Saturday, April 15, 2017

Magic Candle II: Life Is but a Walking Shadow

Trying and failing to talk with a spirit.
I've had quite a long session since the last entry, most of it spent in dungeons and combats, reloading quite a bit more than I normally prefer. The Magic Candle II has some balance issues that we have to address.

At the end of the last session, I was stocking up on mushrooms, food, and elvenspun outfits for everyone so I could start exploring more of the continent of Gurtex. Some NPC dialogue had suggested that before hitting the continent proper, I stop and speak to the wizard Ziyx on the nearby island of Rondl.
My explorations during this session.
Sea voyages in my version of the game are bugged, though in a way that favors the player. First, the party can inexplicably walk on water, so they don't actually need a ship. Second, I can't seem to find any ship owners anywhere to rent their ships. Third, walking on ships, which is supposed to bring up a dialogue to hire them, does nothing. (A commenter said that you have to talk to the owner first, but I've found ships in places where I don't even know where the owner could be; there are no towns nearby.) Usually, you'd suspect something like this is perhaps a crack, but if it is, no one in the files that accompanied my download has taken credit for it. Anyway, I decided not to fret about it even though it makes my game a little easier.
Trying and failing to interact with a ship.
Rondl held a patch of Sermin mushrooms plus Ziyx's tower. Ziyx is a wizard--a joinable NPCs in the first game. Ten years later, he's on the other side of the world, working on a new spellbook called "Emenad" that he promises will be finished by October (I visited him in July). The game manual promises that Emenad will have a variety of powerful combat spells, including those that summon monsters, instantly destroy opponents, terrify enemies, and create doubles of party members.

Not having finished it yet, Ziyx instead handed over a free "Demaro" spellbook, which I just spent a lot of money buying. Since the character who bought the book was the one talking to Ziyx, it didn't do anything for me. I should have reloaded and had a different character speak to him, but it didn't occur to me at the time.
Ziyx moves the party along the quest path.
Ziyx was also a fountain of information. He recommended that I begin my search for the fate of the four and forty in the dungeon Deraum, beneath Castle Oshcrun. I'd already been there but lacked a key to a crystal door. Ziyx had a solution to that: a wizard named Maalaq, who locked the door in the first place. Maalaq lives in the tower of Shann on the island of Mariz, south of the western end of Gurtex. If I could make my way to Maalaq and whisper "HEFRITI" to him, he'd give me the key. But to get into Shann, I'd need a password, which only Faranim in Ketrop knows.

Back, then, to Ketrop, where Faranim told me that the password was "FRILKENATZ." From there, I journeyed across the water towards Mariz island, clipping a couple of southern peninsulas along the way. On one of them, I stumbled upon a glade with an elf named Delfina, but all she had to offer was some advice about mastering the lute.
Approaching the foreboding tower.
I made it to Shann, gave the password, and entered the tower. I expected it to be a single room like Ziyx's place, but it turned out to be a 6-level dungeon full of teleportation puzzles, traps, and demonic creatures.

The combats became much harder in Shann than in the Oshcrun basement. The worst enemies were Gaem demons, who can cast two "Zapall" spells per round, each of which does 18 damage to every party member. If you're facing two of them, you don't want them to survive more than one round because two rounds is all that takes them to destroy the entire party's shields (more on that in a bit). They also have an attack that makes spellcasters forget all of their copies of whatever spell they have loaded into memory.
A demon blasts all of my party members.
I also faced a lot of skeletons and zombies. These enemies don't die permanently from combat. They fall down but pop up, alive again, the next round--unless a caster hits them with a "Restsoul" spell. This is part of the "Felmis" book that Rimfiztrik just invented, so I'm not sure how anyone killed undead before that. As far as I can tell, "Restsoul" is the only way to kill them, which makes it particularly infuriating when Gaems and undead attack in the same party, and a Gaem obliterates all copies of the caster's "Restsoul." At that point, the only way out of the combat is to quit and reload or flee.
A zombie's ghost flees its body as Fiz casts "Restsoul."
Ambushes are so particularly hard, especially with creatures this difficult, that I learned to cast "Sense" (which warns you about ambushes) repeatedly.
As in the first game, the "Shield" spell protects a party member from magical damage. It can be cast repeatedly on the same character, up to 99 points, and from there any damage spells deduct directly from it. I learned to keep it at the max level whenever possible.

That doesn't help with physical attacks, though. Enemies routinely deal 30-40 points of damage when they hit, enough to kill some of my characters in two hits. You thus have to try to kill them first or enter each battle with a Nift mushroom in your system, which absorbs the next 3 physical attacks.

As I explored and fought, I found that combat was very binary. Either I entered a room with no special protections and got slaughtered, or I entered hulked up on mushrooms and wiped the floor with the enemies. Since mushrooms cost so much, you're constantly making what is in effect an economic decision: do I want to risk this next combat or spend the equivalent of 20 gold pieces ensuring I can win it?
I don't know why you would take a hireling in this game over a regular NPC. Are they that much better?
I had to sketch crude maps of the Shann levels to help with all the teleporters and traps that dumped me on previous levels. At one point, I rescued a human warrior named Ben and an elf woman named Eldai from two adjacent rooms with jail cells. Both were joinable NPC, but my party was full.

After a few hours of exploration, I reached a point where I couldn't go any further because I didn't have the "Repel" spell, which clears magic snakes that block corridors. I needed the "Sabano" spellbook for that, which was sold by--you guessed it--Faranim, back in Ketrop. I had to trudge out of the dungeon, back across the water to Ketrop, buy the book, and return to Shann.
Seriously? I can't just behead them?
Eventually, I reached Maalaq, whispered the secret word to him, and got the key to Deraum along with a warning to prepare for battle against lots of undead. We left the tower.
Maalaq is not overly friendly.
Rather than head directly back to Oshcrun, I decided to take the party up to the Upper Neirwood Forest, near the Demonspine Mountains, where Subia hoped to find a lost city of elves called Llendora. I was toying with getting rid of Subia the next time a decent spellcasting NPC shows up, as she has no magic ability and is pretty useless in melee combat (though getting better). 
That was easier than expected.
The town wasn't very hard to find. I stumbled upon it just wandering through the forest. It was a small village with a mushroom seller, an inn, a food store, a wizard's lodge, a clothing store, a carpenter, and an archery trainer.

Multiple NPCs told me to seek out Efahir in his house on the east side of town, so I did. He said that "events bring us closer and closer to the predictions of the lost prophecy" and suggested that I see something called the Orb of Light, which I can read about at the library in Wanasol, an Elden stronghold in the Sariss Jungle, pretty far to the east. Intelligence suggests that the Orb is either being held by the Altesens until a "Hero of the Light" comes to claim it, or the demon lord Zakhad has it locked in an iron vault.
Dire warnings from an elf.
At this point, it's worth summarizing the (sometimes conflicting) information we have on both the Eldens and the Altesens. The Eldens go back to the first Magic Candle manual, in which they're named as the first race to inhabit Deruvia, "long before the appearance of wizards and the race of men." They allied with the dwarves and elves to repel the first invasion from Gurtex thousands of years ago. It was their magic that trapped Dreax in the titular Magic Candle, and their mages made up the original "four and forty" guardians of the candle in the fortress of Berbezza.

In The Magic Candle, they're talked about as if they've been gone for centuries. You encounter the remnants of their civilization and artifacts, but never an Elden himself.

In this game, it's revealed that the Eldens lived on Gurtex, too, as they left strongholds scattered everywhere, but so did a race called Altesens who remained aloof from the struggles between good and evil and avoided contact with other races. "Tall, well-built, with skins not unlike the bark of pine trees," the library describes them. Some people think they're a myth; others think they left Gurtex to avoid dealing with Zakhad. But clearly they must still be around if they're guarding the Orb.
To break up the text, here's a funny sign from later.
Meanwhile, it seems that the Eldens might still be alive, too, since Bhardagast said that four of the "four and forty" in our own time were still Eldens, and it appears they were kidnapped and brought to Gurtex rather than killed.

I love assembling all this lore, but back to the quest. Another NPC told me of the woes of the Gurtex dwarves. They lost the mines of Dorak to a "terror born of darkness and madness" named Vakruh, against whom not even Zakhad has any power. (A little derivative, isn't it?) Now they're in danger of losing their current home, Drakhelm, to the orcs of nearby Glusaga. I learned of a new song called "Morning Mist" that charms bargs, written by Delfina, who I've already met. I'll have to go back to her. An elven bow named Darkfinder has been stolen by thieves. An elf named Estefaz sells the spellbook "Vannex" but I couldn't afford it.

In a central hall, I spoke to the elf prince, Llesiton, in a long book paragraph. The elves had heard of Subia "the great explorer" but were anxious that we'd tell people about their village. We had to swear an oath that we wouldn't. Subia features prominently in the paragraph, so I assume I'd have gotten a different one if Subia hadn't been with me. Subia didn't have anything else to say having completed her little sub-quest.
Meeting the elf prince.
We left Llendora, returned to Castle Oshcrun, went to the dungeons, and made our way back to the crystal door. Entering with Maalaq's key, we found a large, one-level dungeon swamped with water, so we had to keep casting "Walkwater."
If my magical ability is stronger, does it last longer?
The monsters were much easier than in Shann, although they were almost all undead and I thus had to have a huge number of "Restsoul" spells ready. Chests were full of useful items, like teleportal objects and mushrooms.
Literally worth more than gold.
The dungeon culminated in a room with a ghost, just as Bhardagast had said. I had to have Rimfiztrik cast "Soulspeak" to talk with it. The ghost indicated that he had been Horann, one of the forty non-Elden guardians of the candle. He confirmed that the four Eldens were taken and the rest of the guardians were killed (making me wonder if they made up the undead in this dungeon). At some point, he awoke on a boat, enslaved to pulling an oar (he may have already been undead at this point) and overheard a shout that one of the four Eldens had escaped. Someone ordered candles prepared to entrap the other three.

He finished by begging that I release his soul, so I did so with a "Restsoul" spell. His spirit left a white scroll behind, titled "The Candle of Despair." Gia suggested we take it to Ziyx.
As we left the room, instead of returning to the corridors of Deraum, we found ourselves magically transported to King Rebnard's throne room, which was trashed. A long entry in the paragraph book indicated that Zakhad had shown up in the throne room, demanding the king's son, Prince Jemil, as a hostage. When the king said no, the demon started flinging lightning bolts and fireballs. An old counselor named Shannor and a young courtier named Alex were killed protecting the king and queen. Then, at some point, an Elden named Zidoni--or his spirit--appeared and took the prince himself. The king demanded that we find his son and wants us to consult with Ziyx or Bhardagast about a prophecy that Zidoni mentioned.
I'll bet it's going to have something to do with an Orb of Light.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • You cannot talk to NPCs while your weapons are drawn. In dungeons, I'm always sheathing my sword to talk to an NPC, forgetting it's sheathed, and then accidentally attacking with fists in the next battle.
  • When traveling overland, crossing a river exhausts all your remaining stamina. 
The party restores its stamina after crossing a river.
  • I don't think I mentioned the "nickname" system before. Every NPC in the game, if his or her name is longer than 5 characters, gets a shorter nickname because there isn't space for more than 5 characters in the little table in the game window. Gia, Eneri, Sakar, and Subia are short enough on their own, but Rimfiztrik appears as "Fiz" and Buzbazgut appears as "Buz."
  • Sometimes NPCs like to complain for no reason.
Gia tuned him out and continued walking.
  • The "Vision" spell couldn't possibly be more useless.
Well. Now I know exactly how to prepare.
  • At one point during combat, Subia got scared and fled. Not only did she flee the combat, she was nowhere to be found when the combat ended. I had to reload an earlier save.
  • I could swear that in The Magic Candle, Nift mushrooms remained in your system until you took 3 hits in combat. Here, they wear off after the next battle even if you weren't hit at all.
I don't love the way that so many spells--and, thus, particular characters--are basically required by the game. Woe to the player who doesn't take Rimfiztrik among his first party members. But the developing plot is a lot of fun. I also like how the continent of Gurtex, being a land of demons, makes exploration threatening and suspenseful. That's a good discussion topic, in fact: what are some examples of games that manage to use lore to build up a sense of apprehension about visiting a place, so that when your party or character finally arrives there, you're almost physically afraid? Inside the Ghostfence in Morrowind and the Glowing Sea in Fallout 4 come to mind.

I have two quest threads now: return to Ziyx and try to find the stronghold of Wanasol. Part of me wants to just mess around and explore, though. Next time, now that I'm well into the game, I'll try to cover combat in detail.

Time so far: 12 hours


  1. When I saw the title, I thought you had found yourself in a "walking dead" state.

  2. I am really enjoying the posts on this game.

  3. The lore is more interesting than in most other games. Normally when your post consists of "To learn more about the ancient ones I had to speak to the wizard Fizzlesham, but he would only talk to someone carrying the warhammer Griknok, so I had to meet the dwarf king Clankbotz who wanted me to return the magic jewel of Shoinl'tar..." my brain phases out and I don't know what's going on anymore. (Not that that's your fault, if the game you're covering has a dumb story, there's not much you can do). Not that the lore is super original here, but I like that you're getting conflicting stories and have to figure out what really happened.

  4. When you get enough mindstones, you can give them to each character and track them down if they run. It can actually kinda be fun the first time you do it, since they don't always go to the same place and you can treat it as a little mini quest. After the first time, its annoying.

    1. On my first pass in the game, I was so paranoid about missing out on Characters I'd temporarily assign one character to wait, invite the new character, give a mindstone to them, tell them to go to the stronghold, and rejoin with my original character. Then I'd actually go there and reverse everything just to get the mindstone back. In retrospect it was a lot of tedious work for very little.

      You should be able to trade that extra spellbook.

    2. Mindstones! That's what I was thinking of. Thanks :)

  5. Can you revisit the gods in this one? I vaguely recall that in Magic Candle 1 you could revisit previously awakened gods with characters who hadn't seen them before and they would get buffed, but no effect on characters who had visited that same god before.

    1. I think it's a one time shot so it's usually a good idea to wait until you have a group you really like, probably don't want to waste the stats on Subia or Buz

    2. Hrm, I remembered being able to revisit the gods with new party members, but that wasn't always feasible, particularly with the gods that require payment. Could be misremembering, though!

  6. You don't need Fiz, just his book. You can recruit him take his book and send him on his way if you'd like, especially if you're character is a solid spell caster. Also, couldn't you just give the second copy of Demaro to another character or does Ziyx not give you the copy if the character already has it?

  7. Honestly that's an ingenious racket. Wizard makes a tower filled with traps that can only be dispelled by spells he created. Thus requiring you purchase the spellbooks from him.

    If it were me, I'd wonder what other hacks or changes might have been done to this copy. Water walking seems like a strange one on its own.

    1. Maybe this is the unpatched day 1 version? MC2 was pretty buggy out of the box.

  8. "what are some examples of games that manage to use lore to build up a sense of apprehension about visiting a place, so that when your party or character finally arrives there, you're almost physically afraid?"

    For me, the first thing that came to mind was Magus' Castle in Chrono Trigger--not just the intimidating feel of the castle itself, but the general sense that events were coming to a climax.

  9. I'd love to go back and play the MC series... I did spend some time on part one, but I was a junior in high school and life was too busy to allow completion or significant play time.

  10. Ugh, mushroom management. That was what made me quit this game pretty early on - I repeatedly spent all energy and mushrooms in difficult combats, and then you cannot even reload or quit the game since you are still in combat mode. Horrible design failure. Not even the great manual, which already showcased some of those lore elements, could bring me to touch that game again. So I'm doubly thankful for these posts...

    As for frightening locations: Legend of Grimrock I comes to my mind, with a mixture of foreshadowing and presentation.

    ROT-13 for minor spoiler - the experience is something special:

    Vg fgnegf nf pynhfgebcubovp snagnfl ubeebe (ab birejbeyq, fb gur zrffntr "lbh pnaabg rfpncr" nyjnlf nppbzcnavrf lbh), ohg gur cnegl erthyneyl unf qernzf bs pybpxjbex trnef naq sberobqvat zrffntrf. Gura, arne gur raq, gur jnyyf fhqqrayl punatr gb qvegl FS naq gur yriryf trg gvgyrf yvxr "Tenirlneq" - jung gur uryy vf ohevrq urer? Naq vf gung guvat fraqvat zr gurfr zrffntrf? Znqr zr fbzrjung fvpx bs srne.

  11. Never played any of the MC games but no matter what, this particular shade of grey in the screenshots will always be Bard's Tale Grey for my brain.

    Maybe I spent a few hundred hours too much on it in my youth. But it's just burned into my mind creating a Pavlovian reflex for old school grinding games when I see it...

  12. That kind of reliance on sermins to get anything done just seems insane. Magic Candle 3 (in which the music system was drastically pared down compared to what you've showed off here so far) had a means of restoring energy to the whole party with music, but I don't know if there's anything like that in this one.

    1. I actually think of chronic Sermin abuse as normal play for the MC series. I beat MC3 without ever finding that energy restoring music, my casters just ate Sermins every night. MC1 went like that too.

    2. I can't tell you how much I wish those existed in real life.

  13. I enjoyed the lore behind finding the magic weapons. At the time, coming from D&D where everything was just a +2 long sword or a +4 bow, having names and stories attached to weapons was a cool feeling.

    I also enjoyed assembling a selection of spellbooks for my casters, it felt like a big upgrade in capability whenever I got a new one.

    1. I think in D&D the onus was on the DM to include cool items, although not all of them did so. Many cite Ed Greenwood's Dragon Magazine article "Seven Swords" from June 1983 as the inspiration for introducing more evocative magic item names/descriptions/backstories into their tabletop play, although there were plenty of other articles, both from Greenwood and others jumping on the bandwagon, describing more interesting items throughout the 80s. In terms of official D&D books, TSR published The Magic Encyclopedia, a two volume work containing 5,500 magical items, drawing on official publications from 1974-1991. I haven't read that one myself, but unless it included a longsword +1000 I have to assume that there were a few more creative items in official D&D by the time Magic Candle 2 was released.

  14. First time I played quest for glory I (the old EGA version titled "Hero's Quest before stupid corporate naming rights) I was terrified to enter the brigand camp. Yes that game cam be completed rather quick, but when I was 12 or so is been paying for months by the time I was able to get there and recall vividly how worried I was. Even though the focus was on adventure game puzzles, the addition of combat and the scene of several brigands ready to shoot you worth spears and arrows had a great effect on a young me!

    1. That's a really good example. Until you've been through it once (which of course to applies to all such games), the camp--particularly via the "obvious" entrance--is really intimidating.

      Even if you know you can just reload, no one wants to be absolutely curb-stomped.

  15. Dunwhich Building, Fallout 3. Didn't finish it even.

    1. I just read the wiki article on it, and I'm pretty sure I never experienced it.

      I have to give all the Fallout games another pass. I'm sure I missed lots of content in all of them, particularly FO3 where it seems like 80% of the game is optional.

    2. In Fallout 3 something like 80% of the main plot is optional! The entire "hunt for Dad" plot can be bypassed if you just happen to stumble on the hidden vault he's trapped in, go through the "Tranquility Lane" segment, and proceed from there immediately after leaving the Vault.

      This is not uncommon in open world games, but in most TES games, at least, you have to be trying to sequence-break that badly. In Fallout 3 it easy to do it accidentally.

    3. I was so overleveled at that point it wasn't even a risk to my character. However, I do not play horror games for a reason, so I nopped out of there.

      Fallout 4 is also scarier in general for some reason. I'll be exploring the ghoul filled hospital or whatever, and I'll actually be carrying a weaker gun so I don't waste good ammo on them, and I'll still be scared of them despite the fact I'm not taking any damage fighting them.

  16. Ziyx: "Weren't you a man last time? I mean, we even camped out and stayed in the same room at every inn and on every ship. I could've sworn we even peed alongside during our travels."

    Okay, jokes aside, is there any gender-related differences in this game? I remember that MC1 only have an all-male party (okay, one Elf princess disguised as a male).

    1. Don't recall any gender related differences in game play in any of the Magic Candles or Bloodstone.

  17. Seven years after this was posted, I realize I didn't actually respond to the question on game lore building a sense of danger for a location. Now I'm not sure whether this counts as "lore", but I'd give a vote to the final locations in Anvil of Dawn. The game map is hardcore mythical, meaning it consists only of legendary locations instead of mundane forests and villages, and from the beginning the player knows that the final locations are the Evil Stronghold, the Fire Mountain and the titular Anvil of Dawn. The beam of light erupting from the Anvil into the sky can be seen on the horizon from just about any place on the overland map, so there's always a reminder. And while the whole journey is a lonely one through ravaged, conquered lands, the atmosphere becomes ever darker as the player progresses, with the final areas being located under perpetually dark skies, with lightning storms illuminating lava rivers. Young me felt both excited and frightened by the prospect of entering the Evil Stronghold, and the sense of dread only increased with the Fire Mountain: interestingly, this might have been the case because, while it's clear that you will encounter the Bad Guy's henchmen in the Stronghold, the game tells next to nothing about Fire Mountain, so all you know is that there's a grim and hostile location even beyond the Evil Stronghold filled with unknown dangers.

    Again, not sure whether this counts since the presentation plays a much bigger part than the lore here, but I thought this was really well done.

    Hm. Good material for a blog entry, actually.


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