Friday, December 24, 2010

Game 35: Le Maitre des Ames (1987)

"The Master of Souls," if anyone's curious.

As we saw, my first attempt to play a French CRPG wasn't exactly a rousing success. I didn't give up because it was a foreign game, and I didn't give up because I didn't have a manual. I gave up because of the combination of the two. Unfortunately, I'm facing the same issue with Le Maitre des Ames.

Translation isn't a huge problem. The game begins with several screens explaining the game's historique. It speaks of a forgotten time of heroes--warriors and wizards--in a realm of unicorns. A royal wizard named Kharram Akkad, on the verge of extraordinary discoveries, disappeared during a violent storm. The player's party of four heroes observed the destruction and has decided to assail the wizard's keep to...well, to figure out what happened, I guess. It's a basic setup to what looks like a standard dungeon crawl in the spirit of Dungeon Master--multiple-character, first-person, real-time.

Character creation was also fairly easy to figure out. It uses a system reminiscent of Alternate Reality: the City in which you watch a rapidly-changing succession of numbers from 0-100 representing six characteristics: life, strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, and charisma. You hit the spacebar to "freeze" the numbers and take what you get.

"Thief"....something about having an eclectic selection of skills.

The game conflates classes and races, so you can choose your four characters from among warriors, magicians, clerics, thieves, dwarves, and elves. After making the selection, you spend a random amount of gold on some weapons and armor.

This is exactly where I would have expected to find a "glaive-guisarme" and a "bec-de-corbin."

After creating four of the characters, you find yourself in a badly-colored dungeon. These screenshots are easily familiar to players of American first-person CRPGs.

This is where I began to run into trouble. All commands are via the mouse, except for the number pad from which you can control movement. Right-clicking and left-clicking do different things depending what icon you have selected. As best as I can figure, from top to bottom, they are: move, look, listen, don't know because "talk" is below--maybe "eat?", sleep, pick up or trade items, open doors (usually doesn't work--maybe they need keys), talk, attack, and save/load the game. The problem is, I get inconsistent results when I click/right-click on various characters and objects.

The characters have little symbols next to them, too, and I think one indicates whether the character is in the party (it seems you can drop characters and have them wait at fixed positions) and the other indicates who is the "active" character.

Naturally, you encounter creatures. The first couple of times, I bumbled through combat with them:

The other options are "attempt to talk," "observe reactions," and "try to flee."

But later I tried talking to them and discovered something pretty neat: you can converse with monsters over all sorts of subjects: "Who are you?"; "Who is your master?"; "Where is your kingdom?" and so on. You can even ask them to join you!

At first, their responses were gibberish to me...

...but as a sly veteran of CRPGs, I realized that the intelligence of the active character made a difference. I switched to my wizard, and the foreign writing disappeared! Well...I mean, the in-game foreign writing disappeared. It was still in French.

Here, I'm asking him something about carrion, and he's telling me that I can't leave because of something to do with something reptilian. This is going to be hard.

By the way: "orc" in French is apparently orque. I probably could have figured that out.

Even though there's a lot I don't know yet, such as...

  • Why can't I pass a lot of the doors?
  • Why would I want to dislodge one of my characters from the party temporarily?
  • How do I access my inventory?
  • Can I do anything with the tables, shields-on-walls, and crates found in the game?
  • Do killed monsters drop anything? How do I search?
  • What is that face up above my game window? And what is the empty box next to it?
  • Is there anything more to combat than just selecting "combattre" each round?
  • How do I cast spells?

...I think I can figure it out, given time. The major problem I'm having is that the game won't save. Like many games of the era, it wants me to swap out the "game" disk with a "save" disk when I choose the save option, which of course doesn't make sense running it in an emulator. Most of the time I can find a way around this, but not with Le Maitre des Ames, yet.

My attempts to find a game manual--even in French--have failed, and my French definitely isn't good enough to peek around in message boards looking for solutions to the technical problem. (It doesn't help the Googling that there's a novel of the same name by an author named Irene Nemirovsky.) Georges, I'd be glad to take up your offer of assistance; likewise to any of my European readers. [Later Edit: Jason got me the manual, and I solved the save problem by mounting an A: drive in DOSBox. Looks like I have no excuse not to give this one a proper try!]

If I can get past the save issue and the gameplay mysteries, this might be a game worth playing. Certainly this depth of dialog is unusual in a first-person dungeon-crawler, and I really would like to explore it more.

I might take tomorrow off for family reasons, so Joyeux Noël, everyone!


  1. Does it have a Create Save Disk option anywhere? If so, make an empty folder and mount it as a floppy:

    mount a .\blankfolder\ -t floppy

    And then try creating a save disk..

    If not, then mount the folder that the game is in as a floppy [just append '-t floppy' to the end of the mount command] and when it asks for a save disk, move all of the files out to a temp folder somewhere, press DOSBox's "Recheck Folder Contents" key [I think it's Ctrl+F3?] and try saving. Then swap them back.

  2. Manual:

  3. Saving:

    I made a directory called d:\rpg\save, then did LordKarnov's suggestion

    mount a d:\rpg\save -t floppy

    and typed in a save game name when it asked, and when it asked to insert a floppy just pushed a button, and it went ok.

  4. Jason, thanks for the manual link. I don't know how I missed it.

    I solved the save problem by simply mounting an A: drive.

  5. PAF!

    Awesome. Merry Christmas, M. Addict.


    once again, pc players are getting robbed on the graphics (and probably sound) front. Even by the freakin' *Amstrad CPC*. In-game, that's only four colors in the CPC version. CGA version is three colours, but the difference it makes that the CPC palette is hand-picked out of a larger bitrange as opposed to the CGA which is hard-coded with magenta and teal in this mode... unfortunate.

    Quite interested to see how this one plays and what it does though as my French is very basic.

  7. Excuse the error, CGA is four color. In this mode, black, magenta, cyan and light grey. For some inexplicable reason, it only uses three of the colors in the dungeon view, omitting black. That's what threw me off. Probably memory concerns.

    1. CGA and CPC actually share the exact same graphics, it is just that they probably screwed the graphics coding so the inks are not set properly...if you re-code the graphics data so the palette somewhat match the CPC shades (set the black the same), then CGA could look quite much better.

  8. An useful tidbit which may help future understanding with french monsters: the line about carrion, "casse-toi charogne", basically means "go away, you wretch"

  9. Another French JRPG? I didn't realize there were so common.

    If only my school still had a French class, then I would be able to understand this stuff.

  10. Well, I can give some insight on those screenshots at least...

    The first questions screenshot to the lizardman are :
    - What are you doing here?
    - Where is your kingdom?
    - Who is your master?
    - Who is your god?
    - Do you wish to help us?

    The next screenshot :
    - Come with us
    - Move away/Go on with your dealings
    - F**k o** you wrench ("casse-toi" is quite slang and rude so I'm updating on what Chev said)
    - Farewell, good luck
    - (Change person)

    The lizardman was answering :
    You shall not go further, because I will warn the reptilian guard!

    That's it for now... and merry Christmas.

  11. Helm, the weird thing is, the game actually lets you adjust the colors, but they all look ugly. I'll try to include that in my next post.

    Georges & Chev, thanks for the translation help. I didn't understand the "reptilian guard" part, in particular.

    I hope it's "you WRETCH," or French has some weird insults.

    It took me about 15 minutes to translate a brief conversation with a cook earlier this evening. I'll probably post that tomorrow.

  12. PAF!! A fascinating game and a good post! Thank you! There seem to be some quite interesting features in this one. Those screenshots that Helm provided look quite nice.. just compare the mess of the CGA graphics to them! The **style** of the drawings is quite good and effective, it's just that the colours are so few and the palette is not employed very well..


  13. Absolutely agreed, Eino. The colors are much better in, say, Dungeon Master, but LMdA features much more detail.

  14. It's easy to forget how horrid CGA and monochrome graphics were -- but these screens... I can't imagine staring at that much cyan and magenta for any prolonged period of time. My eyes would burn out of my skull.

  15. It's so... pink and blue. Yuck!

  16. Oh lord, I think I've become colorblind as well!

  17. I... I recognize this game! That drawing of the Orc, the french insults, the PC with the "PAF" to his face. This must have been one of the, if not the, first CRPGs I ever played on my ole CPC 6128. Sadly though, I don't remember anything more about this game.

    1. Well, it's enlightening to hear from someone who's actually played it, even if just briefly. I should have finished this one properly. It had some really good elements. I was just impatient.

  18. An improved fan version of this game was released in 2013. It features slightly better colors, a quicksave option and many minor improvements but sadly, no tranlastion.
    Check screenshots from 27 to 33

    1. Thanks! I loved that someone felt fondly enough about this game to try to update it so recently.

    2. Nice to see news about my work ! If you need informations about this game i can help you (i have done a map and finish the game)
      I have also release the sequel of this game "Le maître absolu" in sci-fi world.


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