Wednesday, June 29, 2022

BRIEF: Ultima: Runes of Virtue (1991) and Ultima: Runes of Virtue II (1993)

 
This is, specifically, the Rune of Spirituality.
         
Ultima: Runes of Virtue
United States
Origin Systems (developer); FCI (publisher)
Released 1991 for Game Boy
Rejected for: Insufficient character development
      
Ultima: Runes of Virtue II
United States
Origin Systems (developer); FCI (publisher)
Released 1993 for Game Boy, 1994 for SNES
Rejected for: Insufficient character development
          
The Ultima series has been such a big part of my life for 40 years that exploring new territory offers a certain thrill, even if I suspect the game is going to suck. I watched some footage of Ultima IX the other day, and even knowing its reputation, it was all I could do not to download and install it. Knowing it was too soon for that game, and also too soon to jump into Ultima VII, Part 2, my mind dredged up this Runes of Virtue from 1991. I've seen it described as "non-canonical," but Origin made it themselves, which is more than you can say about either Ultima Underworld. David ("Dr. Cat") Shapiro led the design team, Richard Garriott is listed as "creative director," and Dallas Snell produced it. That's a pretty solid set of bona fides.
        
Is the loss of the runes really that bad? Can't we just make new ones?
      
Both games use characters from Ultima VI: The False Prophet; even in the sequel, you won't find any references to the Guardian. (For more on the timeline, see the discussion below.) The (refreshing) surprise is that the Avatar is nowhere to be found. The hero is one or two of the Avatar's companions (you can tether two Game Boys together to play it cooperatively) from among four selections: Mariah, Iolo, Dupre (described as a fighter rather than a paladin), and Shamino. Each starts with different values in strength, intelligence, and dexterity, and with different weapons. Shamino's evenly-balanced statistics (15 each) and magic throwing axe lured me right away. 
    
Character selection.
       
After specifying the character, you input your initials and then choose a difficulty level from "easy," "medium," and "hard." These are differentiated by what happens when you die. On "easy," you just get kicked back to the beginning of your current level; on "medium," you respawn out on the surface of Britannia; "hard" is the same as "medium" except that you lose all food, potions, and gold. I played on "medium." The game otherwise autosaves as you transition areas, so it's essentially impossible to lose your progress.
 
The backstory is simple: A villain called the Black Knight has stolen the eight Runes of Virtue from Lord British's castle. You have to head out and recover them. I don't see any problems with canon there, particularly if we interpret "castle" to mean the museum at the castle, where the runes canonically ended up after the events of Ultima VI. We might even imagine that the donation to the museum took a while, and they were kept in the castle in the meantime. I've never heard of the Black Knight before, but then again I'd never heard of Blackthorn or gargoyles until the games had need of them.
   
Alas, our ability to merge the game with previous canon doesn't last any longer than the map on Page 12 of the manual. The game has the main continent, Verity Isle (Moonglow and the Lycaeum), the Isle of Deeds (Serpent's Hold), the Valorian Isles (Jhelom), and the Isle of the Avatar (Abyss), just like Ultima VI, but the main continent is shrunk and compressed so that it's no larger than any of the other islands. Beyond that, everything is in roughly the same positions. The dungeon names, which were always meant to contrast with the associated virtues (e.g., Deceit, Wrong) or at least evoke such contrast (e.g., Destard), have almost all been renamed to more obvious versions of their original names: Deceit (the only one to stay the same), Hatred, Cowardice, Injustice, Dishonor, Selfishness, and Pride.
      
This map is just unsupportable.
     
The game begins outside Lord British's Castle. Chuckles is in the foyer, telling me not to listen to Lord British and that I can go to any cavern I want. What he means becomes clear when I speak to Lord British, and he tells me to seek the Rune of Compassion in the cavern of Hatred due north. My guess is that Lord British gives the suggested order to recover the runes but you don't necessarily have to follow it.
    
The game begins outside the castle in a horizontally-squished main continent.
      
The castle is only one small level, but it has up and down ladders. Upstairs, Sherry the Mouse tells me that you can shoot webs to get rid of them, but tough ones need a Wand of Fireballs. Penumbra, standing next to a secret door, alerts me that they look similar to walls. They're easier to spot here than in Ultima IV. The basement seems to have no purpose at all. 

Near the castle is a couple of shops, both run by a guy named Gnu Gnu. You buy items just by walking into them. Most of the controls in the game are simplified like that: you open doors, open chests, speak to NPCs, trip levers, and push objects simply by walking into them. The only reasons you have to use the buttons are to attack and/or cast a spell; the two buttons essentially represent your two hands. There's a Zelda-esque (or perhaps I should say "hydlike") quality to the game, but it's important to remember that Shapiro was making this kind of game all the way back in 1982, with Caverns of Freitag.
    
However, the victory screen you get when recovering each rune is clearly referencing Zelda and Link's recovery of each piece of the tri-force.
      
Outside, I head to the dungeon Hatred. I'm not at all prepared for what follows. The dungeon has multiple levels, though each level is not much larger than about four game screens. In addition to enemies, it is absolutely chock full of puzzles: switches, teleporters, pressure plates, barrels and boulders that you have to push, keys, ladders, secret doors. Some examples of the puzzles in this one dungeon alone include:
   
  • A lever that turns various "Xes" on the ground into boulders. A second lever turns them into portals. You must use the first, then push the boulders into a couple of dead-ends, then use the second lever so you can portal through those dead ends.
         
Pushing boulders into corners so I can later turn them into portals. Dr. Cat looks on.
      
  • A set of portcullises that open and close at intervals. Nearby, a demon throws javelins at you. You have to avoid the javelins while staying near the portcullises for when they open.
  • Entire lines of teleporters with arrows indicating the direction you'll be sent. You have to interpret these and enter the right points to wind up at the right destinations.
  • Mushrooms that change objects into other objects when you eat them.
         
Nonsensically, the NPCs you meet in towns and castles often show up at various points in the dungeon to give you hints. Sherry the Mouse and Dr. Cat usher you through Hatred, for instance. There are also occasional signs to give you hints.
       
Why are you even here?
      
In one large area, Hatred has an "arena" that seems to have no purpose except to allow the player to watch different enemies fight each other. Enemies wounding and killing each other is possible in this engine, and indeed some puzzles seem to assume you're going to let them kill each other while you dart out of the way.
   
Many of the puzzles are clever, and although I had trouble with a few of them, I had some fun figuring out the solutions. What I had a lot less fun with were the enemies: bats, giant rats, skeletons, reapers, trolls, and tigers. They reduced my health (represented by hearts) shockingly fast, and I found the weapon controls maddeningly unresponsive. There's a pause after you turn before you can successfully attack. Worse, the magic throwing axe turned out to be a horrible idea, because until it finds its target, you can't attack again. Miss an enemy, and you're standing there defenseless until it hits the nearest wall.
        
I hesitate before stepping on a pressure plate. A reaper fires a missile in the corridor below me.
        
There are hearts strategically located in the dungeons to replenish health, and stars to replenish magic, and coins to let you purchase better items at the shops. On one reload (outside the cavern), I went and bought some leather armor, but it didn't do much good.
   
I got stuck on a particularly difficult puzzle just before acquiring the Rune of Compassion. There were three rows of obstacles in my way: closed portcullises, stone heads, and water. Nearby pressure plates turned some of these items into other items, like open portcullises or grass, but I couldn't find a combination that "opened" all of them, and I kept getting hit with projectiles fired by reapers on the other side. Finally, I realized that some of my flailing around had caused a corridor to my north to collapse, allowing passage to a new area. There, I found a mushroom. Eating it turned stone heads into grass. So I had to just find the pressure plate combination that left me with nothing but stone heads, then go eat the mushroom.
       
This puzzle was fiendish--and it was early in the game.
     
On the other side, I found the Rune of Compassion flanked by two reapers. By this point, I was on Level 4 or 5 of the dungeon and had abandoned any pretense of following the game's normal reloading system. I was using save states to ensure I didn't have to travel the entire dungeon again every time I died. But even that wasn't enough. I got killed by a reaper, managed to hit the key combo for "save" rather than "load," thus saving my state on the "game over" screen. About this time, I decided this game wasn't for me.
         
Upon the Plains of Hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, upon achieving the threshold of victory, sat down to wait, and there waiting, died.
        
I had an "out" anyway--Runes of Virtue is not an RPG by my definitions. Improvements to the character only come from finding runes (which give you attribute boosts and health), allowing the player no control over the "rate or details" of development. Except when they drop the occasional heart or coin, killing enemies does nothing for you except get them out of your way. As I noted when I coined the term "hydlike," many of the games in this sub-genre fall on the "non-RPG" side of the line.
       
The attributes on the character sheet increase, but only at fixed intervals over which you have no control.
     
To fill in the rest of my knowledge about the series, I watched YouTube videos of completed runs and shamelessly grabbed a few screenshots. (Credits go to spoon shiro's coverage of Runes of Virtue, Tork110's playthrough of Runes of Virtue II on the Game Boy, and GamingWith Zack's series on Runes of Virtue II on the SNES.) I was mostly looking for bits of dialogue that added lore to the series, and the exercise was mostly a waste of time. The NPCs you encounter . . . I was going to say they're the least "believable" of the series, but perhaps a better way to say it is that they have the least gravitas. They include Sherry, Chuckles, Dr. Cat, Finn (the vagrant who claims to be Lord British), Zoltan, and Klip-Klop, the two-headed horse. They're somehow more cartoonish here than in Ultima VI, where they were already pretty silly. They say things like, "One door leads to a beautiful lady, the other to a fierce tiger!" or  "The Xs in the cavern will teleport you back here!," not "Lord British is Shamino's illegitimate son!" or "Mondain was a Lord of the Sith!"
    
Inventory upgrades seem to be a major part of gameplay, including some that are necessary to get through the dungeons. For instance, a magic rope, for some reason, lets you walk on water. Like NPCs, enemies are mostly drawn from Ultima canon. Wisps become enemies again for the first time since Ultima V. Mimics, sea serpents, seahorses, and squids are all back. Gremlins are here, stealing your food again, and slimes do their dividing trick. Dragons act like they do in Dr. Cat's Caverns of Freitag, lurking in alcoves and breathing fireballs down adjacent corridors. I think the only completely original enemies--sounding exactly like something Dr. Cat would come up with--are "eep eeps," infuriatingly annoying foes who do nothing but stand in your way and take you to a dialogue screen that says "Eep? Eep eep!" if you happen to bump into them.
      
Fighting a dragon in a roomful of pressure plates.
      
The puzzles and enemies naturally get more difficult as the player moves forward, but so does the strength of the character and some of the resources. A lot of the puzzles involve mazes of directional teleporters that you have to interpret, manipulate (changing the direction of some of the teleporters), or block. At least one puzzle requires you to shoot something while you're being teleported across multiple pads.
       
An extreme version of this kind of maze.
       
Except for the first two dungeons--Hatred and Deceit--Lord British sends the player to the dungeons in the standard virtue order. Each one holds one of the runes. You transition between islands via ships at fixed points. The final dungeon, the Abyss, is accessed from the bottom of Pride. Pride weirdly has the Rune of Spirituality, while the Abyss has the Rune of Humility. Once you get the Rune of Humility, the game ends automatically. You get a brief message, and then you get a quick scene of Lord British knighting the victorious character. I suppose if you regard Dupre as the canonical hero of the game, it explains how he was knighted between Ultima VI and Ultima VII.
      
It doesn't explain why Mariah isn't called "Sir Mariah," though.
     
Shapiro didn't return for Runes of Virtue II; design and programming were assumed by Gary Scott ("Gnu Gnu") Smith, but most other personnel remained the same except for the addition of Amanda ("Penumbra") Dee.
   
      
You don't defeat the Black Knight in Runes of Virtue, which explains why he's back to menace Britannia in Ultima: Runes of Virtue II. The opening shows the Black Knight complaining of boredom and deciding to kidnap Tholden, the mayor of Britain, just to annoy Lord British. 
          
The Black Knight hatches his plan [Game Boy version].
There are worse reasons to do things, I guess [SNES version].
    
Lord British's reaction to the kidnapping is, predictably, to "summon the Avatar." A moongate opens and a figure steps out--except that you've already chosen to play the game as Mariah, Dupre, Shamino, or Iolo. (Iolo, incidentally, is a very young man in the SNES version.) The box also seems to suggest that the hero is the canonical blond Avatar. It's a weird bit of confusion right at the beginning of the game. Either way, Lord British assigns the hero the quest of finding Lord Tholden in the dungeon Hatred. Once the player accomplishes that, Lord British announces that the Black Knight has now kidnapped Whitsaber, the mayor of Trinsic. 
          
It's one kidnapping. You don't have people to handle one kidnapping?
      
The order of rescue here is more random than the first game, with the dungeons going Hatred, Dishonor, Injustice, Selfishness, Deceit, Cowardice, Pride, and the Abyss. Once again, the developers messed up the last two dungeons so that the mayor of Skara Brae is held in the Cavern of Pride and the mayor of New Magincia is held in the Abyss, although to be fair it was never clear why Hythloth should be the anti-spirituality dungeon and the Abyss the anti-humility dungeon in the first place. The names of the mayors are all identical to those in Ultima VI except that Quenton (a murdered ghost in VI) is still the mayor of Skara Brae instead of Trenton. As the hero rescues each mayor and escorts him back to his home city, the mayor bestows his associated rune as a gift.
           
The sequel takes place on a more familiar landscape.
      
The world uses the canonical map of Britannia, with the continents set to the proper sizes. There's more to explore, including towns and keeps, and a lot of optional areas, but otherwise it's a similar setup to the first game--one dungeon per rune. The puzzles are similar, employing the same sorts of mechanics, inventory items are similar, and the enemy list is identical except that eep eeps have mercifully been forgotten. Enemy AI is improved, to include fleeing when wounded. Nystul, Cooper the Blacksmith (an original character, I think), and Mandrake the Bard join the list of NPCs.
        
Mariah confronts the Black Knight in the sequel.
      
As with the first game, players can tether their Game Boys to play cooperatively (there is one optional dungeon that requires it). There is no such option with the SNES version of the game, something that the version makes up for with significantly better graphics and sound. Some sites disparaged the graphics, but to me they're better than anything we've seen in any other Ultima game to date. Alas, it also lacks the character development that I require to call it an "RPG." As with the first game, killing enemies contributes to a nebulous "score" but not to any experience or leveling.
       
The SNES hero contemplates a mimic.
       
A parade follows the restoration of each mayor. At the end of the game, Lord British gives you a final congratulatory message for defeating the Black Knight, after which you can continue to play.
         
The parade you get after each rescue is better than the endgame screen.
The victory screen, in contrast.
   
A few words on the timeline. You're going to tell me that neither game is "canon" and that it's not worth over-thinking it, but overthinking things is kind of what this blog is about. Anyway, I would submit that Runes of Virtue II is actually a prequel to Runes of Virtue. This works if you assume that when the Black Knights says, "I have not had fun since I terrorized Britannia!," he's referring to some previous event that we haven't seen, not the events of Runes of Virtue. Putting II before the first one explains why Iolo looks younger, Quenton is still alive, and the runes are still with their associated mayors. Putting the first game after VI explains why the runes are gathered in one place for the Black Knight to steal and why Dupre is knighted in Ultima VII.

These sorts of hydlike action-puzzle games aren't really my thing, but for those who like the genre, the Runes of Virtue games seem well done. They're a lot closer to what I expected on the Game Boy than games like Wizardry: The Suffering of the Queen or The Final Fantasy Legend, both of which seemed to be replicating a PC experience on a handheld device.
      
The Japanese Game Boy box shows the Avatar fighting the Black Knight.
      
Reviews of the first Runes of Virtue were mostly negative, with most of them noting the difficulty. "The excitement of the game soon grows stale," GamePro wrote in the April 1992 edition, "after two or three caverns of mindless wandering and fighting." Nintendo Power gave it only 3/5 stars. The sequel only improved slightly, with Nintendo Power giving it 3.5/5. The same magazine gave only 2.5/5 to the SNES version in October 1994, along with a comment that I don't understand: "Fans of the excellent Game Boy title will recognize the areas, plot, and even the dialogue of the original game, but the graphics clearly don't belong on the smaller system." How is the SNES a "smaller system" than the Game Boy? 
   
Modern reviews also tend to talk about the difficulty, as was the case of a blogger who said, "This game is mindtwistingly, headsmashingly, Game-Boy-thrown-across-the-room-and-putting-a-hole-in-the-wallingly challenging." I didn't see a single YouTuber try the game on anything other than "easy." Estimations of completion time average around a dozen hours for both games, something I was unlikely to achieve even if I liked the gameplay.
   
This is probably the longest "BRIEF" I've ever written, technically unnecessary as I have no obligation to play console games in the first place and thus no obligation to document why I rejected them. But they're the only two games for the Ultima series that didn't have a PC release, and thus I thought it was important to at least learn what they were about.

123 comments:

  1. Never played these. From your descriptions however, they sound a lot like Ultima 9. There is something familiar about smaller mainland, silly npc's, puzzles and going through the dungeons in a standard order.

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    1. Ah yes the linearity. Thank you for reminding me of yet another reason why I didn't like Ultima 9 :D

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  2. I suggest that eep-eeps are the same as those "emps" from U7. Also, I don't think Britannia has had tigers before.

    I recall there's a two-headed horse in U6 as well, but he's named Pushme-Pullyu, not Klip-Klop.

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    1. I think Pushme-Pullyu originally comes from the old Dr. DoLittle books, or at least I recall the name in the 1967 movie.

      Looks like they were written during WWI, which is probably why they weren't a part of the Victorian pastiches in Martian Dreams.

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  3. I never knew these existed. Fascinating. They look like good game.

    It is many years in the future, but now I am curious whether you will try to play the feature phone Elder Scroll Travels games - bona fide Dungeon Crawler, but, well, phone games.

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    1. Most likely, phone games will be notoriously hard to find and play after several years from their release.

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    2. I wonder if the mobile version of Ultima Underworld is playable

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    3. you need somebody who would archive the APK files, emulation is already available.
      I googled fo the Ultima Underworld mobile files and they are available for download

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    4. mobyware.org has those Elder Scrolls games, among many others.

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    5. ...Wouldn't an APK file be for an Android game, not a feature phone game? Or am I misremembering?

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    6. APKs are only for Android. Those Elder Scrolls Narwhal described are in .jar, have both of them on old phones as well as emulators. There is even an isometric Oblivion game from that era.

      Aside from this three J2ME games, the other notable one is the N-GAGE exclusive "Shadow key", which is also playable on the emulator.

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    7. Yeah, with the availability of emulators and the will too archive those games nowadays I think we are in a good spot to preserve what's not already lost.
      The dependence of some extern servers which comes often with the "games as service" principe is more a threat for preservation

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    8. In related feature-phone RPG news, the Doom RPG was just ported to Windows by fans (though not the Doom II or Wolfenstine RPGs) [yet])

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    9. @Canageek Thanks for the info, I've not seen that one coming. I still have some versions of Doom RPG on the old Nokia's, always liked that game. Never played the other two.

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  4. I read it as:

    "Fans of the excellent Game Boy title will recognize the areas, plot, and even the dialogue of the original game, but [obviously wont recognise the graphics]."

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  5. Looking at the map, I see numerous familiar names that are in wildly incorrect places. Loubet should be in Serpent's Hold, not near Empath Abbey; Darkwatch is in Minoc, not Serpent's Hold; the Cat's Lair is in Paws, not on Verity Isle; and the Sword and Keg is in Jhelom, not on the Isle of the Avatar. North Star is more-or-less in the right place, coincidentally.

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    1. The map from ROV2 is mostly correct, except that it has Serpent's Hold in the north. I suppose that's technically correct if the map wraps vertically (like in U5) but it's usually depicted in the south.

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  6. Spoony did an excellent and humorous review of Runes of Virtue 2:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl9ZlvRdVKA

    In fact, his entire Ultima retrospective is really the best work he ever did and definitely worth watching.

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  8. Richard Garriot has cited these as his favorite Ultima games before.

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    1. I thought that as soon as I saw this entry, and I wasn't sure if it wasn't a fake memory! I have absolutely no idea where I ever saw that. These are pretty fun for what they are, action-puzzle games with light Ultima theming. A friend of mine that was way more into Ultima than I ever was got a real kick from the references.

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    2. I remember reading that Garriott said Runes of Virtue was his favorite console Ultima. His favorite Ultima games were 4 and 7, by his own admission.

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  9. "Mondain was a Lord of the Sith!"

    Well, the Galactic Empire with its TIE Fighters is present in Ultima I.

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    1. It's always been my fan theory. You even get a light saber in that game.

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  10. I am surprised to see the two Runes of Virtue reviewed here.

    The link with "Caverns of Freitag" is apparent, but actually a bit more convoluted. "Caverns of Freitag" is officially the inspiration for "Dragon Slayer", "Dragon Slayer 2: Xanadu" is an obvious precursor of the early Legends of Zelda, and the 4th Legend of Zelda is an obvious precursor of "Runes of Virtue".

    I also have an hypothesis: the SNES remake of "Ultima 7" is actually "Runes of Virtue 3", at least in terms of gameplay and depth. Does anyone agree ?

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    1. Huh yeah it’s the first thing that came to mind when I saw those screenshots and it certainly plays more like them than the PC U7. But then what does that make the SNES version of Savage Empire…?

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    2. It is a good theory.

      It also makes the existence of that travesty that is U7 SNES marginally more bearable :)

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    3. I know its unlikely, but all this talk of how awful the console ports of Ultima are makes me want to see Chet try them, since if anyone is qualified to give them a proper tearing down, its him.

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    4. That would be fun. It’s weird to even call them ports, they’re more like completely different games using the same sprites.

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    5. And the NES ports of III and IV don't even do that. Maybe not bad games in their own right, but definitely subpar ports.

      The Master System port of IV, on the other hand, is pretty decent.

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    6. I liked the NES ports of Exodus and Quest of the Avatar, though they weren't exact 1:1 copies. NES Exodus is like U3 with the Dragon Warrior engine. U5 for NES was unplayably awful, and U7 for SNES wasn't good, but from what I've played of the SNES version of False Prophet, it's the exact same game. Maybe a few minor differences due to saving space, but the graphics are exactly the same, as are the conversations and stuff (I didn't complete that version though). Typical SNES RPG controls though.

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    7. My quick list of console Ultimas.

      The 2-buttons (AB) or 6-buttons (ABXYLR) CONTROLLERS are obviously more limited than a 26-letters keyboard. We have to accept it.

      Developed in Japan :
      - U3 NES: too much additional flavor text, otherwise quite faithful.
      - U4 NES: a half-sequel, with shorter dialogues and simpler dungeon rooms, but featuring the ending celebration party mentioned in U6.
      - U4 SMS: a 99% faithful port. The best port.
      - U6 SNES: as faithful as it could be. They had to cut the portraits and a few more things because of memory limits.

      Developed in the United States:
      - U5 NES: so bad I could not believe it... therefore, I won it a second time to make sure. Yes, it is awful.
      - U7 SNES: a complete remake (demake ?) as an action-adventure game, or "Runes of Virtue 3".

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    8. Pretty sure U4 SMS was developed in the west.

      The NES version of U3 and U4 aren't faithful, they're remakes with a lot of changes, additions and exclusions, even if you ignore the system and interface differences.

      You missed the Japan-exclusive ports: SNES Savage Empire and the PlayStation Underworld.

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  11. Improvements to the character only come from finding runes (which give you attribute boosts and health), allowing the player no control over the "rate or details" of development.
    But since technically you can do the dungeons in any order, you do have some control over character development.
    It also makes me wonder how will the games that only award XP for quests and not for combat are going to fare with this rule. Or something like System Shock 2, where XP is represented by a consumable item (neuromods).

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    1. I knew someone was going to argue that; I just didn't expect it to be someone whose comments i normally respect. I can't tell if you're tongue-in-cheek or if I really need to add more clarifying language to the definitions.

      If all XP comes from quests AND there are a fixed number of quests in the game AND none of them are optional AND you don't get to make any choices in how your XP is allocated towards improvements in strength or skill, then no, I wouldn't consider it an RPG.

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    2. Then what does this make Wizardry 4 where you only level up by reaching a certain spot?

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    3. This makes "Wizardry 4" an exception, and so far all the readers are happy with that :)

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    4. I already said in my first entry that W4 isn't an RPG by my definitions.

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    5. I'm wondering if there's any particular games that stick out as failing the updated RPG criteria that most people would casually agree are RPGs, but my knowledge of CRPGs past about 1994 is *really* poor since that was about the point I turned to consoles and didn't look back for a long time.

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    6. @CRPGAddict, sort of both - arguing semantics always is, but that's what makes it fun.
      Since different runes increase different attributes, then by chosing the order of unlocking them you do "make choices in how your XP is allocated towards improvements in strength or skill". Combined with initial choice of character, in my book, that provides a fair bit of customization. Yes, you could say that no matter the order of the runes, every character will finish the game having the same upgrades - but you can also say that about 1e and 2e DnD games with a level cap, since for most classes there's no customization after creation.
      It's also no secret that we're looking for different things in a character system. Personally, I would never rate any Ultima game very high in that category since they only have 3 attributes that barely do anything meaningful.

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    7. I think "grind regular enemies for additional character development" is an understated but essential of role-playing game definition.

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    8. Errata corrige: "understated but essential PART of role-playing game definition".

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    9. It's only essential if:
      1. You play JRPGs. I've only played two of them, but one of them (Wizardry Empire) is the only RPG I've played that requires grinding.
      2. If CRPGs are too hard for you
      3. The idea of not being overleveled makes you uncomfortable.

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    10. Grind is the worst part of RPGs, at least it is not in all of them. I flee games that require grinding. That's why I never played the Final Fantasy games beyond 1-2 "just to see".

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    11. A lot of second generation (?) tabletop games don't give experience/build points for defeating enemies (in the sense of racking up a body count). With CRPGs this is less common, but games like Shadowrun Returns or Vampire: Bloodlines don't have combat-grinding (just like their tabletop origins) and would be ruled out by this.

      In games that do give experience for killing enemies, I find it hard to determine the point where regular combat ends and grinding begins.

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    12. I think I could get behind the statement understood strictly as "the OPTION to grind for additional character development" - not that you must always grind in an RPG, but that a key distinction between the RPG and other forms is that if you can't progress by GITting GUD, you have the option of using persistence instead.
      If I can't make that last jump in Mario, my only choice is for me to practice until _I_ am better at jumping; in RPG Mario, I'd have the alternative option of practicing until _Mario's jump improved_ thus making that final challenge easier.

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    13. @Narwhal I don't think ANY of the Final Fantasy games have ever required any grinding. That's more of a Dragon Quest thing.

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    14. Even the FF wiki disagrees :
      https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Level_grinding

      ". In early role-playing games, the original Final Fantasy being one of them, level grinding was almost mandatory"

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    15. I remember my friends complaining that one of the FF games was too easy, and mocking me for saying the final battle was hard. then I found out they'd ground their characters all to level 99, while I had beaten the game with no one above level 40.
      How necessary grinding is in FF might be cultural; I am given to understand that there's a persistent cultural difference where Japanese players tend not to grind much, but use expendable buffing items constantly, while American players tended to hoard expendable items, assuming they were meant only to be used as a last-ditch emergency effort when one had screwed up by not grinding enough.

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    16. @Narwhal The FF wiki is wrong, then. Final Fantasy 1 is not particularly hard, and has never required grinding.

      @Ross I remember someone mentioning in a comment on a different post that one major differences between Japanese and western RPGs is that Japanese ones power up the characters a lot more through level gains, which means that no matter how difficult a fight or an obstacle is, you can easily get past it by just grinding a bunch until your characters are so strong they can just overpower the boss without using any strategy.
      This would then result in a lot of JRPG players getting used to the strategy against absolutely everything in the game just being "grind until you can beat it" and treating that as the intent of the game. So instead of grinding being thought of a POSSIBLE solution to a problem you can't figure out a way to get by otherwise, it becomes the standard solution to these players, and they don't even bother trying to figure out a strategy to a troublesome battle. If they're losing, they can win if they grind more, which translates to "the game requires grinding" to them as opposed to "the game requires grinding OR strategizing".

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    17. I found FF1 to require a lot of grinding.

      But to me allowing for grinding is only one of many ways that a game makes CRPG status. The key is that it allows for the development of different strengths and skills that are inherent to the CHARACTER rather than the player. Ross has it exactly with his Mario analogy. Grinding for a higher level is one way to improve (or at least change) the character. Prioritizing different skills and abilities during creation is another way. Prioritizing different skills and abilities during leveling up (if the game allows it) is a third way.

      What I don't consider an RPG is when the character "levels up" at fixed intervals that the game has already anticipated in its design of subsequent levels, thus making improvements illusory.

      The choices the player makes obviously have to make the character MORE CAPABLE of defeating obstacles, not less. This is why VK's claim that the game is an RPG because it gives the player the flexibility to do the dungeons in any order doesn't fly. Going out of the suggested order makes the game more difficult; it doesn't give the player any advantage. It's the equivalent of saying that Pong is an RPG because I could always choose to play it with one hand tied behind my back.

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    18. You misconstrue my point. Since different runes increase different stats (at least that's what was my impression), it may make sense for e.g. a STR-focused character to do the dungeons that produce STR-raising runes first - in theory, that *does* provide an advantage in doing the rest of the dungeons.

      The real question is, how meaningful the stats themselves are and whether it's indeed possible to focus a character on one of them. In Ultima games, they're usually not. Case in point, the upcoming U7-2, where the Avatar starts the game with INT already maxed (because there are no trainers for it in vanilla game) and DEX, by the developers' admission, doesn't really do anything.

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    19. Chet, I looked at your FF1 posts and you beat the game at level 27, which is slightly above what a player would ideally be at, yet you still found the final boss so difficult you had to cheat with save states to beat him, so you were definitely overlooking SOMETHING that would've made things easier for you.

      I saw no mention of the extremely powerful FAST spell the ninja can get, which can double his and the knight's damage output, so am I correct in guessing you didn't realize you had such a useful tool available to you?

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    20. For the record, the NES/Famicom Final Fantasies definitely require grinding. The SNES/Super Famicom ones don't really. You CAN do some grinding, sure, but it's not nearly as central as early games.

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    21. If they "definitely require" grinding, people wouldn't be able to beat them without grinding.

      I'm absolutely terrible at wargames and stand absolutely no chance at them, but if I were to say that most wargames are impossible to beat and definitely require cheating, I'm pretty sure wargame fans would object. Just because you personally can't do something doesn't mean it can't be done.

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    22. I also never saw Chet mention that the Black Belt deals far more damage unarmed after a few levels , or that his natural Absorb is tied to his level and thus higher when he isn't wearing armor.

      As someone that has played all of the 2D Final Fantasies, the Super Famicom installments don't require any grinding to beat, and the dungeons in the Famicom games are lengthy enough that you shouldn't have to go out of your way to grind as long as you know which enemies give the most experience and gold. That being said, exploiting the Peninsula of Power in the original definitely speeds up the early game, and it's easy to feel like you have to grind in II since the game doesn't do a very good job of explaining itself. I never felt the need to grind in III since the ability to warp out of dungeons is made available very early in the game and dual wielding causes your physical damage output to skyrocket. Running from battles in III is also a bad idea 99% of the time, so there's that as well.

      Chet made his playthrough quite a bit grindier than it had to be not only by forgoing black magic, but also by sticking a Thief in his party (and in the front row, at that) instead of something more useful. Early on it's very easy to farm gold from groups of Kyzoku, who usually fall to a single FIR2 (and can be made to appear quite easily - see the Kyzoku Trick), and the Wizards in the Marsh Cave are trivial if you have a party member that can cast LIT2 twice. FAST (Haste in the original) is also the best offensive buff in the game, and since it's only a Level 4 spell, you end up being able to cast it quite liberally before long.

      As for the Thief, his offensive and defensive capabilities are mediocre at best, so you end up having to do a lot more leveling up just to keep him alive. I quit my very first playthrough of Final Fantasy halfway through since I happened to have the same party configuration as Chet. Then I replaced the Thief with a Red Mage and had a blast.

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    23. Correction: Chet DID comment on the damage output of an unarmed Master in his second entry, although he never once mentioned FAST.

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    24. As someone that has played all of the 2D Final Fantasies, the Super Famicom installments don't require any grinding to beat, and the dungeons in the Famicom games are lengthy enough that you shouldn't have to go out of your way to grind as long as you know which enemies give the most experience and gold. That being said, exploiting the Peninsula of Power in the original definitely speeds up the early game, and it's easy to feel like you have to grind in II since the game doesn't do a very good job of explaining itself. I never felt the need to grind in III since the option to warp out of dungeons is made available very early in the game and dual-wielding causes your physical damage output to skyrocket. Running from battles in III is also a bad idea 99% of the time, so there's that as well.

      Chet made his playthrough quite a bit grindier than it had to be not only by forgoing black magic, but also by sticking a Thief in his party (and in the front row, at that) instead of something more useful. Early on it's very easy to farm gold from groups of Kyzoku, who usually fall to a single FIR2 (and can be encountered quite reliably if you know the Kyzoku Trick), and the Wizards in the Marsh Cave are trivial if you have a party member that can cast LIT2 twice. FAST (Haste in the original) is also the best offensive buff in the game, and since it's only a Level 4 spell, you end up being able to cast it quite liberally before long.

      As for the Thief, his offensive and defensive capabilities are mediocre at best, so you end up having to do a lot more leveling up just to keep him alive. I quit my very first playthrough of Final Fantasy halfway through since I happened to have the same party configuration as Chet. Then I replaced the Thief with a Red Mage and had a blast.

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    25. Adamant, which version of FF1 did you play? Every release since the original NES/Famicom one reduced the difficulty level dramatically. In part because some of the difficulty aspects were unintentional bugs, but in others by deliberate changes.

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    26. Personally I'd say the NES Final Fantasy games require grinding, but not much. That being said, I was deliberately trying to minimize grinding by being willing to leave and heal instead of trying to do dungeons all in a single go, so I was probably still fighting as many enemies as I would have had I just did regular grinding, along with being perfectly willing to grind for money to get the best equipment. Grinding's absolutely a requirement, but it doesn't have to be a ton and it's nowhere near as bad as some other JRPGs of the time

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    27. I've been trying to leave a longer comment here, but the site isn't letting me for whatever reason. So I'll just say that as someone that has played all three of the Famicom games, I and II need a little bit at most and III doesn't need any at all. Though having a Thief in your party and lacking a black magic user will make some parts of the first game more tedious than they need to be.

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    28. I've played the original, and I've beaten it many times. It does absolutely not require grinding, not for experience, nor for gold. There's never a need to get the best equipment, and once you get past Elfland barely anything you find in shops is going to be better than what you find in chests anyway - the economy in the game isn't very well done.

      I honestly don't really get these arguments - lots of people have beaten FF1 without grinding, so obviously the game doesn't require it. It's not some sort of crazy difficult game either. If you've actually tried just playing through the game and find yourself hitting a roadblock you just can't get past without heading off to grind, chances are there's SOMETHING you're overlooking that would've made things easier for you.

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    29. I've been trying to leave a longer comment here, but the site isn't letting me for whatever reason. So I'll just say that as someone that has played all three of the Famicom games, I and II need a little bit at most and III doesn't need any at all. Though having a Thief in your party and lacking a black magic user will make some parts of the first game more tedious than they need to be.

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    30. Kearuda, I think your comment got through unless it's a different one from the lengthy one above.

      Chet's choice of party definitely made the game a bit harder for him than it could've been, but I'm also fairly sure there were things he overlooked that would've made things easier for him. FF1 is one of those games where learning what your opponents can do and how you should react to encountering them (including when it's best to just run) is important. His posts weren't detailed enough to make it very easy to pinpoint anything specific he overlooked, but as I said, I'm pretty sure he never realized what FAST did and why it's one of the best spells in the game. That spell would've made his life a lot easier.

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    31. I think Blogger was experiencing some sort of bug that temporarily hid certain comments even after they'd (initially) been posted successfully. At least, that was my experience, hence the double post below: my first post went through, then vanished completely despite multiple reloads and re-checks, then mysteriously reappeared.

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    32. I don't see how these games are reasonably possible with absolutely no grinding. I can see beating it with no grinding, but that doesn't mean it isn't required it just means you know the game enough to work around it. Required grinding doesn't mean "it is literally impossible to beat this game without grinding" it means "this game expects you to grind to get past certain points" and that absolutely applies to the NES Final Fantasy games. You can get an optimal party and optimal equipment and know exactly what you need to do and never have to grind, but at that point you're an expert at it and what you're able to do isn't going to be the same as what the vast majority of the people that play can do.

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    33. But I'm telling you, that just isn't the case. Beating the game without grinding isn't some sort of crazy expert-only challenge, doing intentionally low-level playthroughs or "solo challenges" where you kill off three characters and beat the game with just one guy are. Someone's managed to beat the game with a single White Mage at level 11, THAT is being an expert that knows exactly what to do. Just beating the game without having to grind is not.

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    34. It sounds like the Blogger glitch affected me as well. All of my earlier posts eventually made it through, though.

      I still say it was Chet's party composition and the lack of Black Magic that did him in. Two Fighters in the lead or even a Fighter and a Red Mage will burn far less potions and spell charges than a Fighter and a Thief. Black Belts aren't exactly known for being sturdy, either (though I love them anyways). Moreover, a single casting of ICE can lop off over half of an Ogre's health in the early game, a successful HOLD can turn a death sentence into a cakewalk, and FIR2 will obliterate hordes of Wolves and Creeps before they have the chance to whittle down your health. Without access to any of those spells, your party is far more likely to take a beating and thus far more likely to need better health, gear, or Potions no matter how well your choose your battles.

      Twibat, it's entirely possible that Adamant's definition of grinding is different from yours. It's also possible that he's more comfortable with the outcomes of certain encounters coming down to luck than others are - you can technically defeat Tiamat at a very low level by maxing out your evasion and eventually getting lucky with the Bane Sword, but it's hardly a reliable strategy. Heck, even facing Garland without at least CURE and RUSE in your spellbook can net you dead party members. That being said, by the time you absolutely need a certain spell or a certain piece of equipment, you've usually amassed enough gold to afford it.

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    35. Adamant, while I don't entirely disagree with you, I'm also very curious as to how your playthroughs of the game tend to go. While there are definitely too many boring Let's Plays on YouTube, one from you titled "Let's Play Final Fantasy WITHOUT Grinding" might actually be an interesting one to watch.

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    36. Heh, maybe I'll take you up on that some day. I'm sure there's plenty of random let's plays that do this already, though.

      In general though, I'd say you should be able to use the highest level magic sold in a post-Elfland town shortly after the point you've left that town for the next one, and will finish the game around level 25 or so (that's when your white/black mages get their first level 8 spell slot). Remember what different monsters can do and run from things that can poison/petrify/slay. Offensive magic is nice for crowd control but too weak for much else. Mages are better off using items that cast spells instead of pointlessly attacking for minor damage. The Heal Helmet/Staff are nice for healing some extra HP in battle to preserve potions since 99 can run out fast.

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    37. What I'm saying is that the average player wouldn't know those strategies, wouldn't know what party members to use, and wouldn't know how to beat the game without grinding. You have an advantage over a new player that would find the game unbeatable without grinding because the game's made with the expectation you'd do at least some grinding. Personally, I'd only say a game doesn't require grinding if it's reasonably possible for a blind player to never grind, not if it's possible if you already know what you're doing because a first player isn't going to know what they're doing

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    38. Earlier I wrote:
      "1. JRPGs. I've only played two of them, but one of them (Wizardry Empire) is the only RPG I've played that requires grinding."

      Correction: that should be Wizardry Chronicle (which was actually made for Windows). Also I played Wizardry Gaiden I - Suffering of The Queen, but had to give up when meeting nigh invulnerable Thunderballs/Lightning Balls. Unless I've missed something obvious it seems you need to grind a lot to be powerful enough to defeat them.
      So I've played three JRPGs, and the only not requiring grinding is Wizardry Gaiden IV - Throb of the Demon's Heart.

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    39. I do all of the things Adamant mentioned and I still finish the game closer to Level 30. But PURE and SOFT potions do take forever to buy (and, in the case of the latter, are very expensive at 800G apiece), so I think it makes sense to just run from enemies that can poison or petrify you.

      I still think it was Chet's party composition and lack of black magic that did him in. A Thief in the front row is going to burn far more Potions and spell charges than a second Fighter or even a Red Mage, and if you don't have access to spells like HOLD or FAST to make encounters easier, you'll inevitably find yourself grinding just to survive encounters. A party without LIT2 will also take much more damage from enemies that could have been wiped out in just one or two rounds.

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    40. Twibat, you seem to have an extremely low opinion of the average player's ability to think logically. "I shouldn't bother fighting monsters whose attack has the potential to afflict instadeath because my options for restoring dead characters back to life mid-dungeon are extremely limited/nonexistant based on my party lineup" is not some sort of expert strategy, it's just applying logic to what you learn in the game.

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    41. I started playing FF in the 16 bit era, but I never felt the need to grind in the conventional sense of "wander an extended period specifically for random encounters to increase my level" ,- the encounters I naturally had while doing the plot and side quests were enough for that. When I did grind, it was more targeted - trying to accumulate rare drops, or train skills that required specific situations like the various kinds of acquired-enemy-skills

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    42. The Super Famicom installments are substantially more forgiving just by virtue of having save points inside dungeons and replacing the Vancian system with MP.

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    43. I do all of the things Adamant mentioned in his earlier comment and still end up finishing the game with my characters closer to Level 30.

      It's true that you'll never need to worry about gold after defeating Astos, but I maintain that abusing the Peninsula of Power greatly speeds up the process of getting to that point. Stretching out what could be a quick Sahuagin encounter into 6-7 rounds just isn't fun.

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    44. You know, I should probably just replay the game and note what levels I have where. My mention of level 25 was based on when mages get their first level 8 spell charge.

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    45. I think Chrono Trigger should be the yardstick for "RPGs that don't require grinding". I don't remember doing as much grinding for Final Fantasy as for the Dragon Warrior games, but I certainly had to do some.

      We also have to differentiate between the experience of an original purchaser who had the manual and map (and maybe even a strategy guide on top of that), vs. someone renting or acquiring the game with nothing but the cartridge to work with. And there are too many bugs in Final Fantasy for me -- too many things that don't work the way they should, or do nothing at all -- to feel as though the relationship between action and effect in that game is straightforward enough to say "Jeez, if you just paid attention, it'd be a breeze..."

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    46. The original statement was made in the context of Narwhal, an experienced wargamer who has played tons of games that require way more strategic thinking than Final Fantasy does, saying he had never played the FF games because he had read online that they required grinding, and being told this wasn't actually the case.
      Random kids that didn't know what an RPG was renting the game without getting the manual with it are not really relevant here.

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    47. Random kids that didn't know what an RPG was

      Who said anything about "not knowing what an RPG was"? I certainly knew what an RPG was, and had already played a bunch of them, when I played and beat Final Fantasy for the first time soon after it was released in the US. And I sure as hell did some grinding, not a ton but not zero either.

      That aside, this whole discussion has gotten pretty absurd. No one has claimed that FF1 is some ridiculously hard beast of a game -- it certainly isn't -- just that the average player is not going to pick up on the optimal strategies required to beat the game without at least some grinding. I think that's a reasonable claim, and one that matches the experience of the majority of players, including me.

      If the counterargument to that is "Well, if you were any good at games, you wouldn't need to grind", that's essentially a self-refuting argument: a game that doesn't require grinding should, to my mind, be one in which even someone who's not an experienced RPG player -- even someone who's actively bad at RPGs and lacks any strategic/tactical sense -- won't feel any need to grind.

      We're not using "require" in the metaphysical sense of grinding being unavoidable -- about a game literally being unwinnable without level gains requiring XP beyond what you get from bosses, plus random encounters incurred in a direct route between required locations.

      Rather, "required" is being used in a practical, non-absolute sense -- that grinding is, at least part of the time, the choice most average players will assume is the required path forward based on their experience of the gameplay loop. And again, Final Fantasy is too buggy for me to think anyone should be faulted for doubting the possibility that a more tactically elegant solution exists at all:

      https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Equipment_bugs#Final_Fantasy
      https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Magic_bugs#Final_Fantasy

      I can't say I remember those specific bugs, but I definitely do getting the impression that certain spells just never worked. There are plenty of games where offensive spells that cause status effects (rather than damage) never seem to connect, or do so rarely that they're too risky to use, and I remember Final Fantasy as one of those games that left me with a "Why risk doing anything besides the obvious?" feeling.

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    49. Removed and reposted to fix some typos I made.

      I wouldn't fault a player for feeling the need to grind up to the Marsh Cave when the party is weak, healing items are costly, and spell charges are extremely limited. It doesn't help that many of the non-offensive spells available to you at that point are literally useless (how they managed to botch SLEP, LOCK, *and* TMPR I'll never know). But by the time you reach the Vampire you generally have enough resources (and practical knowledge) for lengthy dungeon dives that yield tons of experience and gold. Your party members' respective Luck stats are also high enough by then to reliably run from anything you know you can't beat.

      Of course, all this assumes you're not playing with a particularly fragile party like two Thieves and a Black Belt, which will greatly hamper your ability to afford better gear and magic.

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    50. @PK Thunder As I just said, the original context of this tangent was an experienced wargamer saying he had never played the Final Fantasy games because he had read they required grinding, then being told that wasn't actually the case. I feel like you're really losing track of that context when you're bringing up kids in 1990 renting the game without the manual or all kinds of weird redefinitons of the word "require" as "required if you're not good enough at video games to pick up on advanced strategies like running from the most dangerous monsters".

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    51. @Kearuda Ok, so I booted up the game and did a quick playthrough of the early-game with the generic standard party of Fighter/Black Belt/White Mage/Black Mage. I did absolutely no grinding, but also played in the kind of unoptimal way a new player would: exploring the Temple of Fiends before taking on Garland, visiting Matoya right after crossing the bridge, and exploring the area east of Pravoka. I also didn't look anything up, and my bad memory made me forget a couple things like the Black Belt being able to equip the Wooden Armor, Asps being able to poison you and Grey Wolves being quite a bit stronger than I remembered them being. I also didn't grab the Sleep spell, which I realized in hindsight would've been nice for crowd control. So not exactly expert play from my side.

      I hit level 2 halfway through the temple of fiends, level 3 right after leaving Matoya, level 4 right after arriving in Pravoka and level 5 for all characters but the White Mage after the pirate battle (I lost my white mage in a battle against 4 gray wolves and 4 wolves, which I underestimated the danger of, so he was a bit behind in exp).

      A party with a level 5 black mage can easily handle the Marsh Cave (and I'll probably hit level 6 on the way if I go exploring the dwarf cave and the north castle first like the game (and manual) nudges you to do anyway).

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    52. @Adamant I'm completely aware of the original context, and still disagree!

      If your point is that an experienced wargamer might be able to find a way through the game without grinding, that's fine. But when it comes to "people who have played Final Fantasy on the NES", the category of "kids in 1990" outnumber "experienced wargamers" by a hell of a lot. And I don't think "experienced wargamers" should be the yardstick by which the game's difficulty is measured.

      Keep in mind, the Addict himself has said his own experience of the game was that it required grinding. After all, it's possible to beat Dragon Warrior in 20-odd minutes, but that doesn't mean the game doesn't require grinding, except in the strictest, most metaphysical, and least useful sense of the phrase.

      Bottom line, what's irritating me is this: your claim that the game "doesn't require grinding", full stop, is a normative claim that doesn't specify the category/skill level of player you're talking about, and ignores multiple comments from people in this thread who report a differing experience, including the blog owner. I'd be very careful about insinuating, even vaguely, that a lack of competence or intelligence is responsible for that different experience.

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    53. My last comment on this :
      - I DID play (and finish) FF1 and found it grindy - no idea which version it was. I also played but did not finish FF2. It was certainly a non-optimal way to play, typically I am sure I took a rogue because look I am sure there will be locked door in this game. I have played a lot of cRPG (my second favorite genre), though not JRPG. OK, I am the Wargaming Scribe, not the JRPG Scribe I got that, so maybe I am not the best person to say if a game is grindy or not,
      - The CRPGAddict, who has I believe some experience of RPG, also testified he found that FF1 "requires a lot of grinding".
      - The FF Wiki, presumably made by people with some experience of FF1 and JRPG in general, stated that the first FF were grindy. Quoting it : "In early role-playing games, the original Final Fantasy being one of them, level grinding was almost mandatory"
      - Reviews sometimes (not always) mention that the game is grindy, for instance IGN (2009). Sadly, with the pixel remaster, it is hard to find review of the first one.
      - There are well-known grinding spots in FF1 (in particular the peninsula of power, of course). If grind was a non-issue, there would be no such place.

      Now, can a good player, or a player who knows what he is doing, or a lucky player avoid grinding ? Certainly. But the general gist seems to be that the game is grindy if you don't come with pre-knowledge of the game or don't use for one reason or another 100% of the spell/powers/items you can use.

      It is also possible (likely even) that our threshold for grindiness are different. If I am forced to fight through a large number of thrash mobs in stale combats to progress, combats I could easily flee/avoid, I am going to call that "grind" and maybe you will call that part of the experience.

      Final note, you say you finished FF1 several times. Maybe that's the reason you don't see it as grindy : you have the experience with the game to leverage every tool, you know which enemies you are supposed to flee ("no point grinding to kill those") and which you are supposed to fight, what spells work and don't work, etc.

      Anyone, I will let you have the last word.

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    54. SLEP only puts enemies to sleep for a single turn in the original (assuming it even hits, with its abysmal 24 Accuracy). Is it really all that helpful?

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    55. Ok, look... What I'm saying is that Final Fantasy 1 is a game that an average person armed with the manual but no other forms of prior knowledge or assistance, should be able to beat by just playing through the game normally, exploring the places he finds or that the game tells him about, fighting the battles he encounters along the way while running from battles he realizes mid-battle are too tough to handle, without ever having a need to stop what he's doing to go grind levels. I'm not talking about absurd theoreticals like how it's technically possible to beat Dragon Quest in 20 minutes (or beat Dragon Quest without grinding, for that matter. THAT game requires grinding.), I'm talking about a normal playthrough with a normal party by a normal person that doesn't have any kind of expert knowledge or familiarity with optimal strategies. It's perfectly natural to not like grinding, I don't enjoy it either, that's why I responded to a comment about never having played the Final Fantasy games because they allegedly require grinding with a reassuring comment that this isn't actually true.

      If you feel that I'm insulting your intelligence then I apologize for that - of COURSE people are going to have different experiences. I'm sure someone somewhere had to grind in Chrono Trigger, the game you said didn't require grinding, too. I'm just not getting what these supposed points in the game where a non-expert would need to stop what he's doing and go grind are supposed. Nobody's ever said where they are, all I get are just these constant claims that a game I never thought of as requiring grinding does in fact do so.

      I agree this tangent has gotten a bit absurd (and long), but again, my intent was never to insult anyone, it was to tell a person saying he had never played some video games because he thought they required grinding that he could go ahead and play them, they didn't actually require it. This developed into a discussion about whether or not FF1 DID truly not require grinding, but I feel it was largely debated like adults, even if I never got any real answers to where these supposed places where you should stop what you're doing to go grind are supposed to be. :/

      (also, the peninsula of power is a bug caused by inattentive map design, it was not deliberately put in the game)

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    56. @Kearuda SLEP is okay as a crowd control spell for the black mage early on because level 1 offensive magic is so weak. If it hits a couple enemies that haven't acted yet, those enemies are not going to act that turn, which is probably going to make life easier for you than anything else that mage could've done that turn would've. It occurred to me during that battle against those 4 gray wolves and 4 wolves I mentioned that SLEP would've probably been more handy there than FIRE.

      If you encounter a big group of enemies that can poison, SLEP might also make it easier for you to escape without too many members of your party getting poisoned.

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    57. Oh, wow ! My comment about grinding opened the gates of hell :D

      Ross understood what I meant: "the OPTION to grind for additional character development" is a characteristic of role-playing games.

      Let me assure you that grinding is enormously BORING to me, too. Still, almost every role-playing game offers you the option.

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    58. "even if I never got any real answers to where these supposed places where you should stop what you're doing to go grind are supposed to be. :/"

      I mentioned the Marsh Cave, which is full of monsters that inflict status elements and contain Wizards that hit like trucks. An inexperienced player (or even just one without FIR2 or LIT2) might feel the need to grind for health or better equipment since hoarding Potions and Antidotes is only fun for so long.

      One could also make a case for the Gurgu Volcano and the Ice Cave, both of which contain enemies that cast extremely damaging multi-target spells. Yes, AFIR and AICE exist for those situations, but you can't always rely on your caster to fire them off before the rest of your party members sustain serious damage.

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    59. I know you mentioned the Marsh Cave, which can indeed be a bit of a bottleneck at first... it's just a bottleneck primarily because it has monsters that are obnoxious to fight as opposed to brutal killing machines. You CAN grind up a ton of money to carry a mountain of antidotes down there in order to heal 4 instances of poison after every other battle... or you can realize that these poison monsters can be run from. Same with the monsters that can't be hurt with physical attacks - why waste spell points when you can just run? Or the paralyzing monsters that can incapacitate your entire party no matter what level it is... just run instead of trying to take them down in a prolonged battle. You can argue how effective it is at doing so, but I believe the intent is for the Marsh Cave to teach the player about running as a strategy by filling the place with things that really hurt you if you actually stick around to fight it (especially the monsters you need to use magic to hurt. Just a pure waste of spell points for really lousy exp and gold rewards).

      You go down into the Marsh Cave, you run into some monsters that poison your entire party while you kill them off, forcing you to use antidotes you spent twice as much gold on as you gained from the battle to heal up afterwards... then you run into some monsters that can't be hurt with regular attacks and spend all your spell charges on attack magic to kill them, gaining some rather lousy rewards for your trouble. Finally you run into a bunch of undead that paralyze your entire party and kill them off over the course of the next 20 rounds. Your reaction can be "I should go grind for two hours until I can kill everything here much faster", or it can be "I could've probably ran from those monsters like the manual stressed the importance of". The game probably intended for it to be the latter.

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    60. Fuck me, did I really write "status elements" instead of "status conditions"? But your perspective is an interesting one. Running from enemies that can poison your party members is definitely something I believe the player should do, but I hadn't considered the meager experience and gold you get for these dangerous encounters.

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  12. Those screenshots of the SNES version have definitely been run through an *intense* pixel-smearing shader. The actual game looks like this.

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    1. I guess I didn't watch the video long enough to see where a miniskirted girl blowing bubbles in front of Lord British's castle fit into the narrative.

      But thanks for clarifying the graphics. I took the shot from a video, so I'm not sure what was used. When it comes to console emulators, I've always been confused what settings are a) consistent with the original hardware but wouldn't have worked on most era televisions; or b) added as features to the emulator specifically.

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    2. That isn't just a problem with console emulators. It is a genuine issue with DOSBOX as well.

      Short version, unless you're using a very modern emulator with a good filter, the output on your screen will significantly differ from what a "period" setup looked like. You can play with this fairly easy by going into your DOSBOX settings and changing "scaler=super2xsai" to "scaler=rgb3x". Note that this will not show up in screenshots taken with DOSBOX's screenshot tool, that just snaps the raw render.

      Long version:

      The topic is very complex, but there's basically two resolutions that matter when it comes to hooking anything into a US television set (Europe used a different standard) of the period - 240 lines and 480. This can generally be abstracted as 320x240 and 640x480, in interlaced and noninterlaced forms, giving you 240i, 240p, 480i, and 480p. Generally this is only an abstraction because the video sources were often higher than that internally, but it works well enough as a shorthand. Note that these are very close to the common resolutions for CGA (4 color 320x200), EGA (16 color 320x200), VGA (256 color 320x200/ 16 color 640x480) and SVGA (256 color 640x480) - many of the same issues affect emulated PC titles.

      To make things more complicated, it was far from uncommon for a given console to have the ability to output multiple resolutions to best fit what was happening on screen. On a period TV, this would be seamless, but an emulator (or modern TV/upscaler) is forced to suddenly reconfigure to scale the output, causing issues.

      Scaling is not trivial - any simple stretching will deform the image and cause color artifacting, and the cleaner version of rendering each horizontal and vertical line multiple times is surprisingly intensive for processing - and a lot of the standards for emulation were created in an era where just running the emulator took everything a computer had.

      That's the raw video signal. If you're running a modern emulator with no scaler, or good scaler that blows it up without distortion, you're essentially getting what was coming out of the graphics chip.

      But it doesn't end there. Ignoring the oddities of any individual system design, you have to hook the thing to your TV in the first place, and that also has a lot of issues. The most common cables used were technically the worst but were cheap and compatible with most TVs. So the crisp image an emulator gives you is not what a TV would have gotten in real hardware. Much cleaner cables were available, but they were uncommon and were not what was designed around. Equally important, most TVs wouldn't produce crisp, well-defined pixels - they'd have tiny blobs that blurred into one another. If you've ever noticed dithered images looking worse than you remember, for example, that is likely not a memory issue - it really did blend together better back in the day.

      For reasons of authenticity, and because it wasn't unheard of for game designers to count on that effect, various methods of introducing some of the same effects have been introduced. Modern scalers can do a lot to produce extremely convincing effects... but require significant amounts of computing power and see above. A much simpler, but far less effective method was just to apply a simple blur effect.

      A lot of emulators still use those old, really crappy scalers as the default. So a ton of the screenshots and videos you see (even when they themselves aren't ten years old) have the same flaws.

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    3. I will never understand why it is that even after 20+ years and the implementation of highly capable CRT simulation effects in HLSL and BGFX, MAME still ships with the bilinear filter enabled by default.

      And it is definitely annoying to see people using those awful smear filters in the era of crt-geom, almost as annoying as seeing footage without aspect ratio correction applied. The situation has definitely improved in the last decade, though, with most top-tier console and computer emulators offering CRT simulation to varying degrees. Altirra, for example, has a slider to let you tweak the saturation so that your Ultima games will display correctly, and MAME can simulate the Apple ]['s artifact colors via HLSL when the emulated device is set to output monochrome video.


      Chet, if you ever decide to switch to PCem or even DOSBox-X, both will happily accept GLSL shaders like those you frequently see being used with a certain overhyped emulation frontend.

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    4. "Short version, unless you're using a very modern emulator with a good filter, the output on your screen will significantly differ from what a 'period' setup looked like."

      I'm with you up to this point. I don't have the foundational knowledge to fully understand the rest.

      For some reason, I'm interested less in "realism" when it comes to replicating what the average TV of the average player would have been capable of. If the emulator settings are simply enabling the game to show its best graphics on a modern monitor AS IF I took the same monitor back to 1992 and hooked it directly to an SNES or C64 or whatever, using the best cables, I think that's fine.

      If, on the other hand, the emulator is doing something with the graphics that wouldn't have been possible with the original device hooked up to any monitor of any era, I suppose I want to disable that setting.

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    5. @Kaeruda, the reason why the simple scalers are enabled by default is because the more realistic scales require, as Gnoman puts it, significant amounts of computing power.

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    6. "If, on the other hand, the emulator is doing something with the graphics that wouldn't have been possible with the original device hooked up to any monitor of any era, I suppose I want to disable that setting."

      The raw output (what's used to generate your screenshots if you're using the inbuilt tool) is exactly that. You get some wonkiness when you start scaling it to be more usable on a modern screen. Unfortunately, avoiding that would be a emulator-by-emulator thing. Usually the best option will be a straight multiplier (like mGBA's x8 option) with all filters turned off, though you might find scanlines useful in some cases.

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    7. It's not simply a matter of "bad cables"; TV signals are analog and based on timing; there really isn't a discrete, concrete notion of horizontal resolution the way there is with a digital signal, there's just "you have X microseconds to send one line of colors. If you choose to spend all that time sending red, that line is one very wide red pixel; if you oscilate between red and blue a thousand times, that line is two thousand pixels." But with the caveat that the physical nature of the CRT affected what it would actually mean to switch between two colors that many times over the linear distance of one scanline. But you're absolutely right: the designers knew that switching between certain combinations of colors with certain timing produced effects other than "just put those colors next to each other" as a digital display would do - the nature of the device meant that it was impossible to light up one exact spot without spilling over onto adjacent spots at a lower intensity. This is best showcased using a real original CGA card in its true NTSC mode, where the bizarre combinations of colors CGA uses for its palettes finally makes sense, because rapidly cycling between cyan, magenta and white in certain patterns in an NTSC signal on a CRT monitor would actually produce a far richer palette of colors.

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    8. Back to the important topic (just kidding): the "girl in miniskirt" is the Runes of Virtue version of Mariah. She makes bubbles when the player leaves her idle for a couple of minutes.

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    9. @Ross Yeah, I was trying not to get that into the weeds while noting that there is a marked difference in output between the coaxial RF modulator or composite video cables that most people used and the much cleaner but rarer S-video/component/etc cables that were available but quite rarely used in that era.

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    10. I’ve been emulating games since the 90s, and I’ve never felt any of the CRT emulating filters have ever been worth it in general. None of them have ever looked like any actual TV I’ve ever seen. The exception is games that use intrinsic CRT properties for effects. The main one being techniques to create transparency. Full screen flashes of a solid color or intentions fast sprite flickering is a common general one—it’s basically the same as the color cycling mentioned above—and those can be a legitimate seizure risk on a modern display. Nintendo has toned down or removed them in some game rereleases because of that. A simple motion blur filter can get you 90% of the way there for that although having good control over the phosphor decay is best. Depending on how frequently this is used in the game though and whether it is a health hazard, it might not be worth futzing around to get it exact.

      The other technique is using a checkerboard to simulate transparency as the colors will bleed into each other, and this is where almost every CRT filter I’ve ever seen falls flat on its face. Saturn games use this technique very frequently due to the console’s quirky hardware which could do transparency but had limitations. Using component cables with a real Saturn will actually make the image too sharp, and the checkerboard will show. For this, I always use MAME HLSL since it gives very fine control over many elements and allows for toggling parameters by group. I disable everything except for Defocus. It depends on the size of the pixels, but something around 2 for X and Y works well enough. I’d personally prefer something that worked only on those regions while leaving the rest sharp.

      Except for Saturn games, I only use simple scaling. Enhancing filtering like the one used in the SNES RoV2 shots can be nice depending on the game but usually aren’t. They work very well for organic shapes and handwriting style fonts since they tend to round everything off. Yoshi’s Island in particular looks amazing with one. They work very poorly for fine line art and thin text fonts. Gradients tend to look weird as well. They also absolute mangle the checkerboarding I mentioned above.

      It’s also worth mentioning to make sure the aspect ratio is correct, but I think most emulators will do this automatically the best that they can. Modern displays, Macs since the original and PCs from VGA onward use square pixels, but it’s a grab bag for older PC games, other computers, consoles and portables. Resolution requirements to do this with perfectly sharp pixels tend to be very high, but simple stretching is not going to be highly noticeable in most cases. The Wizardry IV screenshots which are what made me think of this as standard DOSBox at one point did not do aspect ratio correction of any kind (even non-perfectly) by default.

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    11. Gnoman thanks for the informative post on emulating, I've been using DOSBox for so long it didn't even occur to me that scalers were in play there, I always thought of it in terms of ZSnes, Gens, etc.

      Delete
  13. I do not have much to add, but I am always happy to see coverage of games that I have never heard of, and will never bother to play myself. It does make sense to cover them here (even in a BRIEF) for sake of completeness of the Ultima series.

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  14. I played Runes of Virtue 2 as a kid and really enjoyed it. As you said, you get the canonical Britannia in an open world setting, all the NPCs are from Ultima VI and it's a simplified Zelda-esque action RPG with lots of puzzles. It was fun and to my teenage mind it was enough of an Ultima experience to feel like I was back in Britannia, but on a tiny screen and in black and white.

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  15. Here's to all the nasty contributors here that shamed me the last time I said Chet should look at the Runes of Virtue Ultima games. I feel vindicated, but it would still be nice to get some apologies from the people hiding behind screens that like to leap out and go on the attack.

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    1. You showed up in the thread just to tell us about your feelings?

      Delete
    2. Is this the exchange in question?

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2020/03/game-362-orbquest-1981.html

      The response was a tad harsh, maybe, but also easy to undersatnd: I suspect being pressured to play console games is in the Top 5 of things that make Chet wish this blog didn't exist, especially being pressured on the basis of "Well, but you did this one," which inevitably comes off as really self-centered and entitled.

      I wouldn't take it personally -- the reception you got wasn't really directed at you. Instead, view it as a protective response toward someone whom the posters appreciate. (Chet, that is.)

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    3. "undersatnd"? Man, I need to wear my reading glasses when I post.

      By the way, I asked if I had the right exchange because there have been other requests for Runes of Virtue, i.e.:

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2010/06/ultima-iv-final-ranking.html
      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/06/a-slight-change-in-sop-and-request-for.html
      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2020/08/miracle-warriors-won-with-summary-and.html

      Delete
  16. Wow, does that SNES parade look creepy...

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  17. I *think* that "smaller system" comment is supposed to be understood as referring to the Game Boy version from the perspective of playing the SNES version, but the way it's worded makes it seem a bit backwards. It's something like "you will recognise this, that, and the other from the GB port, but the graphics are all new to the SNES and the GB wouldn't be able to produce them."

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    Replies
    1. That was me. Blogger lost my identity.

      Delete
    2. I read the line this way: ...but the [SNES] graphics clearly don't [come from] the smaller system.

      Delete
  18. I had the first RoV game when I was 13. I got it mostly because Ultima games were hard for me to come by at that point. I actually played it on hard difficulty. It did scratch the itch a bit, I admit.

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  19. Hey, Chet, so that you have something to read in this comments section that isn't arguing over emulator settings or RPG definitions: Now that you are doing console RPGs, you'll one day encounter Hybrid Heaven, for the N64, and I can't wait to see you blog about it.

    Not that it is particularly good, though it isn't the worst RPG for the system, but it's weird. It's setting is 90s X-Files conspiracy strangeness, and the most effective way to fight this is melee combat! Punch and legsweep your way down the rabbit hole to the TRUTH! XD

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    1. Just so you know, covering console RPGs isnt part of the plan per se. They're covered from time to time, but there's no guarantee than any given console game will show up on the blog.

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    2. Awwwww, I'm sure I'll understand when I get to that post

      Delete

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