny is trying to explain to my kids why the original Star Wars was so groundbreaking for it's day when they're so used to better special FX in movies these days they take it for granted. However, my son has started to appreciate some of the older games of my youth and realizes that they have greater gameplay compared to a lot of fluff today.

    3. Kingdom Come put me through quite the experience. The game pulls no punches in the first chapters. You're the son of a blacksmith, you've had only the slightest training in combat, and thus you lose almost all the battles you try to fight. But it gets easier with experience, just like in real life, but more important it manages to balance character experience and player experience in making combat more manageable.

      I meant to write a special entry on that game and just never got to it.

  2. If you refuse to rate music in Final Fantasy 7, there will be a righteous storm in the comment section!

    1. It might be the only thing that could save that game's Gimlet :p

      Just kidding, I just really can't get into JRPGs and most of them (including FF7) don't feel like ROGs at all to me, so I wonder how it'll do on the Gimlet

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    3. I don't think it makes sense for Chet to rate video game RPG music if he's not at all passionate about it, but I'd love to see the gap filled in by some of the commenters here who are.

      I don't think it should necessarily be integrated into Chet's GIMLET, but it would be nice to at least have a guide/discussion about the outstanding RPG soundtracks per year, and at best perhaps some aggregate community scores for most/all games.

      This is such a cool project, but music is something that is missing. It would be great to have something setup to facilitate the community eliminating that blind-spot.

      (Maybe community discussion about this could also serve to pass time during the occasional quiet weeks/months when there are long breaks between posts.)

    4. The gimlet rates Chet's personal enjoyment of an rpg by design.

      We all have our own gimlets :)

      Also FF7 has an overrated OST full of silly tunes. Baranowski and Chipzel stomp all over Uematsu. Fight me.

    5. Music is particularly subjective. And add to that the preferred sound card setting... (no I don't mean the IRQ).

    6. Feel free to correct me but I don't think any RPG featured thus far has had really notable music or sound. The last time Chet described music, I think it was just a single repeating track throughout the whole game.

      I at least hope he appreciates Daggerfall's soundtrack, when we get there. That game is full of amazing mood-setting tunes.

    7. Doesn't Star Control 2 have notable music? I seem to recall people arguing in the comments about it.

      Although regardless, I think you'd have to be quite foolish to expect Chet to care too much any game soundtrack, even if its amazing and moody. Its not a mark against him, just something you have to look out for if you're a fan of game music.

    8. Yeah, as someone who has only played a handful of RPGs and many of them too old for music, I really don't know when the first notable soundtracks were released. But I'm really interested in finding out!

      I know Ultima 7 from '92 has a pretty good soundtrack, so we are definitely far enough along to be talking about it. Was it groundbreaking though, or was it just slightly building on some games from previous years? I know it reused one track from Ultima 6 ('90), which I never played.

      I'm guessing console RPGs were intially way ahead of the PC. Final Fantasy from '87 has a decent soundtrack, and I'd guess it was a while before anything approaching it was available on the PC. But I might be wrong!

      Anyway, I think it's a topic worth exploring. It's part of the RPG story and warrants at least a side discussion.

    9. And, of course, the music for Spellcraft is notable. As Chet said, "quite good", and he's right.

      You can find most soundtracks on youtube:

    10. For a 1992 RPG to have a soundtrack at all (as in music playing most of the time, and not just during intro and cutscenes) is probably notable. Ultima Underworld had music dynamically adapting to the situation, which I'd say is notable.

      Is a soundtrack good? That comes down to taste. I'd say the music of Spellcraft is okay, nothing special. Some parts (e.g. water domain) sound almost jazzy, which is at least unusual for an RPG (maybe a Sierra influence?).

      I also find that Roland sound to be way too clean for a computer game, but I'm probably in the minority with that opinion.

    11. Realms of Arkania: The Blade of Destiny is from 1992 (so it has to come up here in the not-too-distant future :D) and has a full soundtrack. The game got a CD-ROM re-release in 1994 which had the music tracks in CD audio alongside the software, which massively increased their quality. Personally I still like to listen to it once in a while (and to think it could be one of the most underrated game soundtracks in history). Here it is in full:

      Unfortunately the re-release covered only the German original, not the English version; however, it is possible to get the improved music in the translation as well. I'd definitely recommend doing so to anyone, though I guess Chet might not be bothered and just turn off the game's music altogether.

    12. I agree that game music deserves an entry as a special topic. Just because I turn it off doesn't mean that I don't recognize its artistic merit. I've actually been collecting notes for it over time, but I still can't speak to the topic well from a technical standpoint.

    13. I might argue a case for a few other JRPGs, but certainly not any Final Fantasy game (MAYBE 4). Chrono Trigger's chiptune music is ridiculously uplifting, or maybe that's all nostalgia.

      In terms of games which are more likely to actually see a look-in, anyone want to mention Morrowind's OST? I'm aware that Chester may be in his sixties by the time he hits 2002, but the ambient music to that game is still fantastic. The short ditty which goes throughout more or less all music played just makes you want to lift up some Dwemer artifacts and start racially profiling the Dunmer and Khajiit.

    14. Give it up, he's just going to give your shitty jrpgs a bad rating.

    15. Final Fantasy actually earned the highest score of 1987 games, tied with Pirates. If you're going to pick a stupid fight over video games, at least read the blog first.

  3. Good read as always! Too bad about adding another "not won" to the list, but I don't blame you for giving up on this one. It looks like an interesting game, but not one I'd enjoy playing.

    I also generally prefer slower-paced RPGs. That said, my inner masochist likes getting my ass handed to me in things like the Souls games (or DMC, for that matter). I recently even managed to finish Sekiro, much to my surprise. That one clashed pretty hard with my skillset, or lack thereof. (For some reason, I also put the whole thing on Youtube, if anyone feels like laughing at me.)

    Even though I'm not quite as ancient as you or some of my fellow readers, those last paragraphs make me feel old, as well. I constantly catch myself thinking of or referring to things from the early 2000s as "kind of recent".

    And you had to sneak in an insult to console games, didn't you? :P

    1. I'm always reminded of my age when youngsters refer to Fallout New Vegas, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Skyrims als "old classics". My first reaction is "weren't they just released a couple of years ago?"

      Then I check their release date and calculate the gap of years until now...

    2. Yeah, does this count as "not won" or "not winnable"? :)

      I'm curious, Chet, have you ever played any real time strategy games? Command & Conquer, WarCraft, StarCraft, etc. Did you have similar issues?

    3. Most single player RTS games at least allow you to pause and catch your breath. A lot of them even allow you to issue orders while paused. This helps immensely, at least for me.

    4. No, I don't believe I've ever played any real-time strategy games. My turn-based strategy games are limited to the Warlords series.

    5. Funnily enough, the Warlords series went the RTS way in the early 2000 with the "Warlords Battlecry" saga. The first and the third are in your list, but you still have the Warlords II and III before that (and other 1000+ games).

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    7. I love StarCraft but still haven't defeated the last level in each scenario, I'm just too slow to keep up. But Civ is turned based and I still end up like that, I need to stick to RPGs instead of RTS.

    8. Bakuiel, I don't know anyone who has won the last level in the Starcraft expansion. I got to the last level by getting really lucky and bum rushing an encounter that once I won it was over, but I've never beaten that last level, and my roommate at the time couldn't either.

    9. Old RTS games are brutal. I can't name a single Command and Conquer game that I've beaten, and I also haven't beaten StarCraft despite many attempts.

      Dawn of War and Warcraft 3 are my jam though.

    10. At least in Blizzard RTS games you can adjust the game speed. My dad beat them by playing on the slowest speed.

      I wonder how Warcraft III would rate as the hero characters track levels, inventory, and have combat stats.

    11. In Warcraft and Starcraft 1, anyway.

      Starcraft 2 can't be slowed down unless you play on the easy settings. So either everything's moving around so fast that it's unplayable unless you're a hamster on crack, or half the enemy units don't spawn and the AI is lobotomized.

    12. @Zenic, I imagine it would rate pretty poorly on the current GIMLET as all stat increases are pre-determined and inventory is very limited. Each hero only has six item slots, and items increase stats just by being held rather than "equipped." By the end of each faction's campaign the heroes will be at max level with almost all abilities maxed out, so there's no real choice in character development.

      Now, the bonus "RPG" campaign included in The Frozen Throne... that's another matter. ;)

    13. @Korath: ah, that reminds me that Starcraft 2 exists and I haven't played it yet. Thanks for filling me in.

      @Alex: No question it's light, but I wonder if it's just enough for Chet to consider playing through it. I remember the final mission in that one also being very difficult. I never did play through The Frozen Throne. I don't remember why I skipped that expansion, probably life stuff.

    14. The final mission was difficult, but not horribly out-of-proportion with what came before. I beat it in a few tries a little while ago, although I admit being stuck on it for a long time once before.

      You should try The Frozen Throne if time allows, the campaign is great. And as I mentioned, there's a bonus campaign that plays somewhat like an RPG.

    15. I don't remember Dune 2 being too hard, and the first C&C could be made much easier by building walls of sandbags and having defensive turrets in an advanced position. I didn't play too many RTS games after that.

  4. Karl Buiter, the lead programmer, has a company nowadays. Maybe you can contact him if you are lucky for a couple of questions about Spellcraft or the other rpgs he worked on:

  5. Given how unique the system is would you put still put in the "must play" list for the history of CRPG's? I know you don't recommend it, but does it capture something about the history worth trying?

  6. "I would say I'm unlikely to complete any game that requires a) constant reaction to b) real-time enemy attacks, c) in which the attacks and responses are extremely varied; and d) your cues as to the nature of the attacks are purely visual."

    You basically just described an Action-RPG. From watching the game play videos this game sure looks like one.

    1. Yeah, but with most action RPG's (e.g. Diablo) you have a very limited move set. This game sounds like a nightmare.

    2. Also this game does look very very messy in the colour department.

    3. Same for me. Simply looking as if it was way too fast for me.
      There‘s a reason I play (c)rpgs.
      The comparison touches is great. That’s what I love. Both the comparison and games like chess. ;)

      On a side note. I still remember that Ybarra name after all these years due to the appearance in the spells of Bards Tale I.

  7. Great to have you back, Chester.

    I think I'd feel about this game exactly the same way.

  8. Shadow of Yserbius and Fates of Twinion absolutely consumed my life back when they were on Sierra's Imagination Network.

    The bit about the college students made me laugh. I just ordered a Ryzen 5 3600 for a new computer and I've been reading outraged articles regarding how AMD capped some of the cores on the chip without telling anyone.

    My response? I grew up with a 16Mhz 386. That some of the six cores are capped at 4.1Ghz instead of 4.2Ghz is perfectly fine by me. Kids these days...

    1. Except for dedicated benchmarks and very special use cases, those 100 MHz won't do much for performance anyway.

      I recently bought a $2 microcontroller to program it for fun and it dawned on me that it's 1,5x as fast as the first computer I bought myself.

  9. You may want to check the side effects of spells more, as that is how you beat the game without cheating. Mind Flay (I think it is called that) is a level 2 Mind spell which stuns the target. Cast fly, Spam Mind Fly that on an enemy wizard until they have 1 HP, cancel your fly spell right above him, whap him with your sword, teleport out. I beat every wizard in the game with that except the Mind Wizards due to fly not working there.

    1. I mean, this is a precise example of what I'm talking about. It sounds easy for YOU, but to me that's a nightmare sequence of steps and timing with the unwelcome footnote of it not working in an entire domain. You also left out the part where you have to monitor your flying spell to keep it going in the first place, and the part where when you land next to the wizard you get swarmed by his minions and have to somehow get your sword to strike him instead of them before they push you off a cliff. I'm just not good at juggling that many variables in real time.

    2. I seem to recall there was some way to tell when spells were about to expire (a meter somewhere?). Also there is a spell called fly swat which can cancel fly which is what you are running into, the Ether wizard loves to spam it. How I handled that was if I saw a spell coming at my wizard there I just cast fly again. Stopped me from dying in the ether domain usually, though I did have to have a ton of Fly spells ready to go too.

      What might have helped is using the fact you can pause the game and set up spells to be cast while it is paused. Comes in handy when you get overwhelmed.

      Now granted I was 13 when I beat this game and it didn't seem that hard or a nightmare to me then, but I had an entire summer to figure it out too. No idea if I could still do it though and if my recent adventures playing an arcade game I played at that age are any indication the answer is probably a big NO too, so I do see where you are coming from.

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    4. Yes, there are meters that tell which spells are active and about to expire, but it's one screen of multiple screens that you tab through, and usually you need the map (or some other screen) active.

      While you can pause the game, you can't really issue commands while it's paused. Casting spells naturally pauses things for a little while, but I found the interface clunky and it was too easy to deactivate the pause.

    5. There is no way, as far as I can tell, paused or unpaused, to target a specific enemy with physical attacks. The game chooses from among all the enemies within melee range when you go into "attack" stance. It often even switches randomly between them.

    6. I don't remember that on physical attacking, but last time I played was in the 90's when it was new so no idea.

      And honestly, I think if I tried to play it now my reaction would be about like yours. Maybe if I was 13 again.

    7. It's interesting how this game seems to leave a lasting impression on people.

      Mr. Gillispie played it at 13 and remembers specific tactics and spell names. I was a bit younger, yet could still name the main character, some of the Aspects ("That which it is not" stuck with me for some reason) and recall most of the story.

    8. It's more like I found my manual still after 25 years, I dug it out when he was playing this game out of curiousity. Seems I still got it in a file cabinet with my others from that time.

  10. I wonder how you'll fare at Magic&Mayhem games, if they ever make an appearance on your blog. They have just enough RPG to them to warrant an inclusion - arguably, more so than Spellcraft - but the main gameplay loop is that of RTS (though some maps are very creatively designed to include more RPG-like sequences and even puzzles). It didn't seem to me as much of a clusterfuck as Spellcraft - and I tend to find even IE games too much of it - but who knows.

    1. I think he'll rage on the final boss. I know I did. Took me 6 hours of save scumming to get past the last forum.

  11. I was surprised that there would be college kids just barely alive when Morrowind came out but there it is 2002, still I was born a year after Back to the Future and kids still make me feel old. Bridge over River Kwai though I watched lots as a kid but the age of the movies I love always does surprise me. I didn't even realize how old Dark Crystal was until I talked to my wife about it and she never heard of it.

    1. I teach college too and the freshmen this year were born in my senior year of college. I feel so old!

    2. I worked with someone recently who was born a week before I started the job.

      I found it difficult to remain polite.

  12. Happy to see you back, Chet. Got me worried there for while - I know I goaded you into playing Spellcraft, it was abundantly clear you weren't having a good time with it, and I would've hated to think I'm responsible for the Game that Broke the Addict. :)

    As I mentioned before, I was taken by surprise by how hard you found Spellcraft to be. After all, I did - and this is in no way a dig at you - manage to finish it as an elementary schooler. I don't recall having any unusual difficulties either.

    That said, I was a child with an infinite amount of time on their hands and the reflexes to match. I do wonder how I would've done today, but dwelling too much on this subject tends to be depressing.

    I, too, am Very Old.

    I really appreciate the fairness in which you rated the game. Lesser reviewers tend to equate "I didn't enjoy it" with "This game sucks". You clearly managed to convey "It's not for me, but might very well be for someone else".

    Had I never played this game, I think what you've written would've made me curious enough to try it - warts and all.

    1. My guess is you'd do poorly too if you tried to play it now. I've been replaying old arcade games from when I was a kid and not doing so well. Some of that might be age and some of that might be those games are $@%^ frustrating.

      I've had to swallow my pride and play the game on easy a few times, if that is an option. If not then I usually just have to move on.

  13. When I tell my co-workers my favorite video game ever is from 1999 (Planescape:Torment), or that the manga I've been following since 1996 just got updated, and they tell me they weren't even born then, that's when I feel old.

  14. I've been playing Daggerfall for a while, and can say what the battles can be a bit hectic at times, much more then Morrowind or Oblivion. Especially then fighting tough spellcasters, such as the Ancient Liches. But the magic casting menu pauses the game, making it much more tolerable. A case where one good game design choice makes a world of difference.

  15. I remember this game as very frustrating and a bit ugly for its time.

    Now I see comments on game music ? Frankly my prefered one was Ultima IV. I still listen often to Lazarus U V recreation. Music in U IV, depending on your machine were very immersives and I doubt any player of that era can forget them....

  16. Yeah, getting older is strange. Aside from some physical changes, I don't feel 43, but you really feel it when you see people start treating you differently. When college kids call me sir, or I meet someone and realize I was legally drinking beer before they were born. It just moves so fast. 1-21 seemed like 5 lifetimes, 21-30 seemed like a year, 30-40 seemed like the blink of an eye. It's natural I guess, but it's sad to think both of the experiences we had that younger people won't and it's sad to think of all the new and interesting things they'll get to see when we're gone.

    1. Hell, I'm only 23. When I'm playing with my little nephew, I often realize we have a very similar connection that I did with my older brother, when I was his age and my brother was in his 20s.


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