Friday, January 7, 2011

Game 39: Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus (1987)

Source: MobyGames
Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released in 1987 for Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga; 1988 for DOS, PC-88, PC-98, FM-7, and Sharp X1; 1989 for MSX and Sharp X68000
Date Started: 7 January 2011
I hope you like the opening screenshot there because it's the only nice-looking one you're going to see for the duration of Phantasie III. It's from the Amiga version. I had to use it because some sort of corruption afflicted the only abandonware DOS download I could find, giving an error upon starting the game and entering towns (and doesn't display the town graphic). It still seems to save and everything else works okay. But the game is still reliant on the CGA standard and is a bare step up from monochrome.

Now, I can already hear you saying, "CRPG Addict, we warned you about this. Way back in your first posting, Gooberslot told you that you'd be missing out on the best version of many games. Just play the Amiga version for the love of god!" And I basically agree with you, except that I'm almost out of the "DOS version sucks" era, I really don't feel like learning another emulator (not to mention another OS), and if I start using other emulators now, I have no excuse for not having played Questron or, for that matter, Phantasie II. [Ed. I ultimately played them both: Questron and Phantasie II.]

Everything I've read about Phantasie II (by way of uncomfortable segue after not really dealing with the issue) suggests that it was so similar to the first game that SSI didn't even bother to write a separate manual. The only gameplay addition was that players could now throw rocks. The villain in that game, by the way, was again Nikademus, and it had something to do with an orb.

As the back story to the third edition opens, a nameless adventurer strides into an inn in the town of Pendragon on the continent of Scandor, where the innkeeper informs him of the menace presented by...wait for it...Nikademus. Seriously, SSI? I know it's been a while, but let me refresh your memory: the player kills Nikademus in both Phantasie and Phantasie II. Under what possible logic is he alive? He's like the Freddy Krueger of CRPGs, just showing up again, with no explanation, despite having been conquered by the hero in the last installment. Did you have trouble thinking of a name? There are lots of great villain names even among the other Pharisees alone. How about Gamaliel? Shammai? Yohanan ben Zakkai? Okay, that one doesn't work. [Much later edit: 5 years after I won the first Phantasie and 4 years after I played this game, an anonymous reader corrected a longstanding misapprehension: you don't defeat Nikademus in the first game; you defeat the Black Lord, leader of his Black Knights. Moreover, you don't fight Nikademus directly in #2, either. Thus, my gentle ribbing of SSI was unwarranted.]

Continuing with the story, the absurdly enthusiastic adventurer...

...headed off to the guild to assemble his party.

We needn't linger too long on character creation, which hasn't advanced terribly since Phantasie, which I covered last April. There are five key races (humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings), with the attribute bonuses you would expect, plus the option to choose a "random" race and get a gnoll, goblin, kobold, lizard man, minotaur, ogre, orc, pixie, sprite, or troll. These beasts excel in one statistic or another but can only be fighters or thieves and end up paying very high training costs because of racism. Non-beasts can also be monks, priests, rangers, and wizards. Ultimately, all character classes can cast some spells, but of course some are more efficient than others. Character attributes are the standard selection of Dungeons & Dragons stats, minus wisdom.

I like to experience a bit of everything, so my motley party consists of:

  • Macabeu, a human monk and nominal "leader" of this revolt against Nikademus
  • Ezra, an elf wizard and part-time "scribe"
  • Koziba, a dwarven ranger
  • Joseph, a gnomish priest from Arimathea
  • Antonin, a halfling thief
  • Hyrcano, a minotaur fighter

    Characters start off with a randomly-assigned "social class" that indicates how much gold he or she receives from leveling. There are supposedly four levels: peasant, laborer, craftsman, and noble, but all of my characters are either peasants or laborers. It's a very working-class party.

    The game world. Your party is represented by a horse's head. I guess that's better than the alternative.

    The characters start off with a decent amount of equipment, but no gold, so the only thing to do is head out the door on the adventure. The manual suggests the first place to visit is the Pendragon town archives, just south of Pendragon, so that's where I went. The dungeons work much as in the first game, which I indicated may have been the first game to slowly reveal the map as you explore.

    Joseph is having a little trouble getting around right now.

    Having explored some of the wilderness and the first dungeon, these are some "upgrades" to Phantasie III from the original version:

    • All characters have bows. My ranger started with a "short bow," but everyone else has a "self bow"--I assume that means they just throw things?


    • Combat is a little more complicated. It takes place on two screens--one where you line up your actions for the round, and one in which you see the actions' results. The same core actions from Phantasie are here: thrust (one solid swing), attack (two medium swings), slash (three or four light swings), lunge (attack in second rank), and cast a spell. But new abilities are the options to fire a bow (at any rank), and carefully aim an attack at a monster's vital area (that would be his head or torso, snickerers).

    He should go into theater.

    • In addition to hit point damage, both monsters and PCs can take bodily injuries, a feature that I believe first showed up in SSI's Wizard's Crown. These injuries include simple injuries, breaks, and amputations. Thus, you can have the odd sight of a character with all his hit points but missing both legs. Breaks and injuries heal through rest and spells, but amputations can only heal through high-level spells and potions.

    I like the injury system because of the realism, the additional tactics it brings to combat, and the fact that seeing "orc is decapitated!" never gets old. Unfortunately, on my first trip out, Joseph the priest lost both of his legs and Hyrcano the Minotaur lost one of his legs. I don't have high enough spells to heal them, and none of the towns in the starting area sell high-enough potions. A lesser role-player might just ditch the disabled members and replace them, but I'm not as cruel as that. Thus, my first mission in the game is not to explore the first dungeon but to find a town that sells at least a Healing Potion 7 so Paul and Hyrcano can walk again.

    I will be playing Phantasie III side-by-side with NetHack, so expect postings on both over the next week or so.


    1. Phantasie III :D

      The way I roleplayed it last time I tried to complete it was as if I am not represented by any of the PCs, I am instead an outside contractor, he who assembles the adventuring party to undergo the expedition against Nikademus.

      The adventuring party are people with names and families and backgrounds, but fate is cruel and the quest dire. Anyone who is seriously maimed or killed is replaced with a fresh recruit and it's back to the dungeon.

      Natural selection and luck eventually gave a party strong enough to withstand the entry level perils of the expedition and then I started to get to know them a bit better. They've more of a backstory to them simply because of the emergent qualities of the game, having survived together against many foes and devious dungeons.

      However repetitive combat eventually made me lose interest. I still intend to go back and finish it eventually, but perhaps I'll be satisfied to vicariously follow your effort here.

    2. Bodily injuries? Oh man, total Black Knight scene coming...

      Koziba: That was one tough battle... Good gods, Macabeu!
      Macabeu: Hmm?
      Koziba: Your... your... arm! It's... off!
      Macabeu: Oh? *Looks down* Oh, so it is.
      Joseph: I... don't think I can heal that.
      Macabeu: Oh never mind, it's just a flesh wound. Let's push on!
      Ezra: Hey!
      Others: What?
      Ezra: Could use a little help here. *points to missing legs*

    3. My party-based save-the-world RPG theory of gameplay goes something like this. I represent the "Monied Powers" banded together to hire the best possible people to save our asses. This permits 2 things:
      1) I tend to base decisions on cost-benefit analysis (is training a replacement more trouble than paying for healing?)

      2) I feel free to use editors to throw extra money at my party. "Do not bind the mouths of the kine that tread the grain." :-D


    4. I couldn't help thinking that when the merchant says:

      "How bold you are, perhaps you can find other bold fellows at the Guild Hall."

      That his words are dripping with sarcasm.

      I can imagine him lamenting the trouble such heroes cause. After all, despite the general troubles, most shopkeepers in cRPGs have thriving businesses.

    5. I bought these three games originally for the C64. Phan1 was the only one I really started- I was going to solve each in turn before going on to the next. I never got Phan2 or 3 out of the shrink wrap. Sigh. Periodically I replay these classics, but I've never made it past the 2nd or so dungeon in Phan1. But then, I use C64 emulators to play the Phan's- they look SO much better than the DOS versions.

      Here's hoping you solve this one! I'm curious about the whole Nikodemus thing :)

    6. I have been looking forward to this one. It was the first crpg I ever played (Amiga-version). Loved it! :)

    7. He's either REALLY into this game, or his wife got tired of bring ignored and killed him.

    8. Nah, I had to blow town for a few days. An update tomorrow, I hope.

    9. By the way, I see Star Saga is coming up (if likely still a ways off in real time). Any plans to attempt to play the game multiplayer? I would really encourage it. It was never really designed for PBEM, so one must make one or two minor concessions (or somehow find people willing to cluster around a computer and hotseat it), but it really is rewarding in that mode, and I think it comes closest to the original designer intent.

    10. Keep up the good work. I love your blog!!! Signed up just to tell you that.

    11. As you'll see in the next post, my charity toward my characters had to take a back seat to reality. I can tell I'll end up completely replacing my party several times in this game.

      Adamantyr, your little joke was quite prophetic. At any given time, half my party members are missing one or more limbs.

      Malkav11, usually I do a little preliminary investigation before putting games on my "upcoming" list, but I didn't do that with Star Saga. I didn't know until reading your post that it even had a multiplayer. I'll look over the documentation and make a decision.

      Wop, you could have posted anonymously, but thanks for signing in!

    12. Star Saga is quite possibly unique (except for the sequel) among computer games. This is because the program itself is functionally a computer game-master for a tabletop boardgame. Essentially, there was a star map on which you kept track of where your ship was and which you could label to identify the planets (which planet is where is randomized per game). Your moves were also input into the Star Saga program itself, which kept track of your game state, adjudicated the results, and would tell you to refer to paragraphs in one of several paragraph books for most outcomes other than just moving.

      These days, physical copies are pretty much impossible to track down, but enterprising fans have recreated the map functionality as a fairly simple companion program, and abandonware downloads include PDFs of all the paragraph books and such. To play by e-mail, you mail the game save and the saved map state to the next player. The tricky bit is the game only saves after everyone's acted in a turn, so you have to deactivate the other players on your turn. This has the unfortunate consequence that people count as having skipped any turns between their last one and their current one, and don't start down any time if they took actions that would normally run into the next turn. But as long as people don't deliberately abuse this it's not a big deal.

    13. While we're discussing upcoming games, Sorcerian is 5th in the Dragon Slayer series and one of the previous games (Xanadu) isn't on your list but was ported to PC and is from 1987. (Romancia was also ported in 1999 but it's more of a "remake" and I wouldn't necessarily call it an RPG.)

    14. Jason, afaik the original Xanadu was only available for Japanese PCs (PC-88, PC-98, MSX) and consoles. Later remakes like Revival Xanadu and Xanadu Complete Reprint Edition had Windows versions which are nearly impossible to get nowadays.

    15. You have guts to endure crappy pink CGA puke colors in so many of these games. VGA will come (hell even EGA would look like heaven) but you cheat yourself big time by sticking to Dos in this era as Dos sound/graphics were terrible.

    16. Yes, yes, I know. Y'all won't let that go. But I think it's worth noting that my highest-rated game so far is Might & Magic, which had the same blah CGA graphics. I'm drawn to a good story over good graphics any day, and seeing Phantasie III in the Amiga equivalent of EGA or VGA wouldn't have upped my enjoyment more than a couple of points.

    17. Damned, I don't remember this game being so brutally hard! Just started my replaying (played it once 20+ years ago) of the Amiga version, and every group I meet either kills my party or cripples them. I can't even go the the nearest city (to buy some better equipment) without being attacked by Devils and Undead Dwarves. One hit from most enemies is either death or removal of limbs.

      There is an option to import characters from Phantasie I (Phantasie II was never ported to the Amiga), and I'm starting to think that is what you are supposed to do.
      Unfortunately when I played Phantasie I some months ago, I played the DOS version, since the cracked Amiga versions are fully explored.

      Oh well, I'll probably replay Phantasie I to get som decent characters to import.

    18. In case someone is interested in how the Import Characters functions works:
      The level of the characters are reduced to 1, but they get 100 XP for each level they had in Phantasie I. So a lvl 12 character starts with 1200 XP and can usually (depending on class) level up to lvl 2.
      All the Amiga versions floating around are cracked versions and comes with characters who have beaten the game, so I transferred the best ones and was able to start with a party of lvl 2 characters, which makes things a bit easier.
      So I recommend importing characters if playing this game.

    19. It really sucked for the first few hours at the outset. I basically never left the area of the starting town--not even going into the dungeon--until I was Level 3 or 4. I wish I'd known about importing back then.

    20. A bit late to the party here, but to answer your question, "self" bows are just bows made out of a single piece of wood. This is in contrast to composite bows, which are made out of several different materials (like wood and horn).
      By itself, it's not a terribly good description of the weapon. I'm pretty sure this is a hold-over from the early D&D editions.

      1. I've not read those old books for years, but I don't ever recall that terminology being used. Just 'Longbow' vs 'Composite Longbow', and even then, I don't recall that being used until 3e (2000). (Note; I could be very wrong on that last point).

      2. Composite and non-composite bows have been in ad+d since 1st edition. Don't think they explained the difference there though. Pretty sure it was explained in an arms and equipment guidebook. Any mention of self bows (if any) would have been in that too.

      3. Most fantasy assumes upper middle ages technology during which time the traditional longbow wasn't composite (because it was unnecessary) and the traditional shortbow (for use from horseback) was.

      4. Boroth: Yep: AD&D 1st edition PHB, page 35:

        Bow, composite short 75 g.p.
        Bow, composite, long 100 g.p.
        Bow, long 60 g.p.
        Bow, short 15 g.p.

        Could have been in earlier, don't have those books on hand.

    21. I remember this game well! (spoiler..) On first play through I wiped on the looong way towards Nikademus in the end. On second, I brought loads of potions or scrolls or whatever you can bring to heal yourself. Was one of the best games in the era I think.

      Out of topic though: You gotta admit that Pools of Darkness beats them all??

      1. I don't remember PoD well enough to comment. So far, I think Pool of RADIANCE beats them all.

    22. I should probably have pointed this out 2 years ago, but...

      Firstly, the Atari ST is a very easy to use computer, and the ST version of this is identical to the Amiga. It's also available hacked, on a single disk.

      Anyway... when one's party is wiped out in Phantasie III, it isn't the end of the game. Instead you all stand before the big horny dude who deputises for Charon in these parts. He has 3 choices. Each of your characters can

      1 - die. Simple enough. They're wiped off the roster forever. Tho you can still reload an old game to get them back.

      2 - resurrect. Simply, they cease being dead and instead resume being alive again.

      or -

      3 - Undead! Undead characters automatically get promoted to level 20! This means they'll never level-up again, since the EXP you've missed out on is huge. So they're stuck with the HP and STR they died with. BUT! they can learn all the magic spells!

      So have 2 priests, keep going til the game makes a couple of them undead (might burn through a few, first). Then one priest can resurrect the other, and bob's your uncle! If both your priests die, have a third kept back at the guild who never goes on adventures, but is level 20 so can join your party for the 5 minutes it takes to bring your working priests back. Occasionally his MP run out, so rest him in the free inn.

      I'd play like this, but also have a few ordinary characters who would level up the hard way. Best for fighters, particularly. Have the Lv 20 Undeads deal out all the high-level damage spells, and the young 'ins benefit from the exp. You can even choose to give them 3x the EXP once you get into a town.

      And in this way, you can build up a strong party, to finish this pretty short game! Probably not really needed that much, last time I played, on an ST emulator, my dudes were up in the teens for exp, and were killing machines!

      And that's how you play Phantasie III, really!

    23. I've just discovered this great blog and I'm slowly making my way through all the games. I know its years too late for you but hopefully some future gamers will be helped by this.

      Phantasie III blank town issue can be resolved by renaming TOWN.CMP to DTOWN.CMP, which is part of the installation process. But as the installation process isn't needed most people will never 'install' it only play it straight from the 'disk'. By changing this, the town graphics will show up in town, but I don't think it will fix the error messages you received as I've never experienced that myself.

    24. I like the names of your party. I, ahem, see what Jew did there....


      1. It's been a long time, but I must have been inspired by "Nikademus" to follow a Pharisee theme.

    25. "Your party is represented by a horse's head. I guess that's better than the alternative."
      I don't typically want to comment on something so long ago and offer so little, but since no one else commented on it I thought I would let you know that this one made me laugh out loud.

    26. This game was the first ever PC game I purchased with my own money. I was very young, probably under 10 years old. I don't have strong memories of the game, as a lot of it was a bit beyond me. But I do remember that while it was in CGA when I played it on my childhood computer (an old XT) - when we played it on the AT computer at my dad's computer it was significantly more colourful. And yet, no matter how hard I look, there's no evidence of an EGA or Tandy version. I would love to know if anyone else has this experience.


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