Thursday, June 22, 2023

Serpent Isle: Off this Mortal Coil

Well, we already knew you weren't monarchy.
After the last session, in which I was thoroughly annoyed, I took a break for a couple of days. I had work to do anyway. When I came back, I decided to follow Abacos's suggestion: Stop exploring and let the Hound of Doskar lead me to Batlin. This pains me a bit because I really do like the serendipitous encounters and little vignettes that the creators sprinkle through the world in both halves of Ultima VII, and I would have loved if this engine (with perhaps some combat tweaks) had been used to create a less-scripted, more open-world game with lots of side quests. Imagine a Serpent Isle that starts with no manual and no background lore. Drop Batlin entirely. We're just here on Gwenno's heels. Remove Monitor, Fawn, and Moonshade--the Sosarians never made their way here at all. Our whole job is to explore an unrestricted landscape full of Ophidian ruins and piece together all this Order, Chaos, and Balance stuff for ourselves via the clues we find in the ruins. I get chills thinking about it. Alas, this is what we have.
We enter the City of Order.
I pick up the narrative where the Hound of Doskar has led us: to the gates of the City of Order. "Avatar, thou shalt fail!" an automaton says as we enter. Dupre notes that it speaks with Batlin's voice. There are dead automatons on the floor of the chamber. The automaton continues: "By the time thou hast found the Shrine of Order, I shall have become as powerful as the Guardian himself! Come! Come and witness my ascent to power." It attacks and we have to kill it. All of the dead automatons have keys. They look like the same key, but of course I have to collect them all just to be sure.
"I'm not even lying!" Yaphet Kotto thinks.
The area beyond has an armory and crates and barrels full of supplies, including some needed reagents. The only way forward is past an automaton guarding a gate, and he wants a password. I'll bet it's found in that damned temple I decided to ignore, isn't it? I'm just about to head back there when I see a button on the other side of the grate. I decide to try "Telekinesis" on it. Fortunately, it works. We kill the automaton and loot another key.
At the next intersection, with grates to the north and south and buttons to open them, Batlin's toady Grunt appears and says that he wants to help us stop Batlin from opening the Wall of Lights. "Quickly, follow me! I will lead thee straight to him!" He runs off to the south. Suspecting a trap, we try the north room and find a secret passage that parallels the south hallway. Scorch marks and dead bodies in the hallway indicate that it is indeed full of traps. The secret passage rejoins the hallway south of these traps. There's a tremor as we continue on. Boydon says: "Make haste! Batlin must be opening the Wall of Lights!"
How do you know anything about it? Have we even explained to you who "Batlin" is?
We make haste, but the corridor dead-ends in a room with bows and magic arrows. Magic arrows would normally be cool, but . . . come on. It's too late for new stuff. I see a trapper pacing around in dead space, so I figure there's a secret passage there. It takes me a while to figure out how to get into it--it's one of the secret doors you have to double-click on to open rather than just walk right through.
We enter the City of Order proper. A scroll on the second story of a building close to the entrance describes how to open the Great Library in case it's sealed. First, I have to open the doors to the Temple of the Hierophant by placing the correct symbols of order on the pedestals in front of the temple, then enter the temple and place a scepter on top of a pedestal.
The City of Order has a large central room with the Temple of the Hierophant and a serpent gate. A pedestal stands in front of the temple, asking for relics of the virtues of Order. A bunch of smaller rooms and passages jut off to the sides of the central chamber. As we explore, the floor keeps rumbling, causing us to stumble around, but it doesn't seem to do any damage. Except for one giant spider, the only enemies are large rats. Some encounters:
  • The ruins of a workshop with looms and spinning wheels. I waste some time cutting fabric into bandages, then later find a billion bandages in what seems to be a healer's workshop (it also has potions).
Bandages are like the cheese wheels of Ultima VII: They don't do as good a job as any other healing method, but you hoard them anyway.
  • A wine press with barrels of grapes nearby. How are they still good?
  • In the southeast corner, a gate with a button. I press the button. Palos the gargoyle comes to the other side of the gate: "To serve my master and to avenge the death of my people thou didst slay in ancient times," he says. He threatens me some more but then runs off to the east. I don't find any secret passages this time, so I follow, setting off numerous explosive traps that kill Shamino and Dupre. On a reload, I try "Detect Traps," but it doesn't do anything. I just have to gird myself, book it through the room, and heal everyone on the other side.
This again? It wasn't my fault!
  • I nearly miss a book titled The War of Order and Chaos. I'm glad I read it, as I was under a misapprehension. I thought the two sides destroyed each other, but the book indicates that the forces of Order won "and imprisoned the Chaos Forces," then later realized they missed them. But then what happened to the Order forces?
  • In a basement beneath the trap room, there's a weird cave with a few cradles with babies in them and an easel set up for painting. 
Is it alive?
  • A pool room with little tables set up on the edges, and goblets and alcohol around the tables. One of the tables has a whip next to it.
These Order folks knew how to relax.
  • Another gated passage. An automaton guards the other side (where did Palos go?). He'll only grant passage to a follower of Order. I get only two options here: "I follow Order" and "I follow Chaos." I have to lie no matter what. I say Order. He demands we prove it, mentioning that he recently let some people pass who also claimed to be followers of Order, but he doubts them. "One of them even threatened to tear me limb from limb if I failed to open this portal." Anyway, he gives me a quote and asks what book it comes from. I don't know. I guess a random book and I'm wrong. He suggests I return to the library for further study. I counter-suggest that I cast "Telekinesis" on the button behind him. Unfortunately, it only opens the second gate, on the other side of him, not the one between us and him.
  • A basement with archery targets, bows, and magic arrows. This game really wants us to have magic bows.
The three most important chambers are small temples to Ethicality, Logic, and Discipline. None of them has anything obviously tagged as an artifact, just various books, scrolls, and tools. I have to try several different items on the pedestal. It turns out that it wants an abacus for Logic, a scroll expounding the virtues of Ethicality for Ethicality, and a serpentine dagger for Discipline (why?). It's not hard to figure out, as when I place the right item on the pedestal, it sparkles and disappears.
Does this look like a unique artifact to you?
Inside the temple, there's a pedestal asking for a scepter. Stairs lead down to the Hierophant's bed chamber, where an automaton greets me as the Hierophant but then realizes his mistake. "I have been waiting," he says," since the citizens of the city left through the Wall of Lights for their new world." So that's where the Order people went. But where, specifically, did they go? Do we see them again? For the first time in the Ultima series, I'm asking questions I honestly don't know the answers to.
(Funny aside: Google doesn't know the word "hierophant" and suggests as a replacement "Diophantine's." Why does its dictionary have one obscure Greek figure but not the other, and how do you possibly get from the first to the second?)
The automaton indicates that he has the Serpent Scepter. He misunderstands something that Shamino says and asks me point blank if I'm the Hierophant. I say no, and he chastises himself for nearly giving the Scepter to a stranger. Unfortunately, I can't find any dialogue option through which I can get the item through honesty. I thus try killing it, but he has nothing on his body. In a reload, I lie, resenting the game for making me go against one of the virtues of the Avatar for the second time in just a few minutes. The automaton hands over the staff and collapses. 
And a few minutes later, that's exactly what he does.
I place the staff on the altar upstairs and we're teleported to a library. A book called Holy Books of the Ophidians recaps what we already know but adds some things. It starts in the time of Mondain, and talks about how Serpent Isle was separated from the other lands in the chaos that followed. It obliquely mentions Shamino, away from his kingdom when the sundering happened. Meanwhile, "madness took the King of the White Dragon." A Great Hierophant became the leader of the people in the aftermath. (That the automaton asked if I was the Hierophant of Order suggests there were two lesser Hierophants, too.) He built the Wall of Lights so he could enter "the void" and communicate with the Great Earth Serpent. Three grand shrines were erected to Order, Chaos, and Balance, and nine temples to the various virtues derived from their combinations. A time of peace and luxury followed. Then Exodus kidnapped the Great Earth Serpent from the void, and without Balance, Chaos and Order went for each other's throats. Then, apparently, the Order forces kidnapped the Chaos Serpent from the void, split it into three forces, and imprisoned them in the three temples of Order. This caused more problems, and the Order people left completely. 
I wonder if this book is important.
I honestly don't remember any of this from playing the game before. Without an audience to explain it to, I probably just skimmed the texts and never got a complete sense of what was happening. It's not a bad story, and it integrates well with past lore. It's all a retcon but, as I think I've covered before, a retcon done well.
The book I really need is called The Structure of Order, and it's down a hallway behind a locked door. The key is under a book, so it takes me a while to find it. After reading the book, it then takes me about 20 minutes to figure out how to exit the area. There are two teleport pads behind locked doors, and the key blends in almost completely with the table underneath it (at least, to me). 
The key I couldn't see is left of the cursor.
Wondering how Batlin, who clearly didn't have the Serpent Scepter, managed to answer the automaton's riddle, we return to the automaton and give him the answer. Except I don't remember the line that he gives us being in The Structure of Order. I double-check, and the line is in fact in Strength Through Ethics, which was what I chose when I guessed on our first visit, and the automaton told me I was wrong.
He must run on ChatGPT.
Right or wrong, he opens the gate. The other one closes, and as we fiddle with the switch, Deadeye runs up. "The time hath come for thee to feel me steel!" But like his compatriots, he just turns and runs as the gate opens. We chase him down another hall. A couple of fireball traps go off before we reach the end, where a body lies before a locked door.
There's a body in front of the door, and a key on the body, but the key doesn't open the door. Neither do any of the other keys I've picked up in the city. I angrily slink back to the city and make another loop just to be sure I haven't missed something. There's a locked door to the north that reads "VAULT OF THE DEAD." I forgot about that. I try the key that I picked up from the body, and it opens.
I wonder how it got its name.
The vault has a bunch of corpses and some weirdly non-hostile snakes. There's a small room to the north with a serpent carpet and a small button just above it. Clicking on it causes the floor to lift up, like an elevator, and deposit us on a mezzanine. We cross a bridge (over some lava), go down a corridor, and find ourselves on the other side of the locked door. A large wooden double-door beckons to the north.
A corridor emerges into a large room with fountains and braziers. Suddenly, Deadeye, Brunt, Palos, and Selina--it takes me a minute to even remember who she is--apparate in front of us. I've been waiting for something like this. I have Shamino feed them all sleeping powder and potions--well, apparently I give one of them a "Resist Cold" potion instead--and soon three of them are sacked out on the floor.
Selina rushes to attack while the other three stand around having a conversation.
For some reason, the three men suddenly turn into cyclopes. It isn't long before they wake up. I try blasting them with some spells, but they don't seem to work. I keep getting hit with little balls of light, so perhaps they're interrupting me. The ensuing battle is quite long but not very dangerous. We just don't seem to do much damage to each other. (It occurs to me belatedly that I probably could have donned my old armor in place of the warm winter gear.) I check hit points every few seconds and apply healing potions and bandages as needed. 
We got three out of four.
Finally, Selina cries out: "Gloat if thou wilt! Even if thou slayest me here, thou hast not truly defeated me! Even as we speak, Batlin is opening the Wall of Lights in the next room! With the Guardian's help, he and I shall meet in the Eternal Void to conquer new realms together!" She then dies. I don't know if she thinks her soul is going to the void or what. Her body has a blink ring and a scroll of--finally!--"Dispel Field." I cast "Transcribe" on it and get it into my spellbook.
Sure thing, Obi-Wan.
With anticipation, we open the final door, walk along a blue carpet, and find Batlin waving his arms before the Wall of Light. "Quickly! Surround Batlin!" the Avatar screams. (Why? Everyone but the Avatar has missile weapons. Why can't they "Quickly! Throw your axes at Batlin!"?) The game takes over from here. The party spreads out to surround him, but everyone is suddenly frozen in place.
Why don't I have the "Mass Paralyze People Who Aren't Even Close Together" spell?
"Fool!" Batlin cries. "Thou art too late. Now I shall enter the Wall of Lights and become immortal! Then I shall return to destroy thy mortal soul!" He casts some more spells, but something seems to be going wrong. "Wait . . . no! The wall is not opening for me! This cannot be! No . . . the banes, they have . . . Oh, what have I done! I have been tricked, Avatar! I beseech thee! Help me before . . . " Lightning strikes him, the Wall disappears, and he's dead.
The Guardian's face appears. "See how I reward those who have failed me?" He boasts. Then three lights come out of the former wall and strike Shamino, Iolo, and Dupre. "I am Anarchy! Hahaha!" says Shamino. "The world shall quail before me! Wrong shall become right! And right shall become lost! Nothing shall escape my touch!" Dupre, whose head has somehow turned into a snake, proclaims himself the "Wantonness Bane," and Iolo claims the mantle of "Insanity Bane." They then disappear, leaving their items on the floor in piles.
Well, that fits your existing personality.
Boydon has apparently been killed, leaving just a torso behind.
How am I going to hold all of this stuff?
Before I have a chance to move, I get a vision of the Great Earth Serpent, who tells me to seek the Gwani Horn in the Skullcrusher Mountains. 
Does the Great Earth Serpent have to be a cobra? Why couldn't it be something less threatening, like a garter snake?
I don't really get the "banes" thing. I thought they were supposed to be trapped in the temples, not in this wall. And if they were in the wall, how was one possessing Cantra?
Aside from that, this was a reasonably solid session, especially after the last one. But do you know what would have made it better? If the game had ended here. There is no reason for it not to end. The entire continent has been explored. Batlin is dead. There's nothing else for this party to accomplish in RPG terms--we're probably not going to gain any more levels, nor any better equipment. There's no further reason for the economy. I don't remember what happens next, but I do remember what happens to the Avatar at the end, and there's no reason it couldn't have happened right here, while the Avatar is standing in front of the Wall of Lights. But for some reason, the authors wanted to cram in some more plot. The only thing I'm really looking forward to is the chance to adventure without a party for a while.
The Avatar stands alone among a thousand inventory items that he has no room for. Batlin's body has a key, the Blackrock Chaos Serpent, and a serpent jawbone with five teeth, which I immediately transfer to my own. I feel like the fact that he has the Chaos Serpent instead of the Order Serpent must have something to do with his failure. I'm going to try to work out some of the lore issues before the next entry. Since I ended the last entry on such a negative note, let me end this one on a positive one: The Ultima series is one of the few in my chronology so far to make me care enough about its lore that I'm willing to go back and re-read a bunch of books to solve the mysteries of the setting.
Time so far: 65 hours


  1. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 22, 2023 at 12:14 PM

    Anarchy? I mean, say what you want about the tenets of Wantonness -- at least it’s an ethos.

    Agreed that this feels like a natural place to end the game, especially after 65 hours. I continue to be curious to see what will come next...!

    1. Maybe it's Anarchy as an active war against any political power, in the ethos of "ANY politial power is VIOLENCE against people"?

  2. I do feel like the kind of rushed or incomplete development really shows here.

    Although rather than end the game here, I feel like this is really intended to be the big mid-point of the game, the guy you chased here is dead, but now all your companions are possessed and there's an entirely different threat to face. It just gives you a lot of new information about the original inhabitants of this world, and it ties it to the past games in a reasonable way.

    The main problem for me is that this happens after quite a sizeable game already, and with quite a large chunk to go (including the expansion).

    If the earlier game was more speedy, perhaps it would feel more like you were actually chasing Batlin and not just exploring a new place at a kind of sedate pace.

    1. I think this was a game that should have ended here....with part 2 in a new game, continuing the story from this point. But I don't know that Origin/EA really thought through things and how it would affect sales, etc.

    2. Ultima VII part 2 part 2?

      Ultima 7.75

    3. I remember in the lead up to Ultima IX, Garriott talked about Ultima being a trilogy of trilogies. Considering how much got cut out of VIII and IX, maybe the last set could have been it's own trilogy of trilogies!

    4. I agree that this is the intended mid-point, and I love the idea of first dealing with the three cities, then defeating Batlin, and THEN dealing with the three banes in their respective cities, and finishing the game when you defeat the three banes.

      Of course, that's not the way the game ended up (possibly due to deadline pressure). I feel the whole plot from Balrog swamp until you deal with Batlin would have been better off cut, and then the devteam could have put their time in the bane plot instead. But yeah, hindsight is easy.

    5. I'm mystified about the comments that the game should end here. Batlin just did a Big Bad Thing here, and you want to leave the world to burn? You were upset about breaking two virtues in a few minutes but now you just want to leave? Scrap Batlin and just have the Gwenno plot? Gwenno is still in trouble! The economy doesn't matter, the levelling doesn't matter, you still understand so little about the world around you at this point, which is especially important if you didn't want a Monitor or a Fawn or a Moonshade to begin with - this is the part of the game you've said you've been wanting to sink your teeth into.

    6. When I said the game should have ended here, I didn't mean it that literally. I meant more that it should have ended with the defeat of Batlin at about this time stamp without introducing the entire "Banes" plot at all. Gwenno's storyline obviously should have been slightly different to account for this.

  3. I'm still fascinated by the single father with twins living under the City of Order who works as an artist.

  4. "Does this look like a unique artifact to you?"

    I mean, yeah, kinda?

    1. Which item goes on which pedestal is spelled out in another scroll (or maybe a book, I don't recall exactly) so you don't have to just try every item on each pedestal.

  5. Glad you stuck with it!

    Yeah the Ophidian culture and history is really the high mark of the game. Mind you, it's strange how they have a completely different writing system from Britannia, and the timeline doesn't really give them a whole lot of time to develop. I'd maybe have made reference to Minax "screwing up the timelines" or something as a cover.

  6. It's quite amusing that you find murdering a sentient being and robbing its corpse to be a lesser transgression than simply lying.

    1. Ha. Yeah. I don't think that, of course, but I worded the whole paragraph badly. A more accurate way to say it was that having been denied a virtuous way to get the staff and having already refused to lie, before going back into the dialogue system and lying, I decided to see if he had the staff on him on a lark.

      We can debate whether the automaton is really "sentient," but if it's not, I don't suppose it's any more a sin to lie to it than to kill it.

    2. A bit spoilerish:

      Va gur Fvyire Frrq rkcnafvba cnpx, lbh jvyy zrrg Vffgnane, n sbezre uhzna jub jvyyvatyl genafsre uvf pbafpvbhfarff vagb na nhgbzngba fvapr na nhgbzngvba jnf frra n cresrpgvba, serr sebz rzbgvba. Fb, gurer vf n nyjnlf n cbffvovyvgl gung gubfr nhgbzngbaf gung lbh zrg ner fragvrag.

  7. I have to appreciate how the automaton is so dedicated to the cause of Order that, instead of punishing you in any way for lying, it merely suggests you go ACTUALLY read the books to learn more about the philosophy.

    "thy mortal soul"

    We have a word for that, Batlin. It's called a brain. Maybe you should have used yours and killed the Avatar and friends BEFORE gloating?

    "Does the Great Earth Serpent have to be a cobra? Why couldn't it be something less threatening, like a garter snake?"

    A real-world comparison would actually be Bast/Bastet's evolution from a lion to a housecat.

  8. Confusing things further, the Hierophant is one of the standard tarot cards and should really have better SEO than Diophantine

    1. Google has about 4.5M results for Hierophant, I guess Chet was referring to Chrome/Blogger spell checking?

  9. Boydon's death is avoidable: if you leave him behind, even just before the Wall of Lights, he'll be fine. Or if you never picked him up, you still can after this. But bring him to the cutscene and the script kills him.

    I used to be confused about what happened and thought he inadvertently died to the explosion effect the Banes make when they disappear. Eventually I heard that someone posted old SI design docs (easily found in a web search) and there I read, "When the banes possess Iolo, Shamino and Dupre. Boydon (if in the Party) will be destroyed by lightning, although his head will still talk."

    (Boydon does have a script that runs on death to keep his head alive, though IIRC it always fails on this event and doesn't always work elsewhere either.)

    Anyway, I find this design decision very... interesting. I assume the intent was to make the player feel alone after the release of the Barnes, but to me it feels simultaneously heavy-handed -- because it happens for no clear reason -- and careless -- because you can so easily avoid it with foreknowledge. For me it was just a feel-bad moment I immediately undid with a reload, and watching the scene twice in succession hurt the artistic effect more than if they'd just let Boydon live. (Or made it possible to fix him with another trip to the Phoenix machine. That would've been a good plot hook to get advice from Erstam, who ought to have something to say about all this... but doesn"t.)

    1. I was curious what happened if you dismissed one or all of your party members before the Batlin encounter, and I was going to talk about it next time. It's tempting to try to keep Boydon alive, but this isn't the kind of game where you really need every advantage, and it simply isn't organic to dismiss him before the big battle. I think I'll just roll with it.

      I couldn't find his head, though, just his torso.

    2. When Boydon's special on-death script works, his arms and legs and head all pop out onto the ground. Then you can talk to his head and get a couple extra lines of dialogue. But I never saw it work within this scene.

      Keeping him alive definitely isn't necessary or organic. I usually like to live with the outcomes I get naturally and not abuse save/reload, but for me this fell under my personal "virtuous use" exception.

    3. > "I was curious what happened if you dismissed one or all of your party members before the Batlin encounter"

      Boydon is the only one you can save this way. Xenka's prophecy requires the others to be with you for this, so if you leave any of them behind the monks will intervene and teleport them back to you at the start of the Wall of Lights cutscene (even resurrecting them if necessary, IIRC).

      So, no getting around them becoming the Banes.

    4. Not really.

      Nsgre lbhe cnegl zrzoref fnl 'Jr zhfg uheel,' vzzrqvngryl xvpx rirelbar bhg sebz gur cnegl naq sbe nqqrq zrnfher, sbepr gurz nyy gb qevax fyrrcvat cbgvbaf. Nsgre Ongyva qvrf, ervaivgr nyy bs gurz onpx gb gur cnegl.

    5. Huh. I didn't think to try that. Clever.

      Wouldn't that break the plot and make the game unwinnable, though?

    6. No, because from a programming perspective "Shamino" and "Shamino the Anarch" are two different entities. There's no technical reason you can't have both of them running around. However: bapr lbh qrsrng n tvira Onar, gur pbeerfcbaqvat pbzcnavba jvyy qvr orpnhfr gur fpevcg vf fhccbfrq gb fcnja gurve obql va gur cynpr bs gur Onar, naq gur erfg bs gur cebprff bs erfheerpgvat naq chevslvat gurz jbexf gur fnzr nf hfhny.

    7. Because the pool of available NPCs is so... disappointing, keeping Boydon is always a good idea. Walking around with an army of automatons is no fun

  10. One bit of advice for your current predicament:

    Pnfg gur Perngr Nhgbzngba fcryy ba nal bs gur qrnq barf va Fcvaroernxre, naq uhmmnu, vafgnag pbzcnavbaf! Znal cynlref jbhyq rira qerff guerr bs gurz nf Vbyb, Funzvab, naq Qhcer. Ba gur qbja fvqr, gurl graq gb qebc rnfvyl va pbzongf, fb vg'f orfg gb whfg hfr gurz nf zhyrf.

    1. Hah. Without even running it through the translator, I can tell that the third and fourth words are "Create Automaton." I thought about that, but I'm leaning towards just taking the essentials and enjoying being a lone character for a while.

    2. Replacing your friends with Automatons that essentially serve the same mechanical functions and have the upside of not complaining about food sounds like a plot from Black Mirror.

    3. "Replacing your friends with Automatons that essentially serve the same mechanical functions and have the upside of not complaining about food"

      AUTOMATON IOLO: Beep boop, Avatar, this unit knows songs about Compassion and seeks the Gwenno unit.

      AUTOMATON SHAMINO: Beep boop, Avatar, this unit hears sounds from the northeast.

      AUTOMATON DUPRE: Avatar, beep boop, this unit's head has turned into a snake due to the influence of the Bane of Wantonness.

      THE AVATAR: ...Man, I hate these three almost as much as the other three idiots Lord British foists on me every time I come here.

    4. Predictably, Nakar's Let's Play has a field day with this one.

  11. "Imagine a Serpent Isle that starts with no manual and no background lore."

    That was always my favourite parts of Ultima - the exploring. It was a joy finding an abandoned hut in the forest or campsite on an island that existed outside the plot, but had its own personal reason for existing. A game on SI of that would have been amazing. It's too bad EA can't create more Ultimas using this (well, the Exult) engine. Grab a few up and coming fantasy writers for cheap and bam, a trilogy of top down Ultima walking simulators at their fingertips. Or maybe sell the IP to someone who cares? Anyway, one can dream.

    At least I can re-live Ultima through your writing, Chet! Thanks!

    1. The manual is quite done, as most Ultima manuals are, but sometimes less is more.

    2. One of the best games (not an RPG) I ever played that works that way is Outer Wilds.

      You start with zero knowledge of the world and you have to slowly uncover the lore and history of your solar system, with no handholding from the game, which makes every new discovery and progress towards solving the main mystery incredibly rewarding.

      Highly recommended to those who love games with non-directed exploration.

    3. @Vince :
      I guess I can recommend Heaven's Vault to you then. You should like it.

    4. I tried Heaven's Vault. But the controls....

    5. Outer Wilds is indeed the best game of that type because it’s the best game ever made. It might even teach you to accept death!

  12. "the key blends in almost completely with the table underneath it (at least, to me)"

    Color blindness strikes again. While this one isn't quite as glaringly obvious as that one key in Dungeon Master 2, it still has a hue that's clearly different from that of the tabletop.

  13. Ah, it's fine, the Avatar didn't lie to the automaton. As the highest-ranking religious leader present on Serpent Isle, the Avatar inherited the title of Great Hierophant on making landfall. Obviously.

  14. I am going to be a dissenter here and say that I was in absolute awe about that part, and dozens of years later I still am.

    How many open world games do a careful world building, and then mid-game (not "end game" in a railroaded conclusion that locks most location) tears off everything with a change as radical as what follows - while still allowing you to go everywhere on the map ! Off the top of my mind, I can only think about one other major game doing that as radically as Serpent Isle.

    1. I think it is a cool twist, but a bit unwarranted.

      The player knows basically nothing about Batlin’s plan and the Guardian’s role on foiling it; the Banes are mentioned as something the player should know about, but no character so far mentioned them aside from the short cutscenes with Batlin.

      Most of the plot so far has been about chasing one McGuffin or another unrelated to this event, and only starting from now the game really focuses on the Ophidians and their lore.

      To me the best twists are those with enough foreshadowing so that you come back to previous parts of the story and see them coming in retrospect, but not so telegraphed that you can see them coming the first time, and it’s something not easy to pull off.

      Assuming that the other game you are referring to is [svany snagnfl fvk], there is a more elaborate setup and payoff there, in my opinion.

    2. I haven't played svany snagnfl fvk, the other game I was thinking about is Tbguvp naq gur pbhc va gur Byq Pnzc, gubhtu vg vf yrff enqvpny guna FV naq V vzntvar ssiv.

      Guvaxvat nobhg vg, RYRK unf vg gbb

    3. I think this moment has sufficient support from the plot before it. You start the game with two big questions: "what is Batlin up to?" and "what happened to Gwenno?" You're shortly given a secondary motivation: "where's all my sweet gear?" By the time you're approaching Batlin, you've resolved "where's Gwenno?" (dead) and "where's my gear?" (you found it all, or at least the important stuff) but you've also picked up some new questions: "what happened to the Ophidians?", "what's causing the Imbalance?", and "what the hell happened to Catra?" (not to mention "why did Batlin chase down and murder Catra?"). The Wall of Lights is just the final transition of the plotline from the original "find Batlin" quest to the "solve the Imbalance" quest that's been accumulating since you set foot on Serpent Isle.

    4. Final Fantasy VI has a moment like this. You've explored the entire world, you know the end plan of the big bad, you go to stop him and... you fail. He gets what he wants and uses his new godlike power to remake the world. You wake up, need to regather your party across the face of this new world, and stop him once and for all. The twist is not from the plot itself, but rather the subversion of the narrative idea that the heroes will triumph.

    5. I think the FF6 comparison is apt, although I think it's less of a "twist" in Serpent Isle. By the time you reach Batlin it should be pretty clear that he's not the only problem you're dealing with and that there's going to be some more work to do (e.g. saving the world) once he's taken care of. The surprise is just in the specifics of how he's "taken care of".

    6. Damn it, these are spoilers ! Final Fantasy 6 is on my list, 20 or so games from now.

  15. Back when Mobygames was still about users discussing old games, there was a prolific reviewer called Unicorn Lynx, stated this about Serpent Isle: "Ultima meets Final Fantasy!"

    Anyone played Final Fantasy 6? I definitely can see a few similarities.

    Think about it.

    In the SNES Final Fantasy games you often had two halves of the game: the normal world and the destroyed world.

    In the middle point you would have something like this, a catastrophic plot twist with severe consequences and losses.

    Even something about the mood of the game is reminiscent of Final Fantasy. The world where even nature itself groans, the sense of the inevitable countdown to doomsday, ancient primordial destructive sentient forces...

    Whether they are intentional or coincidental, there is something like JRPG's about Serpent Isle.

    1. Personally the more JRPG feel to the game was a big contributor to this being one of my favorite Ultimas, that's the sort of RPG I grew up with so it tends to be the sort I like more

    2. When I played Serpent Isle I definitely appreciated the feeling it had of a more structured plot, rather than a bunch of vignettes that slowly give you a bunch of clues (but not plot coupons, just clues) for the main plot. If you have a guide for Ultima VII you can beat it by visiting a shockingly small part of the world. A guide for Serpent Isle still needs you to experience a lot of the game.

    3. As a regular Mobygames contributor over the past, dang, just about 20 years, I'm a little curious what the site would be characterised as being about now? Definitely there is a higher emphasis on new games... that said, the old games also were quite a bit less old back in the day 8)

    4. k*w*f@arms-style gangstalking shit. i tried to add a game once, and the next day the admins were leaving nasty comments on my furaffinity account calling me racial slurs. they do that to everyone who tries to contribute but hasn't been on the website for years.

    5. @HateCrimeVictim: Really ? I did a few small Mobygames contributions (mostly description edits and fixig genre misattributions), but I never had any problem.

    6. @Rowan Lipkovits

      That old community of reviewers, which included Unicorn Lynx, is largely gone now. The recent update even eliminated any contribution points for reviews.

      The signal is clear: the site is not about user reviews anymore.

      Unicorn Lynx also wrote some articles for Mobygames, the history of JRPG's and the history of Hentai RPG's (yeah, he was a colorful guy) which have all completely disappeared from the website.

      For me personally, Unicorn Lynx was very foundational in developing my gaming palate... cause that guy played almost everything and had a very wide perspective on games.

    7. I didn't know anything had been happening with MG until this thread. I did notice that they recently added the ability to sort games by the date they were added, which has helped me a lot.

  16. I don't remember the line that he gives us being in "The Structure of Order" . I double-check, and the line is in fact in "Strength Through Ethics", which was what I chose when I guessed on our first visit, and the automaton told me I was wrong.

    I think the automaton can ask different questions about the books, chosen at random.

    1. No, the only valid answer is "The Structure of Order", and you only see that option if you've read the book. It's just a mistake in the game.

  17. So, uh, hypothetically, if one of the blackrock serpents was lost or missing from the game, does anyone have any idea how one might get it back?

    1. Hypothetically, the game includes a highly sophisticated debug menu that (among others) lets one create items, as described here:

    2. Radiant's link doesn't seem to have the serpents listed....

      Short instructions: Start game with "serpent manimal" to enable cheats. Press F2 to access cheat mode. Press "C" to Create Item. Enter "262" for type and for frame, enter either 1, 2, or 3 for Order, Balance or Chaos respectively.

    3. Ah, bless you. When I didn't see the serpents on any of the lists, I worried that they couldn't be created this way. I'll explain what happened in the next entry.

    4. Credit should go to "Houston Dragon" for the item list I used. My contribution was just remembering (from hearing a million years ago) that the serpents were in fact creatable and plugging "blackrock" into my search terms when the first lists I found weren't showing it.

      I did run a quick test before passing the info along, and noticed that Houston's list has the Order & Chaos frame numbers reversed. Not a big deal, just made me question my eyes for a minute.

    5. I seem to vaguely recall being possible to go into a walking dead scenario at around this time of the game , so knowing the debug menu is useful

    6. I had to use a similar cheat menu in Ultima VI to recover a lost lens that left me unable to continue.

  18. Something I've found weird about the plot is that Batlin wants to open the Wall of Lights to become as powerful as the Guardian... but the game has extensive lore on the ophidians and what they used the Wall for, and NONE of that lore comes anywhere close to suggesting it does what Batlin wants it to.

    So it looks like the Avatar didn't foil Batlin's plans, but that the plans never had a chance of working in the first place (even if he would have used the correct serpent). I find that vaguely unsatisfying.

    1. In the next entry, I question whether maybe the Chaos Banes lied to him about what the Wall could do for him.

    2. My take was that ophidians have entered and "ascended" in a way, and Batlin has interpreted that as some sort of higher power. The Avatar goes through multiple books and conversations through the game where he (and by that I mean we, the players) understand that's not what happens, but remember Batlin has brute forced his way through most of the Isle and so when he gets to the Wall of Lights, he doesn't have as much information as the Avatar, just his own "confirmation bias" of "ascending to a higher power"

    3. Hey, the guy is just really into opening blackrock portals in order to gain power from treacherous interdimensional beings, all right? No need to yuck his yum.

      Batlin is also using the wrong blackrock serpent, as Chet observed. But I'm not sure his plan is 100% off base. The Void is supposed to be a source of great power (as the Xenkan monks tell the Avatar), and Batlin is (we are told) a powerful sorcerer. I mean, the guy can survive Armageddon, I'm sure he has a decent chance of getting Real Ultimate Power from the Void.

    4. I love the headcanon that the Banes deceived Batlin; and I find it entirely fitting with his arrogance that he would think that nobody could ever out-plot him.

    5. and that when he realised it was all backfiring on him, that he would start begging his nearby archenemy for help

    6. My take on this is that Batlin's plan would have worked if the Guardian wasn't aware of it.

      He protected Batlin against Armaggedon in Ultima VII, but on Serpent Isle he tells the Avatar that this is his reward for Batlin because of his betrayal, meaning that he wasn't protected by him anymore, and the banes turned on him.

    7. That strikes me as an equally-valid hypothesis.

  19. I am tickled by how much Boydon's portrait resembles standup comedian and Youtuber Alasdair Beckett-King. I would not be surprised to see a video from him about dealing with bizarre plot twists in 90s CRPGs.

  20. There's a back door to the Spinebreaker Mountains.

    If you still have Selina's key from way back when she asked you to rob the Royal Mint together with her, and after she puffed, leaving her belongings behind. It's half-brown half-glowing blue. It will also open that door where the pirate body with key was lying (Chet in this case did not have this key).

    The back door is accessible from further up in the mountains, in a cave with snow leopards, there's a secret path taking you past gazers to the back door.

    The back door will lead you just beside the big main door for Batlin gang attacking you event, skipping all that taunting and traps.

    1. That's cool! One of the few alternate paths in this game that isn't some kind of exploit.

      The distance between the events with Selina and getting to Spinebreaker is so long that I have to wonder how many players would remember that key. I guess if you have the Silver Seed and you've already gotten the key ring, it doesn't matter.


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