Sunday, April 18, 2021

Clouds of Xeen: Unfinished Business

I long for the innocent days when this was just a joke.
     
Judging by contemporary reviews, the original release of Clouds of Xeen did not allow players to keep playing after winning the final battle. This one does. I decided I couldn't very well start Darkside of Xeen with a list of unfinished tasks from Clouds, and so we have this intermediate entry.
    
1. The Area Above the Tower of High Magic
   
Electrical traps had dissuaded me from finishing this area the first time. There were more cloud golems to kill, more gems to pick up, more clues to read on statues, more items to grab from pedestals. I accidentally walked off the edge of the clouds at one point and discovered that my characters can survive the fall with minimal damage. There were a bunch of drums; I never figured out what they did, but a tavern tip later suggested that they had something to do with finding more gems.
   
It's times like this that I wonder what happened to Kenny.
    
2. The Four Corners
    
Each corner of the overland map has a small "island" floating in the cosmos dedicated to a particular element (e.g., "Water Corner," "Air Corner"). There's a "reflector" on each of these islands. I decided not to activate them, as I assume they have something to do with the shared content of the two games.
      
You can just see the reflector to the right.
      
What I wonder is whether these four corners have anything to do with the four corners of CRON and their teleporters to the planes of the four elements. It was also a flat world, and all the signs are that Xeen is a similarly "manufactured" space. As with anything Might and Magic-related, we have to search for meaning behind the surface plot. My current thinking is that:
        
  • The four elemental planes are real, and that they're the key to both creating and destroying worlds fit for living beings.
  • The elemental planes are fixed in their own space though accessible from normal space. That is, they didn't come with CRON; they were just accessible from CRON.
  • The Ancients learned to tap into these planes and create artificial worlds like CRON and Xeen.
  • The origin story for CRON, involving wars between the four elemental lords, is a dramatization of a fairly common process of creating manufactured, flat worlds. Something must have gone wrong on that particular CRON, however, because the teleportals to the elemental planes remained active, and the characters from that setting were able to go through them and actually kill the elemental lords.
  • The reflectors in the four corners of Xeen serve a similar purpose as the teleportals on CRON. Maybe the specific devices are different on Xeen because the world has two sides. Maybe reflectors are what is left after you properly close the teleportals. I guess we'll have more information later.
    
3. Tavern Hints

Commenter Tizzy alerted me that I might not have given sufficient attention to the different tips that you get in taverns. I acknowledged his or her point and yet still neglected to go around and get all of the tips. Following a "better late than never" philosophy, I did so now. I started to list and analyze all of them, but there were dozens, and most just offered clues as to the locations of spells and other items that you would inevitably stumble upon anyway.
       
I don't know what this means, but I want to point out that a unicorn is drinking in a tavern, in case you didn't think this game could get any sillier.
   
However, there were a few things that helped elucidate the plot. First, it was clear that Lord Xeen destroyed Newcastle, probably because they were working on a sword to kill him. The history of Newcastle isn't well explained, even if you read the manual after winning the game, but the suggestion is that your party is the second group of adventurers to try to slay Xeen. The first, based in Newcastle, didn't have to collect "king's mega credits" to rebuild their own castle, so they could just focus on making the Xeen-slaying weapon. Unfortunately, Xeen found out about their plans and killed them.
     
Not all tavern tips are equally useful.
    
"The Amulet to the Southern Sphinx is lost with Roland." Up until now, I'd been accepting on the surface the game's backstory that Roland left for the Darkside, returned undead, and started calling himself "Lord Xeen." This hint suggests that Lord Xeen was never Roland, and just used his features as a disguise until Crodo blasted them away. Another hint said that Roland had the keys to the two stone towers (inaccessible from Clouds alone) when he disappeared.

"Some people say there is a town inside the great volcano." Fodder for a later section.

4. Shaking My Confidence Daily
      
I solved a long-neglected quest, got an extra 20,000 experience and 2,000 gold, by returning Celia to her lover. I guess she'd been with me the entire time. Imagine the stories she has to tell him.
    
We're just sorry we made her come with us to kill Lord Xeen.
      
5. Lava world
    
You may remember from earlier entries that I had skipped parts of D1, E1, E2, F1, and F2 until I felt better about walking on lava. I needn't have waited. You can't really walk on lava in this game. "Levitation" doesn't help at all. Neither does high resistance to fire. After using the +10 levels fountain, the +250 maximum hit points fountain, "Day of Protection," and the +50 fire resistance shrine, I could still only walk about a dozen steps before I had to retreat and heal. It's a little maddening not to be able to fill in all the squares on the map, but then again this isn't the sort of game where you really need to do that. If the square doesn't show anything in it, it doesn't have anything. I thus forgot about mapping the lava squares and used "Teleport" and "Jump" to move around the various explorable spaces between the lava, relying on "Wizard Eye" to show me locations worth exploring.
          
On the edge of a huge lava lake with a tower in the middle.
       
I found the lava golems, great hydras, and acid dragons in this area somewhat challenging if I let my buffs expire. They're also all capable of breaking all your equipment, which gets expensive.
    
There were three entire dungeons in the area that I hadn't found: the Dragon Cave, the Volcano Cave, and, in the middle of a lake of lava, a tower for which I didn't have a key. I could enter the Dragon Cave, but it seems to me that it's meant for characters able to take advantage of the higher levels afforded by Darkside. Even with full buffs, the flame dragons and frost dragons sapped my hit points quickly, plus there are magic mouths at every intersection that take 2000 gold and 200 gems as a "dragon tax." No fun.
      
I can't quite survive against multiples of these guys.
   
The Volcano Cave was explorable for my level, and the demons and devils that inhabited it easily defeatable despite their names. The problem is the undulating lakes of lava that the dungeon clearly expected me to explore and cross if I was going to get any of the good stuff. Like the others, I decided to save it for later. It's clear I'm going to have to return to Clouds from the Darkside frequently.
      
It's definitely an original conception of a demon.
        
6. Your Kisses Take Me . . .
   
Commenters had spoiled the existence of a "hidden town," and one of them suggested I could find it if I was sufficiently versed in classic mythology. Back in Vertigo, I went to the magic mirror and tried ATLANTIS, CAMELOT, AVALON, HYPERBOREA, ASGARD, ARCADIA, NORUMBEGA, OLYMPUS, THULE, VALHALLA, and YS, before hitting it with SHANGRI-LA. I arrived in a cave next to a door that opened to Level 3 of the Volcano Cave, so I guess I would have found it eventually, but as we'll see, I really should have gotten there the long way. 
   
Shangri-La was one of those places that a lot of Might and Magic games have where you can pick up things you might have otherwise missed. There's a guild that sells all the spells in the game, for instance, and a trainer who gives you all the skills. There are rumors and hints that provide key passwords (e.g., the name of the sphinx, the password to Newcastle's dungeon) and explicit hints in case you didn't get them in their proper places on the surface. There's even a fountain that raises you one level for having made it here. I reloaded and didn't use it, figuring I didn't make it here legitimately.
      
If you know how to get to Shangri-La at the beginning of the game, I suspect Jack Alltrades is the key to a speed run.
       
A back door goes to a dungeon in something called "Alamar's Castle," which I suppose is probably in the Darkside. I hadn't gone more than a few steps before I was blasted to smithereens by some giant cyborg.
   
I suppose this spoils a bit of Darkside.
      
I can't find the comment now, but whoever told me that I'd find the city if I knew classic mythology (if I ever remember that part right) was a bit off. "Shangri-La" was invented by James Hilton for Lost Horizon (1933), although it was based on similar places in Buddhist mythology. Fun fact: the presidential retreat at Camp David used to be called "Shangri-La." 
   
Kublai Khan's city was Xanadu. Honestly, how hard is this?
     
Shangri-La has no magic mirror, so there are still only five in the game world.
   
7. Are you not entertained?
    
I hadn't done much at the arena (accessible from any mirror by saying WARZONE or going to the dungeon in B2), so I decided to see if I could kill 20 Level 10 monsters, the highest difficulty. The answer is: with the level, strength, and hit point buffs, yes. Without them, it depends on the specific composition. Level 10 monsters include demons, lava golems, rocs, and diamond golems. Of these, the diamond golems are the biggest problem. They're immune to everything, hit hard enough to break your equipment, and take about four rounds to kill with melee attacks. If there were too many of them, I had no chance. With the buffs, I could kill them in one or two rounds and the area was easier. 
      
I think he says "spectacular" no matter what.
      
I didn't get anything special for winning, though.
   
The Level 10/20-enemy victory got me about 100,000 experience points exactly. I mention this because I had been toying with replacing one or two party members, and I was curious if I could make up the lost experience in the arena. Since the main part of Clouds got my characters between 10.7 and 12.2 million experience points, I'd be looking at 122 victories before I could get to this same position again. In reality, it would be more, because I'd need to gain a few levels before a new character could survive even with the other characters doing most of the fighting. I might as well just play a new game.
    
On the other hand, some commenters have encouraged me to start over completely with a new party for Darkside, so it's possible that all the experience you earn in Clouds functionally doesn't matter. I toyed with the idea, but it feels like it would be too weird to have all those quests unfinished on the Clouds side. I'd probably just end up playing the entire first game again whether I needed the experience or not.
   
With that, I think I'm ready to visit a pyramid and flip over to the Darkside.

36 comments:

  1. Note that Protection from Elements actually gives better protection values than the Day of Protection spell. I recall having no trouble walking through the lava with only minimal damage, although I don't recall at what level that was.

    I don't think you're supposed to guess Shangri-La. However, if you're so inclined, you can guess that a mirror will take you to Lord Xeen directly, since the game allows you to mirror-warp to basically any location you know the name of.

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    1. Wow, that does work. So if level wasn't an issue, you could start a game, walk up to the mirror, say LORD XEEN, and immediately get to the end.

      I just discovered that if you do it after having won, you get the whole endgame sequence again.

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    2. You still need the Xeen Slayer sword because he's immune to literally everything else. But this does allow you to bypass the carnival, the final dungeon, and the dragon sub-boss.

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    3. I suppose you can't teleport to the Xeen Slayer Sword, or it's dungeon, until it's been built?

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    4. If you say "I LOST IT" to the mirror then it will give you a Xeen Slayer sword. You can also use this cheat multiple times to give everyone his own Xeen Slayer sword.

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    5. Although it would be wonderful if Newcastle had a mirror, it doesn't, so that wouldn't work. There is a mirror passcode that gives you the Xeen Slayer Sword (V ybfg vg), but there's no way you could know that passcode from regular gameplay, so it should definitely be considered a cheat.

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    6. The speedrun record for the game is under 5 minutes and it doesn't look like the runner uses glitches

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    7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gg5cSJ04dQA&t=13s

      That's impressive. Judicious use of the Teleport spell lets him bypass basically all monsters and traps to grab the various keys and megacredits needed to reach the Xeenslayer. At level 11 with barely any buffs, according to his notes he has a ~50% chance to take down Lord Xeen (who is laughably weak compared to the various dragons, golems, and mummies in the game).

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  2. Reading this, Chet, I thought, "But CRON wasn't flat! It wrapped around north-south and east-west!" Then I found your discussion about it in the comments a decade ago (https://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2011/05/might-magic-ii-land-explored.html) about how CRON can't be a toroid because it would bulge in the middle, which should've distorted the game map.

    Amusing how the game's designers thought they could get a global map on the cheap and ended up creating a geometric mess. Xeen makes much more sense by contrast.

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    1. CRON can still be a toroid, it suffices that it lives in a four-dimensional space. (a fifth dimensional space factually, 4 of space, 1 of time)

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    2. CRON is probably a weird pancake-shape with all the machinery hidden inside.

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    3. I mean, it IS a manufactured world. For all we know, most of what the party experiences is basically a holodeck. There are a lot of potential explanations without having to go to something silly like four-dimensional space.

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    4. If you think that's silly, you should hear about what those nutty String Theorists think!

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  3. Checking the various FAQs and walkthroughs, I find that the spell list in MM4 is largely the same as in MM3. It adds spells that target a specific creature type (Beastmaster, Dragonsleep, Golem Stopper, Insect Spray), which is a nice concept but not a big deal in practice.

    It adds two utility spells (Clairvoyance and Item to Gold), replacing some of the less practical MM3 spells Create Rope, Detect Magic, Duplication, Half for Me, and Nature's Gate.

    It has two new damage spells (Poison Volley and Shrapmetal) that replace Acid Stream, Disintegrate, Dragon Breath, and Elemental Arrow. Finally, where MM3 has four paralysis-type spells, MM4 combines them all in Hypnotize.

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    1. The diamond golems seem designed specifically to force you to use Golem Stopper, but otherwise agreed that the specific target spells were pretty unnecessary.

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  4. One solution for Darkside that should be very doable, would be to retire a few party members before heading over there. The first areas seem designed to catch characters up, so you shouldn't find it too troublesome. Or even retire the whole party and get new characters, possibly loaning equipment over. The completed quests and cleared areas of Cloudside should remain so in that case, right?

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    1. Yeah, the idea isn't to truly start a new game, but to go to the tavern and swap out your current party with a set of new characters, perhaps handing over equipment if you like. So all the Clouds stuff stays done in the timeline, but you get a new party to work with.

      Not only does it allow some party variety, but Darkside really suffers if you start out with all of the skills and spells as there's much less character development.

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  5. I gave the tip about being able to guess the hidden city's name, but I think I mentioned "mythical lost cities", not ancient mythology. I don't remember how exactly I phrased it.

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  6. "Drum: Who will bang?" We shall seeeeee....!

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  7. The Vulcano Cave which leads to Shangri-La is a MM4 area. The levers which remove lava squares so you can jump your way through don't make sense if you're already immune to fire.

    The Dragon Cave difficulty is also balanced as a MM4 endgame challenge. This is an opportunity to test your skill.

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    1. If I'm not mistaken, there's nothing that World of Xeen by itself unlocks on Cloudside other than the two ways of getting to Darkside (the teleporters and the other exit of Shangri-La). The additional content that does appear on Cloudside requires going to Darkside to unlock.

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  8. The drums in Tower of High Magic clouds fill the barrels near the tower with a small amount of gems. I guess, it can be repeated, in case the party is completely out of gems for spellcasting. But it is a rather unlikely scenario.

    Dragon Cave can be explored easily with a liberal use of Wizard's Eye and Teleport to get to the larger, open areas. If the party can defeat all of the dragons. There is nothing in the corridors, except for those urns.

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  9. There's nothing from Derek that would indicate you just brought Celia with you. For all you know, she could have returned to him half a year ago after you freed her, he just did not have any opportunity to thank you earlier?

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  10. Dragon King is doable with 17-18 level party. You need to have speed buff from the shrine and the xeen slayer sword. It took me two rounds. Melee Atak, divine intervention, melee atak.
    Robert Majer

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    1. Why would you use the Xeenslayer for that? Any ruby or better weapon deals more average damage than the Xeenslayer (steel or better, for most 2H weapons).

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    2. Yes, my party had many different weapons. Maybe the xeenslayer sword wasn't necessary. The fight was suprisingly short. The xeenslayer is excelent against Sandro in Darkside. 50 level knight with heroism (and over 100 might) can defeat him with one blow.
      Robert Majer

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    3. The Xeen Slayer Sword bypasses physical resistance (and Lord Xeen has 100% physical resistance). The Dragon King doesn't have physical resistance so it's true that the Xeen Slayer isn't particularly great for it, but it's worth keeping in mind in other cases. My understanding is that at high levels even the material of your weapon is dwarfed by your inherent bonuses, and weapons that bypass resistances or do bonus damage to particular types start to become much more powerful than obsidian weapons.

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  11. Concerning Shangri-La, that's where the bombers came from that first bombed Tokyo in april 1942 ( all right, FDR said it so he wouldn't disclose they came from an aircraft carriers )

    Incidentally, in the interrupted French gamebook series Prester John Saga ( La Saga du PrĂȘtre Jean ), you're playing a burned-out crusader who wants eternal life on earth by reaching Shangri-La, the hidden city in the Himalayan that makes people immortal.

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  12. "I want to point out that a unicorn is drinking in a tavern, in case you didn't think this game could get any sillier."

    Have I got news for you ;)

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    1. Is that My Little Pony? Someone call the police before this guy starts shooting people.

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    2. I don't have time for shooting rampages, I've got backlog to go through before the Steam releases of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne and GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon. ;)

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  13. Darkside quests and enemies give massively more XP than Clouds ones, so replacing a party member or even starting with a new party is totally fine. I beat 4+5 with one continuous party and I don't think I benefited much from it other than starting Dark with all skills.

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  14. Ys is a thing outside of video games??! I never knew that! What legend is Ys coming from?

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    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ys

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  15. I would have tried Iram too, with that hints, on shangrila I would have never thought

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