Friday, August 28, 2020

Game 377: Wizardry: Suffering of the Queen (1991)

Titles online often include Gaiden after Wizardry or include "Episode 1." Neither is present on the title screen. I believe even the original Japanese title screen was in English.
         
Wizardry: Suffering of the Queen
Japan
ASCII (developer and publisher)
Released 1991 for Game Boy
Date Started: 18 August 2020
Date Ended: 21 August 2020
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 34
Ranking at time of posting: 263/379 (69%)
     
The eight games in the Wizardry series are well known to western CRPG players. It is arguably the most influential series of all time (although it was itself heavily influenced by the early PLATO titles), spawning The Bard's Tale, Might and Magic, and Dungeon Master lines, and even influencing Exodus: Ultima III. I still find the original Wizardry (1981) remarkable for its combat tactics and the exquisite tension that it builds as you explore each level and cope with the specter of permadeath.
            
Combat in this game is identical to the western Wizardry titles.
         
What most western players probably don't realize is that the series has a life in Japan that, at least quantitatively, exceeds its legacy in the United States. In addition to the influential translations of the original games, Japan saw more than ten original titles and remakes for the Game Boy, PlayStation, NES, SNES, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 between 1991 and 2013, plus a 2013 MMORPG called Wizardry Online (2013). These games weren't just unauthorized knockoffs seeking to capitalize on the Wizardry name. As we'll soon see, you're more likely to untangle Jarndyce v. Jarndyce than figure out who actually owns the rights to the series, but the earliest Japanese titles, at least, were developed under license from Sir-Tech, and they take thematic elements from the western games.
          
The party explores the dungeon. The interface elements go away until you call for them.
         
Commenter Alex has written a guest entry on the Japanese Wizardry series, which I'll publish soon, but to put it in context, I wanted to take a look at the first of the series, Suffering of the Queen, after having first familiarized myself with the Game Boy by playing its first RPG offering. Suffering is the first of a pair of Game Boy titles published by ASCII; the second, Curse of the Ancient Emperor, would follow in 1992. Suffering is something of a sequel to Wizardry II and III in that it takes place in Llylgamyn and references the Staff of Gnlida. I'm playing a fan translation from about 2013.
         
Credits for the translation.
          
I was surprised to see that aside from some minor graphical and mechanical differences, Suffering plays almost exactly like an early-1980s Wizardry scenario. You create a party of six characters from the same races and classes; you have a menu town on top of a multi-leveled dungeon. The shop names are the same; combat works the same; spells are not only the same but have the same nonsense names (mercifully "translated" in the English patch). The navigational obstacles that you face, traps, item identification, and character leveling systems all work the same. So much is the same that a veteran Wizardry player would only have to be told about a few minor differences. The authors were clearly trying to bring the Wizardry I-III console experience directly to a handled device.
  
As Suffering opens, the player is dropped without comment into the menu town of Llylgamyn, presented graphically instead of textually. Icons correspond to the major service locations: Boltac's (shop), Gilgamesh's Tavern, the temple, the inn, the guild, and the dungeon entrance.
           
Llylgamyn is a graphical menu town.
          
One difference from the earlier series is that the castle is a visitable location, and it's here that you get rare updates to the game's plot. When you visit the first time, you learn: "The traitor Taros is pursuing forbidden research in the dungeon. Disaster struck insistently in the past year. The power protecting Llylgamyn weakens. Now the people are murmuring about Princess Sorx. She vanished mysteriously at midnight." External sites clarify that Sorx is the queen's sister, but they give her name as Sokusu and the villain's name as, amusingly, Thailand Rossum. I don't know if the shorter versions are just a way to abbreviate them for the screen or if they're choices made by the English translators.
        
The titular queen doesn't show up until the endgame.
        
Characters are created from humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits and good, neutral, and evil alignments. Then a pool of "bonus" points is distributed among strength, intelligence, piety, vitality, speed, and luck, with the base values having been determined by race. The attribute allocation determines what classes are available: fighter, mage, thief, priest, samurai, lord, bishop, and ninja. As in the original game, the bonus pool is usually 7-10 points but then occasionally rockets up to 18-20.  You need such luck to start as any of the prestige classes; even then, some of the classes are out of the reach of a starting character. You cannot mix good and evil characters in the same party.
           
Creating a new character.
           
After character creation, I was thrown when I found that Boltac's shop was "SOLD OUT" of most of the basic starter equipment, but it turns out in this version, characters start with a basic set of weapons and armor in their possession. As you find better stuff in the dungeon, it's not "+1" or "+2," but rather an escalating set of synonyms for the base weapon. For instance, swords progress along the line of sword, rapier, epee, katana, and cutlass. Ultra high-level items are given special names like "Saber of Evil" and "Mjollnir." The same weird "invoke" system is present where you can sacrifice some pieces of equipment for permanent attribute changes.
      
The dungeon beneath the castle is six or twelve (see below) levels of 16 x 16, slightly smaller than the original games, likely to make the automap fit on the smaller screen. The game has a competent automap, called by the DUMAPIC spell (in the original, it just gave coordinates and facing direction), but I mapped the first six levels myself just so I'd have something to do. (Later, the "Teleport" spell, MALOR, also makes use of the automap.) Also, the multiple interconnected stairways, chutes, and teleporters are hard to understand unless you experience and annotate them yourself.
         
My maps of the first six levels. Darkened squares are literally dark squares (no light works), not indications that you can't go there.
       
The features of the first three games are all here: random and fixed encounters, messages, traps, chutes, teleporters, spinners, dark squares, locked doors, hidden doors, one-way doors. There's even an elevator. The major changes that I see are:
      
  • None of the levels wrap east-west or north-south.
         
The automap works extremely well in this game, but it doesn't annotate teleporters.
        
  • The bestiary is a mix of enemies from the early Wizardry games and some invented for this game. As far as I can tell, the artwork is original even when a creature's name is re-used from an earlier Wizardry.
         
"Nocorns" were in Wizardry II or III, but this is a new graphic.
         
  • You select spell and trap names from a list instead of typing them. In the case of spells, the English patch translators put the spell effects in the list rather than the original names (e.g., MAHALITO, MOLTO), which is a big bonus.
         
The mage's available spells for each slot appear as a list.
           
  • The thief character is a lot more successful in disarming traps than in my experiences with the DOS versions of Wizardry I-III.
  • Spellcasters have to rest to restore spell slots; they don't replenish automatically upon leaving the dungeon.
  • Instead of encountering "friendly" monsters occasionally, you oddly get the option to "hunt" some monsters if you want to be evil or leave them alone if you want to be good.
          
The only way to show virtue in the game.
         
  • You can't just walk through walls to find secret doors; you have to "Search" for them. Once found, the door remains visible for the rest of the game.
       
This difference is explained in a message square.
       
  • The early game is notably easier than in the originals. Full-party death is rare.
  • You can manually save the game while in the middle of a dungeon and restore from that point.
       
I'm sure there are other differences--it's been a long time since I've played any of the early Wizardry titles--but most of the ones I listed are positive. (And for all I know, some or all of them were present in the Japanese console ports of the original games.) Everything else, the authors imported faithfully, even the stuff that didn't make a lot of sense, such as the bishop getting struck with fear while trying to identify equipment or characters sometimes losing attributes when leveling up. Murphy's Ghost even appears as a repeating fixed encounter on Level 2, although he's not worth quite as much experience.
         
My thief's inventory late in the game.
          
Suffering even mimics the first games' approach to saving and permadeath. Everything that happens in the town gets automatically saved, and you can manually save in dungeons for later play. But character deaths and full-party deaths get immediately written to the file, so you can't reload to cheat them. (You can still sort-of cheat by "taking out the batteries" the moment it's clear death is imminent.) If the full party dies, you can have another party find their bodies and bring them back to town for resurrection. In general, character state is independent from, and more important than, game state, as most places that are gated are gated by inventory. Still, I'm not entirely sure how the game determines that a particular character (especially if he's assembled into a new party) has already unlocked a particular door or seen a particular message.
          
Gideon levels up and gains intelligence.
         
Combat is easier, but there's sill a lot of variability, and you have to make your decision carefully about when you're ready to descend to the next level. You also have to be careful about saving spell slots for the return journey and keeping an eye on exactly how you'll get back home. I love the tension--the palpable fear--that the first game manages as you constantly decide whether to push forward or play it safe. Some of the most delicious moments are those when you get teleported, or sent down a chute, and you don't know how to get home.
         
The party surprises an enemy party.
         
I also always enjoy the early Wizardry attention to combat tactics, with its magic system exquisitely balanced so you never have quite enough spell slots to feel comfortable. Do I blast this enemy party with a LAHALITO and a BARIKO just to be sure, or do I spread out the damage to two parties and hope that the dice go my way? Do I spend this Level 5 cleric slot on a DIALMA (healing) for my main character, or do I save it for a BADI (death) against my next high-level foe? My opinion is that the original authors got the spell system exactly right back in 1981, and every attempt to change it has ruined the balance. Suffering doesn't really change it.
         
My bishop casts a mass-damage spell.
       
Most of the game is fighting combats, leveling the characters, and exploring the next square. Eventually, you do hit some plot developments. A fixed combat on Level 3 leads to a teleporter that takes you to a hidden area on Level 2, where a woman gives you a silver key and a message to pass on to the queen: "Nemesis is drawing near. Doom will devour Llylgamyn." If you go back to the castle after this encounter, you meet with some "wise men" who give you a little more information about the main plot, including the fact that the missing Sorx is the queen's sister. The key, meanwhile, opens the way to an elevator on Level 1, making visits to the first five levels much faster.
           
Hence, the title.

           


On Level 5, you have to assemble a time bomb out of a clock and a chest of explosives (purchased from an "old man" in a separate encounter) to blast the way down to the sixth level.

            
If it weren't for this sign, we probably wouldn't have even thought of it.
         
The sixth level has numerous teleporters connecting its various sections and lots of squares that automatically warp the party back to the town. Eventually, you find your way to the ultimate encounter with Taros, who attacks with a high-level fighter named "Flack." Flack is capable of poisoning and stoning with his weapon, and Taros can cast the TILTOWAIT ("nuke") spell, so this is the time to unleash everything you have. I stupidly played with a mage, a cleric, and a bishop in my back three (I always fall for the idea that the bishop will be useful) instead of two mages or two clerics, so it took me a few tries to beat Taros.
        
My cleric damages Taros in the big battle.
        
You get an orb when you beat him--it wouldn't be a Japanese game without an orb--and a teleporter in the chamber beyond warps you back to the town. If you visit the castle at this point, you see the queen herself and get a series of screens that together seem like an endgame message:
     
The queen sits on the throne. A tinge of grief is on her face. "Llylgamyn and I applaud you for your courage and wisdom." You are awarded a title. "I will go on fighting for my people alone." The queen smiles faintly. "Thank you. Now go and rest." However, everyone knows it's just the beginning. Peace is finally restored to Llylgamyn. However, secrets still lurk elsewhere . . .
      
Doesn't this seem like a winning screen?
         
I thought that was a pretty definitive endgame message, if a bit enigmatic in translation and obviously setting up a sequel, so imagine my surprise when I was visiting some web sites post-game and found that there are actually six more levels! There's another teleporter in the room beyond Taros that takes you to a new dungeon of six more levels. Apparently, the big boss in the second half is Sorx, although none of the walkthroughs I consulted really explained how she turned into a villain.
         
I thought I'd won, but the game offers to take me to even more adventures.
        
The game apparently wraps up on five levels of the second dungeon, but there's a sixth level that features even tougher monsters in case you want to continue building your party. According to the sites I consulted, if you could find one of every item in the game and sell it to Boltac, you'll be rewarded with The Book of Nature, a special item containing the passwords necessary to transfer your characters into other Wizardry games.
     
I started playing the second half, even getting my characters to a high enough level that my mage could cast the MALOR spell, but I ran out of steam. As much as I was enjoying this return to basic Wizardry, it was taking time away from my main list, and I don't think I was really discovering anything new. In fact, the fun drops significantly for me once the characters are capable of casting every spell in the game; there's much less to look forward to with each level-up (which occur at more distant intervals anyway). I don't know if I "won" the game or not. The messages I got suggested that I completed the main quest and that the rest of the game is a kind of bonus challenge, much like the "second round" of The Legend of Zelda or the "Phase 2" of Dragon Slayer.
       
The box made use of the traditional Wizardry font and logo.
         
Suffering was directed by Hiroshi Mita, who had directed the Japanese NES conversions of the first three Wizardry titles between 1987 and 1990, so it makes sense that this adaptation hewed so closely to their formula. He would later go on to direct the conversion of Wizardry V in 1992 and Bane of the Cosmic Forge in 1995. Although he wasn't involved, ASCII's follow-up, Curse of the Ancient Emperor (1992), seems to use the same engine, although telling a more original and expansive story. A third handheld Wizardry, Summoner, was published in 2001 by Media Rings for the Game Boy Advance, but even it uses the traditional mechanics (with significant graphical upgrades).
     
I was surprised to find a game that followed the original Wizardry template so closely, and thus had a better time than expected. It is markedly different than The Final Fantasy Legend in tone, but I suspect its strengths and weaknesses would balance, and it would score on the GIMLET somewhat close to Adventure's 38 (which would make sense, since I put the original Wizardry at 37). For the second time, I'm surprised to find a far more tactically-oriented game than I would have expected for a handheld device.
  

102 comments:

  1. I'm not sure it should be too surprising to see strong tactics from handhelds. I think they'd be more at a disadvantage delivering respectable action experiences compared to their console counterparts, which in turn would encourage more emphasis on puzzle and tactical games instead.

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    1. Prior to 1989, anything that you could hold in you hand played a simpler version of already-simple arcade games. It isn't surprising TODAY that they're capable of much more, but I think from a 1980s perspective, it's remarkable.

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    2. You may already be aware of this, but the Game Boy Advance version of Eye of the Beholder (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_GDxFr9LYE) had the first-person exploration aspect, but combat shifted to an isometric Gold Box-style turn-based combat system.

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    3. Any given computer will have a much easier time simulating an RPG ruleset than a given "action" game--let's say Mario. Although I don't know the "rules" of Wizardry, I imagine they boil down to pretty basic math. Besides, if the CPU chokes for a second during a turn-based battle, virtually nobody will notice; if a real-time game suffers lag, it will be very obvious to anybody playing.

      The NES had hardware dedicated to just scrolling the screen, as in platform games, something that was rather tricky for PCs at the time to do with the smooth framerate of your average NES game. That's why games like Commander Keen and Duke Nukem were such a big deal in the early 90's; it was the type of gameplay you could get on an NES reasonably imitated by a PC.

      In fact, Commander Keen was originally pitched to Nintendo as a PC port of Super Mario Bros. 3.

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    4. In order to play this; did you use an emulator on your PC and then download the english translation to write over the rom? Did you find it difficult to do and get going?

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    5. I wasn't aware of that, RPGCoder. I can see why the original combat would have been difficult to replicate on a handheld device, though.

      Alex, it wasn't so much the chip that I thought would have trouble as much as the controls and perhaps the screen. Until I actually played one of it's games, I'm not sure I realized the device didn't have something like a VFD. I really expected the first game to be a couple of numbers and a barely-perceptible icon moving through a corridor.

      Prof. $, I found a site that had the ROM already patched. Normally, I would have tried to patch it myself, though my last attempt didn't go well, probably because of something to do with "headers" that I don't understand how to solve.

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    6. The headers issue is a long standing irritation that should have been dealt with and eliminated a long time ago, but people are stubborn and don't like working together.

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    7. Kurisu, I got this warm tingle all over reading your reply. I was so sure that the next post in thread would contain the words "all you have to do is," like most technical threads inevitably do.

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    8. In the past ('80s-'90s) handhelds where mainly used to play simplified arcade games while more "powerful" computer were more apt to play more complex (often turn based) strategic RPGs.

      It is interesting to note that in more recent years ('00s-'10s) this trend has been reversed: you can find more easily complex turn based strategic RPGs on handhelds while action games are much more frequent on computer or on modern consoles.

      Now the situation is changing again: the distinction between handhelds and computer/consoles is blurring away, for example think about the Switch, and action games are becoming prominent even for handheld systems.

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    9. I don't know if that's a fair description of the GameBoy (89-90's). We've already seen two fairly tactical RPGs on this blog, and there's Pokemon coming in the mid-90s, and many more. And there were a lot of puzzle games and strategic board game conversions. And much of the rest wasn't so much simplified arcade games as simplified remakes of popular console action franchises (mario, zelda, etc.), some more successful than others.

      Before the GameBoy, sure, it was pretty simple arcade action. And yes, it couldn't reach to strategic complexity of what was available on the PC. But there was a lot more going on beyond simplified arcade games.

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    10. The GameBoy's large Japanese userbase, combined with the perception from around the first Final Fantasy through to at least the end of the PS3 generation and arguably today, was that you *had* to have JRPGs on your machine to sell well in Japan.

      So the GameBoy was always going to have RPGs on it, no matter how they had to twist and force them to fit.

      As it turned out, turn-based content that didn't require precise input control and which you could play in short stretches was a pretty great fit for Nintendo's line of handhelds, and you start to see more of them in the GBC colour before they basically exploded on the GBA and onwards.

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  2. "External sites clarify that Sorx is the queen's sister, but they give her name as Sokusu"

    Japanese uses one of its two syllabic alphabets, Katakana, to transliterate foreign words and names, taking into account that the language has a relatively limited number of phonemes being used.

    For example, Chet in Katakana would be something like チェット (Chetto) and Irene アイリーン (Airiin).

    As fiction fantasy names are usually considered "foreign", Sokusu is probably the literal translation of the name originally written in Katakana to English (like Chetto) and Sorx the liberal translation of "Sokusu" in English by the translator.

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    1. If it was 'Sokusu' in katakana then one suspects the translators went with 'Sorx' because it would have been too immersion-breaking to use her proper name of "Socks"!

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    2. Sorx' original name was ソークス (sōkusu), with the ō being a long vowel typically used to represent an english/foreign vowel followed by r. So "Sorx" is a pretty accurate adaptation.

      For the sake of completeness, the bad guy's name is originally タイロッサム (tairossamu). An external site rendering that as "Thailand Rossum" either has a lot of (questionable) humor or relied a bit too much on machine translation.

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    3. For some reason, I had the idea that the names were written in English even in the Japanese version of the game. I don't know why I thought that. These explanations make sense. For being a questionable translation, it's amazing how far "Thailand Rossum" has spread.

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    4. I know that in some Japanese Wizardry games they do use a lot of English words or phrases in among the Japanese. I think it's a nostalgia thing.

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    5. Or possibly just something they do in general. My knowledge of Japanese culture mostly extends to watching a load of Japanese pro-wrestling, but the commentary on those shows is liberally peppered with recognisable English.

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    6. Recursive transliteration issues can be a source of major confusion or nonsense in English versions of Japanese games.

      The Final Fantasy series, for example, has a tendency to use Western mythological figures and concepts as names for things, but there's quite a few cases where the reference is screwed up. The foreign concept is represented in Japanese as best as it can considering the different phonemes - then the Japanese-to-English translator doesn't realize that it is a reference and transliterates it directly. Two famous examples of this happening are from Norse mythology - the Miðgarðsormr became "Midgar Zolom", and the spear Gugnir was rendered as "Gunge Lance" in FF7.

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    7. I know that when it comes to Japanese games, having bits of the UI being in English is apparently so ingrained that games where the whole thing's entirely in Japanese are weird to Japanese gamers

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  3. Two things:

    Vince already said enough on the name translations, but this will be extremely common in translations of Japanese games, movies, anime, and just about everything else. Fans of these series tend to either be violent about everyone that doesn't use their preferred localization, or (thankfully more likely) stop noticing the minor variations after a while. In the case of "Sokusu", the "u" at the end would be barely pronounced so I can sort of see how they could get "Sorx" out of that.

    Second, you referred to "Final Fantasy Adventure" in your write-up. I believe you meant "Final Fantasy Legend". "Adventure" was a different game that you haven't played (sort of a cross between a RPG and Zelda-style)... unless you are holding out on us. ;)

    I had hoped that you would be covering the Japanese Wizardry titles, but I'm glad at least that you got this one.

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    1. I was thinking maybe the translators were making a reference to the SORN from wizardry 5 with their spelling, but it's hard to really tell. They may have simply needed to fit the name into 4 letters to save on space, for all we know.

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  4. Bonus levels seem to be popular with the Japanese.
    I just finished Wizardry Chronicle, which is probably the only Japanese Wizardry made for the PC. After defeating the main boss, there's five extra levels, but they are not really worth playing through since you won't get any better loot.

    You may want to add it to you master list. It was released March 23, 2001.

    Incidentally it's the first CRPG ever in which I have felt the need to grind, so it should be right up your alley. ;-)

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    1. Wizardry Empire 1 and 2 were both for PC, although I'm fairly sure they came after the PlayStation versions. There's also Labyrinth of Lost Souls, which was ported to the PC from PS3.

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    2. Also, the company behind those Wizardry Empire games, Starfish SD later published its own series of spiritual successors to Wizardry called Elminage. Two of these games have been ported to and published for PC:

      - Elminage Gothic, which is a fourth game in the series and developed originally for PSP
      - Elminage Original, which is an updated version of the first Elminage game. The first version was developed for PS2, while the updated Original release was initially published for PSP and then ported over to PC and 3DS

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  5. The game seems to lack the perma-death feature that was so distinctive in the original. To this date, the only game that has managed to equal the terror/fun of that has been Temple of Elemental Evil in Ironman Mode.

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    1. It doesn't lack permadeath. If I wasn't clear, I apologize. It has it just like the original game, and just like the original game, you can defeat it by preventing the computer from saving. Otherwise, you have to live with its consequences.

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    2. No need to apologize. I must have missed something. I have to say that your experience with Wizardry and the debate on perma death did influence my playing in many games. I must confess that modern games make it too easy, saving every time you transit from one area to another. Gold Box even seems quaint in that you have to actively save the game. I would play Wizardry more, if the combat was not so abstract. Having said that I am on the fence about it. Sometimes the dice are simply against you. In the end, it depends on the game. It has gotten to the point though that in any game, if I suffer TPK, then the game is over and the party have failed.

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    3. The ideal save game system, in my opinion, would be able to tell very specifically when you are in and out of danger--so you have to complete a dungeon in one sitting, all the way back to the beginning if you save, but once you beat it then the game saves for you.

      Fallout 4 Survival is ALMOST like this, with the spacing of settlements or "wild" beds in between major areas. However, the walk from a tough encounter to the nearest bed can be very long--up to 10 minutes in some cases--which gets very tedious if you die a lot.

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    4. Personally, I've always hated permadeath in games like this. It always ends up making me feel like I wasted my time and accomplished nothing if I end up dying, and is more likely to just make me stop playing altogether, mostly because I tend to hate having to spend too much time having to redo stuff that I'd already done with no real problems. It's a big reason I played Wizardry on the SNES version, because it has a way to make permanent saves along with an automap like this game's.

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    5. The ideal save system lets you save anywhere, anytime, if you want to do so. The game may offer you alternate systems for a challenge, like an ironman mode or whatever limited system you want (no saving in dungeons, no saving unless you're in town, whatever). But even then, the limited systems should have autosaves on exiting the game, because no save system however limited, should prevent you from quitting and returning whenever you want.

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    6. In online discussions, these two aspects of saving systems always get muddled together, yet they are distinct:

      1. The ability to save the game in order to interrupt and later continue the playing session. I think everyone agrees that it's best when this is possible at absolutely any point in the game.

      2. The ability to save the state and progress of the game, so when a setback or calamity happens, the player can revert these consequences and continue from the save point.

      Whenever people argue in favor of limiting the second aspect in order to raise the tension (as Wizardry does), others always reaffirm the first aspect even though no one argued against it.

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    7. I said that I was on the fence about it. I liked playing TOEE on Ironman Mode, but overtime it did get frustrating. Sometimes it's not a bad move, but bad dice rolls. Still, when I play backgammon with my sons, I cannot take back bad dice rolls, so there we are. In the end, your mileage may vary.

      One side effect of perma death for me has been a constant attempt to create newer and better parties. I end up not finishing in part because I want to make all the right decisions before the game actually starts. I suppose as insurance for those bad dice rolls.

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    8. Increasing the tension is well and good, but I don't like losing hours of progress to bad luck, or feeling constrained by the threat of losing my progress and therefore playing more conservatively.

      The only genre where I genuinely like accepting my failures and rolling with them is sandbox strategy like Total War or the Paradox games, because trying to recover from losing your best city or fighting an impossible last stand battle to the end is fun. These games are very dynamic and basically a sandbox on a world map.

      In any game with a campaign structure, however, I hate losing progress because it means I have to repeat the same content I've just been through. Not very fun, when the discovery of new dungeon levels is a big part of the game's draw.

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    9. Personally, I feel like if you're going to have permadeath, you need to have a decent amount of randomized content like rougelikes. If I get killed, the last thing I want to do is redo the last several hours I put into it, seeing the exact same things as the first time. It's also a reason why I absolutely despise limited continues in other games, because the last thing I want to do if I have problems with an area is replay the entire game up to that point to get more attempts at it

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    10. Exactly. I get the idea behind limited save systems. You want to prevent savescumming, which some people do obsessively, sometimes to the detriment of their enjoyment like when they know a chest has random drops so they save, open the chest, and reload until they get good loot. And sure, that kind of savescumming tends to suck the fun out of a game if you engage in it excessively.

      I also get the idea of raising tension through it. You're going to be much more afraid of an enemy encounter if losing means your party is gone forever. Subnautica has an ironman permadeath mode, and I tried it for a while. It really has insane amounts of tension when exploring the more dangerous areas of the ocean. But then I switched back to the non-permadeath game mode because I really don't want to lose days of progress if things go bad. No amount of excitement is worth that for me.

      Because in the end, what permadeath boils down to is thatif you're unlucky or careless for just a moment, you can lose all your progress and have to start over. And if the thing that killed you is something you must overcome, there's no guarantee you'll survive it next time, even if you now know what to expect. Re-attempting that challenge requires you to replay three hours worth of content, and if you die again... yep, the same three hours worth of content are waiting for you!

      This is why I never finished a roguelike. They may have some randomization but the overall structure of a playthrough is the same. You go through the easier dungeon levels first, featuring randomized hallways but with the same enemy roster and same tileset on each level as before. You gotta repeat all that earlier content before you can attempt the level on which you last died again. Naturally, this is even worse in normal RPGs without randomization. Imagine something like Baldur's Gate 2 with permadeath. Oh God.

      Sure, there are less radical variations of limited save systems, like having to restart at the dungeon entrance if you die, but you won't lose the progress from previous dungeons. Kinda like Dark Souls with its campfire mechanic. That's acceptable as it's not too punishing and doesn't take away much of your progress.

      Delete
    11. JarlFrank's second to last paragraph sums up nicely why I too can't get into roguelikes. Another reason is that I play rpg's as much for story/world exploration/atmosphere etc. as for the mechanics (I'm also a fan of adventure games).

      Delete
    12. I used to play all crpgs with permadeath. Didn’t finish many and repeated a lot of content.

      Delete
    13. I find that punishing save systems that make you lose a lot of progress when you die also discourage experimentation. I'm a big fan of the so-called immersive sim genre. Thief, Deus Ex, Dishonored etc. I loved the blink skill in Dishonored and how it allowed you to vertically explore the levels. There were plenty of situations where I saw a ledge outside of my blink range, quicksaved, performed a risky jump and hoped that would get me close enough to grab the ledge. Often, those experiments ended in me falling to my death. Sometimes, they'd result in me finding a secret.

      In a game with permadeath or having to restart a level from the beginning, I would never have attempted any of these jumps because they were too risky. In a game that allows saving anywhere, you try out things with a high chance of going wrong because you know you can try again if you die.

      Limited save systems designed to take away big chunks of your progress when you die encourage safe playstyles rather than bold and interesting playstyles.

      Delete
    14. Yes, sometimes when I'd play 'permadeath' I'd let myself save the game at a point just to try something weird or risky just to see what the game did.

      Delete
  6. My first Wizardry was one of those Japanese spin-offs (Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land for PlayStation 2) so I'm looking forward to that rundown. Thanks to wider accessibility, seems like there's more of them showing up on Steam lately (sadly, they aren't reviewing too well).

    Speaking of first-person RPGs for Game Boy, I wonder if anyone here is familiar with Mysterium? Unusually dense with alchemy-related puzzles if I recall. You had to keep a running Excel sheet of what turned into what when dipped in what. (And now I've just learned that Maxis made it? Weird.)

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    Replies
    1. I enjoyed Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land for as far as I had gotten many years back. I should give it another try. I remember finding NPCs in the "dungeon" with some personality and sub-quests.

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    2. Unfortunately, with games like these it's sometimes hard to tell whether they get bad reviews because they're very niche, or because they are genuinely just bad.

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  7. That's some pretty nice art for such a limited screen. Satisfying little automap as well.

    The unexpected expanded ending reminds me of another Japanese RPG - this time on the GBC - which lets you visit the entire world of it's prequel after you win. I'm being purposefully vague given it's a title you may one day play.

    These handheld explorations have been fun.

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    Replies
    1. I came here to mention the surprisingly good art! Kinda funny to compare it to something like Pokemon Red/Blue, which came out years later with a much simpler style (although I suppose there you had the need to have 151 "character" designs (more if you include the human characters) which probably made it trickier for each of them to be as detailed)

      Delete
    2. You mean he wasn't referring to gur guveq tnzr va gur Qentba Dhrfg frevrf?

      Delete
    3. That game doesn't do it after you win, but in the main plot.

      Delete
    4. Ah, fair enough.

      Delete
    5. The game Kearuda mentioned qbrf, ubjrire, frg gur cynlre hc gb guvax gurl'ir jba vs gurl'er snzvyvne jvgu gur svefg gjb gvgyrf, ol sbyybjvat gur fnzr HV phrf nf gubfr gvgyrf: shyyl urnyvat lbhe cnegl, qvfnoyvat zbfg birejbeyq fcryypnfgvat ohg gur gryrcbeg fcryy, naq bayl nyybjvat lbh gb erghea gb gur svefg gbja jura lbh pnfg fnvq fcryy. Fb vg'f ernfbanoyr gb GUVAX lbh'ir jba jura lbh'ir qrsrngrq Onenzbf, bayl gb trg cflpurq bhg ol gur fhqqra vagreehcgvba bs gur "raqvat".

      V'ir ernq orsber gung gur vzcnpg bs gung qrfpevorq nobir, va gur tnzr zragvbarq, vf bar bs gur znwbe ernfbaf sbe obgu jul Wncnarfr tnzrf pbzzbayl vapyhqr fhecevfr rcvybthrf, naq nyfb jul Wncnarfr qrirybcref ner fb fgebatyl pbaprearq nobhg fcbvyref.

      Delete
  8. "I always fall for the idea that the bishop will be useful."

    Alas, the bishop is always too late.

    https://youtu.be/qQi2bpuNh40?t=580

    ReplyDelete
  9. Don't say the kid's name vic!

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  10. I've played a few Japanese Wizardry games and they always seem to go for that Wiz1-5-style nostalgia, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe the later games weren't as popular or successful there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have nothing but speculation, but I'd assume it's because the first 3 got console ports at the right time, along with the ones with that style of gameplay being the ones to get ported to later systems. The first 3 got a complilation port for the SNES, PS1, and Sega Saturn along with individual ports for the GBC, and the first game got a Wonderswan Color port of all things. Meanwhile, out of the later games, 6 only got an SNES port 5 years after it came out, 7 got a PS1 port the same year, and 8 never got to the consoles

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    2. Japanese gamers in general seem to be nostalgic for the earlier entries in popular long-running series. Elements of the first five Final Fantasy games are liberally peppered throughout the later games of the series, notably Chaos, the villain of the first game, and Gilgamesh, the sub-villain of V. Same thing with Dragon Quest, Tales, and Pokémon.

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    3. I think a lot of this is explained simply by the fanbase aging with the titles - for example, the original 150 Pokemon largely remain the most popular simply because a substantial portion of Pokemon's fanbase are people who played the original game as children and are still engaged in the franchise now as adults in their 30s (and, perhaps, introducing it to their own children).

      While Nintendo's marketing strategy with Pokemon has never changed, the demographic actually playing the games definitely has; Nintendo's own surveys indicate that while the majority of Pokemon players in the GBA era were school-age children, by the 3DS era the majority of players were college students (and likely the same people who had played the GBA games in their era). There's nothing really to suggest that trend has stopped, either.

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    4. This game also came out before Wiz VI in Japan (October 1991 vs December 1991).

      Delete
    5. As we're going to see soon, some of the Japanese games DID take elements from the D. W. Bradley Wizardry run, but the tendency was definitely to favor the original mechanics, classes, races, and so forth. Even the latest titles are still recognizably Wizardry.

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    6. Isn't part of the point of having a new game in a series to have references/elements from previous games in the series? Otherwise, just call it a whole new game and lose that baggage. I'm struggling to think of a game series that doesn't do that, to be honest.

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    7. At least I liked wizardry games for their "lack" of puppet show which I didn't find them good and focus on gameplay. I know I'm minority in Japan but guess there's profitable amount of people like me.

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  11. RPGs have always been a prominent genre on handhelds, and RPG developers were among the first to treat them as serious platforms. They generally aren’t as demanding on the hardware used by handhelds as action games are. They are also easier to cut into bite sized playing sessions for people playing games on the train during their commutes to and from work/school.

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    Replies
    1. Exactly -- what's nice about turn-based games on handhelds is that you can look away from the screen at almost any time, without needing to explicitly pause the game. Being able to look outside the train's window at any time is preferable to being absorbed in a challenging real time action game and missing your destination stop.

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  12. I am surprised to see this being a single-entry game when it is arguably completed. I was very much expecting to either see a series of posts, or else a "seen enough to judge it" single-entry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Console titles dont inherently get the CRPG treatment. They're explored to inform the history of CRPGs.

      Delete
    2. It's also not a particularly long or complex game, so there's probably also just not enough there to justify a second entry

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    3. Sure, that's why I kind of expected a one-and-done that left the game unfinished. It is the completion that threw me more than the singular entry.

      Delete
  13. The monster artworks are by Jun Suemi (末弥純), who did them originally for the NES conversions. As the original Apple II illustrations were not very stylish, they redid all of them, and Suemi became very famous for his Wizardry monsters and paintings. He illustrated the two different Japanese Wizardry tabletop RPG games and did many later games' cover art as well. He is also the main illustrator for the Brandish series (artworks: http://retro.land/napi-retro/VoYvdd/), and did many other game covers as well. His Rengoku art (http://www.boxequalsart.com/rengoku-ttop-psp-big.jpg) is colossal.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for this information! The artwork in this game is great, given the limitations of the screen.

      And wow, your website retro.land is superb (e.g. http://retro.land/wizardry-proving-grounds-of-the-mad-overlord/). I've browsed a bit using Google Translate.

      The link to boxequalsart.com doesn't load for me, though.

      Did anybody post the Wizardry anime here already? It's a good illustration that "the series has a life in Japan that, at least quantitatively, exceeds its legacy in the United States":

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOTHNoODYmY

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    2. Scratch that, now the boxequalsart link worked.

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    3. Dang, I wish I could have discovered that while I was writing the guest post. I used Google on a few seemingly-prominent names in the credits and didn't come up with anything, now I feel like I didn't give them their fair shake.

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    4. I watched that today while I was editing Alex's article. It's bizarre. It's not just "based on" Wizardry; it's a faithful narration of Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord with all the races, classes, spells, monsters, and dungeon design of the original game.

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    5. Considering what it is, it's not half bad. From what I've heard, a similar thing got made for Ultima 3, but it was never releases, although stuff from it was apparently used for commercials for the game

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    6. It shows up for about one second, in a TV spot for the NES port. Besides that it seems to be lost forever.

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    7. Wow, Bitmap, thanks for that link. That was fantastic. Wish I'd known about it 29 years ago. Makes me wish more of those old games got that treatment. Pool of Radiance, maybe, with a quest of the week, starting small but building across a whole season, would be an amazing experience.

      Delete
    8. Thanks for the compliments for the site, Bitmap. I think most articles can be read with Google Translate.

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    9. Japanese Wikipedia and me agrees on he's not in this one.
      https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/末弥純
      From bbs it's done by 三池 something, and its she.

      Delete
    10. You're right in that Japanese Wikipedia says that 池上紗京 (Sakyou Ikegami?) made this game's monster portraits, but they used Jun Suemi's NES artworks as a base. In my mind that means that they "ported" the old monster designs to the small resolution, 4 color screen - and of course, if there are new monsters, they made those.

      Delete
    11. Oh, reread your comment and now I know I've missed your point. I can't think of another way to pronounce 池上紗京 other than you've said, so I guess I can confirm your ? I think. I'm no fan of her or something but at least native. if you're interested in their art style visit
      http://www.pekori.jp/~emonoya/
      and click "monster" at the top, top right you can click #1,#2,etc..(suemi) and 外伝I,II(ikegami)if you interested and with some knowledge with japanese.
      地下n階 means level n for example.

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    12. Oh, and Netherdomain! from her wiki page now I recall them. it's port of gaiden #1 and #2 on cellphone, thus it makes second time for me to waste time on them.

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    13. Thank you for that link Tsunetoshi. Could you please write an email to grath26 at gmail? Or add me on Line - grath26? Thanks.

      Delete
    14. I sent email with quickly forged outlook account. I'm not sure if this worked or not so please tell me if it didn't worked.

      Delete
  14. With the introduction of Gameboy games, when 1995 finally arrives in 10 years, do we get to see you play Pokemon? After years of criticizing the graphical style (I can partly sympathize), it would be interesting to see your comments on the gameplay.

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    1. Chet never commits to playing any given console game. For influential games, there is some chance he plays them, at some point, and not necessarily during that ‘CRPG year’.

      Delete
    2. With Pokemon you just KNOW Chet would make some glaring mistake like picking Charmander and thus having to grind until he can Ember Brock's team into submission. Or maybe turning his Eevee into a Flareon when either of the other two would have been better options.

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    3. Picking Charmander isn't exactly a glaring mistake considering it's only really bad at the beginning. A glaring mistake would be teaching it a bunch of HM moves considering there's no possible way to remove those in the originals to my recollection

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    4. Tristan said it. I won't say "never" to anything, but I will say, "don't plan on it."

      Delete
    5. Also by the time you get the option of choosing your Eeveelution you have a ton of other options for your team, so I'd hardly call that a glaring mistake either.

      And similarly, by the time you have a bunch of HMs that your starter can learn, there are other decent Pokemon out there that can replace your starter even if you screw up their movepool.

      The only real glaring mistakes I can think of would probably be not saving before trying the legendaries, but the game telegraphs those enough that I can't imagine anyone with RPG experience making that mistake.

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    6. I think as "foreigner" it's most impactful jrpg in culturewize, as I see in chimpokomon from southpark or some memes. but it's not really big deal as rpg games in general I think? from what I've read from chet's saga article its 1v1 version of that, choose action and let the game resolve it, with initiative like wizardry or DnD games. catchy and cute, gateway for rpg genre worldwide might be, but it grown into different thing from crpg is my understanding.

      Delete
  15. Sorry if I've missed comments in earlier posts, but is anyone watching High Score on Netflix? The first couple of episodes about Atari and Nintendo were neat enough, but episode 3 has Colossal Cave Adventure, Richard Garriott, and D&D, and I'm only about a third of the way through. Seems like good stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been watching it because a lot of people recommended it to me, but I wish it was structured as more of a comprehensive history instead of just a bunch of "vignettes" in chronological order.

      Delete
  16. Ah, my misspent youth. glad to see you playing this one!
    Was long time lurker and addict addict. I loved these gaiden series because the "bonus levels", they throw whole another level of challenge and powercleep which I liked, part because relationship between limited allowance and more time to play with, and some sense of accomplishment. I got them on resell so by the time emonoya's site had infos etc,, memories. 2 or 4 is my favorite. looking forward to Alex's article!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I posed some questions to Japanese Wizardry fans that you may be able to answer when the article is published. Glad to have you aboard!

      Delete
  17. I'd been waiting for this entry, so thank you for reviewing this game. ��

    The "Wizardry" style - first-person navigation with hazards, dungeon combat on fixed tiles, abstract party with front ranks and back ranks, unknown items and monsters, endurance testing - still enjoys some popularity, but not as much as other styles.

    Modern tools like RPGMaker are committed to the Dragon-Quest console style - single-rank for characters, extensive use of consumables for healing, complete transparency for items and monsters, third-person navigation with few hazards.

    I would have said that tactical strategy (SSI Gold Box, Final Fantasy Tactics) are even rarer... but there's been a bit of a renaissance with Shadowrun Returns, X-Com Enemy Unknown, and others.

    I know Gold Box is CRPG Addict's personal favorite, but is the Wizardry model worth pursuing by the modern game developer?

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    Replies
    1. I certainly think so. I just looked at about 30 post-1992 Japanese Wizardry variants, and some of them, keeping the turn-based, tiled approach with modern graphics, sound, and mechanics left me really wanting to play them.

      I'm not sure I'd say the Gold Box is my "favorite." I think its combat system is unsurpassed through the era I'm currently in, but that doesn't mean it won't change, and it wouldn't be a good combat system for single-character games.

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    2. There's a highly successful series on the DS and 3DS that is very much in the Wizardry mold, to the point where doing your own mapping is an integral part.

      As for the Gold Box series, the SRPG genre is the natural heir to it, and that's been undergoing a boom in the last several years.

      Delete
  18. I love the subtle joke of the "Nocorn" just being a normal horse.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The joke makes a lot more sense in this game, where it IS a horse. In Wizardry III, the "nocorn's" graphic is a centaur, which kind of misses the point.

      That also reminds me of Hellfire Warrior's "unitaur," which is a minoataur with a single horn sticking out of his head.

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    2. Upon seeing this, I guessed that the nocorn's sprite in the Apple II version is a horse rather than a centaur. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have captured it--all screenshots and images I can find are from the IBM-PC version or a later console port. I couldn't even find a longplay of the Apple II version, not even on LP Archive or longplays.org.

      Considering how beloved both Apple II and Wizardry are by their fans, I'm surprised nobody's documented the Apple II versions beyond the first game.

      Delete
    3. @Alex, if you have the time and money to spare, you could track down Wizardry III for the Apple II (And an old Apple II, of course) on eBay.

      Or, uh I guess you could emulate it to confirm? Wait, that latter idea is probably better. Last time I checked, Wizardry III alone was going for 149$

      Delete
    4. I would love to own an Apple II, but I don't really have the room for one. Or that much money to spend on old computers.

      Also, I'm not dying to know so badly that I have to play Wizardry III myself to see it. I still have nightmares about Level 3 from the first game.

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    5. That's probably the smarter decision. I still have a part of my tiny apartment blocked by two old Atari-monitors I don't really need.

      The worst part? The British games I've imported only work when this old color TV I had to get a special cable for is connected to my Atari ST computer, so those monitors are completely useless, except as emergency back-up if that old TV bites it. A colossal string of bad decisions on my part.

      Delete
  19. Chet, a couple of questions.

    1. How do you Search for hidden doors? I can't find any list of commands for this game, but I figured the Z, X and arrows keys are used like 99% of the time.

    2. Apparently the English patch introduced a bug; your characters can not decapitate enemies. Did any of your characters ever decapitate an enemy? Probably not very likely unless you had a Ninja character, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found out you need to hit the Enter key to bring up a menu where Search is an option.

      Delete
    2. Sorry I didn't get back here sooner, but yeah.

      I never noticed the decapitation issue, but I also never had a ninja.

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