Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ishar: Legend of the Fortress: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Our hero does . . . something . . . in celebration of his victory.
Ishar: Legend of the Fortress
Silmarils (developer and publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST
Date Started: 22 February 2020
Date Finished: 10 March 2020
Total Hours: 21
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 38
Ranking at time of posting: 294/368 (80%)
First of a trilogy for which Crystals of Arborea (1990) served as a prologue, Ishar offers a classic kill-the-evil-warlord adventure with tile-based, first-person gameplay similar to Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder. It has excellent graphics and sound but limited RPG mechanics, including combat and spell tactics, character development, inventory, and puzzle-solving. A couple of original features include a party morale system by which party members can override the player's choice to recruit or dismiss a character and a saving system that requires the party to pay gold, but neither really plays much of a role in the end.


I could have gotten three more entries out of Ishar, as this final entry covers more than 15 hours. But I played it over a week-long period in which I was moving from one house to another, and something about the process made it easier to just keep playing than to stop and write. I apologize if I elide anything important in my summary below, but the good news is that a lot of Ishar's gameplay is repetitive. The constant need to replenish your supplies and find a tavern for food and sleep means that you backtrack frequently to the towns of the west while overall gameplay drives you east.
Approaching the titular fortress.
When I blogged last time, I had explored about half the game, having just crossed the bridge into the land of Silmartil. Lands further along include Kandomir, Urshurak, Vargaeon, Baldaron, Zendoria, Gil-Aras, Uldonyar, Elwingil, Halindor, Fhulgrod, and finally Valathar. That sounds like a lot of territories, but each one generally only has a couple of (respawning) monsters and a couple of encounters. The entire game world consists of four outdoor villages, two indoor cities, two dungeons, and a smattering of huts and other wilderness encounters. It spreads across the entire game what Might and Magic would have on a single 16 x 16 map.

The culmination of the game was far to the east, in the large dungeon (or, I suppose, fortress) actually called Ishar. But to survive its perils, I had to solve several sub-quests in the main game area.

When I last blogged, my party consisted of Aramir the warrior (the starting character), the monk "Unknown," Nasheer the spy, Kiriela the priestess, and Golnal the warrior. Golnal and Unknown were pretty ineffective, and redundant, so I soon replaced Golnal with a paladin named Karorn, and eventually I dumped Unknown for a wizard named Zeloran. To get around party members overriding my dismissals, I simply put the unwanted characters at the front of the party with no armor, and I let them get killed by the next enemy.
This is infuriating. I don't know why some NPCs do it and some don't.
Nasheer eventually took off while we were sleeping, so I replaced her with a third warrior named Manatar. I liked that balance, but soon afterwards I had to get rid of Manatar to accommodate a quest NPC--a spoiled princess named Deloria who had been kidnapped from her village in Baldaron. I found her in a building in Elwingil, the furthest city to the east.
Manatar had good stats, but he wasn't with us for long.
Returning her to her father rewarded the party with a vital key to Ishar, but getting her out of the party was a bit of a chore. Karorn decided he was in love with her and refused to let her go. I tried killing Karorn, but his infatuation simply transferred to Aramir, and I didn't want to kill him.
Oh, boy. Here we go.
The solution to that problem involved a potion. Potions become important in the game during the second half, and it took me a while to figure out how they work. First, you have to find an empty vial, of which there is only one in the entire game, in the dungeon in Rhudgast.
The manual gives you the formulas but not the effects.
I had previously noted that various shops sell reagents like rat's brains and salamander oil. The manual tells what proportions of these reagents you need to make various potions, but it gives them nonsense names like "Trillix" and "Bymph." What you have to do is find an alchemist named Jon the Unique in Kandomir, who gives you a scroll that translates the nonsense names into actual potion effects. (I think these might be randomized for each game as a copy protection exercise, but I'm not sure.) The manual has recipes for 15 potions, but the scroll only translates eight of them: "Physical Regeneration," "Psychic Regeneration," "Invulnerability," "Cure Blindness," "Apnea," "Disrupt Charme," "Pig Detransformation," and "Brain Wash."
A scroll in the game tells you which words correspond to which effects.
"Disrupt Charme" turned out to be the potion I wanted, but it required a unique ingredient, "turtle slobber." Fortunately, I'd managed to obtain a vial by first finding a turtle near the sea in Silmatil and then giving it to an alchemist in Zendoria. I fed the potion to Karorn, and he got over his objection to losing Deloria.
Where did Jarel get the key to Ishar?
By this time, I was so enamored with my wizard, Zeloran, that I decided to fill the empty NPC slot with another one. I found one named Khalin in Elwingil. I spent a fortune getting them both equipped with the "Lightning" spell, which damages all visible enemies on the screen and makes wizards more valuable than warriors except that psychic energy runs out faster than physical energy.
Blasting dwarf-bandits with "Lightning."
A lot of the game's magic system is wasted. It costs so much to purchase spells that even by the end of the game, each of my spellcasting characters only had three or four. There's no point wasting money on "Healing 3" when three castings of "Healing 1" do the same thing. I never explored a lot of useful-sounding spells like "Dissolve" (turns the party into a gas cloud that can blow through enemies) or "Inversion" (changes NPC alignments). Some of them seem useless--I never encountered any poison for "Cure Poison" or any invisible enemies for "Invisibility Detection" (except for one that you can't detect that way). "Radar," "Invisible Party," and "Invulnerability" aren't even described in the manual, just listed. "Regeneration," "Resurrection," and "Repulse" (sends all your enemies to hell!) could have been useful but I just never had the money. I basically had my wizards cast "Lightning" (and "Mental Shield" when it was clear it was needed) and my priest and paladin cast "Healing I," and that was it.
I never learned most of these spells.
Money is tight throughout the game. You need it for sleeping and eating--one meal and one night's rest costs over $2,000 in the eastern cities--saving ($1000 each), reagents (enough for a single potion might cost $7,000), spells, weapons and armor, and the occasional training. The shop in Elwingil sold high-level weapons and armor, and by the end of the game I was able to get my two warriors into magic armor and wielding the best swords, but no one else. I spent most of my spare gold on potion reagents because potions of "Physical Regeneration" and "Psychic Regeneration" are worth every penny if you're far from a tavern.

Meanwhile, the places that train characters in strength, agility, and intelligence (I never found one that trained constitution) seem to be there to compensate for very weak characters, not to provide regular character development to already-strong ones. Every time you try to train, there's a chance that it will go very well (increasing the attribute by 2 points), just okay (+1), or poorly (+0). I don't think I ever saw an attribute increase when it was already past 10. Thus, for most characters the only form of development is by leveling, which improves maximum health. Several of my characters hit level caps (Level 10) near the end of the game, but not everyone did.

I grinded quite a bit for my gold and still arrived at Ishar mostly broke. (Ishar itself has tens of thousands of gold pieces, but you'd have to slog them back to civilization while very near the endgame.) I decided the best way to grind was to repeatedly enter and exit the two indoor cities in Elwingil and Urshurak. Each one spawns about half a dozen orcs that leave 500 or 1000 gold pieces each. Repeatedly entering and exiting the city was a good way to build both wealth and experience.
By killing a large knight in Osghirod, I got a special helmet that allows you to see invisible enemies. This let me kill the invisible lizardman Brozl, who roams the huge area called Fimnuirh, and to loot from him five fire protection rings.

I spent a lot of time tracking down five rune tablets that you need for the final battle, or you can't hit Krogh. One was out in the open, on a pedestal in Lotheria. A second was in a hut in Zendoria called "The Forbidden House," so-named because my characters got cursed and slowly died of a wasting sickness after entering. I had to inoculate them with a potion before entering. Another was in the dungeon in Rhudgast. A fourth was on a pedestal in the outdoor area called Gil-Aras, but the party went blind the moment I entered the province. I had to use the "Cure Blindness" potion to see well enough to explore the small area. The fifth was in Ishar itself.
A rune tablet in an area that causes blindness the moment you enter.
In a house in Elwingil, one of Jarel's companions from Arborea, Thurm, gave the party five monks' robes that would disguise us as initiates in a certain place in Ishar.
Eventually, having explored everything else, I entered a teleporter in Halindor and found myself across the channel in Valathar. The entrance to Ishar is in the northeastern part of this island, but there were a few things to do first, including defeating the wizard who guarded the entrance. In the far southeast past some encounters with much tougher dwarf-bandits than I'd faced before, I found a pig standing in the middle of the forest. Since a wandering alchemist had recently given me some toad eye, a necessary ingredient for "Pig Detransformation," I figured that's what I wanted to use. I mixed the potion and applied it to the pig, and it transformed into an old woman named Morgula who offered to join my party.
When there's a potion called "Transform from Pig" and you find a pig, it's not hard to figure out what to do.
I was reluctant to get rid of Khalin, but I figured Morgula must be special in some way since I had to go through so much trouble to get her. Sure enough, although she's weak as hell and her physical energy depletes while you watch, she has a spell called "Anti-Krogh." After I won the game and was doing my usual post-game research, I found that several web sites claim that Morgula is Krogh's mother, but I don't know where they get that, as her name appears nowhere in the backstory or in any of the NPC dialogue.
How do you turn down that kind of appeal?
It was finally time to take on Ishar. The fortress is quite large, with three separate sections separated by teleporters. There are numerous doors that you have to find keys to open, and one area that serves as the game's only real puzzle: a sequence of six levers, each controlling two doors in a small maze of corridors. You have to find the right sequence of levers to open the right doors, which I did through trial and error. There's a huge area full of poison gas that you have to mix five "Apnea" potions to successfully traverse.
A lever puzzle took much of the time in the final dungeon.
At one point, I killed a mage and looted from him an object that looks like the Silmarils logo, but I never found anything to do with it.
Anybody want to take a guess?
The final corridor features multiple encounters in succession. First, a medusa, for whom you need "Mental Shield" active for everyone to avoid petrification.
Why does it look like medusa is a statue? She's supposed to turn people into statues?
Then there's a huge red dragon. It takes a long time to kill him--and my primary fighter had to drink two "Physical Regeneration" potions during the process--but he doesn't do much damage as long as you have the gold rings from Brozl.
Poor dragon looks like he's cramped.
After the dragon was a door we had to be wearing our robes to enter . . .
This is the first I've heard of Krogh starting some kind of cult.
. . . then a corridor full of individual fights with spellcasters.
Killing wizards in the final corridor. I thought this was Krogh at first.
It all culminated with Krogh himself. He had a powerful magic attack, but it only took three castings of "Anti-Krogh" to kill him. I assumed it would be harder. I guess maybe it is if you don't take Morgula.
The evil Krogh. Fortunately, Morgula has a spell called "Anti-Krogh."
Alas, there was no real endgame. After Krogh died, the game played some triumphant music while one of my characters--Aramir, I guess--knelt in a circle of rotating pillars and held a crown above his head.
One element of the game that I never solved: there's a sword in a stone that was supposedly left there by Jarel when he swore off violence. Despite the message, I couldn't pull it out at any level or with the highest strength statistics.
Any ideas?
In a GIMLET, the game receives:
  • 3 points for the game world. I like the layout, but otherwise it's a generic high-fantasy place with a generic high-fantasy quest. 1992 CRPG addicts are no longer satisfied with vaguely-described evil overlords trying to take over the world just because they're evil.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. There's no creation process, just an assemblage of party members from the NPCs you find across the land. Development is quiet, almost invisible, and besides those of wizards and warriors, the game really doesn't call upon the varied skills of its other classes. 
  • 4 points for NPC interaction. There are a few fixed NPCs who provide hints and items, and then there are the NPCs who can join the party. I'll allow a point for the uniqueness of Ishar's approach to alignment, where party members must vote to admit or expel new members, and apparently you can order one NPC to kill another, perhaps creating ramifications down the line (I never explored this), but none of it amounted to anything.
A few unnecessary hints do not constitute much in the way of  "NPCs."
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. There aren't really any non-combat encounters, and monsters are generic high-fantasy denizens with the standard types of attacks. They're not even named on-screen. I thought the respawn rate was useful.
Here was a powerful thing from inside the final dungeon.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. Even if I'd bought all the spells, I don't think they really would have afforded much in the way of combat "tactics." There isn't much to do in combat but attack, cast, and keep an eye on the related meters. The party deployment grid is mostly wasted, and you can't even do the "combat waltz" or other strategies common to Dungeon Master-style games.
  • 4 points for equipment. You have a reasonably good selection of weapons and armor, with numbers denoting their relative effectiveness. The potion system isn't bad except that you only have one flask.
This shop in Elwingil offers the best weapons and armor.
  • 6 points for the economy. It remains relevant to the end, and I like the way that it forces you to make tough choices throughout the game. It just lacks a certain complexity that I would need for a higher score, plus perhaps more of a "money sink" in those attribute trainings.
  • 2 points for a main quest with some sub-quests but no side-quests. There are no alternate endings or player choices.
  • 6 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics and sound are some of the best we've seen, just about perfect for the scale and nature of the game. I particularly appreciated the ambient sounds (including a murmur of voices in the taverns that I came to believe was "I'm riding down to Livermore with some recruits"). The music is suitably epic, though in my case turned off. The interface was only okay; too much mouse, too little keyboard.
  • 6 points for gameplay. It has some minor nonlinearity and minor replayability (with a different party configuration). It's almost perfect in its challenge (including its enforcement of limited saving) and its length.
That gives us a final score of 38. That seems about right. I was thinking that it should at least cross into "recommended" territory, but in the end the game is too sophomoric in core RPG mechanics to break into the "truly good" range.
I expected the Amiga version to do quite well in European reviews (most U.S. publications, including Computer Gaming World, don't seem to have taken note of it), so I was surprised to find mostly low scores even in Amiga magazines. Scores ranged from 48 (Power Play, September 1992) to 89 (CU Amiga, July 1992). The consensus seems to be the same as mine: the graphics are great, but it lacks in RPG mechanics like combat and character development, and it doesn't have much of a plot. A few noted that with a Dungeon Master-style interface, they expected Dungeon Master-style puzzles. A paragraph from the British Amiga Action (July 1992), which gave it an 82, is representative:
Noticeably distinguished in the graphics area, Ishar: Legend of the Fortress plays almost as well as it looks . . . Perhaps the downfall of Ishar is its simplicity; you begin to wish for more activity, interaction, and involvement, more problems and less roaming . . . Certainly a valiant effort by Silmarils and, if they can learn from this, a firm foundation for a sequel.
Not everyone felt as positively as I did about the pay-to-save mechanism. My fellow blogger, Saintus, abandoned it after one session for that reason. Magazines, if they mentioned it, mentioned it negatively. In contrast, a lot is made in the magazine reviews about the party morale or alignment system in which characters form bonds, defy orders, and "have their own personalities," none of which is reflected in the game in any interesting way. I suppose Ishar did some trailblazing here, but I'll concede that an NPC "has his own personality" when he actually says something. Yes or no votes on other party members aren't quite enough.
Does this really add that much?
Silmarils will have plenty of opportunities to continue to improve on this system. Ishar 2: Messengers of Doom will be along in 1993 and Ishar 3: The Seven Gates of Infinity in 1994. We also might have them for Robinson's Requiem (1994) depending on my decision on the genre. After that, Silmarils changes its focus to action games and ultimately goes out of business in 2003.

Although some commenters have suggested a certain amount of "Frenchiness" to this game, I think it's safe to say that we've long-since exited the era of truly outré French titles like Mandragore (1985) and Tera: La Cité des Crânes (1986). Instead, Silmarils seems to be following early-1990s Germany by producing copies of successful American games, albeit with some of their own twists. I'll miss the bizarre nature of the 1985-1989 French "golden age," but then again there are still a few titles on my clean-up list.

I gave the choice of the next "upcoming" game to Sebastian, who designed my banner, and he opted for Lands of Lore (1993). That'll be along in a few games. Next we'll finally take a look at Planet's Edge.


  1. What an odd (but relatively competent) game.

  2. To pull the sword from the stone (ROT13) lbh arrq n pbzovarq fgeratgu bs fvkgl-gjb be uvture. Vg'f n ovg jrevq, yvxr zhpu jvgu guvf tnzr, ohg V fhccbfr gur vqrn vf bar cnegl zrzore vf chyyvat gur fjbeq, naq gura nabgure vf chyyvat gurz, naq fb ba, yvxr Gur Rabezbhf Gheavc.

    1. Is it worth it? The sword, I mean.

    2. Weird, sounds like you could just tap it out with a hammer in that case.

    3. It's a high level magic sword but as the Addict finished the game without it, it's not essential. I suppose if you can get the sword early, it helps.

    4. The mental image of how to get the sword made me laugh, so thank-you!

    5. In some versions the sword is hardcoded as sword of kas (vecna)

  3. Oh hey, Lands of Lore. One of my favorites as a teen. I suspect you'll breeze right through it though; it's very accommodating.

    Also, congrats on completing Ishar. I look forward to seeing how you feel about its sequels. I seem to recall them getting more user friendly and prettier as they went on, though they never ceased with the warm tears.

    1. Also looking forward to Lands of Lore, I finished playing it for the first time less than a month ago, I didn't expect to see it on the blog for a while.

      Some consider it "Babby's first Dungeon Master", but I still had some fun with it.

      Pretty to look at, great automap, reasonably varied levels, does not overstay its welcome.

      Note that there are two versions, it had a 1994 CD ROM release with full speech (I believe the only difference), some by Patrick Stewart.

    2. Yeah it was not that difficult, can remember finishing as kid, only having some problems with some harder enemies later in game.

      The second game was harder I think

    3. I love - LOVE! - Lands or Lore. Yeah, I see all the flaws, but that game turned me into an RPG-loving person, and it's still fun and beautiful. I adore it. I know Chet won't like the lack of economy and other stuff, but that game was a real adventure for me, not something abstract and artificial like most of the RPGs I tried before!

    4. I like Lands of Lore, it's a decent game and most parts of it are fun. It doesn't have the replayability of Dungeon Master, but it's the first dungeon crawler with a serious effort to tackle the weaknesses of DM. It's also the first dungeon crawler with better graphics then DM. The dungon crawling itself, which is still 90% of play time, can't hold a candle to DM, though.

      I'm especially curious how it compares to Moraff's Dungeon, played at the same time, which is probably the ugliest dungeon crawler or probably game of all time.

      Those two games are very different variants of dungeon crawling: Lands of Lore basically tells a story, while Moraff has focus on character development.

      I hope we will get a comparison posting, which highlights differents and merits of dungeon crawling. Probably with DM included.

    5. I was momentarily interested to give it a try until you said that the dungeon crawling actually wasn't as good as DM's. It's not a genre where there are a lot of modern choices!

    6. It depends on what you expect from dungeon crawling. DM has lots of mechanical and time based riddles, but only that. It helps to know the game engine.
      Lands of Lore has usual cRPG and adventure quests, like fetching or combining items, but less "DM riddles". It's still good, LoL doesn't try to out-DM DM, but has own strengths. Which was a clever choice.

    7. I loved lands of lore, but I always felt it had more in common with console RPGs in the Wizardry lineage than dungeon master (e.g. Shining in the Darkness). It has real-time combat, but the moment to moment gameplay is not very puzzle focused iirc.

    8. Lands of Lore is nothing short of brilliant. Is it simplified? I would disagree. It's streamlined - that's an entirely different thing. Westwood made Lands of Lore after making two Eye of the Beholder games, and it's very clear that they had a lot of pent-up frustrations about AD&D mechanics and SSI in general. When creating their own system, they intentionally veered in a strongly different direction, reducing some of the complexities of the system that they had seen as extraneous in digital forms of AD&D.

    9. Lands of Lore to me always felt like the Dragon Age of the 90s - lots of pretty cutscenes interspersed with shallow gameplay (coincidentally, both LoL and DA are their companies' first games after losing the DnD license). It's kinda strange that Westwood made Kyrandia, a decent Adventure series, yet never could get RPG puzzles right.

    10. I absolutely loved Lands of Lore when I first played it.
      Until you reach that bloody tower with the ghosts and the ghost serpents. It all goes downhill from there.
      It's clear that the last 1/3 of the game was rushed.

      Quite a shame. If the game had kept the same quality until the end, it'd still be one of the Top 10 rpgs of all time.

    11. Contemporary review from Pelit says "Lands of Lore - kaunis kuin karamelli" (beautiful like a candycone) take that as you will.

  4. Don't worry, Chet. There's plenty of weirdness left in the French all through the 90s. Mostly adventure and strategy games come to my mind, but there's probably some weird French RPGs from that era, too. Inca, a 1992 game by Cocktel, is utterly incomprehensible and weird, for example (but not an RPG).

    1. I had forgotten Coktel was French. I loved the Gobli(ii)ns games as a kid, weird as hell but some great puzzles.

    2. Its a shame that the Amerindians aren't used in anything else outside of RTS games, there's some good stuff there. Inca is nice but the shooting mechanics make it hard to call it anything but a weird novelty.

    3. You say Coktel and that's correct, but I say Cryo. And, I may be alone in this, I believe most or all their spin-o-rama adventures are criminally underrated: played the first Atlantis recently and had a blast.

    4. Expeditions: Conquistador is a CRPG set in a fictionalised Hispaniola and Mexico. Most of the people you meet are Taino or Aztec.

    5. There's a sidescrolling Aztec-themed RPG called Aztaka, too.

    6. I knew as soon as I saw mention of the 90s and French weirdness that someone would bring up Cryo. They seemed to release a game every other month and they were always bewildering.

  5. I wish this game was better. I like the idea of companions having more of a say of what goes on in the party. But man, does it sound more frustrating than fun.

  6. When I played the game I solved the problem of party members falling in love with the princess with an all female party.

    1. That wasn't very progressive of the developers.

    2. Developers: Well, no one can fall in love with the princess if they're all women.
      Me: Oh my sweet summer child...

  7. It would be interesting if your party members had reasons for not adventuring with each other, like how Wizardry disallowed mixed-alignment parties. I think a number of Infinity and Aurora-engine games have mutually-exclusive party members that can't be together for reasons related to their backstory. You'd have to really fill in the gaps yourself to be wowed by Ishar's party members, but I guess it must have been a cute novelty in 1992.

    I'm surprised that Amiga magazines actually seem to concur with you; aren't those guys the jokers that sound like they've never played the game?

    1. Those are British Amiga magazines specifically, I think. The German ones seem a bit more serious.

  8. wohoo lands of lore I would have suggested it aswell bought it on CD as a little kid but never got far. Loved the game and Patrick Stewart voice overs graphics at the time were great

  9. A bit of advice for Ishar 2. While it has the function for importing the party from the first game, it is not very worthwhile thing to do, to say the least. The main reasons are:
    1. It makes no sense plot-wise.
    2. It breaks the balance, at least for the first half of the game.
    3. Importing is very bugged. You're likely to end up with the spellcasters who don't know a single spell and generally broken characters.

    1. Thanks. Feel free to remind me of this when the sequel is upcoming.

  10. "To get around party members overriding my dismissals, I simply put the unwanted characters at the front of the party with no armor, and I let them get killed by the next enemy."

    You are sooooo cunning! :) :) :)
    I bet the developers were not thinking about this solution.

    1. "I would rather die than give her up!"


      Actually I think they did, as the crush just transferred to the next character.

    2. It's what you still do in BG with Jaheira and Khalid. Never change a running system, right?

    3. I ended up keeping those two in most of my runs, most of the NPCs in that game weren’t that compelling.

    4. Roleplayers, ladies and gentlemen...

    5. Same. I really don't understand why so many people hate Khalid. He is just an anxious little guy, doing his best to support is wife.

  11. I'm amazed at what older gamers will put up with. I usually play the console styled RPGs, and I don't think I'd put up with paying that much for saving, or not being able to control my party more. It seems like it takes a lot of will power to finish the game.

    1. old console was really annoying when it came to savepoints, some did it good and it highten the tension of a dungeon or a bossfight but others was hair-ripping bad when it came to utilisation of save points.

    2. It's not like most (early) console RPGs give you much control over your party, either. Characters mostly pop in and out at their own convenience as the plot demands, e.g. Final Fantasy IV and its revolving door of characters joining and leaving and re-joining ad nauseam. It might be annoying when your party members won't let you kick someone out, but I'll take it over Kain fucking off with all of his equipment in tow because the story required him to betray you yet again.

    3. Funnily enough checkpoint saves and almost zero agency over your own party. Dialog is a series of linear cutscene style conversations, no tree-style dialog options or keyword-based dialog systems. In many console RPGs, characters have predetermined leveling paths rather than you deciding which skills to train. They usually feel like I'm watching a party of adventurers go on a quest, rather than going on a quest myself.

    4. Makes me wish I tracked these kind of stats. I was curious, so I went through 1993 to note the numbers for US released console RPG's party control:

      Total games: 83
      Not party based: 33
      - members stay throughout: 22
      - members swapped in and out from a pool that never decreases (except for permadeath): 22
      - members come and go without player control: 6

      Those 6:
      Final Fantasy IV (II in US)
      Phantasy Star 3 (throws the entire party out every chapter)
      Cosmic Fantasy 2
      Lunar: The Silver Star
      Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes

      Two I haven't played that fall into one of those party categories:
      Final Fantasy Legend III
      Paladin's Quest

      The lack of party control might get worse after '93. It may be more common among console RPGs that didn't make it to the US, but 6 out 80 isn't a lot. I tried to go beyond that, and it became difficult to determine which category they best fit without having played them.

      I started to count up games that offered some kind of player choice for leveling, but I found it hard to determine what counted. Dialog trees aren't really a thing until the CD era, but there were a couple of keyword style games (Ultima IV on SMS, and Final Fantasy II (JP) come to mind).

      For a bonus here's saving:

      Save anywhere (open a menu and save): 27

      Save points:
      - 1 save point only (central town or castle): 12
      - towns only: 34
      + over-world: 4
      + save points in dungeons: 4

      No saves - 2

      Less interesting probably since it depends a great deal on how the game is designed.

    5. Just realized my last post here is missing half a sentence. The first sentence should be "Checkpoint saves and no control over your own party is why I don't like console RPGs." Looks like I accidentally deleted that last part of the sentence.

    6. I used to dislike the lack of control over your character in many JRPGs, but after playing them for a while I came to like the more integrated story. Both styles have their good and bad points, but I learned they're pretty much equal overall.

      They're both RPGs, but with slightly different focuses.

    7. I just completely space out when a game throws too much non-interactive cutscene stuff at me. If a dialog doesn't let me input my character's words (be it through list choices, typing keywords, or those newfangled dialog wheels), I don't care about it as much. JRPGs make it worse by being very wordy, typing out dialogue letter by letter rather than instantly displaying it, and spending a lot of time with inconsequential banter. Tried some console/JRPGs, lost interest in most of them pretty quickly because of how restrictive they felt.

      It's not an RPG if you don't control your own character.

    8. If player choice (by which you seem to mean only narrative choice) is the sole metric of RPG-ness then I suppose Dungeon Master, most of the Wizardry series, the Bard's Tale series, a large amount of the Might and Magic series, a significant number of Ultima games (though mostly the early ones) and even the game this post is about aren't RPGs.

    9. I'm sure what Jarl Frank meant to say is that "it's not role-playing if you don't control your own character." As we've seen, role playing is not a definitional part of an RPG, but it is still a desirable one.

    10. While I'm fine playing my own cipher, I don't mind playing a fixed character either.

      Mass Effect's Shepard is largely fixed. She can be nicer, or more ruthless, but you're mostly watching her story unfold, rather than authoring it. I don't think the game suffers for it.

    11. Ultima, Wizardry and Might and Magic give me full control over my character or even my entire party. I can create them from scratch, and if dialogue happens it has me type in keywords. Even in something like Mass Effect which I would consider a "light" RPG, you get to shape your Shephard (choice of gender and appearance, choice of class, you get to distribute the skill points at level up, you choose what he or she says in conversations - as binary as the choices often are, they're still choices).

      Meanwhile a lot of console RPGs introduce hands-off elements the player has no control over. Dialogues are cutscenes with zero player input. Your character has a predetermined class and gets predetermined level up bonuses. Chrono Trigger is a great example, it's considered a classic of the JRPG genre but a lot of its gameplay is so hands-off, it barely felt like an RPG to me. Final Fantasy VII is another such popular classic that barely feels like an RPG, more like an interactive movie with grind in between cutscenes.

      An RPG doesn't need to have dialog at all. But when it does it better be player driven, not just static cutscenes. Also, if the player character and all party members are pre-determined, it takes away one of the core aspects of RPGs: character creation and development. Might and Magic or Gold Box titles can be re-played many times with different party compositions, but you will always play FF7 with the same party. Where's the RPG in that?

    12. Well, FF7 specifically introduces the material system, an evolution of the Magicite from FFVI. Certain materia teach characters spells, influence stat growth, and can add or change commands on their battle menu. Every piece of materia has different numbers and arrangements of materia slots, making it a logistical game of choosing between advantageous slots or just more powerful equipment.

      Mass Effect's skill points are a terrible example of RPG mechanics, even in comparison to Final Fantasy; by the end of any given Mass Effect title you have enough levels to put all of your skills on every character at max, or very close to it. I played through ME1 twice; once I manually leveled everybody, and once I used the automatic function every time. There was no real difference, especially by the endgame.

    13. Oops, meant to write "every piece of equipment" above.

    14. "Where's the RPG in that?" It's like saying Led Zeppelin isn't rock and roll because it doesn't sound like Elvis. All these arguments about why one style is more authentic than the other get a little stale, don't y'all think?

  12. Major tip for about the middle of Lands of Lore:

    Ubyq ba gb gur Inryna'f Phor lbh trg va gur Liry sberfg hagvy nsgre lbh'ir svavfurq gur Vibel Gbjre! Gur tubfgf ba gur guveq sybbe ner vafgnagyl qrsrngrq ol vg, naq gung yriry vf n pbzcyrgr avtugzner rira jvgu vg. Gur gbjre vf npprffrq sebz gur sberfg.

    I'm not sure if the game can be completed if you don't do this.

    1. Oh you can but you will hate yourself and everyone around you o.-

  13. Absolutely it can.

    A small section of the game becomes very hard, instead of trivial.

    In my playthrough, aside from the initial frustration, it was satisfying to do it the very hard way.

  14. Aww, Karorn is giving you some wonderful ideas to call Irene.

    For any veterans of this game, I wonder if the princess infatuation issue can be solved by an all-female party. If not, we may have gotten the first game on this blog with gay player characters!

  15. Oh, found this disturbing softlock bug on the Lands of Lore TV Tropes page. Hopefully someone reminds Chet to make a backup save before entering this level.
    "Tnzr-Oernxvat Oht: Va YBY 1, n pbzzba oht va gur Heovfu Zvarf creznaragyl qvfnoyrf gur fgnvejryy gb yriry 2."

    1. I sincerely hope that Chet is making backup saves in general for non-roguelikes. For every game like Lands of Lore that someone knows of a bug or save breaking glitch, there's going to be something not.

  16. LOL, the victory screen of "The hero is doing something..." strongly reminds me of Moonstone when you either restore a life or ascend to the stars in the victory animation.

  17. "my characters--Aramir, I guess--knelt in a circle of rotating pillars and held a crown above his head"
    That crown looks a lot like a sword, complete with blade and handle. Still doesn't make sense, though.

    1. I guess you're right. He's holding it by the crosspiece in a way that you'd hold a crown, but I suppose you can make out the pommel and blade (which I originally thought was just a gout of fire). Where is the fire coming from anyway? Is his back on fire?

  18. At Ishar some tasks felt rather random to me. Like the dark island that requires the "Cure Blindness" spell or the the pig standing around in the forest that requires the "Transform Pig" spell. I would expect an explanation before or after the event from the game why you cannot see on that island or some background story where the pig comes from.
    If there was an explanation then I didn't run into it.

    1. Yes, exactly. That's what I mean about the sparseness of the story and world-building.

    2. At least if it were "transform from animal" or something like that it would have you thinking a bit more.

    3. Hey, look at it this way: at least they didn't have any tasks that could be blocked permanently by doing things in the wrong order. Some earlier Silmarils games not only had rather random tasks, but also were easily blockable. I remember finding such things especially infuriating in Colorado (not an RPG, but certainly a Silmarils "classic" with all the usual qualities and warts). Basically, the game was designed to be played repeatedly from start until the player figured out the entire walkthrough. Even though there were savegames, there were many ways you could effectively turn your game into dead-man-walking by misusing a resource intended for a specific task without even having been told yet that it is intended for a specific task.

      Come to think of it, Colorado is also another example of the tightness of economy that Chet mentions in Ishar. Colorado is a bit like a tiny open-world game, where resources don't respawn, and someone has calculated exactly how much of what the player is likely to need during the game. At the end of the game, you will likely have exploited the whole world, and not have even a single health refill left, nor a single gunpowder refill. I mean, it's possible to do so well as to finish with some leftovers, but it's statistically rare.

      If I cast my memory back to Targhan, I think it was similar. Another of their games, Maya, had a more developed economy where you'd sell loot from Maya temples to finance health, fuel and other resources. I never finished that one or even got very far in it, but I bet you if I did, it would turn out that the amount of loot was exactly enough to let you finish the game, and nothing more.

      So, tight economies seem like a very Silmarils thing to do. If anything, Ishar is on the loose side, possibly because the game's open nature demanded more tolerance for players, and because an RPG can't impose so much economic linearity on players without people getting fed up.

    4. Selling loot from Maya temples! The audacity! Not only is that disrespectful to the dead AND having history be accessible to the public, but since it's a video game you'll likely get ghosts or a curse!

    5. Ha! If I recall correctly, ghosts and curses weren't as much of a concern as snakes and locals with poison darts. For whatever reason, that game loooooved poison - maybe because they could then make you buy the antidote.

  19. I really, really, really wanted to play the Ishar games. I started playing Ishar 2 and I really loved the experience.

    ... Until I discovered that the game has no automap for the dungeons. I quit the game there :(

    It seems that the same applies for Ishar 3. Shame, because I'd really love to play those games. But the days in which I had time to spend over graph paper are long gone.

    1. There is another problem with Ishar 2 and, probably, 3. You can save everywhere and it doesn't cost anything. But restoring the game resets the enemies in the area. So saving in a middle of dungeon is not just useless, but actually harmful. Upon reloading you'll find all the monsters you slain alive again, but your party in a worse shape compared the moment then you entered the dungeon and being blocked from the exit. Same largely applies to saving in the city.

    2. I think that's true of the first game as well. I didn't save very often because of the cost, but I think I did notice enemies respawning after I saved and reloaded in a town and later in the Ishar fortress.

      Autor, I'm sorry to hear that's where you draw the line. I'm guessing the dungeons in Ishar 2 and 3 must be larger than those in 1, because I didn't need to map the dungeons in the first game at all.

  20. Thank you for playing this. I remember a german review, 67% or something like that, and I wanted to play the game. Yes, the graphics captivated me.
    Seems the review was okay. And, now, you're a real crack at this now, yet, only 21 hours of gameplay? It seems somewhat short.

    1. Give the man a break, he already did Fate: Gates of Dawn!

  21. On Medusa looking like a statue- is it possible your color blindness is giving that impression? She is bright green like a serpent, but if you are not able to distinguish that color, I could imagine her seeming like a statue.

    1. Yeah, I perceive some greens as gray. That's what's happening here.

  22. I liked Ishar 2 much more and so gave a positive review about it.

  23. From polish game magazine Secret Service #16 09/1994:
    Rating: Graphic: 75%, Sound 70%, Playability: 85%.
    There is no review just walkthrough.

  24. The game crashes as soon as I take out the red dot 🔴 from the inventory and place it on the ground? It looks like a key when placed on the ground and when I pick it up again the mouse pointer disappear lol ?


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