Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Ultima VII: Part Two - Serpent Isle: Summary and Rating

 
         
Ultima VII: Part Two - Serpent Isle
With The Silver Seed expansion
United States
ORIGIN Systems, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS
Date Started: 29 January 2023
Date Ended: 3 October 2023
Total Hours: 112
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
         
Summary:
    
Serpent Isle takes the engine from Ultima VII: Part One - The Black Gate (with a few upgrades) and tells a long, full story worthy of its own game number. The Avatar and his three stalwart companions (Iolo, Shamino, and Dupre) travel from Britannia to the Serpent Isle, chasing former Fellowship leader Batlin, who has ostensibly gone to enact the next stage of the Guardian's plot to destroy Britannia. As a secondary quest, the party hopes to find the fate of Iolo's wife, Gwenno. They arrive to find a land of former Britannian malcontents who have built cities on the foundations of an older race that worshiped Order, Chaos, and Balance. In the end, the party destroys Batlin but unleashes forces that essentially wipe out the people of the island. The Avatar manages to restore Balance for the few remaining citizens, but at the cost of Dupre's life and the Avatar's own abduction into the next Ultima title.
    
The plot is long and complex, with abrupt, nonsensical, and inept developments balancing the relatively competent backstory and world-building. Like The Black Gate, the mechanics are weak in classic RPG elements. Combat remains more random than tactical; spells are mostly unnecessary; character development is an afterthought. Inventory and lever puzzles adopt far greater prominence than in previous Ultima games. The oblique-angle interface remains fantastic for exploration and character actions, less so for combat, even less so for inventory management. 

The narrative is relatively linear, and most of the game world is blocked off until you hit various plot points. And it just drags on forever. I enjoyed the beginning but was so exhausted by the end that I grew actively angry at each NPC, door, and puzzle.
         
****
    
The Ultima series continues to innovate. Past entries gave us the first CRPG mini-games, the first dialogue keywords, the first recruitable NPCs, the first map included in the game box, the first ability to play musical instruments within a game, and lots of other superlatives. Here, we have the first 100-hour CRPG plot. You understand, I trust, how that's different from the first 100-hour game. A game can take a long time to win but be primarily about mapping (Crusaders of the Dark Savant), or grinding (Disciples of Steel), or both (Fate: Gates of Dawn), or dying and reloading (NetHack, The Return of Werdna). It can exceed 100 hours because it offers a thousand side quests (The Elder Scrolls) or because the game simply has no single ending (MMOs).
   
But it's rare to find single storylines that cross into three-digit hours. Even today, main quests can usually be wrapped up in considerably shorter time. More important, modern games offer features that weren't available in 1993, such as quest logs, summaries of completed quests, dialogue notes, and quest items that you cannot discard. Long plots tend to be divided into digestible chapters or regular points of return to a central resting place.
   
Thus, when I say that Serpent Isle is "too long," I don't mean necessarily that it's too long a game (although, let's face it, it is) but that it's too long of a plot, and more precisely that it's too long of a continuous, unrelenting plot in which the player must keep track of hundreds of things said by hundreds of NPCs as well as dozens of quest items, lest he literally lock himself out of continuing. That I only had to use the cheat menu a couple of times is something of a miracle.
      
I just like this shot.
    
If I'd liked the plot, I might have minded less, but I just didn't. I liked the plot of The Black Gate. The Fellowship was a sinister organization seeking to usurp everything I'd built, and I enjoyed discovering their hidden motives. In Serpent Isle, the part I liked best was trying to track down the items lost in the teleportation storm. The rest of the plot just didn't hang together well. The history makes no sense (e.g., the rise, peak, and disappearance of the "Ophidian" culture in less than a century). The motives of the Guardian and Batlin are nonsensical. The plot twists are abrupt, and the NPCs don't have enough of a reaction to them; for instance, no one in the party reacts to Dupre's cremation, and the world's NPCs are awfully ho-hum about the deaths of 90% of the citizens. The Imbalance (i.e., teleportation storms) is handled inconsistently. I have to give some praise to the depth of the backstory and the development of the Ophidian virtue system, but I couldn't bring myself to care about it. That's the, what, sixth system of virtues that the Ultima series has introduced? At some point, you have to say enough.
      
Commenters have offered conflicting opinions on whether the central problem with the game is that the developers had too much time or too little, were under too much pressure from their new Electronic Arts masters or given too much leash. (Jimmy Maher has an excellent pair of articles on this period in Origin's history, as it was subsumed by its larger partner.) I think a more obvious explanation for the difference between The Serpent Isle and The Black Gate is that the team lost their writer. Raymond Benson, who had done such a great job with the plotting and dialogue in The Black Gate, only worked on Serpent Isle for a couple months before he left Origin to go write Return of the Phantom (1993) for MicroProse. (These facts are attested in a 2013 Ultima Codex interview with Benson.) Replacing him was . . . well, it's not clear. Unlike The Black Gate, Serpent Isle doesn't have a "lead writer" credit. It does have a "Writing Team," but I don't think anyone on it is a professional writer. It's made up of career Origin employees whose talents are in coding, not dialogue.
       
This part never made any sense.
     
The team was led by Bill Armintrout, who according to MobyGames credits was occupying the director's chair for the first time. In another Ultima Codex interview, Armintrout indicates that his big break wasn't a sign of confidence from Origin or EA management, but rather a consequence of three project leads quitting the company at the same time. He describes a one-hour briefing in which he had to learn "what an Ultima was." The interview indicates that Richard Garriott was occupied with Pagan while a mostly-inexperienced team worked on Serpent Isle, adapting to changing visions and requirements. In an early draft, the game was going to be pirate-themed.
    
Armintrout's interview also gives some indications of material that was cut from the game. As commenters have already mentioned, originally the Banes of Chaos (occupying the bodies of Dupre, Shamino, and Iolo) were supposed to take over the three cities of Serpent Isle, not just kill everyone. They would have perverted the values and virtues of the towns. The Bane of Wantonness was to have turned the citizens of Monitor into actual leopards, wolves, and bears; Iolo was to have unleashed a plague in Fawn that made everyone ugly; and Shamino was to have become the new MageLord of Moonshade. The Avatar would have had to evict them all from their respective cities before facing them at the Castle of the White Dragon. These bits of lost plot appear in the game in various forms; for instance, there are leopards, wolves, and bears roaming around Monitor, and there are some notes and dialogues in Fawn and Moonshade hinting at the other lost plots. Overall, it sounds like a slightly better story, but it would have also added unnecessary length to the game.
      
A scroll in Fawn references content cut from the game.
     
In contrast to the plot, the Serpent Isle team completely inherited the engine. It has the same strengths and weaknesses of The Black Gate. I mostly like it. No other game was offering an exploration window completely unencumbered by interface elements, and it works great. Single keys call up windows and execute the most important actions. The mouse is used as it should be used, for selection of on-screen objects and positioning them. But we still have the problem with characters needing to be fed and objects getting lost deep in characters' backpacks, including a lot of tiny-but-vital objects like serpents' teeth and keys. Darkness is still too debilitating, and enemies still respawn too quickly when you leave the screen and return.
      
The addition of the "freezing" mechanic didn't do anything for me, either.
       
Combat remains underwhelming. I'm not sure if such is inevitable with the interface or whether it would have been possible to do it better. Character development is also lackluster--a few extra attribute points maybe seven or eight times. Equipment rewards are okay but barely feel like they matter. Spells play a minimal role. Much more attention is given to the game's puzzles, leading a lot of people to comment correctly that for much of its run time, it feels more like an adventure game than an RPG.
       
Moments like this made me want to quit long before the game's end.
      
I would have loved to see the possibilities inherent with this engine if the script had been less tightly plotted and the areas less gated. I think I said as much when I was reviewing The Black Gate. The engine seems tailor-made for an open world game with plenty of side quests and lots of serendipitous discovery. Origin had been planning an Arthurian Legends title using the engine (accounts differ as to whether it was going to be a Worlds of Ultima game); it's too bad it was canceled.

It's worth reading the cluebook for the game, subtitled Balancing the Scales. Frankly, until you get to the "walkthrough" part at the end, it's less a cluebook and more a supplement to the manual. It clarifies the Ophidian backstory and virtue systems, and it offers information that ought to be open to the player, like lists of spells and reagents, exchange rates, and weapon damage. Even the maps hardly offer more spoilers than the typical automap of today's RPGs. It made me wish there was something like a halfway point between a game manual and a cluebook--maybe a "manual supplement" for players who want to delve deeper into a game's lore and mechanics but not actually spoil puzzles and plot developments. 
          
It would have been nice to have a map this clear and accurate throughout the game.
      
Usually when I offer a "summary and rating" as a separate entry, I give multiple paragraphs to each GIMLET category. I just don't feel like doing that here. I already did it for The Black Gate, and any major changes between the two parts of Ultima VII I've already described above. Let's just get this over with:
    
  • 6 points for the game world. It gets all of it for depth and complexity. It doesn't do as well as The Black Gate (8) because I didn't like much of the material that went into that depth and complexity.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. No change from Gate.
        
The party's final statistics.
      
  • 6 points for NPC interaction. I gave it 7 in Gate. The quality of dialogue dropped here, and the classic keywords became more strained. Too much was gated by keyword. You have about the same number of NPCs who will join the party.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. It gets a little extra for the quality of the puzzles in various parts of the game. Enemies themselves are mostly unmemorable.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The variables are there, but they're lost in random actions and too much luck. Spells are mostly unnecessary and wasted.
       
The typical cluster@#$% that is this game's approach to combat.
        
  • 5 points for equipment. Finding upgrades remains one of the better parts of the game.
  • 3 points for the economy. Money is needed mostly for spells and not at all in the second half of the game. Having four different currencies adds nothing.
        
The last moment that money has any use.
      
  • 4 points for the quests. There's a main quest, but no alternate ending. There are some side-ish quests and areas. You get a few choices in the order you handle things.
  • 6 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The sound is horribly disappointing, so much that I mostly played it with sound off. The occasional voiced dialogue didn't excite me. I was happy with the graphics and the interface. I'm told the music is very good.
  • 2 points for gameplay. Here's where it suffers most in comparison to The Black Gate. The world is less open. It errs on the side of too easy. It's way, way, way too long, and because of that it's the opposite of "replayable." There are very few games in my chronology for which I'm sure that I'll never, never play them again, but Serpent Isle is one of them.
   
That gives us a final score of 43, the lowest by far that I've ever given to a proper Ultima title, 7 points lower than The Black Gate. I know some people think it's the best Ultima and improves upon its predecessor, so I'm sorry I can't share your opinion.
     
I don't think I've heard of "MCGA Graphics." "Make Computers Great Again?"
         
Just be glad I didn't dislike the game as much as Scorpia. In the July 1993 issue of Computer Gaming--oh, Land of Goshen, when the hell am I finally going to open an issue of this damned magazine and not see an ad for Spear of Destiny on Page 2? I swear it's been there in every issue I've consulted since 2015! It's mocking me with my lack of progress. Sorry. As I was saying, Scorpia didn't care for it much. Choice quotes:
   
  • "Many threads are woven into this tapestry, and at times, it's easy to lose sight of the pattern as a whole."
  • "Inventory is the same nightmare it was in the previous game . . . Try locating a dark item, such as nightshade or black pearl, when it's against a black background."
  • "Once a party member becomes hungry, he whines and moans about it until you stuff something into his face."
        
Amen, sister.
       
  • "Party members . . . cheerfully walk over the most blatant traps, no matter how carefully the Avatar maneuvers."
  • "The whole business of Shamino's background is bogus."
   
Aside from technical issues that I didn't experience, her biggest problem was with the puzzles, and particularly the gated nature of the puzzles. She noted, for instance, how the Avatar can't get into Skullcrusher until he speaks to the Gwani despite solving the puzzle well before then, and how the Hound of Doskar is still needed to lead you to where you already knew you had to go. She didn't like the inconsistencies in whether you could open doors with bashing and explosions or not, and she mentioned many of the plot holes, such as Wilfrid not noticing the corpses of his family members in the same room. I'm not sure what she means by "an amazing programming oversight that allows you to complete the game without performing what is supposed to be a crucial ritual," but it doesn't surprise me. Overall: "Serpent Isle is likely to provide more aggravation than enjoyment for most players."
       
To Deruvia, I guess.
      
We're in the minority, though. Most reviews put it in the 90s. Just a year after it was released, PC gamer rated it #13 (from the top) on a list of the "Top 40 Best Games of All Time." It's the highest-rated RPG on the list, which does not include The Black Gate. (The #1 game is Doom; the next-highest rated RPG is The Elder Scrolls: Arena at #18.) My own readers have shown far more enthusiasm than I've felt. Maybe it will balance out with my loving Ascension. Before then, of course, we'll take a look at Ultima VIII: Pagan, if I ever get to 1994. Chances just got a little better.
 

121 comments:

  1. Irrespective of the actual quality of the game, as someone who never really played the Ultima series outside of the first Underworld game, one thing this playthrough has convinced me is that I don't particularly want to play this game. There are a lot of games on this blog I don't really read your playthroughs of because they're games I plan on playing one day and I'd like to approach them with a fresh mind. Even other long games like the Wizardry titles or Fate, owing to their difficulty or meme status. There's a certain pride in being able to beat those. With this, there was one moment, some months back, when I saw yet another post on this game that I realized the game has been going on for a very long time.

    Also, was Spear of Destiny really that well advertised? Weird.

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    1. You should just play the beginning, rescue Monitor from the goblins, and then call it a day. Ha, at least that's what I always did.

      This makes me think of this blog's advice to just do the Cavetrain quest in Fate: Gates of Dawn and stop there. Does this game offer an good early stopping point a little further than Monitor?

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    2. If you do Monitor, Sleeping Bull, and Moonshade (including the smaller isles north of town), you've done everything great in the game. Not everything in those towns is great, but there's nothing great in Fawn, Gorlab, or the endless procession of temples and ruins in the north.

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    3. The North is actually the best part of the game, with many secrets and lore to discover.

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    4. I've replayed the game several times and quit at Balrog Swamp. I particularly enjoy Monitor and Moonshade, and I find Fawn and Sleeping Bull decent enough to deal with. I've found the North a boring and empty place.

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    5. I never made it to this one... my time ran out in college with Gate and I was just too busy in med school and going forward to ever get back to it. And yep... I don't have any interest having read through the slogging that Chet put up with.

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    6. Fawn is fun (if buggy) and it's quick. Same with Gorlab.

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  2. Funny. My first contact with this game was through a solution published in a German PC gaming mag in '93. It seemed incredibly evocative and dramatic, and for years, I regularly slipped elements into my own scenarios.

    However, this solution was something like 6 printed pages, so heavily reduced - meaning my imagination was filling out the rest based on these evocative and dramatic bits. Having now followed your playthrough, I'm left somewhat disillusioned. Where I was sad early on I had no access to the game, I now get the strong impression that it might have been better that way. So much for what the mind can do.

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  3. "Maybe it will balance out with my loving Ascension."

    Uh, better don't get your hopes up with that title, to put it diplomatic.

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    1. Ascension very much resembles VII.2 when it comes to pointless combat, weak RPG elements, and annoying respawns.

      But it is much shorter, and I think it does away with most of the thees and thys, which is a big plus.

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    2. Ultima 9 is an action-adventure game, a "Legend of Zelda Super-Deluxe". I have some doubts whether it meets Chester's four criteria defining a role-playing game.

      Anyone, try playing "LZ5: Ocarina of Time" (1998) right before Ascension (1999)...

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    3. Ascension has stat gains that you get to choose through game progression as well as skills you can train. It also has a very RPG-style equipment list and spellbook, much unlike Zelda. Its RPG credentials are as solid as any other Ultima.

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    4. The advances being tied to plot progression is what might technically disqualify Ascension according to the blogs rules (not that it will be disqualified).

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    5. You get to choose which stat to increase. That plus skill training should get it comfortably over the line.

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  4. I like this game, in spite of all its flaws. I'd almost want see it remade, but I don't expect it and doubt I'd be satisfied with the results.

    For myself, I think the game would be better if it leaned harder into the "dying world" aesthetic and the story did better at weaving the various plot elements into that. The banes killing most of the people of the world is a striking and memorable event, and I think it could've worked out better than the original plan... if the rest of the story had been designed around the knowledge it was going there.

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    1. Oh boy, do you have a Pagan to look forward to.

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    2. All of the "Age of Armageddon" games suffer from a lack of execution proportionate to their ambitions. BG and UW2 got closest but are still not nearly as good as they should be. Nobody in the industry had figured out how to get RPGs over the "multimedia PC" jump in AAA form. It's similar to the struggles some studios had with the HD switchover.

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  5. I think you gave it a fair overall score. The first half was great, even though it was linear. A "Director's Cut" remake would be the best, even using just the Exult engine.

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  6. About Ultima 7 combat: I find it interesting because it strikes me as one of the more realistic systems out there.

    1) Whoever brings Mass Death or Death Bolt to the knife fight wins.

    2) Failing that, whoever has the larger number of heavily armored goons wins, unless the other side has a giant monster.

    3) One way or another, a fight is usually over before you have much time to think about it.

    4) It is not fun.

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    1. I agree 100% with JWL.

      Also, Clint Eastwood would have phrased the "1" like this: "When the man with the Death Bolt meets the man with the sword, the man with the sword is a dead man" :D

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    2. Also, if your artillery (fire doom staff) starts blasting the melee, there's going to be some friendly fire casualties.

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    3. We all remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Plot Item where Indiana Jones Death Bolt swordsman in the desert.

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    4. I'd say that it's inevitable that real-time combat gets messy if it has multiple characters on the player's side.

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    5. I don't think it's messy in Darklands - it's very slow instead.

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  7. Can't argue with any of your points, or Scorpia's criticisms!

    There's just something about it that really captured my imagination at the time though, and probably my imagination helpfully filling in various little gaps and papering over the flaws helped a lot.

    Also as you say, there just weren't really any other games like this at the time.

    That said, perhaps the adventure gamer in me was far more fond of the puzzles than you, and viewed the easy/limited combat as a positive.

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  8. I think we're all glad this is over, even if I have expressed fondness for the mess. Onwards, to smaller and better things!

    MCGA (multi-color) was the predecessor of VGA, and I think the 320x200 256 color mode is the same in both.

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    1. Not quite - MCGA and VGA were introduced at about the same time.

      MCGA was an extension of CGA, available only on the lowest-end PS/2 model. It not only lacked most of VGA's capabilities apart from the 320x200x256 mode (and even then, a lot of programs used extra VGA features and were thus incompatible) but was entirely incompatible with the ubiquitous EGA standard - anything made for EGA would get dumped all the way down to 4-color CGA.

      VGA was an extension of EGA, fully backwards compatible with EGA and culturally compatible with CGA.

      MCGA and VGA were basically a low-high offering, where the "high" was so ludicrously superior that the "low" died an extremely quick and unlamented death.

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  9. That's the, what, sixth system of virtues that the Ultima series has introduced? At some point, you have to say enough.

    It is the third one, if we exclude the twisted philosophies in U5 and U7.1. Did anybody notice the philosophical evolution through the series ?

    (1) The virtues and principles in U4 are all about interacting with other people. (2) The Gargoyle virtues and principles in U6 are all about self-improvement. (3) The Ophidian system in U7.2 merges the two aspects in a more... balanced... and complete philosophical system.

    This is by far my favorite aspect of the Ultima series. Since I played it, I pay attention to philosophy and/or religion in every role-playing game I play.

    Does anyone agree with me ?

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    1. I think this makes sense. But I think that the value system in U6 was more inward-looking perhaps out of necessity rather than any intention to contrast it with the system in U4. It's hard to derive a system of morality that focuses on social good from unbiguously evil models.

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    2. It's between the fifth and seventh, I think, depending on how you count Blackthorn and Wine/Women/Song. I can't see any basis for omitting U7.1's system, though.
      U4: The original 8 virtues from Truth, Love, and Courage.
      U5: Blackthorn's twisting of the original 8 virtues. Debatable.
      U6: Dupre (? Or maybe some bard?) posits 8 virtues from Wine, Women, and Song. Only shows up in one conversation.
      U6: The 8 Gargoyle virtues from Control, Passion, and Singularity.
      U7: The Fellowship's Triad of Inner Strength.
      UU2: The 8 Guardian virtues in Killorn Keep. (I mostly remember these because they repeat the gargish principle of Diligence.)
      U7½: The 6 Ophidian virtues from Order, Balance, and Chaos.

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    3. (I meant Control, Passion, and Diligence, of course. Stupid anonymous no-edit thingy, mumble grumble.)

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    4. @Korath it's Mandrake the bard that promotes the virtues of Wine, Women, and Song. Although I'm sure Dupre is a fan (although one could make a case for Dupre = Wine, Shamino = Women, Iolo = Song).

      And let's not forget Ultima 4.5, with its virtues of Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n Roll!

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    5. (Um, 9 Ophidian virtues, not 6.)

      Also in the probably-not-countable column, there's six of the eight dungeon names for anti-virtues in U4-U7.1, three anti-principles in U5, and imbalance/bane anti-virtues for 6 of the 9 Ophidian virtues.

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    6. Ok, they might be up to eight. Now I feel the compulsion of sorting them out. I'd say there are:
      - three "serious" philosophies (U4, Gargoyles, Ophidians),
      - three twisted, manipulative philosophies (U5, U7.1, UU2),
      - and two comical ones (wine-women-song, sex-drug-rock'n'roll).

      At the beginning of this thread, I considered just the first three. I admit I never put too much thought on the other ones.

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    7. I just want to say I appreciate how analytical this got. Abacos is right that there are only three "serious" ones, of course. I agree with Abacos's analysis that the classic Avatar virtues are more external and the gargoyle ones are more internal, but I'm not sure I agree that the Ophidian ones represent balance between the two. I'd have to think about it more.

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  10. Do you have any plans of doing Final Fantasy 4 or 6 ? Your remark about Serpent Isle being the first truly 100 hour plot CRPG made me think of those games. Final Fantasy 6 would be an interesting comparison with Serpent Isle.

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    1. Those games are only 40-60 hours. For 100 hour jrpgs you’ve got DQ7, persona 3/4/5, and not much else

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    2. The Xenoblades are also good examples of 100+ hour JRPGs

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    3. Ignoring the length of the game for a moment, Serpent Isle presents the player with scripted plot events in quick succession, which give the following tasks context and purpose. That's similar to Final Fantasy 4+ and modern games. Still relatively advanced for a game in 1993, isn't it?

      Personally I've found that while playing such games, I was often craving the next scripted story event and didn't enjoy long stretches of pure gameplay anymore. Similar to the effect of sugary snacks, they make you hungry for more. In contrast, in games with only a framing story, I was more patient and persevering. For this reason, I'd rather play Ultima V, Dungeon Master and Doom than Serpent Isle, Lands of Lore and Half-Life. But it might be that the real reason is simply that the first three have gameplay that I enjoy more. Or maybe games with bare-bones narratives have better gameplay on average, because the developers focus on that and are not already satisfied with their game due to its story? I'm genuinely wondering whether adding story bits to a game might vaguely impair some players' motivation. Feels a bit similar to the phenomenon where some kinds of extrinsic rewards can reduce intrinsic motivation.

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    4. Another aspect is that a densely scripted game might cause the player to feel a lack of autonomy. These games tend to become linear, and the player gets kind of pushed around. That's in contrast to game worlds which give you a high-level goal and otherwise don't tell you what to do.

      In short, I think that while Serpent Isle's huge plot and the attempts at scripted drama are an achievement, I don't think this plays to Ultima's strengths.

      FF6, in contrast, is really successful with that approach. But in that case, the scripted events are actually really dramatic and entertaining.

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    5. For me, the perfect RPG approach to quality writing is best represented by something Fallout: New Vegas or Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire.

      There's a lot of good writing in those games, good characters with meaningful things to say, lot of deep philosophical lines that stay with you... but it's up to the player to discover these things.

      That's the kind I enjoy the most. Just have the world exist as it is, write all the lore and characters with your A level writing, but let me discover them at my own pace and then marvel at yet another deeply resonating Obsidian writing moment.

      It took me 13 years to discover Joshua Graham.

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    6. Mentioning Xenoblades made me think of the Addict playing Xenogears. Especially since it has one of the same flaws as here (endgame severely cut back from what was planned).

      Playstation game, so unlikely. But an amusing stray thought.

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  11. Even as a Serpent Isle apologist, I'm glad this is over. The first third of the game gave me the most enjoyment I'd ever had playing a computer game, but the last 30 hours... Well, Chet's done a great job capturing the flaws of the back half.

    I think this may come out in a retrospective later on, but the mid 90s seemed like a mini CRPG dark age for me. Serpent Isle was the last CRPG I played that I really enjoyed until Fallout in 1997. I'm sure others will point to great games from that period, but it seemed like they were harder to find. Big, well publicized releases like Daggerfall and Ultima 8 were massive disappointments to me.

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    1. This is one of the reasons why I'm very excited about the next few years: the dark ages of the mid 90's get very little exposure.

      Most modern CRPG players can only go as back as Baldur's Gate and Fallout, and it gives them a tilted understanding of CRPG history.

      Those games did not come from nothing. They are not ex nihilo self-creating.

      There's a logical chain of influences; the design document of Planescape Torment makes references to Ultima 7.

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    2. "the design document of Planescape Torment makes references to Ultima 7."

      That's fascinating. I'd love to see that design document if you know where it might be found.

      Incidentally, I remember Baldur's Gate marketed as a return to the Gold Box style of classic CRPG, but with a real-time strategy (esp. Warcraft 2) influenced combat system.

      Pillars of Eternity was then marketed as a return to the classic style of Baldur's Gate. Then, I recently saw a YouTuber refer to Baldur's Gate 3 as "a classic RPG in the mould of games like like Pillars of Eternity."

      In 10 years, I expect to see a remake of Pool of Radiance marketed as "influenced by classic RPGs like Baldurs Gate 3."

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    3. Not sure if links work but here it is

      https://rpgwatch.com/files/Files/00-0208/Torment_Vision_Statement_1997.pdf

      If not, web search for "Planescape Torment Design Documnet" was able to find a link pretty easily

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    4. Addendum cuz I can't edit comments:

      Hadn't thought about this Planescape document in years; looking at it now I'm amazed a vision statement so edgy/cringe was able to result in such a thoughtful game

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    5. "a classic RPG in the mould of games like like Pillars of Eternity."

      Damn, that’s bleak.

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    6. The 1994-1997 era I remember as a blur of lackluster SSI post-goldbox games, weird Dungeon Master clones and the early Bethesda games.

      I'm pretty sure Ultima 8 is the only CRPG of that era I have played at the time, skipping directly to Fallout and Baldur's Gate. I kind of agree with what stepped pyramids said above, it seem that CRPGs were really not able to transition easily to the era of multimedia of the mid 90s.

      Hopefully Chet will find some hidden gem, but it could be a rough few years.

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    7. It really felt like the end of an era. With Ultima 8 being a mighty blow in the gut for most CRPG fans of that time, no more goldbox games, Might&Magic or Wizardry on the horizon. I remember articles talking about RPG being a dying or obsolete genre. I'm so glad they were absolutely wrong. I wasn't really into Diablo but with Fallout in 1997 it felt like celebrating again.

      I think many also looked into JRPG during that period, me too but with the few that were available here in Germany (PAL Region) it wasn't really until the end of the 90s I got to play many of the real classics, supported also by the advent of Console Emulation on the PC and the steady JRPG support for the PS1.

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    8. In retrospect I should add there were of course a few fine CRPG examples in the mid 90s, they just didn't catch with me or the majority of gamers. Ancil of Dawn I bought because New World Computing and it turned out to be at least an allright dungeon crawler. But there's also DSA / Arkania parts 2 and 3, Albion and Stonekeep, all if them I looked into much later.

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    9. Alien Logic is an unusual RPG that I remember being reasonably fun. I don't remember much more about it, so I'm looking forward to the coverage here.

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    10. There should be interesting indie/shareware RPGs in the "slump era". The four Exile games are 1995-1997 (and I'm absolutely going to dig up the best Blades of Exile community scenarios for Chet to look at).

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    11. Oh my, Alien Logic. This brings back memories.

      Back when we had our first 486, my father bought me two computer games as a gift. One of them was Alien Logic.

      Problem was that we had no CD ROM in the computer, so I didn't get to play them. And by the time we got one, which I think was almost a year later, the CD ROM wouldn't read the CD.

      I had spent too much time with the contents of the box, imagining what kind of game it is, taking the CD out, looking at it, putting it back it, that I must have damaged it in the process.

      It's quite a sad story.

      I still remember those pictures from the manual.

      Anyway, I'm also looking forward to Alien Logic, as the game that I never got to play in my childhood.

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    12. Hopefully when Chet gets to 1995, he's able to play Ubisoft's Albion which is a western take on a JRPG I've always wanted to play but never got the time to

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    13. I loved Daggerfall, it's probably the highlight of those few years. Mostly because I thought it - along with Ultima Online - promised an exciting future of CRPGs which were massive open simulations, a future which has never quite come to pass in a satisfying way.

      The game is an absolute mess which bites off way more than it can chew, so I understand not liking it. But I still have a ton of respect for its ambition.

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    14. Amen to that. I had just the same personal experience of a long drought between Serpent Isle and Fallout.
      Arkania didn't quite scratch that itch, and I never played the Krondor games that also have a good reputation.

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    15. Till. I loved the idea of Daggerfall, but when I finally got it to run past the opening dungeon, I just found it boring. The world was so empty, the NPCs so generic, the terrain so samey, the quests so repetitive.

      I guess the problems in Starfield are deep in that game's genes.

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  12. I think most people, including me, remember fondly Serpent Isle because the beginning is really tight (even if less free than Black Gate), and then the players get stuck by bugs like items or floors disappearing by the time it starts to get stale, let's say between the return of the Banes and their banishment. If more people could have reached the end, maybe they would have like it less.

    As for the reviews, I doubt many of the reviewers finished the game, or even reach the first half.

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  13. I'd say this is the Dragonball Z of RPGs, in the sense that SO much of its plot is filler.

    The plot goes something like this: Monitor > goblins > Fawn > Sleeping Bull > Moonshade > Erstam > Monk Isle > Mt Freedom > Furnace > gargoyle city > Gorlab > Draygan > meet Batlin > Gwani > ice dragons > Vasculio > deal with Batlin > get water from temples > heal Gwenno > get items from Moonshade > banes in the castle > Xenka > catacomb island > get serpent gear > Hazard the trapper > endgame.

    A proper Director's Cut could be something like this, and complete in 40 hours: Monitor > goblins > Fawn > Sleeping Bull > Moonshade > Furnace > deal with Batlin > bane in Monitor > bane in Fawn > bane in Moonshade > endgame.

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    1. It certainly sounds like the game could have been made with a very taut plot line that lasted 30-50 hours and been much better. It is too bad they became so focused on the Avatar for the Worlds of Ultima and cancelled the Arthurian legends later. I would have loved to have seen some novel adventures using the engine for 5-7. Actually, I really wish we had a few more adventures for the V engine. There is a mod out there that allows one to make scenarios for the Ultima 3 engine of all things! Called Ultimore, not sure how much is playable.

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  14. I have a soft spot for this game, as I wasn't aware it existed until I saw it at a game store. Playing it for me was like a whole new Ultima.

    That said, since I had the hint book I never had the maddening frustration of trying to solve nonsensical puzzles. I DID get tripped up by the plot hooks, such as the fact you HAVE to use the Hound or you're never allowed into Skullcrusher via a plot door.

    The music is probably the best part of the game. The first time I opened the scroll in the cave and the haunting bombastic serpents theme started playing, goosebumps!

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  15. In regards to the length of the game and the crazy inventory requirements and problems... what does the Exult interface add here? I've seen it, but never tried it.

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  16. Personally, I loved this game, thought it was the best in the series specifically because of it being a more linear experience... although considering my top 3 Ultimas are this, Underworld, and Martian Dreams that may say more more about my tastes or how I was going through the series than anything about this game's actual quality

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    1. Those are my favorites too! I guess I like the weird side stories.

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  17. Is this like Dragon Quest VII for PlayStation. This game was long game, slow game, had lot of story and side story, quests and sidequests. Also was in long development time. Primitive retro graphic for PlayStation.

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    1. DQ7 is a much stronger RPG, but similarly long (and far more difficult). It would blow SI away in GIMLET score.

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    3. It's not exactly skipping games if they fall in a category (console RPGs) that have always been a once in a while thing at best and not the focus of the blog. Even if later games in those series are better or would be more to the Addict's tastes, it's still not the focus of the blog

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. Like I said, once in a while but not the main focus

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    6. AlphabeticalAnonymousOctober 19, 2023 at 10:02 AM

      @Darek: But yes, he has also expressed (on numerous occasions) his distaste for 'cutesy' anime-style art & graphics. And "Goofy Cartoonish Little Men" is only a part of the problem.

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    7. @Darek: From this blog's sidebar: You know how you always wish I would play console role-playing games too? Go here instead of complaining:
      http://allconsolerpgs.blogspot.com/2014/11/game-30-dragon-warrior-iii-nes-fathers.html?m=1

      The "Let's Play" Archive has lots of console role-playing game playthroughs, too. Personally, I enjoyed a lot the following one:
      https://lparchive.org/Dragon-Warrior-II/

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    8. I was just curious on how would some JRPGs score on GIMLET since Final Fantasy 1 got a pretty high score and that game got surpassed by FF3 and FF5.

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    9. I think Final Fantasy 5 would get a very good Gimlet score. The character development (Job system) in that game is very flexible and fun.

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    10. Very little of what CRPG players traditionally dislike about JRPGs carries weight in the GIMLET (which I think is a point in its favor).

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    11. CRPGers complained about the relative linearity and simplicity of console RPGs but I think both differences were somewhat overstated.

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  18. I can't fault your reasoning or scoring. I think of this game with rose tinted glasses but as I read through your review I often thought "oh yeah, that was an issue alright"

    The one thing I'll say about Serpent Isle, is that it has enough plot twists to keep it interesting. Black Gate was a straightforward story where everything was kinda expected. In SI, you have lots of unexpected events from the very start (like where you lose your eq or get betrayed at your Monitor test) all the way to the end. Maybe too many plot twists,maybe some bad plot twists (boom everyone in the cities is suddenly dead) but I think it's my most favorite thing in the game

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  19. Here's my ranking for each section of Serpent Isle:

    1) Pre-Dreamworld run of Monitor/Fawn and Moonshade:

    This is the definitive Serpent Isle experience for most people. The Three Artifacts in the Dreamworld is an arbitrary obstacle, but it allows the game to maintain complete quality control over it's content delivery. You can't mess anything up in this part of the game. This section has the most QA work done on it. This section also has more freedom than you might think. Don't be afraid to do things out of the order. Don't feel pressured to do something immediately, just because someone tells you to do it.

    9.5 out of 10.

    Subrankings: Monitor and Goblins 8, Fawn 7, Sleeping Bull 6, Furnace: 8 (for providing alternative solutions) and Moonshade (including Erstam and Monk Isle) 9.

    2) Dreamworld and the Northern Forest

    This your typical filler area that is also very common in Bioware RPG's. It's the type of area that you usually don't remember after playing. It's not long, has some secrets to discover, but nothing memorable. There's however some bad quest design, player won't get rewarded for stealing the Orb, he really has to solve the quest in the A-B-C format.

    It get's a 6 out of 10.

    3) The North

    By the North I mean everything that's in the frozen icy region. Yes, it has that stupid gatekeeping moment, when you forgot to use the Hound on Batlin's medallion, you won't get to progress... but the North is pure exploration heaven. Dragons, hidden treasure, environmental storytelling: if you are the kind of person that loves to see what's around the corner, then the North is your region. My advice goes against conventional advice: map it all out before doing the Batlin section. It works much better this way. You might even find the back door to the Spinebreaker mountains!

    10 out of 10.

    4) Silver Seed

    A solid dungeon crawler experience with many puzzles and some story. This is the last hurrah of the Ultima 7 engine. Probably provides the most difficult boss battles of Serpent Isle.

    8 out 10.

    5) Endgame

    This is the part where the game loses it. By killing all the people, it also kills player motivation. There's no more level ups, no more stuff to buy, no opportunities for being clever, no reason to build your character.

    And then the surviving characters barely acknowledge the Apocalypse. Some of the puzzles are actually pretty great, especially Sunrise Isle (which was probably designed before), but the whole Xenka section comes off as weak and unsatisfying.

    Lot's of bad programming and little QA work done on this section. You can mess things up pretty badly.

    4 out of 10.

    Total sum: 9.5+6+10+8+4=37.5, divide this by 5 and you get=7.5

    Which feels surprisingly right; I was just winging it with the numbers. It's the most 7.5 game you can get.

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    1. Nice analysis. I would say that "endgame" should count as two sections (i.e. the banes and the wall of lights). This may affect your final score :P

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    2. I said it already, but one reason for which I will always respect Serpent Isle is that it is one of the few open-world games to have a careful world building, dozens of NPCs, side plots, side quests, etc... and then to absolutely thrash it mid-game. Many RPGs have a final apocalypse where they destroy the world, but usually they lock most of the locations you visited earlier, by contrast Serpent Isle keeps you free to reexplore everywhere, even if indeed it is not done perfectly. I was in absolute awe back then. Which other Western cRPG you have seen so far did that?

      As much as I love wargames, "Whoah whoah whoah OH BOY" moments is something that one can only experience in RPG. Outside of Grand Strategy games where there is always say 0.1% chance for say Greece to organically replace Rome and conquer Europe, I reckon I went "oh, wow! The absolute madlads! They dared!" only once in a "realistic" wargame.

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    3. Dragon Age 2 is one that has the same (limited) locations that you get to see going through a couple of different stages. Nothing world-shattering though but a fairly unique concept. It was a divisive choice though. But I can respect it.

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    4. Maybe not quite the same thing, but I absolutely loved the detailed backstory in Homeworld's manual. Then you play the first mission.

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    5. I certainly don't mind it when the same physical environments are used multiple times. I think the criticism of DA2 was more about how the same maps were used for multiple locations.

      I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: Big open-world developers like Bethesda and Rockstar are throwing a ton of money away by not taking the engines and assets they developed for Skyrim, Fallout, Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and so forth, and re-using them for new stories. You want the keys to my wallet? Give me the constantly-updated content of an MMO in a single-player game.

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    6. Oh, and to talk more about what TWS said, I agree it was a ballsy decision. It's still a little unsatisfying from a role-playing perspective to be responsible for the death of the entire world. I know that there's some vague hints in Seed that the destruction could be undone, but the endgame doesn't close that loop and give you any indication that it HAS been undone.

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    7. I also didn't comment on Joshua's original rankings (I'm going backwards up the thread). I could quibble with some of the specific numbers, but in general I agree that various parts of the game perform differently than others and that the first part is strongest. asimpkins's comparison to Fate and the cavetrain quest is apt.

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    8. Chet: Did you play all of the Fallout 4 story add-ons?

      I haven't even played Throne of Bhaal, and BG2 is in my top 5.

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    9. I did. I thought Far Harbor was excellent, set in my home state and making excellent use of themes. The others were all perfectly adequate. I just don't understand why they don't keep releasing new ones bi-annually until the next game is out.

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  20. I'm not sure what she means by "an amazing programming oversight that allows you to complete the game without performing what is supposed to be a crucial ritual,"

    I think that's referring to the fact that the game (at least in its original state) did not check whether the serpent earrings were present during the final ritual, thus enabling you to complete the game even if you hadn't found them or managed to misplace them

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    1. Is that possible? You get the earrings from one of your companions (who got them from Frigidazzi) after completing Mount Freedom. I'm pretty sure that part of the game can't be skipped?

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    2. Not sure, but you don't need to wear them at least, nor have them in your inventory at that specific ritual. (Not sure whether this applies when running the game through exult though).

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  21. "There are very few games in my chronology for which I'm sure that I'll never, never play them again"

    Hmm, couldn't resist to make a few guesses on potential candidates for that list:
    - Rance & Girlfriend Construction Set (for the reasons explained at the time)
    - Fate (beyond the cavetrain quest - "I definitely would not call it "replayable." You'd have to be insane.")
    - Several of the boring, tedious, bad U1-3 clones (especially those not short enough to be able to tolerate it)

    Beyond that, there was a whole group of games which were (for your tastes, I understand) any combination of too linear, too boring/tedious, too hard and/or too long, though maybe out of pride or ambition or for whatever other reasons maybe you still will tackle again one of those you didn't finish:
    BT II and III, Times of Lore, Bloodwych / Legend, Darkspyre, WarWizard, Kayden Garth, Antares, ... ?

    Plus maybe games which (on top) are too fast action-oriented like Spellcraft or combine lacking clues in an adventure-style game with an infuriating interface and all of it in French to boot (Phalsberg - I remember that one well since I also tried to solve it...).

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    1. Why Legend?

      I'd actually suggest replaying Legend and giving your characters 999 luck so that they're "immortal", just to enjoy the puzzles :)

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    2. @Pedro Q

      “Gameplay. Here's where it all falls apart by hitting every element of the Unholy Quartet: too linear, too hard, not replayable, and above all, too long…. Score:1”

      In any case, World of Legend if only a couple of games away… :)

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    3. Interesting, I'd never consider Legend unreplayable. Massive fan of the puzzles and magical system.

      Yes, I'm now very curious about "World of Legend" review...

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    4. To each his own. Chet's GIMLET is a reflection of his personal preferences in CRPGs and of course these are different for everybody. As he wrote when rating 'Darkspyre' with regard to others who apparently enjoyed it more: "I'll leave them to their levers and pressure plates and get back to my NPCs, economies, and role-playing options."

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    5. I thought he did finish WarWizard?

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    6. Yes, and DarkSpyre, too. Sorry if my phrasing might lead to misunderstand this. Should have written "one of those you didn't finish out of this list:"

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    7. I honestly wasn't thinking of a specific list when i wrote that. Any game that I never completed has the potential of one day nagging me to try it again. Just the other day, I was thinking that Bloodwych couldn't have been as boring as I remember it. Honestly, the games I'm highly unlikely to ever play again are the ones that are a) long and b) not replayable (i.e., offering the same experience on a replay as the first time). Fate definitely takes the cake on both counts.

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  22. For me the atmosphere of a game and the hinted mysteries are a central aspect. The ophidic ruins just made me want to know more. U8 also is great in these aspects (in my memory), so that's why I remember it fondly. ... and I played it with the patch, so that definitely helped ;-)

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  23. Interestingly, while I share many of the criticisms about the flaws of Serpent Isle I come to the opposite conclusion in terms of replayability... the thing is that once you played the game once or twice you can get through the parts you don't like very fast and focus on the many good parts. That's not true for many games, when they require you to grind or you have to go through long and boring dungeons - Serpent Isle is actually quite fast to get through and combat is very fast.

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  24. Back when this came out I didn’t have a computer but my older brother did and my only gaming opportunities came he was at work or school.

    Ultima 7 was one of the newest, and prettiest, games around back then. And I spent A LOT of time playing and replaying the opening (best) stretch of this game and having a blast (couldn’t leave my own save behind after all).

    But then, years later when I finally got my own computer (which was just my brother’s hand me down, but still) I finally got a chance to play through this for real…. and was just incredibly disappointed.

    The quality fall off after heading north was massive, and my god those freaking puzzles. I was only like 8 years old at the time and just assumed the puzzles were just too complex for me to figure out, so I took a certain twisted pleasure in seeing someone else encounter the same frustrations.

    I remember the narrative at the time was to blame to the game’s many many faults on EA, but looking back this is entirely on Origin. If anything, I blame EA for not stepping in sooner and shooting down the ridiculously overlong story.

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  25. Hello Chet, do you think you would feel differently about the game's length of you had been able to complete it in a shorter real-life time span? Compared to the next 3 games on the longest played list, this took about 8 months, but Wizardry 7, Knights of Legend and Disciples of Steel each 2 to 3 months. Even Fate only took about 9 months. I wonder because the game doesn't lack for content, I mean, those 112 hours aren't wasted on grinding; even if some of the game is quite weak (e. g. Gorlab), none of it really is repetitive filler (YMMV, of course). So while I understand the game is too long, it doesn't seem to be that much "too long", compared to other games, yet even Fate seems to have gotten less criticism for being too long.

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    1. The entire second half of the game is repetitive filler, unless you enjoy dicking around in a dozen different shrine ruins and pixel hunting for levers and keys in a dead world.

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    2. But that's exactly what I was talking about in this entry. It's too long precisely BECAUSE it's all plot and no grinding. Don't get me wrong--I wouldn't like a 112-hour game that was all grinding, either. A CRPG needs a mixture. Fate (after the opening city) needed more plot, and Serpent Isle needed more moments where you just checked out a random dungeon for gold instead of constantly chasing down the next plot thread. SI has no moments of rest.

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    3. @Didier, from the way you phrase it I'd say you define "filler" as something repetitive. But more generally the term is used for anything that does not advance the main plot or the characters (e.g. check tvtropes).

      Based on that definition, I'd say that about half of Serpent Isle is filler, most of which is not _repetitive_ filler. I also agree with the anon that the various temples are filler AND repetitive.

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    4. And, mind you, filler is not something inherently bad. The issue with SI is _too much_ filler.

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    5. Thinking about it, the length (and filler) of Serpent Isle results because the developers wanted to do something impactful with EVERY location and island mentioned on the map from Ultima 1, and make something important about EVERY Ophidian principle and virtue. Right from the start, that's just too much.

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  26. Congrats for clearing this one off your plate. I'm getting near the end of a very long RPG as well (a certain semi-recent one about finding paths) and though I'm still enjoying it, there's nothing like the relief and satisfaction that comes from putting a playthrough of that size to rest and moving onto something new.

    Sounds like U7-2 (sounds like a submarine) was a mild disappointment, but 1993 has many more nonpareils in store for you at least. Plus, what better way to get over a long, ponderous game than a Magic Candle successor followed by more Nethack?

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  27. A lot of people have already commented on SI having a much superior sense of exploring the unknown.

    I just wanted to draw attention to a small technical detail that contributes immensely to this: in the U7 engine, the world is flat and dungeons can only ever be as big as the mountain ranges that contain them. That makes them fairly compact and limited, and easy to explore.

    SI achieves a whole lot by making the oceans inaccessible, and using teleporters to create multi-level dungeons in that freed up real estate.

    Back when I was playing it, it was a night and day difference in giving you the sense that the vast underground cities you were exploring could stretch on indefinitely, and there was always the possibility you missed major areas hidden behind a secret door or illusionary wall.

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  28. i at least agree that TES: Arena sucks more than Serpent Isle.

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  29. Some more SI stuff for anyone interested:

    Eating magic mushrooms can sometimes make you fly.

    Details about the cheat rooms mentioned by Joshua in the comments to the previous SI entry and other cheats can be found on the Ultima Codex.

    A lot about unused and modified content has been collected on The Cutting Room Floor .

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  30. Spoony's video review of SI is pretty fun to watch. He also found the engine fatiguing after awhile, especially if you play both parts back to back. He also rage-quit the game originally because he lost the serpent ring, not realizing it wasn't actually needed at the end-game.

    His biggest complaint was that the puzzles were all "I found a thing, let's put it on another thing!" Plus he was also puzzled as to what Batlin and the Guardian's plans actually were.

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  31. I am one of the folks who originally played this game as a teenager, and enjoyed it. I loved the plot, which not only reached back to Ultima I and III, but also forward to VIII. I thought the length was incredible, and the story was fascinating. The sequence with Batlin at The Wall of Lights- the graphics, the dialogue, the music- felt epic to me. There was a desperation about needing to stop Batlin, and trying to fix the damage he caused. Sunrise Isle very much felt like a Grand Finale, right up to the ending with the Great Earth Serpent. As a teenager, I thought the game, overall, was good, with some absolutely tremendous highlights.

    Note: good. Not "great." I very much recall the controversy that Ultima VII caused amongst the Ultima fandom, who did not at all like the removal of turn-based combat, the relative uselessness of the spells, or, really, the lack of "traditional" role-playing elements. Serpent Isle was even worse: it was obvious, even to the very big fanboy that I was, that many (many?) plot-related things were missing from the post-Wall of Lights sequence of the game. Another poster has commented that failure to carefully select your weaponry would result in friendly-fire casualties, something I also found to be problematic. You noted that you were pissed about never using the glass sword. I actively avoided using them: I was always afraid a companion would step in front of the thing, mid-swing.

    One point to wonder for our blogger is if part of the reason I enjoyed it as a teenager, whereas he enjoyed it far less as an adult, is a) a matter of time and patience, and/or b) how gaming has evolved in the thirty years since SI was released. I know for a fact that when I was still a student (who was also single and childless), I had more time and (much!) more patience with my games. SI was no exception. Its baroque, plot-heavy style, having to keep every item, read every scroll in-game, and the manual out-of-game, was awesome for me at the time, and very much expected. I also had the cluebook that's been alluded to elsewhere, and even though I got it after I finished the game, I thought that made the experience even better! I knew there were problems with the second half of the game, but I was permissive of it, and felt very free to let my imagination fill in the blanks. However, there is no way I would have put up with "we know there are humongous plot holes in the second half of our AAA title, oops, our bad" today.

    Today, I have less time to play, and what time I do have isn't nearly as focused as it used to be. I don't have the time to read a thirty-five page manual to set the gaming mood. I know that if I went on endless quests for-the-plotless-reason-of-going-on-quests, it would drive me as insane as you seemed to be going: I would be groaning and telling the game either to get to the point, or that I already got the point. I would chafe at the pointlessness of a combat system that pretty much boiled down to "press C to resolve," and wonder why magic was included at all. Games today don't come with "feelies" to set the mood: they aren't needed. Now, we actually have the graphics and sound to (hopefully) do that for us. The "action RPG" experience that Ultima VII, SI, and (most regrettably) VIII tried and failed to give us has since been achieved, and is no longer the request-for-patience-as-we-try-to-work-out-this-new-mechanic it once was.

    The gaming person I am now is someone who needs a game that is lazer-focused on me, whereas the teenage me was happy to have a game that asked me to have lazer-focus on it. Do you feel the same way?

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    1. Excellent points, and yes, I do feel the same way. As a teenager, I might have devoured a 100-hour game in not much more than a single week and then played it again. I would have relished the moments that I "broke" the game by doing things out of order rather than complaining that the developers didn't anticipate them.

      That said, I don't particularly want a laser-focused game these days. I like open world games with plenty of ways to get lost. I'm hoping Starfield scratches that itch, and I'm looking forward it to playing it by the fire this winter.

      I think the bigger issue here is that I have once again written a summary and rating that makes it sound like I fundamentally gave the game a thumbs down. I didn't. A game in the 40s is quite good as my GIMLET goes. I had plenty of moments of fun and wouldn't have blogged in such detail if I hadn't. My negativity is in rating the game against what I perceive as the developer's own competence rather than a purely objective consideration.

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    2. Free time? I've heard of this mythical beast. But yes, life just doesn't offer that at this stage.

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  32. Ăšltima VII needs a remake using the experimental isometric view of exult , would be a great improvement and make the combate rtwp

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  33. One thought I had about the ending, a reason why the Guardian was involved with the Imbalance, is simple:

    His whole goal was to lure the Avatar into the Void where he could capture him.

    There's a lot of holes with this though. Technically, the Guardian had nothing to do with Exodus removing the Great Earth Serpent from the Void, so Imbalance was going to happen no matter what he did. In fact... it's almost that he WANTED the Avatar to succeed because Imbalance would have destroyed him as well?

    (Not talking about Ultima 9 at the moment because spoilers, but those who know would know there's other potential threads here.)

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    1. Why do I have to be in the void for the Guardian to capture me? The rules on where the Guardian can go and can't go aren't ever really fully explained. He seems to get around a bit in UU2 but needs the Black Gate to get to Britannia.

      Delete
    2. I get that the theme of Ultima 8 is that the Guardian deposits the Avatar in a world where nobody knows him and everybody distrusts his virtues, but the issue is that in Serpent Isle the Avatar is *already* in a world where nobody knows him and everybody distrusts his virtues (hygvzn rvtug nyfb raqf va gur fnzr jnl; gur ningne znfgref gur iveghrf bs gur arj jbeyq naq nfpraqf vagb gur ibvq).

      Nothing in the game mentions a way *back* from Serpent Isle to Britannia, so if the goal was to get the Avatar out of the way, then the shouty scroll from the SI intro was already sufficient.

      Delete

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