Monday, August 3, 2020

Amberstar: Won!

The final screen sets up the sequel.
The solution to the final pieces of the Amberstar seemed to be found in actually asking NPCs about the AMBERSTAR. I don't know why that didn't occur to me earlier. If I'd made it standard practice from the beginning, who knows how it would have changed the order in which I did the quests. Thank you to everyone who helped with hints as to specific NPCs.
Of the three pieces I still needed, two were relatively easy. One was, despite my side comment in the last entry, in a chest in the underworld, to which you are directed by giving an herb packet to the old thief Atacar. Getting to and from the area was harder than actually getting the Amberstar piece. I thought it would probably be easier to arrive via the whirlpool (which is closer to Ship's End) and leave via the castle (which is the only way to leave that I know about). But there were no more ships to buy in Crystal, so just one entry since I openly wondered why anyone would ever need to buy a ship at the Shipyard of the Far Isle, I bought a ship at the Shipyard of the Far Isle.
Once through the whirlpool, it was a simple matter of walking to Ship's End, finding Atacar, and giving him the herb packet. He directed me to a tree in the city's cemetery where I found a treasure "map." I put that in quotes because the map was described to me in text: the northernmost of three piles of ash surrounding a volcano. It didn't take me long to find it. It was in a chest with some potions and a magic globe that casts "Light 3."
The treasure location.
It took me longer to get out of the area, mostly because I was so paranoid about having to fight octopuses that I did everything I could think of to get around them. I also had trouble remembering the specific route through the castle. I eventually found it, though, and arrived back on the continent at the windgate hub.
For the second piece, I got a clue from the very first NPC I talked to, Annorel, the head of the rangers' guild. She said that the current rangers' guild was a recent incarnation, and that I might find a piece in the ruins of the old rangers' guild, which is on some islands east of Crystal. She gave me a Staff of Opening for when I found it. We flew there on that eagle and spied an island with a ship's dock but no clear use. I landed there, used the staff, and found the opening.
Finding the hidden entrance.
The old guild was small and quick. I battled through a few parties of bloodsuckers (basically stirges) and soon found the chest with the Amberstar piece. It also had a bunch of gems. I ran out of reasons for money long before the last entry, and that didn't change in this one.
I suspected the third piece would be in the dwarf mine, for which I still hadn't found the password. I had a decent idea where to ask, though: Bothor, the otherwise-useless dwarf in Illien. When asked about the AMBERSTAR, he volunteered that his uncle Donner in Gemstone knew where to find a piece, and he gave us a letter of introduction. I scouted around and didn't find Donner, but I did find a dwarf named Andamael who said Donner was living in a mountain to the northwest.

Donner's house was at the end of a short dungeon with rats. When we found him and gave him his nephew's letter, he related that the dwarves of old embedded their Amberstar piece into a crown, which must have been left in Dora's Mine when the dwarves were forced to abandon it. Unfortunately, he didn't remember the password to the mine and thus sent me back to Bothor, with another letter in my backpack, which seemed like unnecessary padding. Bothor said the answer was to say the name of the mine backwards.
This episode has a Tolkienesque quality.
It still took me a while to get in, first because I had misinterpreted the runes and thought it was called Bora's mine. Second, I didn't imagine the possessive was part of what I had to say backwards. So I tried AROB, then took another look at the sign and realized my mistake, then tried AROD, then got really annoyed for a while before realizing it was SAROD.
It takes longer than it should have.
The mine was an annoying three levels, populated by hundreds of giant rats (not even swamp rats, just regular ones) and spiders. The battles weren't hard, but it was easily the most combat-heavy dungeon in the game, which wasn't something I enjoyed in the final hours.

We found the crown relatively quickly: a trap near the entrance dumped us down to Level 3, near a hole back up to Level 2, where a chest contained the crown. The difficult part was getting out of the dungeon, which was a maze of stairs, spinners, hidden doors, and teleporters. There was a final battle with probably the weirdest enemy in the game: a giant rock with a demonic face. I guess that's what drove the dwarves out of the mine. Anyway, we finally made it and took the crown back to Donner so he could remove the Amberstar piece.
I think the graphics department could have spent a little more time on this one.
With the 13 pieces finally in hand, we flew to the altar that I had previously discovered. There, we encountered a relatively difficult lore puzzle. The altar indicated that each piece of the Amberstar was associated with one of the major powers (gods and demons) of Lyramion: Mork, Nut, Geb, Harachte, Sobek, Sansri, Tarbos, Bralkur, Marmion, Gala, Bala, and Talmit. The altar gave us descriptors of each entity and we had to choose the appropriate piece. A wrong choice was instant death for the selected character.
That seems an awfully harsh punishment for not paying attention in Western Civ.
I had paid attention to the game's lore but I hadn't written down most of it. I shuffled through a lot of past screenshots as I tried to figure out the right associations, but some of them were pretty obscure. I was pretty sure I'd never heard of "Talmit" at all. I had to reload about half a dozen times before I got them all right. Here is the list of descriptors:
  • Knowledge: In my last entry, I made fun of the monk who described Mork as the "god of wisdom." That seemed close enough, and I got it right.
  • The Ally: Ally of who? It seemed to me that Marmion, Bralkur, and Sansri were all allies of each other. After dying when I tried Marmion, I got it with Bralkur.
"I don't even know him!"
  • Master of the Sea: I guessed right that it was Sobek. My reasoning was that the temple at Ship's End was to Sobek.
  • Mother of Life: One of the first things I looked at in the game was a statue to Gala, goddess of life.
  • Falsehood: I died twice trying Marmion and Tarbos. The answer was Sansri. I had her pegged more as the goddess of snakes, but I suppose there's a longstanding snake-falsehood link in Christian mythology.
  • Friend of the Eagles: I had no idea, but I got it right with my first guess, which was Nut. 
  • Evil: That had to be Tarbos or Marmion. I guessed Tarbos first and got it right.
  • Power of the Earth: Again, I had no idea. I died guessing Harachte, then again guessing Talmit. It was Geb.
  • Mother of Death: The second thing I looked at in the game was a statue to Bala, goddess of death.
  • Fire: Harachte was the answer, which I guessed right based on the "Globe of Harachte" that I was carrying, which acts as a torch. 
  • Traitor: Between the two I had left, that was Marmion, easy.
  • What is Coming: I guess Talmit is the god of the future or prophecy or something. I'd like to know where that was mentioned in the game.
The altar's voice told us the Amberstar was reunited. At first, I freaked out a bit because it didn't appear in my inventory, but I soon realized it was part of the interface.

Now, suddenly, we're in a big hurry.

I went through a final round of leveling up. My final levels were between 18 and 28, with Drobanir the fighter getting the highest level and my wizards getting the lowest. Most of the characters reached maximums in their primary skills, and I had thus been dumping their most recent allocations of skill points into useless secondary skills. But my two paladins had their focus split between combat and magic and never maxed out in either skill set.

With the Amberstar in hand, I hoped that the final castle would be quick. I was hoping that the door would open to one big main chamber and a final battle. But of course I wasn't so lucky: it was a multi-leveled nightmare with multiple battles with "yellowslimes," capable of causing disease and paralysis. Sometimes they attacked with large Sasquatch-like creatures whose names I didn't catch.

There were about two dozen of these.
In some chest, I finally found the Gray Wizard spell "Magic Sphere," which casts all of the game's enhancement and protection spells at once, at their highest levels. I think this is probably the only place you can find it. It would have been helpful a long time ago.
After what seemed like forever, I finally encountered the demon Bralkur. He threatened me and attacked. I had received that scroll from Sansri that I was supposed to destroy in Bralkur's presence, banishing him from the realm. The problem was, it didn't work. The scroll cast a spell called "Banish Demon," but Bralkur resisted it every time. I thus had to kill him the old fashioned way, which wasn't as hard as it perhaps should have been.

Bralkur manages to resist a scroll that's supposed to kill him exclusively.
A Staff of Runes found behind Bralkur opened the way to the final battle. I arrived in the final chamber just as Marmion and a circle of black wizards were completing the ritual to return Tarbos from the moon.
Keep in mind, they've been at this the entire game. This was a long ritual.
Marmion needs to work on his smack talk.
The resulting combat was perhaps the most enemy-heavy combat in the game: six Level 8 wizards, six Level 12 wizards, and Marmion. They somehow wiped away all my buffing spells (Weapons Power 3, Anti-Magic 3, Armour Protection 3) just as combat began. I soon ascertained that the wizards were completely immune to magic. None of Trasric's damage spells did anything to any of them, whether I targeted individuals, groups, or the entire field. Thus, he was relatively useless. Satine spent a few rounds getting our buffing spells, plus "Mass Haste," back online. Everything else came down to physical combat.
Trasric realizes he can sit this one out.
The wizards themselves focused on group damage spells, which suck but are recoverable with healing, scrolls, and potions. I'd much rather face damage spells than spells like "Stun," "Stone," "Sleep," and so forth, none of which they seemed to have. We basically just had to whittle away at them round after round.

Marmion himself was invulnerable to most of my weapons. I noticed this with a few other enemies, and I don't understand how the game decides how powerful a weapon has to be to damage a particular opponent. My thief's Assassin's Blade, one paladin's Icebiter, and my fighter's Firebasher all did nothing. The only thing that would damage him was Sansri's Whip. It's a good thing I kept that.

It was a long combat, but I won it on the first try. Afterwards, I walked up to the portal, thrust the Amberstar into it, and prevented Tarbos's return.
I'm glad it was instinctive because otherwise we might not have done the only thing we could have possibly done.
Shandra's voice (the wizard from Twinlake) spoke to us at this point, bidding us to enter the teleporter he'd just opened for us. We did, and the endgame sequence commenced. It consisted of Lord Karwain (ruler of Twinlake) praising us in an audience and then announcing a feast in our honor. He invited us onto his balcony to look out over Lyramion, where a dragon flew by accompanied by an eagle. But we noticed that Lyramion's third moon had started to glow ominously red, setting up the second game in the intended trilogy, Ambermoon.
The lack of capital letters in this paragraph bothers me.

This is the game's equivalent to "the eagle flies with the dove."
I was impatient for most of this final session, and I feel like the final dungeon, in particular, could have hustled it along a bit. I wish the final battle had been harder but had made better use of all the characters. But I liked the lore puzzle, as poorly as I did, and I thought the final game sequence was suitably rewarding.

This is a pretty short entry, but Amberstar has given us enough material to deserve a separate "Summary and Rating," so look for that coming up. After that, we finally get to move on to a new game (on the official list) for the first time in a month.
Final time: 50 hours


  1. > I guess Talmit is the god of the future or prophecy or something. I'd like to know where that was mentioned in the game.

    It was mentioned by Firlas in Crystal: "Oh Talmit, Goddess of the future. Let me look deeply into your eyes. Join the 13 parts at the clearing where many rivers wind. The altar is in the forest of unity. Thank you Talmit, for letting me see."

    1. Yup. While the nature of the other gods is mostly told in the Pharaoh's tomb offerings section.

      At least the game makes it possible to brute force this part (imagine if you had to type the answer blind).

  2. Congratulations with yet another win.

    All in all it sounds like this game may be worth for me to revisit, if I can find a convenient Amiga install.

    But one thing still puzzles me. Is Silk a guy with a fake moustache and a wig, a girl with a fake moustache, or just a guy unlucky with colour mismatch?

  3. Congratulations!

    As much as I like Amberstar for the story and good dungeons, I know about the weaknesses. Combat is more about enduring attack animations then winning or not, and economy is more about carrying capacity then having enough gold. Also the character balancing is awful, as you see on your paladins. You are better off with 3 or even 4 fighters.

    You could have done more comfortable if you had identified more items, there are a lot of spell charges hidden on weapons like Fireburn, Frostbrand or the paladin sword, ressurection on the Staff of Bala, Magic Sphere on golden rings, ... Satine has a 40 charges of identify on her brooch (or helm?). Basically enough so that you can kick her out right after joining and undressing and go for the white wizard Crag. His pipe has 30 charges of Mana, Trasric will like that.

    It's rarely used in this game, but to break magic armor, you need "M-B-W" on your weapon. The Magic Arrows spell also pierces/ignores magic resistance, so Trasric could have had something to do in the final battle.

    Also Bralkur resisting the scroll is a classic. Probably a bug, but on the other hand, you got it from Sansri.

    1. Ha, I never even thought about the scroll not working NOT being a bug. I guess the Goddess of Falsehood handing out a scroll that doesn't work the one way it's supposed to be used is rather appropriate.

  4. Congrats for the win!

    I also had to come back to the underworld to get the second piece of Amberstar. You actually don't need a ship, the whirpool is surrounded by rocks and you can have the eagle drop you on one of them.

    Pretty sure that magic partially worked for me in the final battle, I was able to wipe out the lower level mages in the first line with an AoE spell.

    Bralkur scroll must be bugged as I must have tried 5/6 times without success, also. Regardless, as you say, both battles felt too easy (probably the Black Wizard tower was the peak of the game's difficulty for me).

  5. "You must hurry to save the world"

    Well, yeah, I get that, but I need multiple trips to haul stuff out of this dungeon, ok?

    1. My Pathfinder group actually theorized about a board game based on the concept of getting large, unwieldy treasure out of dungeons. Didn't get much farther than the idea itself, but I think it'd make for a fun game.

    2. You may want to check out Torchlight, which I'd call a pen&paper RPG simulation, played somewhat like a pen&paper RPG. It pares away literally all the fluff and leaves a rigid mechanical system, within which hauling treasure is actually very challenging.

      I hated it. :-P

    3. "I arrived in the final chamber just as Marmion and a circle of black wizards were completing the ritual to return Tarbos from the moon."

      See? You were just in time!

      [Paul] Heh, definitely not Torchlight, which was praised by many for the way your pet could carry off loot to be sold in town, and return to your side in the dungeon a couple of minutes later.

  6. If you're up on your Egyptian mythology, Geb and Nut are the gods of the earth and sky there. So there was another way to figure out those two.

  7. Dora's mine might just be a mistranslation. In German, the possessive -s is written without the apostrophe, making it impossible to distinguish between Doras mine (i.e. mine named Doras) and Dora's mine (mine of Dora). I suspect, the devs has the former in mind, while the translators assumed it was the latter.

    1. The game files say: THE SIGN SAYS SOMETHING IN OLD RUNIC LETTERS: " DORAS MINE ". So it seems there is no apostrophe in the english translation (or the german original).

    2. You're right. I don't know why or how I ever got it into my head that it was DORA'S.

  8. The lore puzzle is kind of insane really. Like, well done on getting all the bits of the amberstar together, and we really need you to rush along to stymie the bad guys' plans. But first a general knowledge quiz. Oh, and if anyone gets an answer wrong they die.

    Whose side are you on, exactly?

    1. It's probably a coincidence, but the original mainframe version of Zork at MIT included a quiz about various elements of the game at the end; it wasn't included when the game was commercialized and would have been in Zork III. Asking about lore is a lot fairer than a quiz where one of the questions is basically a developer in-joke.

    2. The important thing is that the avatar must be worthy. We don't need no stinkin' pragmatism here.

    3. So many people alive at the end… do you even deserve to call this a victory?

  9. Wise Amberstar fans: is there a bugfix for the octopus translation issue, or you just have to play it in German to avoid it?

    1. You can use the german monster file. Cant't check atm, but should be chardata.vga. A hex editor should reveal the monster name to check.

    2. Edit chardata.vga, at position 0x16f1d, replace the two bytes 0xe7 0x03 (which mean 999) by 0x78 0x00 (which is 120, in the german version).

  10. Is it weird that the only other game I can think of that ends with a major lore puzzle (prior to a final boss fight) is Banjo-Kazooie for the Nintendo 64? I'm sure there are more RPG examples.

    I can appreciate the risk involved with implementing a challenge like that though. You're rewarding the relatively small percentage of players who paid enough attention to incidental worldbuilding details and leaving the rest adrift. Then again, you worked out a number of these from context and prior story-critical encounters, which makes the more obscure deities a little easier to guess through process of elimination, so this puzzle seems fairer than it might on first blush.

    Congrats on completing the game! Looking forward to hearing your takes on Ambermoon someday. I remember thinking how ambitious it seemed from magazine previews.

    1. Might and Magic II ends with a cryptogram, that you have to solve on a time limit, no less. Not so much lore, but heavy on the puzzle.

    2. Ultima 4 is probably the ur-example here, unless it's for some reason important that a boss fight follows.

    3. I'm absolutely convinced there was a late Amiga/DOS graphical adventure game that ended in a huge quiz about the events of the game up to that point. I can't remember what it was called though, and it bothers the heck out of me. All I can remember was the interface was mostly orange (orange text windows over a graphical background) and there was a LOT of questions.

    4. It's something Yahtzee Croshaw used in his adventure game "Six Days A Sacrifice." There's no consequences for failure though, it's just there to make sure you've absorbed the plot thus far.

    5. IIRC Bard's Tale 3 had riddles at the end of each section that you had to solve within 90 secs or so, or the party would die.

    6. Arguably King of Dragon Pass has this. You need to have absorbed the lore to succeed in the God Trials (whatever the mystical challenges were called).

    7. Gerry,

      Bard's Tale 2 had a set of real-time puzzles (mostly not riddles) called the Snares of Death. The timers were generally speaking rather longer than 90 seconds; that would have been far too little time for most of them.

      The only snare you couldn't solve entirely with in-game information presented as part of the same dungeon was #7, for which you needed information printed at/near the end of the user manual.

      (The Krome/InXile remakes provide that information in-game on the walls of the Destiny Stone.)

    8. The heroquests of King of Dragon pass weren't specifically about learning the game's lore, though. You're literally following in the footsteps of the gods, so you have to do the same things they do. It lacks challenge. Honestly, I don't understand how anyone not steeped in Gloranthan lore played that game. I loved it...but how people absorbed all the gods' names and jobs and the heroquest paths...I feel sorry for 'em.

    9. @Harland
      Yes, the choices seemed to me more for spliy the narration in more screens than other thing.
      MAYBE there were some choices combinations that allowed you to have different or stronger effects - this is supported by Gloranthan lore - but I didnt see any hint on this when I played it so I didint bother to experiment.

    10. Mecha-neko: two adventure games with a questionnaire at the end come to my mind: Laura Bow 2 and Maupiti Island (don't speak from my own experience in the latter case ;-)

    11. Fingon: Thank you very much! Maupiti's ending is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of. I think I saw Maupiti's ending on vgmuseum when I was reading about the concept (it might've been when I was trying to find the 'end game quiz' trope on tvtropes).

      I don't think the game I had in mind was Maupiti specifically - it doesn't seem to fit how it looks in my memory. In my head, the game has orange text windows, and the setting of the game was a lot more esoteric and mythical (which is why I thought it was Labyrinth of Time at first), but I would not be surprised if I'm mixing together two different games in my head.

      Thank you again for reminding me about Maupiti though.

    12. The Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games do this and it's so annoying.

      Miles Edgeworth games do this as well but as a recap, God bless them.

      There was a recent Farsi adventure, Murders in Tehran, that did this too, adding annoyance to a brutal set of bugs and clich├ęs. I really cannot explain why am I such a completist for adventure games.

  11. Congratulations on finishing what was my favorite CRPG as a kid. Pending the GIMLET, I'm a bit surprised it has not aged worse (I tried playing Ambermoon a couple of years ago, but the combat speed/hit rate wore me down after about 10 hours).

  12. I liked the Amberstar entries a lot, I played Albion quite some time ago and it was nice to see the origin of the game in this detailed manner. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  13. To me, the demon-rock does not look so bad as such, but is somehow more comic-style than the other enemies in the game. But whatever its style is, I can imagine that it was chosen to be a monochromatic brown shape (with an evil grin) due to time constraints.

    1. Untextured instead of monochromatic would be the better word.

    2. It looks more like a poop than a rock to me.

    3. I thought it looked like a tablecloth or other piece of fabric with a face drawn on it.

    4. Prepare to meet thy doom, adventurers... For I am Rockthing, Demon Lord of Pentagonal Poop!

    5. It looks like a cloth, when animated,
      But the colour makes it look like something else.

    6. This is one all-round ugly game.

    7. Eh, I like the visuals. It's only the rock-poop-cloth that looks weird.

    8. The grey/white/yellow/brown color scheme doesn’t do it for me, and that weird rock-wall background is ghastly,

  14. It's kind of ironic, that you say of your enemies "I rather face damage spells than spells like "Stun," "Stone," "Sleep," and so forth, none of which they seemed to have.", when you clearly favor damage spells yourself. Even in Realms of Arkania, where you complained about the sub-par attack spells, you didn't used the "Stun," "Stone," "Sleep," spells. The attractiveness of a good old fireball is really universal ... ;-)

    1. While this is true, I think in most RPGs this is a design consequence. Encounters are basically asymmetric: the enemies only have to care about the current encounter.

      So them giving you slow acting status effects like disease and poison which affect you after the battle is a way of hurting you, while you doing the same to them has zero benefit.

      Of course it's different with Stun/Stone/Sleep spells you mention since those are basically "save or die" spells in D&D jargon. Here's the problem that games usually give the enemies unusually high resistance to those effects in order to make encounters non-trivial. The Baldur's Gate games are a great exception here, where CC spells are more powerful than fireballs.

    2. I didn't use damage spells much in Arkania, either. The spell system in that game is just broken unless you have existing knowledge of what spells work well and concentrate your spell points into those spells. Gold Box games, as an example, have a much lower threshold-to-entry for spells of all types and thus encourage more experimentation.

      But I do agree I probably have a bias towards damage spells.

    3. Greater Malison/Doom and the resistance lowering spells were so awesome in Baldur's gate. Nothing like seeing a bid, bad dragon like Firkraag bust into a million bits after failing a save on a lowly chromatic orb! The magic-meta game (wizard duels) in that series was so compelling...

    4. I would argue that it is only broken from the point of view from someone playing all existing CRPGs one after the other. ;-) The sandbox nature of the game and the possibility to create six characters give ample opportunity to experiment with the different spells - if one has the time ... But back to Amberstar!

    5. I don't agree that you have "ample opportunity to experiment with spells" when you start with a -15 skill at most of them. You have to put a fair number of points into a spell before you stand a reasonable chance of casting them--points that may fail. THAT'S what discourages experimentation.

    6. Spells that start this low are typically those outside of that character's class - you can try bothering with them, but you're not supposed to. Most of class's own spells should be immediately available (don't forget that they become usable already when skill level reaches -5). So if you have a decent selection of caster classes in your party, you should have enough options to experiment with right off the bat.


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