Thursday, January 21, 2021

Game 396: Lagoon (1990)

I'm not sure the developers have a strong handle on what a "lagoon" is.
    
Lagoon
United States
Zoom, Inc. (developer); Kotobuki System Co. (Japanese publisher); Kemco (U.S. publisher)
Released 1990 for Sharp X68000; 1991 for SNES
Date Started: 13 January 2021
Date Ended: 18 January 2021
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Hard (4/5) 
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
       
I decided it was time to check in with the console world. I have played at least one game on almost all the consoles that offered RPGs during the period I've covered on the PC, with the exception of the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), released in Japan in 1990 and in North America in 1991. That year saw seven RPGs: Drakkhen, Dungeon Master, Final Fantasy IV (II in the western release), Gdleen, Super Ninja Boy, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and Lagoon. I've already played versions of Drakkhen and Dungeon Master; to play Final Fantasy IV and Ys III would be skipping entries; Gdleen never had an English translation; and Super Ninja Boy didn't sound like it was going to challenge my prejudice that console games of the era are too childish. I thus decided to give the audition to Lagoon even though its SNES version was a port from the Sharp X68000. I think Gdleen was the first RPG designed natively for the SNES.
    
Lagoon ultimately wasn't a good game, but it was the perfect game to play alongside The Secrets of Bharas. As I'll be discussing in my final Bharas entry, the number of combats required in that game require a patience that I can't believe anyone had in 1991. I got through it by letting the computer fight the battles while I did other things, like play a few minutes of Lagoon. I spent several days just switching between the two. The moment a battle began in Bharas, I popped over to Lagoon. When I needed to rest and restore my hit points or magic points in Lagoon, it was back to Bharas
        
I fight an enemy in melee combat. Notice how you can barely see my sword.
        
It thus fit well, but I wouldn't say it was an enjoyable experience. Last year, Final Fantasy showed me that era consoles (and developers for them) were capable of more than I'd always believed. That doesn't mean developers always rose to the occasion. Lagoon is the sort of puerile, linear, simplistic (in all but difficulty) RPG that gives JRPGs and console RPGs a bad name.
   
Let me start with some positives. The console looks nice. The difference between its display and the NES is as stark as the jump from EGA to SVGA on the PC. Animation is smooth, 3D more convincing. You can see expressions on the characters' faces. The level of detail on the monsters is particularly impressive. We no longer have simple textures in dungeons but handcrafted decor. (We're still not at the point that we see, for instance, realistic amounts of furniture, but one step at a time.) Spell animations are cool. Until they become truly immersive, graphics don't do a lot for my enjoyment of a game, but I don't want you to think I didn't notice them. I should also say that it sounds nice, too, except that I couldn't find any way to turn the music off independent of the sound effects, so I just muted the whole thing.
      
Finely-detailed statuary is possible with the SNES graphics.
       
Even my compliments about the graphics come with a few negatives. I'm not a fan of the perspective, which is axonometric but rotated only on the axial and not on the lateral (i.e., you see the fronts and roofs of buildings but not the sides). There's my usual complaint about all the characters, even old men, looking like little children. Overall, though, I was impressed.
    
Second, we should note that the SNES came with a more advanced controller. Instead of two buttons, we now have four (and I didn't realize until now that the SNES introduced the convention of labeling them ABXY). There are also two bumpers on the front of the controller. The more controls, the more stuff you can put in the game without requiring the player to awkwardly go into a menu. The writers of Lagoon rose to the occasion by having SPACE and SELECT do the same things and not using the left bumper at all--but at least they were able to map "Jump," "Attack," "Cast Spell," and "Use Item" to separate controls. On the NES, one or two of these would have had to go.
   
My third compliment is for the variety of special attacks and defenses exhibited by the bosses during their battles. This is par-for-the-course with JRPGs, but it's still nice to see after coming off a couple of games that mostly rejected the concept of "bosses" entirely.
        
Combat with an early boss. I'm nearly dead.
    
The number one negative of Lagoon is something shared by dozens of games like it: it's far, far too linear. You're on a rail through the entire game; you don't even get to create your character. You move from one place to another when the game is ready, not you, and you can't even backtrack. Even your inventory progression is purely on the game's schedule. Everyone playing this game begins with the same character, everyone ends with the same character, everyone does basically the same stuff in between. Yuck. When I see a screenshot from my time with an RPG, I want to be able to tell that it was my game, not something I could have clipped from literally anyone's YouTube video.
       
Combat is also a bit of a nightmare, at least for me. I don't mind some action in my combat, particularly on a console, but this one picks the worst elements of the Ys system (running headlong into enemies) and the Zelda system (having to bob and dodge around a bunch of constantly-moving enemies) and mashes them together. Throughout the game, you have melee weapons of extremely short range. You have to swing your weapon at just the right time; if you swing too soon or too late and collide with enemies, you take damage and go flying backwards as if they were made of rubber. Your character has to be aligned just the right way against the enemy--a pixel to the left or right makes all the difference--or your swing always misses. It's a god-send when you get spells that can be cast at range, although magic replenishes slowly and enemies have a variety of immunities. 
         
Tossing a "Wind-something" spell at a pig with a pick-axe.
      
The backstory and plot are at best adequate. Even the twist has been done a hundred times. The peaceful country of Lakeland is lately menaced by an evil spirit. You are 14-year-old Nasir, given by the gods to the sage Mathias to raise as a Champion of Light. You were supposed to be raised alongside a brother who was the epitome of Darkness, the idea being that under Mathias, the two forces would be brought into balance. But the evil wizard Zerah snatched the other child before Mathias could adopt him.
       
ZERAH. ZERAH! No time is a good time for goodbye!
        
As the game begins, Matthias sends you off on a quest to find out why the water in Lakeland has gone muddy. The quest begins in the town of Atland, a typical JRPG town with little NPCs that offer one line of dialogue and a couple of shops.
      
The "he-he-he" part is a bit creepy.
       
Within a few minutes, I was already a bit annoyed by the game, because it was clear that it wants things to occur in an exact order. These, for instance, are the steps to the quest in Atland:
         
  • Go to the Mayor's house and learn that he recently went to the House of Worship. [Whoa, Nintendo! Getting a little religious there, aren't you?]
  • Go to the House of Worship and talk to the Mayor. A townsman rushes in with the news that someone has been hurt in a cave.
  • You automatically go with the Mayor to the cave. An injured townsman lies outside and insists that "Giles" is still in there with demons.
  • Talk to the Mayor. He tells you to return to town and tell the High Cleric about it.
  • Return to the House of Worship and talk to the High Cleric. For some reason, he wants to go to the Mayor's house to discuss things.
  • Go back to the Mayor's House. He asks you to go save Giles and gives you 300 gold. (He specifically says "put these on immediately" before giving you the gold; presumably in some original draft, he gave the character actual equipment.)
  • Go buy weapons and armor. The 300 gold is just enough to buy the starting set: a short sword, an iron shield, and "bandit armor." Incidentally, you can't do this at the store labeled "Weapon Shop," which mysteriously isn't open, and when it is open, sells potions. You have to go to the "Armor Shop," which sells both weapons and armor.
       
It was a long time before I could afford the "shiny ball." By then, there were no more stores.
        
  • Enter the cave and explore until you find a healing potion. Don't drink it!
  • Explore until you find Giles. He's wounded. Feed him the healing potion, then lead him back to down. He's slow.
  • Go to the Faith Healer in town, who will give you a key to unlock a locked door in the caves. Behind it is the demon Samson, which the Healer and Matthias locked there a couple of decades ago.
  • Return, unlock the door, defeat Samson.
  • Exit the cave on the other side of Samson. It collapses behind you, and you're in Elfland.
    
Samson, the game's first boss.
         
You can't do any of this out-of-order. You can't, for instance, use your starting 100 gold to by the short sword, enter the cave, and kill a few monsters before getting the quest. You can't go directly to the House of Worship to find the Mayor. You have to talk to him after the initial cave expedition (even though it serves no purpose) because until you do, he doesn't return to town. 
    
Throughout the game, the same basic pattern repeated at a town of elves, a town of hobbits, and a town of gnomes:
 
1. Arrive at town and hear about their problem.
2. March off to the neighboring dungeon and solve the problem, but encounter a locked door.
3. Return to town to get rewarded for solving their problem, and then get the key to that door.
4. Return to the dungeon and fight a boss fight.
5. Get automatically kicked to the next region.
             
And if you had a Redundancy Department, you would have a Redundancy Department.
          
The design requires a lot of backtracking, not only in the need to visit each dungeon at least a couple of times, but also in the need to explore each dungeon level multiple times because within the dungeon, you often have to do things in a particular order. I got stuck for almost an hour in Philips Castle because I didn't notice that killing the boss opened a door somewhere else in the castle. You also want to make sure to find every chest because you won't be able to return if you miss something.
   
The only real choice you have during this process is how much to grind. Here, again, the game is a bit infuriating. First, regular enemies mostly care less about you. They wander around their areas and if you get to close to them, sure, they'll attack, but it's very simple to evade them. (The ones that fire projectiles just fire them randomly, not at you in particular.) To grind, you have to go out of your way to chase them down. Second, bosses are so hard that you really need to grind as much as you're willing before you face them--but on the other side of those bosses are new areas with enemies that offer double the experience points of the ones you're facing now. To make the game go faster, you want to speed up to the next area, but that might mean fighting the boss about 20 times before you get it right.
          
These are the best foes for grinding. Unfortunately, they're immune to the spell I just cast.
       
Twenty might even be an underestimate for players who have grinded. Then again, I'm not great at action combat. This fact was shoved into my face repeatedly by the game's boss combats. Each boss has a new and infuriating set of attacks and defenses to learn through repeated trial and failure. To wit:
   
  • Samson: Frequently jumps at the player. When he lands, he causes a tremor that freezes you long enough for him to clobber you. You have to jump at just the right time to avoid him.
  • Natelu: A two-headed gryphon spews fireballs.  
  • Eardon: A giant rock that spews smaller rocks and is only vulnerable from the front.
  • Duma: A helmet with two hands. Every time the helmet opens, it shoots fireballs, but the boss is only vulnerable when the helmet is open. Meanwhile, his hands periodically clap in the center of the screen, crushing you if you're standing there. 
         
This message came up a lot.
         
  • Thimale: A giant eye in a large opaque globe that rolls back and forth along the floor. Meanwhile, six small domes with one-eyed spiders line the sides of the room and shoot ice crystals. You have to destroy all six of the domes first, which makes Thimale's globe transparent and makes Thimale vulnerable.
       
None of this makes much sense.
        
  • Ella: A woman who shoots fireballs in all directions and randomly teleports around the room. The more health she loses, the faster she teleports. 
  • Battler: A mage who attacks with two very weird creatures who shoot eyeballs and cannot be damaged. Battler, meanwhile, randomly teleports around the room, going faster as he loses more health.
  • Demon: Starts off as a blob that shoots fireballs in all directions. After you damage him, he turns into a flying demon with a whip for a right hand who can leap at you.
         
The demon with his whip-arm.
        
  • Zerah: A warlock that turns into a giant troll that, like most enemies, shoots fireballs in all directions.
  • Thor: Warrior who attacks surrounded by a ring of whirling objects that shove you away every time they hit you. He then turns into a giant bird that dances around the room shooting missiles.
  • Demon again: Attacks in his demon form, red this time.
    
The last four have to be fought in a row, with no opportunity to save. In none of the boss fights can you use magic, and in none of them do your hit points recharge, even slowly, the way they do in most of the world.
        
It wasn't my favorite Stephen King book.
          
One of the more annoying coinages in modern gaming lingo is the ubiquitous "get gud." What makes it particularly infuriating is that its usage is usually 100% accurate. I don't know how many times I've found myself Googling things like "how the $#@#& are you EVER supposed to beat the giant snake in Assassin's Creed Origins?" and finding message boards that basically say, "Shrug--get gud." And then in the process of dying 20 times and nearly throwing my controller through the television screen, I slowly start to figure out the snake's pattern, his weak points, and how to beat him. In other words, I "get gud." That's what happened here. The first time I faced each boss, I balked at the idea that it was even possible to defeat him. The tenth time, I came close. (On a few occasions, I watched a YouTube video at some point just to prove to myself that it was possible.) The fifteenth time, I succeeded. That said, I confess that I didn't always have this patience, and there were times I used save states to scum my way through a few of the fights. While I'm confessing, there were also times I used the emulator's "turbo" key to speed up spell point regeneration so I could grind faster.
         
The plot is not even really worth recounting. I just played it, and I don't remember where half the bosses came from or what their role is. You hear about a missing princess, Felicia, early in the game, but it's not clear what land she's the princess of or why she was kidnapped. At one point, you briefly have an NPC companion named Thor who asks you to do a couple things for him. He's with you for about 15 minutes, and later the game acts like you had this epic experience and truly bonded and became best friends or something. This is supposed to strengthen the impact of the "twist," which is that Thor is really the Child of Darkness, having been raised by Zerah. He doesn't want to fight you because of your friendship, but Zerah forces him to; you kill him and get his amulet, which somehow captures his soul, so he's with you forever. We saw the same trope in Knights of Xentar, and I'm sure it appears elsewhere.
          
You don't "know" him; you hung out with him for half of an afternoon.
     
Suffice to say that Nasir chases leads through a variety of cities and castles, finding weapon, shield, armor, rings, and spell upgrades along the way. Spells are a combination of crystal and staff. Each crystal--fire, ice, air, and earth--does a different thing when combined with one of four staves. There's always a single-enemy spell, a radius blast spell, an area-effect spell, and a massive area-effect spell. Rings, which I didn't explore as much as I should (I never found a "Curing" ring, which I guess is considered pretty important) improve your attack and defense but constantly drain your magic while you wear them.
          
Reforging the Moon Blade.

Freeing the princess.
       
After the Thor twist is revealed, you reach the top of a mountain where Mathias and Zerah have a comical battle and Mathias is killed. With his last breath, he blows you into the clouds so you can find Lagoon Castle. The castle is enormous. During your explorations, you must reforge the Moon Sword (the best weapon in the game) and free Princess Felicia from a mirror by using a statue. The mechanism for this is unclear. Felicia tells you how to get to an underground "secret place," where you re-encounter Zerah and Thor and the final battles happen. Afterwards, Nasir walks away with the Thor-pendant . . .
    
Mathias gives me a final gift.

I can't remember who was saying this.
           
. . . the castle carefully falls back to the ground and Princess Felicia starts snogging Nasir.
      
Where is there to go in life if you've already saved the world at 14?
      
The game is more interesting for its unintentionally funny moments, and I'm indebted to this speed run for highlighting some of them. They include:

  • The inciting event is supposed to be muddy water, but none of the visible water in the game never appears muddy.
  • In at least two towns, there are shops labeled "Weapons" and "Armor." In both towns, one of the two shops sells both weapons and armor, and the other shop is either closed or sells nothing.
  • The Mayor of Atland says, "Please, put these on and get ready to go!" as he gives you gold pieces.
  • Later, an NPC says, "Take this book!" and gives you a staff.
  • Thor gives you a mirror so powerful it can "smash rocks to pieces." No mechanism for this is ever offered.
  • The backstory of Castle Philips makes no sense--something to do with the castle (not the people in it, but explicitly the castle) going to sleep every thousand years when the sun hits it. I don't know if the sun only hits it every thousand years or what. It doesn't sound like much of a curse.
        
And how is that different from when the castle is "awake"?
         
  • The bad guys' evil plan is somehow to steal an entire castle (Lagoon Castle) by lifting it into the clouds on a plume of water.
         
That's something you don't see every day.
       
  • There's a map where you have to jump from cloud to cloud, being extra careful not to fall of the edges, or you'll die. But to get to the final area, you have to unintuitively jump from one of the clouds to the land, which seems like it would be the same thing as falling off.
        
This feels like a trick.
      
Beyond that, there are a few things that are just annoying:
      
  • There are quite a few jumping puzzles. Falling during these puzzles is usually instant death. It's easy to forget a gap in a bridge is there.
     
Jumping a fiery crevasse in a hall full of them. You have to pass through here like three times.
        
  • In towns, some buildings have open doors, some have closed doors. Neither tells you anything about whether you can access the building. You have to try them all.
  • Early in the game, there are a couple of escort missions, and the NPCs in this game are slow.
     
Mostly, this type of game makes me feel like I've just watched an incomprehensible 9-hour cartoon in which I occasionally had to move a stick.
     
In a GIMLET, I give it:
   
  • 1 point for the game world. It just assembles tropes, and with no depth.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. At least development is relatively rapid (about 1 level every 15 minutes) and makes you feel more powerful.
        
No matter what they do during the game, everyone ends at the same cap.
       
  • 3 points for NPC interaction. NPCs flesh out the world a little and at least their dialogue changes as the plot points continue.
      
That doesn't mean they always had a lot to say.
      
  • 3 points for encounters and foes, getting most of these points for the variety of the boss combats.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. Swinging my tiny sword while I try to find the perfect pixel doesn't feel tactical or epic.
  • 2 points for equipment. You have a basic set with about 4 upgrades of each item at fixed intervals. There are some items like potions that are so rare that I was always loathe to use them.
      
My final equipment selection. I missed some along the way.
      
  • 2 points for the economy. The game completely drops the idea of buying things about halfway through. You continue to collect gold, but for no reason, as there are no more stores.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no choices, no side quests.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I gave praise to the graphics and interface, but I can't countenance a game where you can't turn off the music.
  • 3 points for gameplay. I offer it for a good challenge at a reasonable length, but there's nothing nonlinear or replayable about this one.
      
That gives us a final score of 24, far below what I know even consoles of the era are capable of. It feels like these dime-a-dozen linear games with trite plots are the JRPG console equivalent of Ultima clones. A trend is starting to emerge: if a JRPG is a single-character game with roots in Dragon Quest, I find it boring, simplistic, and grindy; if it's a multi-character game that takes inspiration from Wizardry, I find it at least interesting. We'll see how long that division lasts.
    
As I was preparing this entry, commenter Nleseul, who has done a fair amount of translating from Japanese, told me about some significant differences between the western release of Lagoon and the original Sharp X68000 version. A playthrough with his English patch is available on YouTube as well. It does seem to fix some of the problems. The mislabeled "Weapon" store is actually a "General Store": the Mayor's dialogue indicates he's giving the hero ("Nassel" in the translation) money for equipment rather than equipment. I assume most of the rest of the howlers were fixed as well. The main plot still seems to be roughly the same, however. The plot is slightly more complex, gives a little more pathos to Thor, offers more substantive clues about the Moon Sword, and explains how Felicia's kidnapping is able to move the castle. I still wouldn't call it very good.
   
There is a significant difference in mechanics, however: instead of swinging away with his sword with the "B" button, the player simply runs into enemies as in Ys. Adding a "swinging" mechanics for the NES version was done a bit clumsily; as Nleseul points out, "they didn't change any of the sprite graphics, so the sword feels tiny and useless."
   
This appears to be Zoom's only attempt at an RPG. I can't find any evidence that North America took notice of it in 1991. Modern reviews are mostly negative (I'm particularly fond of this Honest Gamers one), but there are a few mysteriously glowing ones out there.
         
I know a lot of you are already at the keyboard, prepared to tell me what SNES game I should have played. Rest assured this won't be the only one I ever try. For now, though, let's get back to finishing PC games for 1992.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Loss in Our Community

Matthew Thelen, "Karkan Lord," 1979-2020.

This has probably happened before. Because of the anonymous nature of commenting on this blog, I know only a few of my many commenters' real names. It is likely that some of them have passed over the years and I may have noticed that we lost that handle, but not that the world had lost that person.
   
This time happens to be different. Matthew Thelen, who commented here a few times as "Karkan Lord," died the first week of December 2020 of early onset colorectal cancer. He was 41. His sister was kind enough to write to me via my Patreon page, where Matt had been a subscriber since my first month. Matt worked behind-the-scenes at NBC Sports; the episode of "Sunday Night Football" that aired after his death contained this tribute to him.
 
Matt's family has designated the Colon Cancer Foundation as the best recipient for donations in his memory. I will be sending half of my January Patreon earnings to that organization on behalf of this blog and its commenters. I naturally encourage anyone willing and able to make a contribution in Matt's name to do so.

The other half, I will be sending to the foundation designated by the family of a longtime co-worker of mine, who recently died of a heart attack, only one week after he retired.  He was not yet 60.

From these two deaths, we can perhaps take a lesson to take better care of ourselves. I know that as I near 50, I have to stop thinking of certain bad habits as "something I will conquer some day" and more like "something I'd better conquer right now if I don't want to die before my mother does." In that spirit, I pass along Matt's sister's plea: "Have your own screening done for colon cancer. A colonoscopy can identify a problem, particularly if you have no symptoms of the disease (as Matt had none). It is a minor inconvenience that can make a significant difference!"

Monday, January 18, 2021

Legends of Valour: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

          
Legends of Valour
United Kingdom
Synthetic Dimensions (developer); U.S. Gold (U.K. publisher); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (U.S. publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS; 1993 for Amiga, Atari ST, and PC-98; 1994 for FM Towns
Date Started: 28 November 2020
Date Ended: 14 January 2021
Total Hours: 37
Difficulty: Easy-moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)  
   
Summary:
 
Legends of Valour is a first-person game that takes place in a single large, gritty city called Mitteldorf. Your character, newly arrived in town to investigate the disappearance of his or her cousin, Sven, must learn how to survive in the big city and slowly advance his or her way through a series of guilds to learn the buried secrets of the city.
 
Legends of Valour is a flawed game but a necessary step in CRPG evolution. It is packed full of innovations that we've rarely seen in RPGs so far, including a guild system that offers a variety of quests, a map in which geography is independent of events, continuous 3D movement, and such a tight economy that it's almost a survival game. Unfortunately, it skimps on so many core RPG mechanics (combat, inventory, and character development are nearly absent) that it's hard to recommend except to see the genesis of elements that would influence later, better games.
 
****
     
Legends of Valour ended the way it started and played: on elements both intriguing and disappointing. It both ramped it up and fell apart in its last act, leaving the player wanting at the end what he'd likely been wanting the entire game: a little more.
     
When I last wrote, I was stuck on the final mission of the Thieves' Guild, unable to proceed because I couldn't find Choker Bloodaxe, who was supposed to give me a map to the Forbidden City. I had started poking around for it, but the underground is too big. Finally, I gave up and looked at the game's clue book (I tried looking for a video first but didn't find any) just to see the map that I theoretically should have been able to steal or loot off Bloodaxe.
   
The map showed the route to the Forbidden City from an entry point near the castle. I followed it and emerged in what the map insisted was a southwest section of the city. After comparing the area with my paper map, I was forced to concede that an entire set of buildings was completely enclosed by walls, and somehow I hadn't noticed this despite passing through the area dozens of times throughout the game. The enclosed area held about seven buildings, including a store and the Hall of Stones, where I found the necessary Jewelled Stone. None of the NPCs in the area had any special dialogue (the Forbidden City was supposed to be an area in revolt).
          
Spying the secret exit through a window.
      
The Thieves' Guild had also asked me to find the secret exit. The shop was selling something called an "exit visa," but I couldn't afford it. I'm not sure what it was; I suspect just a map. I found the secret exit by going around the perimeter and looking for any place it was permeable. On the west side, I found a window that looked into a house with a door. I used my thief skills to get through the window, picked the lock on the door, and found myself back in the main part of the city. This must have been good enough because I got the promotion to "Godfather" when I returned to the guild.
         
Let's go to the mattresses.
         
As before, the special room afforded to the head of the guild provided the fourth skull, plus a map showing the way to a special room from "The Crypt," plus an image of the four skulls, the Orb of Visions, and the Book of Summoning.
         
Even if you hadn't visited in a previous quest, the image makes it clear that you want to enter a building near the Stone Circle.
     
I ran around collecting the skulls and the Orb of Visions (which, as I mentioned last time, I had stumbled upon while trying to burgle the jeweler's shop), although this meant discarding everything from my inventory except my axe and the hourglass, which I nearly sold. Fortunately, I anticipated that the ritual involving the skulls might require exact timing.
     
I think I might lock this up if I owned it.
         
As for the Book of Summoning, I studied the list of buildings and looked for ones that sounded promising but that I hadn't explored. The only thing that seemed to have anything to do with books was the "Scriptorium," which I had already marked as being next to the Troll's Arms tavern in the northwest part of the city. Logic prevailed! It was on the second floor.
    
Use this book spell [sic?] only in the Royal Crypt. And only at midnight, ensuring that you have satisfied the prediction of the Orb of Visions, which you must have with you. Beware--the spell-caster must be protected by the Amulet of Defence, which is in turn protected by captive water dwellers.
    
"Captive water dwellers" suggested something at the zoo. The only thing that fit the bill were the lizard men, who aren't quite "water dwellers," but who do like wet areas. I used my skills to pass through the grate into their cage and found a corridor leading to a small area of waterfalls with multiple lizard men. By this time, I'd had to get rid of my axe, too, so I had to kill everything with bare fists. The Amulet of Protection was resting on a stalagmite. I had no idea how I was going to carry it with everything else, but fortunately it turned out to be the third "wearable" magic item and appeared in the upper-left box rather than in my inventory.
     
With all of these items, I returned to the Crypt--the same Crypt that had led me to the mummy's tomb a lot of quests ago. The map took me on a slightly different route to the Royal Crypt. I had to fight ghosts, zombies, and mummies with just my fists on the way, and I couldn't pick up the valuables that they dropped.
       
You wouldn't think punching a ghost would work.
      
The Royal Crypt had four stalagmites. The Orb of Visions showed one skull on each of them, which wasn't very helpful, since it was pretty obvious that's what I was supposed to do with the skulls. Since the skulls were all named after cardinal directions, I put them all on their appropriate stalagmites, equipped the hourglass, and periodically clicked on it until it told me it was midnight. I then equipped the Book of Summoning and used it.
   
The Orb of Visions' depiction of the chamber.
        
A cinematic took over the screen showing a summoning pentagram. A demon appeared and spoke:
  
At last I am released. As from now the balance of power between order and chaos within the land is equal. All that remains is for Old Wilf to be told. The key to his underground sanctuary is yours. Release him and becoming a living legend.
At first, I thought I'd done a bad thing.
         
That was an interesting twist that makes a callback to the backstory. Wilf was the king of Mitteldorf before the present king, Farley, Wilf's brother. There are pieces about Wilf in the Mitteldorf Post, calling him "Nasty King Wilf," criticizing his fiscal policies and suggesting he had illicit relations with a hamster. But these were fairly clearly propaganda pieces planted by Farley. The demon's revelation suggested that Wilf was still alive, probably being held by Farley.
    
By this time, I was a bit exhausted with the survival part of the game. I emerged from the underground with combat wounds, severe poisoning, rot, and dehydration, all of which cost most of the rest of my gold to cure. After restoring my food, health, and rest meters, I had no money at all. I really just wanted the game to be over. Nonetheless, I did my best to find Wilf honestly, starting with each of the four named jails and progressing to explorations of the underground, particularly areas with entrances near the castle. Nothing panned out, so I confess that I used the clue book just to show me what entrance I needed to take. It was one I hadn't noticed, in a turret near the castle.
   
Battling through minotaurs, guardsmen, and goblins (just in time for the end of the game, I perfected throwing my axe at them from afar, so I could kill them without having my pocket picked first), I finally reached a door that the demon's key opened. Beyond it was a chamber with an NPC wearing a crown.
  
He introduced himself as Wilfred of Mitteldorf. I asked about his religion; he said, "I believe in freedom and democracy." I asked about his job; he said, "Exiled King of Mitteldorf--soon to be re-instated thanks to you." And that was it. I couldn't get anything else out of him. After dialogue, he made no motion to leave the area. I went back to the city and visited several places but got no kind of new information or ending. Nothing happened at the castle. There were no new notices in the taverns, although Choker Bloodaxe mysteriously showed up in the Hanged Man again.
         
Believe it or not, this seems to be the "winning screen."
     
To add insult to injury, there was a new dialogue option when talking with NPCs: "Where is Sven?" They all said the same thing: "He has left the city." That's it. That's the closure you get on the main quest. Neither the cluebook nor a walkthrough I found online nor an "ending" video I watched suggested that I'd missed anything.
           
How does everyone know this and yet not know where he went?
         
The clue book offers something of a happy ending for "Lord Sven," who provides a number of annotations. The suggestion is that he became head of one of the other guilds but for some reason lacked the wherewithal to complete the quest. He says in the book that he lives "in quarters at the Palace, with liveried servants attending to my every whim," which isn't an honor that I ever received. Of course, Sven may have had a fall after I freed King Wilfred--maybe that's why he left the city.
   
If I'd had this game as a kid, I probably would have insisted on joining the other guilds and doing their quests. As I have thousands of games waiting for me, I contented myself with simply reading about them. The final quest for the Mercenaries' Guild has you explore a large dungeon area to find and kill a dragon named Nidhug. The Brotherhood of Loki has you infiltrate the theater during a showing of Macbeth to steal the cauldron. You slay a cyclops as part of the Temple of Odin questline and a Lamia of Jotunheim (the creature that killed me in the dungeons) for the Temple of Set. Interspersed with these are a lot of fetch quests like the ones I experienced, but each with a slightly different spin.
      
Part of me wants the game to rate high on the GIMLET, but it managed to ruin almost every good element that it introduced. It offered continuous movement and made it agonizingly slow. It introduced a crime and punishment system but made it completely arbitrary. It gives you some stealth options but without solid stealth mechanics. It really locks down the economy, but only so you can live hand-to-mouth for the entire game. There's nothing cool to buy. It offers a lot to explore and yet no good reason to explore it, since there's no character development or interesting combat tactics. Thus, I think we're going to see a low rating with a couple of stand out categories.
       
  • 6 points for the game world. The setting is boilerplate high fantasy but well described. The use of the Mitteldorf Post to convey key bits of information about the world is a lot of fun, and I'm glad the game found ways to reference it multiple times. Aspects of the game make it seem like it takes place in a real, dynamic city, with numerous factions and institutes jockeying for power--but only up to a point. Like The Secrets of Bharas, Mitteldorf is often more interesting to read about than to experience. I also don't like how the city doesn't seem to change much during the game.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. You have a bare-bones creation process, and the only development you get during the game is a barely-perceptible increase in combat skills (via training), the acquisition of magic, and a few thief skills. I can't think of any reason that the developers couldn't have put a more standard experience and leveling system in here. As it is, combat is a complete waste of time except for the occasional loot that you get. I gave it an extra point for the ability to contract lycanthropy and vampirism, which I didn't explore.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. This is a frustrating category. On the one hand, we have one of the earliest examples in which dynamic NPCs go about their business independent of the player and thus make the city feel more lived-in. They keep schedules and act according to type. On the other hand, there's so little of interest to do with them. They all have the same dialogue options, and there's rarely any reason to ask them any questions other than where something is. A keyword-based system with far more dialogue, expanding on the lore of the setting, would have been much better. That NPCs in key buildings never have anything unique to say about those buildings is repeatedly depressing. Without more interesting dialogue, all of the other things you can do with NPCs--stealing, insulting, and so forth--becomes largely pointless.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are standard fantasy monsters, and other than the goblins incessant pickpocketing, none of them do anything very interesting, not even the ones that feel like they should be a lot harder to beat.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. Everything is messed up about combat. It's too easy, for one thing. Weapons don't seem to do anything more than fists. Training doesn't seem to significantly improve your approach. You can't cast spells in combat despite having a couple of "combat spells." You can't throw things in combat; only before combat. The magic spells aren't even really all that useful, except "Portal" and "Warp."
        
Tossing an axe at a goblin.
      
  • 2 points for equipment. It gets this largely for the "survival" equipment that it offers--food, drink, the occasional potion. For standard RPG equipment, it couldn't be worse. Throughout the entire game, the only melee weapons I found were a light sword, an axe, and an ornate axe. There's no armor. There are exactly three magic items that you can find to improve your abilities, and like combat training, I didn't notice that they made much of a difference.
  • 5 points for the economy. As I've discussed repeatedly, it's tight. I ended the game broke, which is probably a "first" among all the CRPGs I played. Part of me likes that. I also like that there are several different ways to make money. But when you find a treasure haul in this game, the only reason to be excited is that you can sleep and eat for another couple of days and thus have to do fewer fetch quests for bartenders. That doesn't feel rewarding at all.
       
Every time you think you're doing well, you find out you have 15 diseases to cure.
        
  • 7 points for quests. This is perhaps the best part of the game. I want to rate it higher, but very high ratings in this category requires choices and alternate endings. Still, what it lacks in options, it makes up in variety. This is how you do quest chains properly: some easy, some hard; some long, some short; some involving combat, some involving stealth; make the player use his brain, following clues and piecing together connections. No game has done this very well so far, and Legends of Valour comes out of nowhere with it. This category is Legends' most important contribution to the genre.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are good for the era, not very engaging now. There's hardly any sound at all (and no music for you lovers of game music). The interface was consistently annoying throughout, with not enough keyboard backups. Why would you design a movement pad with 9 buttons and not simply map them to their associated positions on the numberpad? Instead, you can move and turn with the numberpad, but not strafe or turn around. If an enemy attacks you while you're moving and thus holding down a key, the game immediately takes you out of combat before you can react. Turning takes too long. The automap doesn't persist after you leave an area. Things like that add up. I originally gave it 2 points but I tossed in an extra one for the window thing; that was pretty cool. We don't see anything like that today.
  • 7 points for gameplay. We end on a positive. Legends is strongly nonlinear, and the selection of guilds (plus the territory size as a whole) makes it rewarding to play a second time, and it lasts a reasonable amount of time for its content. If only it were a bit more challenging.
   
That gives us a final score of 42, definitely in "recommended" territory, but perhaps not all the way to the end of the game, which is disappointing. Despite its flaws, it occupies such a clear place in the history of CRPGs--marks such a clear turning point in the use of game elements like guilds, quests, and NPCs--that I feel compelled to add it to the "Must Play" list for those who want to experience the full history of the genre.
     
The game did some interesting things graphically, but saying, "Move over, Ultima Underworld," was overdoing it a bit.
      
Its legacy is most notable in The Elder Scrolls, and even into Skyrim, we can see similarities in the approach to NPCs, guilds, and guild quests. (The Elder Scrolls, it must be noted, also adopted many of the same flaws, such as NPCs who don't have much to say, and guild promotions that seem overly generous.)  But equally important to how it influences the future is how it uses the past. By drawing on the themes of Alternate Reality, which itself goes back to Moria and Oubliette, Legends creates a direct link between the PLATO titles and modern titles, even future titles.
    
It's amazing how little contemporary reviewers seemed to understand about any of this. They all rushed to compare Legends to Ultima Underworld despite the games having virtually nothing in common except continuous movement. I know that was a novel experience, but it's still disheartening to see experienced reviewers so obsessed with graphics that they completely overlook the game's innovations. I waited for any review to point out how promising the questing system was, or the use of NPCs, or the system of crime and punishment, but instead all they do is complain about how often you have to feed yourself, or how you can only save in hostels and taverns, as if taking three minutes to walk to one is so onerous that it completely eclipses gameplay. Chuck Miller's May 1993 review in Computer Gaming World complains about all the things you might expect but finds reasons to praise the interface, of all things, and the manual, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Dragon gave it only 2 stars--and the reviewers hardly played it at all--which is the lowest rating that I've seen from that magazine for anything that wasn't an eroge.
    
British magazines, on the other hand, tended to be a bit too complimentary.  Where I'm frustrated by American reviewers' inability to see the innovations, the Brits didn't seem to have seen the flaws. The One Amiga magazine gave it 92% and gushed over the graphics and world-building without once bothering to mention the lack of character development or interesting combat. (As I've pointed out, though, in this era neither British developers nor British reviewers seemed to understand the fundamental elements of RPGs. They were mostly happy if they looked pretty.) Amiga Format gave it 91% and at least mentioned the windows. The Germans were much less enamored and gave the game ratings from 49% (Power Play) to 87% (PC Joker), with the average in the 60s.
 
The person most responsible for Legends seems to be Kevin Bulmer. It was his first RPG, although his previous Corporation (1990, which some sites list as an RPG but I rejected for lack of character development) has a passably similar interface and also features continuous 3D movement. He seems to have gotten into the gaming field in 1985, when he was already 37, converting Gauntlet for a U.K. release by U.S. Gold. We will see his work again on Druid: Daemons of the Mind (1995), which seems to switch to an axonometric interface. Synthetic Dimensions still existed at least up to 2009 but doesn't seem to have published anything since Ed Hunter (1999). A British subtitle for Legends--Vol. 1 - The Dawning--suggests that sequels were intended but, alas, never produced. Mr. Bulmer died of prostate cancer in 2011.
   
In addition to Bethesda's Todd Howard, who has noted the influence of Legends of Valour several times, the game seems to have inspired at least one other American millionaire. Cryptocurrency tycoon Charles Hoskinson reportedly purchased the rights to the game last year, with eyes towards making a remake. In a video he published last May, Hoskinson shows honest love for the game, which he played as a youth, though he seems aware of its flaws as well (he comments on the lame ending around 7:30). I'm normally not excited about remakes, but I can get behind this one if he can improve the combat and character development systems. It has a few elements that only it does, but their value was lost in is flaws. Maybe Hoskinson's team can correct that.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Game 395: Danger in Drindisti (1982)

As a Hellfire Warrior expansion, this game has no title screen of its own.
        
Danger in Drindisti
United States
Automated Simulations (developer and publisher)
Released 1982 for Apple II, Atari 800, and TRS-80
Date Started: 10 June 2019
Date Ended: 15 January 2021
Total Hours: 13
Difficulty: Moderate-hard (3.5/5) for a default character, but the user can adjust
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
     
Dunjonquest: The Temple of Apshai (1979) was not technically the first commercial CRPG, but it was the first fully-featured commercial CRPG. It was the first game--and until 1981, the only game--that mimicked the experience of exploring a dungeon in a tabletop RPG. It offered a full set of attributes, a full set of equipment, classic Dungeons and Dragons-style monsters, and even textual paragraphs describing rooms and treasures, as if a dungeon master were reading them to you.
   
If Automated Simulations (later Epyx) had continued to develop this system, the Dunjonquest line would be better-remembered and better-regarded today. Instead, the company took what was arguably the best IP in CRPG-dom and spent the next six years handicapping it, churning out expansions that didn't make full use of the original engine, "MicroQuests" that had no character creation or inventory, and other bastardizations. Gateway to Apshai (1983), which couldn't even spell its own name correctly on the title screen, was both the end of the series and its lowest point. If the company had spent those years on sequels, improving the engine, rather than simplistic expansions, it could have eclipsed Wizardry and Ultima
     
Everything in this room has manual annotations, including the room, the monster, and the treasure.
      
Danger in Drindisti is the last release before Gateway, and while it's one of the more memorable expansions, it's still just an expansion, limited by the need for the original game disks. The lineage is difficult to follow, but Drindisti is an expansion to Hellfire Warrior (1980), which itself was an expansion to The Temple of Apshai (1979). Apshai offered levels 1-4; Hellfire Warrior added 5-8. Drindisti keeps Hellfire's Level 5 as the base level (it requires the Hellfire disk to boot) but replaces the rest of Hellfire's levels with new levels 6, 7, and 8, and then adds a Level 9. Essentially, the expansion fools the Hellfire program into thinking that its levels are the ones that originally came with Hellfire, but this means that they have some unfortunate limitations. Since Hellfire didn't use room descriptions on odd levels, neither can Drindisti. The developers recommend that you play the game in level order 7-6-9-8, presumably because they wanted to use room descriptions on the "first" and "third" levels but were constrained by the original program.

There are similar limitations with the treasures you can find. Their nature is hard-coded into the level design, so if Level 8, Treasure #7 was a random bunch of arrows in Hellfire Warrior, it's a random bunch of arrows in Drindisti, too. Level 7, Treasure 16 is a magic sword in both games.
    
The third problem is one that plagued both Hellfire Warrior and its original expansion, The Keys of Acheron (1981): the engine has no sense of a "winning condition." As far as it's concerned, once you leave the level and return to the safety of town, you're back in the original Apshai lobby, and there was no way to win Apshai, just improve and amass wealth. The level disks are incapable of any programming complexity not on the original boot disk, so they can't throw you a party. You know you've won if you've achieved the victory conditions set out in the manual--the slaying of a particular enemy, or the retrieval of a particular treasure, or both--but the game makes no acknowledgement of it. 
   
The end-of-level treasure report shows I have Treasure #14, which is the only acknowledgement I get that I've won.
      
The backstory this time is relatively simple: the kingdom of Drindisti has lately been plagued with bandits, dragons, and other ills. The Wizard King of Drindisti, Yoturni, has made a list of four traditional enemies of the kingdom, one of whom is probably behind the attack. You are the most powerful warrior in the kingdom, tasked with slaying each of the four enemies.

As with Hellfire Warrior and The Keys of Acheron, you create your character on the Hellfire disk. You can accept a default character, load a character from a previous session, or create your own from scratch. As usual, this last option invites all kinds of abuse. Nothing stops you from creating a character with all-18 attributes, a magical sword +9, magical armor, 99 healing elixirs, and so forth, thus trivializing what is a reasonably high difficulty for a default character. On the other hand, you'd be cheating yourself out of the joy of treasure hunting. Most of the character development is through finding treasure. You can use it to pay for enchantments to your sword and armor, elixirs, arrows, and magic arrows. A mage also has a random selection of items to sell you before each expedition (including "Seven-League Boots" occasionally), and you can also stop by the apothecary to buy potions that will last the duration of your journey and boost your abilities. 
        
Creating a modest new character.
            
Beyond treasure, I'm not sure if there's any real character development. The character file tracks an "experience" statistic, but the game manual is cagey about what it actually does. It explicitly does not increase your attributes or your hit points, which are always expressed as a percentage anyway. [Ed. I was wrong. It does improve your attributes. You get a bonus point at 2,000 experience points and every doubling from there. It allocates them in a way that favors constitution and strength. See the discussion for more.]
   
Actually playing the game uses mechanics that will be familiar to you if you've read my entries on any of the previous Dunjonquest titles (except Gateway, a console game with a very different interface). Movement is by turning R)ight, L)eft, or V)olte Face and the moving forward 1-9 steps. When you see an enemy, you can F)ire a regular arrow or a M)agic arrow if he's in your line of fire; otherwise, you can get into melee range and use A)ttack, T)hrust, or P)arry. Exploration commands include S)earching for traps, E)xamining walls for secret doors, O)pening those doors, and taking a H)ealing salve. In addition to health, you have a fatigue meter that depletes with movement and combat actions, more with higher encumbrance. (It's almost never useful to carry around very heavy treasures.) Fatigue replenishes by standing still, but that also invites enemies to spawn in your room.
   
Enemies are fairly relentless in this title--it's meant to be a game for advanced adventurers. The engine is only capable of showing one enemy on the screen at a time, but you'll frequently enter a room with a spider, kill it, and immediately get another one. This might go on for 10 or 12 of the beasts before the room finally clears, but even then a random enemy could spawn within seconds. 
        
"And another appears" is a frequent and annoying message.
    
Mapping the levels is essential if you want to win, or even if you just want to find your way to an exit. Fortunately, the game helps with room numbers. You have to be vigilant, because these can change halfway through a large room or long corridor. On Levels 7 and 9, these numbers correspond with room descriptions given in the manual. The descriptions aren't just flavor; they often offer clues about enemies, the presence of secret doors, and the nature of the room's treasures. Here are some examples:
       
Level 7, Room 36: A large, open chamber where the wizard's apprentices amuse themselves in their off hours. In the northwest corner of the room is a beautiful glass fountain spouting green tinted water.

Level 7, Room 40: On the west wall of this otherwise bare room rests a chalkboard, with a total of 24 names written on it. Some of the names are marked with an "X," others with an "O," while others are marked with a [slash]. The floor of the room is covered with a trace amount of chalk.

Level 9, Room 25: A small chapel. Against the western wall is a huge idol of the Demonmaster straddling a small altar. On top of the altar is a small silver statue, also of the Demonmaster. In the eastern half of the chapel is a cloak rack which seems out of place.
         
My map of the rooms and treasures on the Glass Wizard's level.
      
In addition to the room descriptions, all four of the levels have treasure descriptions. When you pick up an item with the treasure symbol, you get its number and can reference the book to see what you found. Some of the treasures are junk ("A glass bowl filled with bits of broken glass"); others are extremely valuable and converted to money when you leave the dungeon ("a small pouch containing a handful of small but no doubt valuable diamonds"). Occasionally, one of the "treasures" turns out to be something that causes an event in the game, like a healing fountain, and you might also find something you can equip and use, like an enchanted sword. Finally, as in The Keys of Acheron, the developers often use treasure descriptions to give you quasi-encounters and hints. For instance, "treasure" # T01 on Level 8 reads:
       
The Sage tells you that the Demigod's altar can be found by walking through the stone archway to the west of his hut and entering the Hall of Pillars. The Sage advises you to be very careful in the Hall of Pillars, because there are monsters hiding around every corner. Once you pass through the Hall of Pillars, you should take a left turn and continue in that direction. Eventually, you will reach the altar.
             
If you go in the manual's suggested order, the first enemy you'll deal with is the Glass Wizard on Level 7. He lives in a cave structured as a giant maze, full of his apprentices and a bunch of monsters whose names all begin with "glass" (e.g., glass lizard, glass spider, glass birds). Distressingly, you have to kill a number of "pet dogs." A lot of the treasures are statues--remains of previous victims of the wizard. They're all too heavy to bother carrying. The goal is to make your way through the maze, find the Glass Wizard's chambers, kill him, and grab the treasure that contains his spell book, which he stole from Yoturni. If you kill the wizard and escape the dungeon with Treasure #14, you have satisfied these conditions.
    
Confronting the Wizard.
        
Level 6 is the home of the Illusionist. The level is a wonky one with numerous secret and illusory doors, rooms that wrap back on themselves, and other such navigation puzzles. While you're exploring, you get attacked by demons, giant snakes, and "winged horrors." The goal is to find and kill the Illusionist and then retrieve his wooden staff. Unfortunately, there are four staffs to find (Treasures #1-4), and you don't know which is the real one, so you have to find all of them to have met the winning condition.
     
The Illusionist attacks in a secret room.
         
Level 9 takes you to "The Temple of the Demonmaster." This scenario is particularly well-constructed and written. The citadel is a sensible shape and size in the middle of the map. You can't do much with this game's graphics, but the creators gave it a relevant layout, with a large entry hall leading to smaller work areas and bedrooms. A public area accessible by lesser clerics has murals that tell the story of the Demonmaster (these are told via room descriptions). They depict him taking over the land before an alliance of men and dragons defeated him, but he rose from his defeat and began his conquests anew. However, a secret set of murals in the High Priest's private chambers show that the Demonmaster was, in fact, defeated, and the High Priest has been using his legacy as a front for his own activities. You've "won" the scenario if you defeat the High Priest; there's no special treasure to retrieve. A creature called the "Idol" in this setting is one of the toughest in the Dunjonquest series.
       
This shot lets you know that I at least encountered the High Priest. I suppose there's no way to prove I defeated him.
       
Finally, Level 8 is the "Realm of Mist," described in the manual as a "dark and dank place." It is composed of mostly-blank screens, some of which wrap around on themselves. A few of the treasure descriptions are re-purposed as hints from the Sage about how to get to the demi-god's altar and where to find an Amulet of Protection that you need there.
   
A non-hostile "sage" awaits next to his "treasure"--a hint about where to go next.
        
You have to cut your way through phantoms, mist monsters, and guardian beasts to find your way to the demi-god's altar. Once there, the manual says to summon him by "praying to him (use the '0' command)." Apparently, this process causes his minions to spawn first, and then eventually the demi-god. What's really happening is that '0' moves you forward 0 spaces and thus counts as passing a turn. They must have set the demi-god to appear after a certain number of passed turns.
 
The hardest creature in Dunjonquest appears on his altar.
         
I thought that Drindisti's levels were the most challenging of the series, but the Hellfire Warrior sub-series in general has been more hardcore than the original Apshai game and its own sub-series. The worst danger I found was simply becoming lost and ultimately getting into a spiral where enemies spawned faster than my ability to rest and restore fatigue. I ultimately won each scenario, but only with a combination of save states and being a bit generous in character creation. With more time, I could see having a lot of fun really building the character, visiting each level multiple times before ultimately conquering them.
      
Even if you die, there's a chance that the character isn't gone.
      
Jon Freeman, who had left Automated Simulations by the time of Drindisti, is generally credited as the mind behind the Dunjonquest series. But Acheron had kicked things up a notch in narrative quality, an improvement undoubtedly owed to Paul Reiche III, later of Star Control fame, who had recently left TSR after writing tabletop Dungeons and Dragons modules. For Drindisti, Automated Simulations also got an experienced tabletop designer: Rudy Kraft III, co-designer of RuneQuest. This is the only involvement with Kraft on a computer RPG that I can find.
    
I'm going to do something incredibly lazy and simply assign the same score to Drindisti that I gave to Acheron, which was a 24. I don't see anything fundamentally different about them. They both make the best use they can of a somewhat limited engine. The levels are challenging and the documentation is high-quality.
    
This is, alas, the end of our explorations with the Dunjonquest series. Three years after its first release, its limitations were beginning to show, and improvements to the interface and graphics in the repackaged Temple of Apshai Trilogy (1985) didn't turn things around. Having presumably also not made a bundle with their re-issuing of the Crystalware catalogue in 1981 and 1982, the re-branded Epyx made a sharp turn away from RPGs in the coming years, focusing instead on racing and sports titles. Rare exceptions are the 1985 commercial version of Rogue and publishing Charles Dougherty's Legend of Blacksilver (1988).
     
The series deserves a lot of credit for what it accomplished: the first use of expansions, excellent production qualities, a sincere desire to bring emergent tabletop gameplay to the computer, and admirable dedication to porting the games to as many relevant systems as possible. Links to my review of the full series are below.

*****

Danger in Drindisti (1982)