Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Game 383: Heroes of the Lance (1988)

Including multiple characters in this dragon battle turns out to be inaccurate.
          
Heroes of the Lance
United Kingdom
U.S. Gold (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released in 1988 for Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, and DOS; 1989 for Commodore 64, PC-88, PC-98, and Sharp X1; 1990 for FM Towns; 1991 for MSX, NES, and Sega Master System
Date Started: 26 September 2020
Date Ended: 26 September 2020
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Easy (2.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
         
Since I'm playing the final Dragonlance RPG, I thought I might use the occasion to try again with a pair of SSI-published side-scrolling action titles that were contemporary to the earliest Gold Box games: Heroes of the Lance (1988) and Dragons of Flame (1989). I'd previously had issues emulating them, but that was back when I was Level 1 with emulators, so I figured I'd try again.
    
Heroes takes place during the War of the Lance, a time when the dark queen Takhisis schemed to take over Krynn using armies of evil dragons and draconians. Opposing her are the titular heroes--although the manual makes a point that they're not heroes yet; they'll deserve that title when they've achieved their quest. Said quest is to obtain a set of holy relics called the Disks of Mishakal from the lair of Khisanth, an enormous black dragon. The Disks will somehow restore faith in the other ancient gods and thus weaken Takhisis's hold on the land. I am informed that this plot comes from the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984).
   
The game was ported to a lot of systems. I thought I'd throw my Amiga fans a bone by favoring their version of a game for once, but I couldn't get anything but "Guru Meditation" errors when I tried to boot the disk, no matter what configuration I used. I moved on to the Commodore 64 version, but I found the graphics so bad that they bothered me, which is really saying something. Finally, I started up the DOS version to remind myself what had gone wrong previously, and this time I had absolutely no problems with it.
       
The game gives some background on each character as it starts.
        
Heroes lets you play all eight of the heroes in turn, and as the game starts, you get a little character summary of each hero. The manual expands upon these summaries with a list of the characters' attributes and equipment. The characters are:

  • Tanis, a male half-elf fighter, carries a long sword and bow. Raised by elves but full of wanderlust, he is the de facto leader of the companions.
  • Caramon Majere, a male human fighter. Brother of Raistlin. Carries a long sword and spear.
  • Raistlin Majere, a male human mage armed with a Staff of the Magius.
  • Sturm Brightblade, a male human knight. Swings a two-handed sword.
  • Goldmoon, a female human cleric who has a magical crystal staff. Wife of Riverwind.
  • Riverwind, a male human ranger with a longsword and bow
  • Tasslehoff Burfoot, a male kender thief with a hoopak and sling
  • Flint Fireforge, a male dwarf fighter who has both a battle axe and throwing axes
     
The characters' attributes and weapons are completely immutable, which disqualifies Heroes as an RPG by my definitions, as well as the game's: the manual says explicitly that "this isn't an RPG" but that "it is based around the concepts of what is probably the most widely played [RPG]." Even MobyGames no longer lists it as such. But it still appears on enough RPG lists that I would have eventually had to do a BRIEF, and that frankly takes as long as playing the entire game. 
          
Character selection from the C64 version.
       
After a copy protection exercise, gameplay starts at the entrance to the lair of Khisanth. Goldmoon is the default character, but the SPACE key brings up a menu, and among the options are switching to another hero. Outside of the menu, you move with the joystick or the keypad. Holding down the joystick button (or ENTER) changes the keypad into a battle menu, with commands for attacking high, medium, or low depending on the direction you're facing.
        
A junction. As I move side to side, I'm moving south to north, but here I can transition to a west-east corridor.
       
Navigation can be a pain since everything is side-scrolling. You have to watch the compass carefully and note the direction you're traveling. When one of the top or bottom compass directions change to blue, the up and down keys let you move into those corridors, switching the side-scrolling direction 90 degrees. For instance, going right (north) in a south-north hallway might lead you to an "up" (west) exit, thus moving you to a west-east hallway. It gets more confusing on a couple of levels that have razor walls, so that moving south from an east-west corridor mysteriously puts you in another east-west corridor without an intervening north-south corridor. That probably doesn't make any sense, but it really won't until you play it.
     
The game can't really decide whether the heroes are individuals or a collective. Although you only control and see one at a time, all of them are assumed to be in the area, and one will fluidly step in if another is killed or (in some cases) even injured too badly. Anyone in the first four slots can take damage in combat, even though three of them technically aren't on the screen, and Raistlin and Goldmoon have to be in the top row for any of the characters to cast mage or cleric spells, respectively. Casting spells is explicitly done with Raistlin and Goldmoon's respective staves, both of which have limited power, rather than through the usual memorization process.
         
The game's selection of magic user spells.
         
Monsters include humans, Baaz and Bozak draconians, giant spiders, trolls, small black dragons, evil dwarves, and wraiths. Some of them are at fixed positions, but some randomly generate, particularly when you transition between corridors or reload a saved game. A lot of the game's fun, and also its frustration, is figuring out what characters and what attacks work best against which enemies. The human and half-elf fighters work best against human enemies. The two characters with bows work well against dragon hatchlings, which continually back off out of melee range. Flint is best against other dwarves, which tend to barrel in too close for humans and their swords. Anyone with missile weapons is ideal against Bozak draconians, which explode (and also try to back away from melee combat). I couldn't find any use for Tasslehoff Burfoot at all, but experienced players probably know secrets that I don't.
        
Dwarf vs. dwarf in a hall of statues.
         
I never quite became an expert on the spells; I didn't even notice "Raise Dead" until I'd already won the game toting two dead characters. I preferred to save the cleric spells for "Cure Light Wounds" and the mage spells for "Web," which reliably paralyzes enemies for a few rounds and is a must for trolls and Bozaks.
         
Approaching a troll caught in a "Web."
          
The game has a bit of a rough start. Until you master the controls and figure out issues such as the optimal distance from an enemy in combat, it's easy to burn through a lot of characters very fast. My first couple of attempts, I lost all of them on the first couple of levels, sometimes several of them in a row in the same combat. There's a lot of luck associated with combat, too. Face off against an enemy one time, and you might lose two characters. Reload and re-engage him, and one character might kill him without losing a hit point. Small variances in distance makes the difference between a character who can't even hit an enemy (even though it looks like he should be able to) and one who kills the enemy in one blow. However, the ability to save and reload wherever you like (except the dragon's lair) makes it fundamentally easy even if the individual battles are hard.
           
I hit the draconian with a "Web," then turn to deal with the fighter.
          
As you explore, you find some items, but only some are useful. Most, including additional weapons and shields, just count towards your endgame points. There are a variety of healing, strength, and heroism potions (color-coded) and some scrolls that only Raistlin can use and seem to cast "Magic Missile." It's possible there are other items. I'm sure I didn't find every corner of the game.
           
After I deal with these guys, I'll have a couple of potions and a couple gems to pick up.
          
There are a few navigation puzzles, including traps that fall from the ceiling, jets of fire that spout from the floor, and pits that you have to jump. Each character has a different jump radius. Raistlin has a kind of "magic jump," and there's one pit that I'm convinced only he can clear. 
           
Clearing a pit on Level 2. It's unclear how all the characters are presumed to have jumped over when they all have different jump lengths.
       
Part of the fun of the game is that although it's not very big--only five levels--there are multiple paths to the final level. A player who adopts a "rightmost path" approach at the beginning faces a very different game than one who adopts a "leftmost path." Entire levels might be skipped depending on what corridor you take. The game is meant to be replayable, and I suppose the highest score would involve finding every treasure and killing dozens of monsters, but every monster you engage depletes resources that you might need for the endgame.
            
Transitioning between levels is not subtle.
         
Ultimately, you find yourself in the lair of the dragon Khisanth. It took me a long time to figure out how to kill him. I suspect it's possible with regular characters and regular weapons, but the only way I could figure out how to do it is to activate Goldmoon, cast "Deflect Dragon Breath" (which takes a lot of magic power), and have her throw her blue crystal staff at the dragon. The manual doesn't give you this clue, but it goes on at length about the staff in several places, so you get the idea that there must be something special about it. I also figured Goldmoon must be the default character for some reason.
       
Defeating the dragon.
           
Beyond the dragon are the Disks of Mishakal in a stack. Once you pick them up, the endgame screen appears with your score, and if you achieved a high score, you can enter it on the leaderboard. It only took me about 4 hours to learn and win the game, and my winning game from beginning to end was a bit less than an hour. Heroes is meant to be replayed and mastered rather than "won." I thought it was a reasonably fun diversion even if I don't understand why the developers couldn't let the characters gain levels--even one or two--from all the monsters.
               
The winning screen.
         
Heroes isn't an RPG, but I'll apply the GIMLET anyway:
      
  • 3 points for the game world. It doesn't mean much to someone who isn't a fan of the series, but the manual goes into a lot of detail anyway.
  • 0 points for character creation and development. You don't create them, and there is no development.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. There aren't many, but they represent a good cross-section of what the Dragonlance universe has to offer, each with clear strengths and vulnerabilities. The jumping puzzles might be worth half a point.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. It's action-oriented, but it does draw from each character's underlying attributes, there are tactics associated with each foe, and magic adds some strategy to the game without overwhelming it.
             
Reacting quickly to a dragon hatchling.
           
  • 2 points for equipment. Most of it is fixed, but there are scrolls, potions, rings, and wands to use and treasures to find.
  • 0 points for no economy. Finding treasures doesn't really count.
  • 3 points for a main quest with an ancillary quest of trying to improve your score.
         
Party statistics late in the game.
        
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and input. There was no system on which I didn't find the graphics to be at least a bit grainy and ugly, but I admit the Atari ST and Amiga versions look nicer than DOS, and I'd bump it a point for those platforms. Sound effects are rare but fine. The controls are a little clumsy and didn't always work the way they were supposed to. I would have preferred separate keys for movement and combat instead of holding down a key to switch between them. Switching between melee and missile weapons doesn't always work consistently. 
  • 5 points for gameplay. It has some nice nonlinearity within its limited geography; it's designed to be replayable; and it poses the right kind of challenge for the right amount of time.
      
That gives us a final score of 23, low for an RPG, not bad for an action game rated on an RPG scale. I liked it more than some RPGs from the same year. In general, though, I don't think action games age as well as RPGs, and I think it would be hard to enjoy this today against lots of other titles that offer similar experiences with better graphics and sound and more complex controls.
             
         
It was popular in its era, however, breaking sales records at SSI. In the same issue (December 1988) that Computer Gaming World offered warring perspectives on Pool of Radiance, it had nothing but positive things to say about Heroes. The platform made a huge difference, however. Ratings were low for Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC editions and for both console ports. The Atari ST version (which was the one that CGW played) got consistently high reviews. Amiga and DOS were in the middle.
   
What surprises me most about this game is that SSI gave it over to U.S. Gold, Ltd., a British company known chiefly for distributing U.S. games in Europe. SSI didn't have a strong history with action games, so I can understand why they subcontracted it, just not why they went across the sea to a company that had only ever published titles from other developers. Neither product manager Jerry Howells nor design coordinator Laurence H. Miller have any previous credits that I can find. Whatever the reason, U.S. Gold delivered well enough that they got the contracts for two sequels: Dragons of Flame (1989) and Shadow Sorcerer (1990), both of which I have rejected as RPGs despite MobyGames continuing to insist otherwise. I may try one or both at some point, particularly if Dark Queen drags on, but please remember that making an exception for one game does not obligate me to do the same for others.
       
I'd always been curious about this one, my previous attempts to play having been thwarted, so I'm glad I could finally give it a shot. Let's see what else awaits us in the world of Krynn.
     

87 comments:

  1. Wha... What??? Heroes of the Lance??? OK, I am ready to see Super Mario Bros. on this blog.

    Just kidding! If someday I will decide to start playing the Dragonlance games, I will definitely start with the Silver Box trilogy, too.

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    1. Too bad none of the Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario games ever got PC ports, or else we'd have an excuse to have Chet play Super Mario Bros in order to understand the background...

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    2. At least there's an excuse for Paper Mario to be played, considering a spiritual successor came out recently

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    3. They're still not CRPGs though, and unlike Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Pokemon, I don't know of any CRPGs that are really based off of any of the Mario RPG games (I would love to know if there's some out there though, especially since it seems like Nintendo's not going to give everyone the proper Thousand-Year-Door sequel we all want)

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    4. There's Bug Fables, which is the game I was talking about. I haven't played it, but I've heard it's pretty good, and plays like the older Paper Marios

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    5. And there's the ridiculous yet somehow amazingly triumphant Barkley Shut Up and Jam Gaiden.

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  2. This game introduced me not only to dragonlance, but dungeons and dragons and rpgs in general. Well okay the copy of Dragons of Autumn Twilight that came bunded with it (and still own to this day) did most of the heavy lifting. The game itself was ok and probably better after having read the book but nothing special.

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  3. "I couldn't find any use for Tasslehoff Burfoot at all"

    Neither could half the other Heroes of the Lance!

    ...I kid, I kid. Tas is a great character (especially in the later series).

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    1. Awesome! I loved the original two trilogies... after that they pretty much beat Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms to death. There are something like 400 books in the series now. Sheesh!

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    2. I have the same sort of problem with D&D (and other tabletop games) lore outside of specific video games. There's so much of it that after the opening stages, your eyes glaze over and it starts going in one ear and out the other.

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    3. It's a common problem across all kinds of genre fiction. Comic books have been dealing with this issue for decades. The Star Wars expanded universe is another example.

      At a certain point the mass of information becomes a deterrent to new customers, at which point there's an inevitable reset/reboot. Economics seems to demand that popular franchises be milked though, so it seems like this is just the way of things.

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    4. At least with Dragonlance, there's a "core" story that's pretty easy to locate: just look for the books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

      Their quality varies some, but it's from "just above average" up to "good" rather than from "decent" down to "someone published this?!", which is what you mostly get from the rest of the D&D tie-in books...

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    5. Different strokes for different folks I suppose. I thought that while the Chronicles and Legends trilogies were good, the War of Souls books were not enjoyable.
      I don't think that's all Weis and Hickman's fault, as part of this is due to that trilogy being a retcon of things that other authors had done but I had a hard time getting through those books.

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    6. The War of Souls books were strange. Basically, Wizards of the Coast decided that the way to update the Dragonlance setting for the new 4th Edition Dungeons And Dragons was to throw the entire thing in the trash, replacing all the things that made it a distinct setting with Cool New Things!.

      This is where the "4th Chronicles book" came from, where the gods abandoned humanity again, with the gods of magic doing it too this time. Fans were not happy, and eventually WoTC gave in and allowed the whole thing to be retconned away.

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    7. To be fair, throwing all of Dragonlance in the trash and coming up with something better isn't such a bad idea.

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    8. Could you elaborate why you think that anon? Most people I know including myself like the setting pretty much. With all respect For being rather isolated I think your one-liner opinion is voiced in a too generalizing way.

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    9. I am not anon, and have a lot of affection for Dragonlance, but can definitely see the point -- the setting and tropes are definitely of its time, and from my point of view has been struggling to figure out what adventuring in a post-War of the Lance setting would be and why it'd be fun. Basically, the balance between capturing what people liked about the original setting, novels, and characters, and having space for new threats and stories where the PCs can be the focus, has seemed very hard to hit.

      Reviled as they are these days, I think a reboot would be the way to go. Ten or so years ago, I worked up a version for my PnP gaming group -- I was big into Battlestar Galactica at the time, and the fact that both properties have obscure Mormon-derived religion and prophecy stuff having to do with an ancient cataclysm, and (at least temporarily) a political layer with refugees fleeing a relentless army while trying to constitute a new society, made me try to do a bit of a spiritual mash-up. I was enamored of the ideas, though we only got through one session and the group is now defunct, sadly.

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  4. I love your way of squeeze in in this extra games outside of your schedule, this was a good post.

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  5. shadow sorcerer doesn't look like a sequel

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3CXunRvGiM

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    1. It was by the same developer, and picks up the story immediately after the end of Dragons of Flame. It does have very different gameplay and was marketed using different trade dress and without explicitly being labeled a sequel, though (and on yet a third hand, Dragons of Flame also doesn't seem to have been specifically marketed as a sequel to Heroes of the Lance).

      So whether or not it's a sequel is a somewhat metaphysical question, but SS is definitely third in a sequence that runs from HotL to DoSF to it.

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    2. Hey, they even recycled the same character portraits - surely, that's got to count for something :).

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    3. True, though the portraits are all clearly derived from the Larry Elmore depictions of the Heroes on the covers of the Chronicles novel trilogy!

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  6. So, it's not quite a CRPG, but the review was still a pleasant change of pace. I certainly enjoyed it. I like these occasional one-shots.

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  7. I wonder if they were kept from developing or altering the characters as part of the licensing agreement for using the Dragonlance party.

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    1. That sounds like something TSR would have enforced during the first year.

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  8. This game can hardly be called an RPG. Its more an adventure game, and a pretty terrible one at that. It even clearly states on the box that its an 'action game' and not an RPG, so I don't think the current scoring method applies well here.

    I remember playing this monstrosity as a child. At the time I felt it was such a poorly conceived concept and mundane story with poor graphics and sound, a bad interface, clunky controls and just an overall awful experience. Not a difficult game at all, just a forced marriage to instanced side scrolling which didn't work. Often times industry reviewers are neither to be trusted nor believed as was definitely the case here, a 23 rating is overly generous for this title.

    Let's NOT see what else awaits us in the world of Krynn tyvm.

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    1. I mean Chet himself said as much that it wasn't an RPG and he was still rating it on the GIMLET for the heck of it (and playing it because it's related to the RPG he's focusing on right now).

      Did you play the NES version? I'm led to understand it's the worst of the versions and also the one that people seem to be most familiar with.

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    2. I had the same experience as Slider with the C64 version. I never touched a SSI game again until I read about the gold box games...at that time no store around sold their C64 versions anymore.

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    3. I meant I never Wanted to touch a SSI game. I really miss a correction feature in blogspot comments

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    4. I didn't play the Gold Box games when they came out... mainly because Wizard's Crown was just so terrible IMHO. Have considered going back with emulator techonology or trying FRUA out.

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  9. You can always fix an egregious error if you see it on Mobygames. Just submit a correction.

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    1. Sure, and wait 6 months before my submission is acknowledged, and then see the change reverted 6 months later anyway.

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    2. As a regular contributor to Mobygames, I'll admit the process is slow and annoying. Minor corrections often take months to address, while things like adding cover art or new games goes faster. Still, the moderators are what makes the website more accurate than many other sites. There just isn't enough moderators.

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    3. The worst part about Mobygames is how often they reject a submission and asking you to submit it again in a slightly different fashion. And, of course, sometimes a different reviewer will want yet another different way of subitting it.

      They're extremely bureaucratic, and I haven't noticed their quality being substantially higher than Wikipedia's (which is pretty open and straightforward about letting you edit).

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  10. "I couldn't find any use for Tasslehoff Burfoot at all, but experienced players probably know secrets that I don't."

    He's useful in the later books. I think he comes into his own in Dragons of Winter Night, but the kendar are kind of the "joke" characters of the Dragonlance universe. The Gully Dwarves are more like idiotic punching bags and their racial depiction has aged horribly.

    The NES version of Heroes of the Lance is widely acclaimed as one of the worst games for the system. That you had the patience to beat it on any platform is a testament to your strength of character.

    What's interesting is that the game follows one part of the first book exactly. The party is in the ruins, they descend (accidently) to a lower level via a chute, and Goldmoon's staff is the only thing the party has that can defeat the dragon.

    It's very much the literary retelling of someone's AD&D session and the game stuck very close to that.

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    1. I appreciate the background and context. It's good to know there was some basis for some of the elements.

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  11. Hmm. A side-scrolling action game, huh? I can definitely see why this isn't a game you immediately wanted to play through - still glad you did, though. It seems to me that a game being developed on a pen & paper RPG license deserves at least this much attention, even though clearly it lacks most of what makes an RPG.

    Now, about Shadow Sorcerer. While, as you say, going through Heroes puts you under no obligation to play Shadow Sorcerer, I would still very politely ask - nay, beg - that you consider playing it. I think the game has a lot of features that make it a lot more of an RPG than is the case for Heroes. Yes, it's true, it has no character creation or development. But it does have equipment management, and it has a lot more party management, which, combined with the management of the refugee party, together adds up to a fairly RPGesque experience.

    Shadow Sorcerer also has a few very unique features going for it:
    - Partially destructible environments in combat. A fireball can do very impressive things. Unfortunately, combat overall is somewhat frustrating, because it has enough complexity for turn-based resolution, but is handled in real time. But let me stress that - the combat is complex enough that it's much closer to a tactical RPG than to an action game.
    - A rather unusual map exploration mode, similar to what you can see in modern indie games like The Curious Expedition.
    - Significant replayability. Ok, this is tempered by the fact that I, at least, found the game exceedingly frustrating, and never actually finished it. But the map is large enough, and time pressing enough, that you'll probably be exploring less than a quarter of the map on any one playthrough. And there are sidequests, and NPCs, and all that good stuff.
    - The above-mentioned refugee management. This is not a fun feature, mind you. I think its design leaves a lot to be desired - common sense, if nothing else, suggests that it's a little weird to have the refugees vote on every move you ask of them when there is a vast Draconian army a few steps behind. But, frustrating as it is... well, it's meant to be frustrating, and that makes it a rather notable feature, if not necessarily a good one.
    - In the glossary section of the manual, there is some indication that the game was in fact originally intended to have XP and level progression, but the feature was cut along the way. So, it ALMOST was an RPG :).

    - It's got an amazing, innovative storytelling system where you get journal entries to read in the manual! Ok, yes, now I'm being silly ;). Though unfortunately, I'm only joking about this being amazing and innovative - sadly, the fact that they did use journal entries is no joke. Weirdly enough, this wasn't even the copy protection - there was a code wheel for that (groan).

    Anyway, annoying journa entry systems aside, when I look at score you gave Heroes in the GIMLET above, I think Shadow Sorcerer would easily get past 30, and possibly even past 35. So, it's definitely a game that warrants some attention.

    tl;dr: I really hope you reconsider Shadow Sorcerer. It's closer to being a proper RPG (even if it still falls outside the definition), and it's got a lot of interesting features going for it, even if the implementation is at times problematic, and the end result is somewhat frustrating.

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  12. Defeating the dragon with the Blue Crystal Staff (which is a really big deal in the setting, as it is the first harbinger of the return of the True Gods) is a pretty climactic moment in the original book (and, IIRC, pretty railroaded into with the adventure modules), so the game designer probably didn't feel the need to put a lot of effort telling you about it.

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    1. Well, I did what I probably should have done when writing the entry, and I looked it up:

      ****

      "Farewell, knight. Tell Riverwind-" Goldmoon faltered, blinking her eyes as tears filled them. Fearing her resolve might yet break, she swallowed her words and turned to face the dragon as the voice of Mishakal filled her being, answering her prayer. Present the staff boldly! Goldmoon, imbued with an inner strength, raised the blue crystal staff.

      "We do not choose to surrender!" Goldmoon shouted, her voice echoing throughout the chamber. Moving swiftly, before the startled dragon could react. Chieftain's Daughter swung her staff one last time, striking the clawed foot poised above Raistlin. The staff made a low ringing sound as it struck the dragon- then it shattered. A burst of pure, radiant blue light beamed from the broken staff. The light grew brighter, spreading out in concentric waves, engulfing the dragon. Khisanth screamed in rage. The dragon was injured, terribly, mortally. She lashed out with her tail, flung her head about, and fought to escape the burning blue flame. She wanted nothing except to kill those that dared inflict such pain, but the intense blue fire relentlessly consumed her-as it consumed Goldmoon. The Chieftain's Daughter had not dropped the staff when it shattered. She held on to the fragmented end, watching as the light grew, keeping it as close to the dragon as she could. When the blue light touched her hands she felt intense, burning pain. Staggering, she fell to her knees, still clutching the staff. She heard the dragon shrieking and roaring above her, then she could hear nothing but the ringing of the staff. The pain grew so horrible it was no longer a part of her, and she was overcome with a great weariness. I will sleep, she thought. I will sleep and when I waken, I will be where I truly belong. . .

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    2. Nice... I will add that I went to a small con when I was in ninth grade with some friends and Margaret Weis was there as one of the headline guests. We were in a small session with her and starting asking various questions about Dragonlance and she spent about two hours talking to us (5 nerdy kids!) and was extremely pleasant and gracious. Really was super cool to meet her at that age!

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  13. It's always fun to see games that are in no way RPGs that still get not completely horrible GIMLIT scores

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  14. I've always enjoyed War of the Lance, the only green box SSI game. It's a strategic wargame, not an RPG, but it is quite good. It's too bad that it didn't sell well because I would have liked to have seen more green box games based on the other TSR settings such as Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms.

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    1. Loved War of the Lance, even with the long pauses the game would take to think of its next move. I used to take my turn, then use those pauses to work on my school homework.

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    2. In a terrible decision, the one player game *only* lets you play the good guys. In addition to diminishing replay value by locking out one side, you also don't get to play the cool dragon armies. The good guys get dragons, but much later. I got to play the 2 player game once and it was wonderful tearing through country after country with rampaging dragons in the lead.

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    3. That kind of decision is usually done so they don’t have to write an AI that can handle being the good guys. Though it may have also been a licensing requirement

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  15. "Since I'm playing the final Dragonlance RPG, I thought I might use the occasion..."

    It can be interesting to bring the CRPG analysis and perspective to bear on games that are merely RPG-/themed/. If this spree continues, I wonder if you might give Dragonstrike a shot!

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    1. Hmm, Dragonstrike even has character progression. Given that it's an arcade flight "simulator", this question may well seem silly, but... what exactly does disqualify Dragonstrike as an RPG?

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    2. I'd argue Dragonstrike is absolutely a RPG, albeit one with a lot more action elements. It might still score poorly on the GIMLET, though.

      If Chet ever gets to the mid-2000s on, I think you're going to wind up with a lot of these questions with games that have "RPG elements"...

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    3. Dragonstrike rules, or at least my memory of it does.

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    4. Yeah, just off the top of my head you've got GTA San Andreas and Stardew Valley as games with enough RPG elements to count for the blog, but really aren't supposed to be RPGs

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    5. The GTA games have character development and combat where success is based at least in part on underlying attributes?

      I checked out Dragonstrike at some point and rejected it. Maybe for a lack of inventory?

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    6. They do! As you shoot weapons, you level up a generic "guns" skill that determines your accuracy with ranged weapons. There's also statistics for athleticism/stamina, strength of melee attacks, ability to stay underwater, your skill at driving boats, cars and flying vehicles, and others depending on the specific installment. All of these increase directly with practice, there is no "levelling" or experience per se.

      I still consider it a bit of a stretch to consider them "RPGs," but this specific aspect of gameplay is taken directly from the mold of hybrid FPS/RPGs like System Shock 2 and Deus Ex.

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    7. It's specifically one game that does this though, the series as a whole generally doesn't have RPG elements

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    8. San Andreas (GTA 3.75) goes further - each category of guns has a skill, and your combat abilities improve beyond just numbers at certain breakpoints. Only SA and V have this - it was introduced in SA, removed from IV (IIRC) and restored in V.

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    9. Dragonstrike technically has levels and stuff and even equipment, but 99% of the variability of your combat is your dragonmount, which is story driven, (You start with a brass dragon, and have a chance to upgrade to a better brass dragon, a silver dragon, a better silver dragon, a gold dragon and a better gold dragon. I don't blame you for skipping it, but it was a lot of fun when I played it. (You could play the game 10 times and have no difference from your character levels honestly.)

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    10. Its slightly more of a RPG then TIE fighter, but just barely...

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    11. To be clear, I'm not saying Dragonstrike is an RPG. But it's a fascinating case, because while not being an RPG, it actually has everything an RPG should have.

      It's got stats, character progression. Yes, it does have inventory (however limited). It resolves combat based on typical RPG rules (in this case, AD&D rules). There are NPCs, there are quests, there are important choices for players to make as they develop their character.

      Yet, for all that, it's not an RPG, because it's... well, because it's not. It is ultimately an arcade flight "simulation". What this tells me is that the definition of an RPG involves more than a checklist of game features. It involves... I don't know how to put it. Purpose? Intention? As in, you look at the game, and you can see that for all of its RPG-derived features, Dragonstrike was not designed to be an RPG. Though it includes all the usual features that RPGs provide for role-playing, players do not actually play Dragonstrike to role-play a character, but to fly a dragon and shoot down other dragons.

      In many ways, it's the exact opposite of a game like Sid Meier's Pirates, which lacks most features of an RPG, and yet is an RPG, because that's what Sid Meier intended it to be (as he himself has stated), and because at the end of the day, you don't play it to sink enemy ships, but to role-play a character.

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    12. The question if the 3D GTAs qualify as RPGs as defined by this blog, as in they should be played by the self-imposed rules and not as an exception, is pretty much theoretical. As games are becoming larger and more complex, there will be an ever increasing number of games which contain the complexity of an early RPG as a simple feature. If these kind of games, including San Andreas, aren't sorted out, the blog very likely won't even get that far.

      I don't see a way to weed out these "hybrids" (assuming this is even the intention) while at the same time still covering the early, "primitive" RPGs, except by postulating that the RPG features must constitute a significant percentage of the overall feature set. Which is pretty much a judgement call.

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    13. One deciding external factors could be if they game classifies itself (via marketing, store listings, developer statements--not things like MobyGames) as an RPG. Many games that have "RPG elements" never use the term "RPG" in their copy at all.

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    14. You trade up your dragon?!? How disloyal. Reminds me of Girlfriend Construction Set.

      Also "fun" fact that I just realized: that game's name is likely a spoof of the 1983 Pinball Construction Set.

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    15. Yeah, but they were very careful to frame it in a positive way. You don't just trade your dragon for a better dragon. No, nothing so crass. Instead, the better dragon approaches you and asks you to be his rider - and it's a great honour that you could hardly refuse ;).

      There is actually a set of choices in the game that had great potential, but weren't very interesting in the end. Basically, the game is divided into three segments - one for each order of the Knights of Solamnia (the rose, the crown, and the... err... sword, was it?).

      You start in the lowest order, flying bronzes, and halfway through the segment, you are offered a more powerful bronze. It would have been great if there was actually a benefit to sticking with your present dragon - some reward for establishing a stronger bond, or whatever - but ultimately, all you get is an option to accept or refuse an upgrade, so... yeah.

      Then, at the end of the segment, you are given the choice to undertake a special quest that will qualify you for the higher order. If you refuse this quest (failure isn't really an option, since the only way to fail is to die and restart the mission), you stay with your present dragon and your present order. If you do perform the quest, you get to move up to silver dragons. The pattern repeats itself - halfway through, you can upgrade to a better silver dragon, then you get another quest to move up the ranks, and you go through one, then another gold dragon.

      Now, where my memory fails me, unfortunately, is on whether there is any difference to the missions you get if you turn down the upgrade possibility. Obviously, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to fly a bronze dragon in missions that had been balanced for a gold-riding player. It would have been really awesome if they had done big narrative branches, where sticking with the lower order means you get qualitatively different missions. I don't think this is the case, I think you do just play the same missions - but I can't for the life of me remember.

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  16. Hm, it seems you are very bad at throwing bones :-).
    Could not reproduce your guru meditation, game runs fine "out of the box".

    So if you ever have any problem running an Amiga version of a game again, i'll be glad to offer support.

    Especially because a very special one is hopefully coming up soon (Ambermoon) ...

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    1. As an aside, if you use the Amiga 500 (default) configuration supplied by WinUAE (guess you use this one) you should be fine for most of the older games. Rarely do you have to change the graphics chipset in which case I would use the Amiga 1200 configuration. Throw in two floppy drives and 1 MB of ram and you should be good to go.

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    2. In this case only df0: (first floppy drive) is used by the game. Thus the 2 disks must be swapped ...

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    3. Maybe I got a bad download. I've played other Amiga games recently without trouble.

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  17. Tasslehoff can find and disarm traps if you have him as your lead character.

    As a point of clarification, this game is based on the first Dragonlance AD&D module, Dragons of Despair. The novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight (at least the first half of it) is also based on that module. Dragonlance is more well-remembered as a series of novels, but it started as a series of AD&D modules. The first trilogy is based directly on them, although I think about halfway through the writing of the novels got ahead of the modules.

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    1. "For me, "hobbyist" refers not esthetics so much as *origin*. That is, whence did game X or module Y come? Was it created to fill a slot in a production schedule or did it arise out of play? That's the big difference between, say, Gygax's Giants-Drow series and the Dragonlance modules. The former were professional write-ups of adventures based in actual play, whereas Dragonlance was conceived from start to finish as an effort to sell modules. Certainly Dragonlance borrowed elements from adventures and campaigns that were actually played (like Jeff Grubb's deities), but there was no such thing as a Dragonlance campaign prior to its being written up for sale, unlike nearly adventure Gary Gygax wrote during his time at TSR."

      -- James Maliszewski, http://Grognardia.blogspot.com

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    2. Yep, a commercial venture from the beginning. Certain events and character portrayals from the novels were influenced by the playtest games of the modules though.

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    3. If I recall correctly, Games Workshop had a tournament style event to potentially influence the future canon of Warhammer 40k depending on game results. The end result was that the bad guy's apocalyptic invasion force was rapidly curb-stomped into oblivion.

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    4. Yup. The Eye of Terror global campaign. Turns out there are far more players that played "good" armies than bad armies and the online results were super skewed in the good factions favor so GW had to largely ignore the results for the sake of a continued narrative.

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    5. I can’t imagine why the Hardcore BDSM Elves would be a niche faction.

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    6. I've never actually played tabletop 40k myself, but my understanding from people who do is that either the codex is outdated, they're difficult to use, or both. It's hard to tell though because every tabletop 40k player says that about their favorite army.

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    7. I think the exact same thing also happened in vanilla Warhammer, as part of the Storm of Chaos event (I don't play WH, but went down a wiki wormhole a couple years ago...)

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  18. I wouldn't agree that action games age worse than RPGs. There's plenty of early 90s platformers that still play fine (anything by Apogee), and Doom is still a widely played and even modded game almost 30 years later.

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    1. I would add that Heroes of the Lance seems to have "aged poorly" because it was substandard to begin with. Contra and Double Dragon came out 1987, Castlevania in 1986, Gradius in 1985--all legendary games that enjoy substantial fanbases today, from gamers both young and old. You don't have to look far to find a contemporary action game that blows Heroes of the Lance out of the water, for PC or console.

      I'm of the opinion that games don't really "age," though--people just get pickier and expectations change. If it was good then, it's probably good now; if it sucks now, it probably sucked back then.

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    2. I think you could argue that newer games tend to have better quality-of-life features that make them more accessible to people who are not huge fans of that genre. That doesn't mean that older games are necessarily worse, but someone who doesn't really like action games will probably have a harder time getting into, say, Contra vs Doom Eternal.

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    3. I would think that somebody who doesn't like action games would have a better time with the simpler game. Contra has six buttons total (eight if you count start and select) and you can figure out what all of them do as soon as the game starts. Doom Eternal has context-sensitive glory kills, weapons that have vastly different mechanics, large levels full of secrets and collectibles, and how you kill specific enemies will affect the amount of health/armor/ammo they drop. If somebody doesn't like action games to begin with, I think they'd have a better time with a simpler, self-explanatory game.

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    4. Contra only has two buttons, and is far harder than Doom Eternal.

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    5. That's fine. I did say "I don't think" in front of that sentence, so the fact that other people, including entire "active communities," doesn't change my opinion. To the extent that I enjoy action games, it's for a visceral experience that depends heavily on graphics and sound. I messed around with the original DOOM recently and enjoyed it for nostalgia's sake, but for a long session, I can't imagine prioritizing it over something from the last few years.

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    6. But more often than not old PC games have more QoL features than games of the last few years. For example in the original Doom you can save and restore the game everywhere and when you want, (while in Doom Eternal you have the standard console approach of checkpoints), the text font are large and easy to read (while in Eternal you can barely read the text if you don't have a giant monitor). With the original Doom you can also backup your game easily and run it on every kind of computers and devices.

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    7. It is not only that you think crpgs aged better, but you are more used to the flow and quirks of crpgs because that is what you are playing all the time. There is no need to name drop good platformers or shoot em ups: you are used to crpgs, you know the (t)ropes, it takes you barely anything to get to that point where the familiarity gets you through a game and makes it enjoyable.

      I could say "I think point n click adventure games have aged better than crpgs" but that would be not only unfair, but an opinion that only would give way to people saying "but what about X game". As it happened.

      And I never found a bit of joy in this game.

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  19. I remember being really pumped to play a Dragonlance game as a kid and equally crushed when I realized it was a clunky action title instead of a proper RPG.

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  20. To be nit-picky, based on the content and title screen, this is based on the first Dragonlance D&D module, "Dragons of Despair", rather than the novel. Although the second and third books of the original Dragonlance trilogy lead the publication of the modules (and depart from their plot), Dragons of Autumn Twilight is an (exceptional) novelisation of the first two modules.

    Dragons of Despair, which I re-ran recently, is a weird thing, because as a piece of game design it's frankly terrible, filled with awful choices - the Heroes of the Lance that you're supposed to play start at different levels to each other with wildly varying power levels, for example, and the map is simultaneously filled with weird places there's no reason to go to and awkward encounters that railroad you back into the plot. But it's got so much passion in it - there's a song included, complete with sheet music - that it's hard not to love it.

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    1. And, based on the fact that you play as the well recognizable characters from the novel, the game is based on the novel (which, of course, is based on the module).

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    2. The same characters are in the module, backstory and all. They're the default party that you're strongly encouraged to use.

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    3. Cool, I knew the novels were based on the modules, but I thought the characters were a Weis/Hickman creation.

      Now I wonder to what extent their background/personality was coming from the modules and what from the novels' authors.

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    4. They are Hickman creations. Dragons of Despair was written by him. In fact, he started out as a D&D adventure writer before becoming a novelist. He also wrote the famous adventure Ravenloft, and the less famous but notable Deserts of Desolation series. Some people "blame" him for the more narrative path D&D took in the mid 80s.

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