July 31, 2011

Ultima III - Ranking

Story & World

While most of the game world was fairly bland with pretty standard dungeons, Sosaria did have a few elements that were pretty unique.  Having the stat building land of Ambrosia (complete with its own challenges) is one though the concept of paying golds for stats had probably been done before.  The use of moongates for transportation was present in the game but was a minor system which would be fleshed out much more in Ultima: Quest of the Avatar.  A lot of towns had pretty much identical services and layout though a few towns were unique (an all forest town for example with townsfolk hidden throughout).   

About 75% of the townsfolk said nothing of value and the remaining quarter gave either vague or obvious hints.  A few people are concerned that Exodus is rising again and the end of days is at hand, but most blokes are just fine talking 'bout whateva.  A small handful do give crucial clues but this number could probably be counted on one hand.   

The main quest was the focus of the entire game.  If townspeople talked about anyone, it was all Exodus this and Exodus that.  No side quests.  Everything is related to bustin' into Exodus's castle and sealing him up.  3/20

Character Development

A deceptive array of starting classes ends up boiling down to a few basic types with little variation between the classes.  It all depends on how much time and gold you want to spend on raising stats.  A fighter/magic user hybrid is only going to work if most of the stats are going to be maxed.  When gaining levels from Lord British only the character's maximum Hit Points went up which is a refreshing change from the norm.  It also meant that once the Wizards starting ROTing and MISSILEing everything, they just became tanks in terms of HP.  It didn't take too long to max out the prime stats of the classes I choose (only one stat for three of the characters, two for the paladin) but still got pretty grindy.   

Weapons come in two varieties, melee and ranged, with the latter being the most useful.  No data for any of the weapons or armour nor does it affect any viewable character stats.  Defaulted to more expensive is better than cheaper.  No special abilities for any of the armaments which was very disappointing.  There was talk of a Mystic Sword and Armour so maybe those had some special abilities but I didn't find either of them.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

The tactical layout of the combat was pretty unnecessary in my opinion.  It would have served just as well having a more standard interface (e.g. Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior) as it would have sped the encounters up and combat wouldn't be such a predictable drag.  Every set of monsters did the same thing.  Move down one square.  They just bee line it for the nearest party member and if another creature or obstacle gets in the way, they just stand there awaiting their pummeling.  The magic system was a little better but most spells were just of the damage dealing variety, even for the clerical spells.  The utility spells were quite useful for getting around dungeons but healing through spells (the only way other than drinking from dungeon fountains) was another chore as the spells healed very little for the MP they cost.  No spells altered the terrain or conditions in combat or gave status ailments to monsters.

Monsters are little more than slowly moving targets that sometimes use magic.  The only description to be found is the creature's name flashes on screen whenever it is hit.  It has the standard fare of creatures, from orcs and ghouls to demons and dragons, which isn't a problem so long as one is familiar with basic monster lore.  What is a problem is the lack of monster distinctiveness.  Most of them get lumped into either melee or ranged (with the vast majority being melee) with a smattering of magic using or poisoning creatures.  Once a few levels are gained, monster difficulty varies wildly from easy as pie to pissing hard.  This is not so bad on the overworld map as harder encounters can be avoided but in dungeons it is completely random and you can't see it coming.  3/20

Graphics & Sound

All combat sprites are nicely defined and looked pretty close to the creature it was suppose to represent.   Character sprites are varied enough that classes never got confused between each other.  The character portraits under the Status screen though are pretty sloppy.   Music was passable and the few sound effects there are are pretty bland.  6/20


Gold retains a high level of usefulness throughout the whole game.  With it needed for both stat increases and equipment, it is always in constant demand.  Some of the armour prices were ridiculously high (luckily most of my characters at midgame were spellcasters and could not use high end armours).  Gold was always got in the same manner; a single chest with a random amount between around 30 and 99 GPs.

The game was quite open in its execution.  With monster difficulty levels tied into the party's experience levels, the dungeons containing the marks needed could be done in any order and a single type of mark could be in multiple dungeons.  Some places did not have to be explored at all so that could add to the replayability.  There isn't enough difference between the classes to warrant replaying with a different party structure.  At the beginning, as I began to realize the cost in golds to do everything I needed, it seemed like it was going to drag on but by midgame things picked up a lot and I was quickly propelled to endgame.  The challenge was very strong in the beginning and eased up as the game progressed which is fine by me.  Controls in the overworld map and combat are a little stiff but manageable but once the party acquires a boat the controls turn absymal.  I don't know if it was intentional (to try to simulate a choppy sea voyage) or not, but it's a pain in the ass.  10/20

Final Ranking: 26/100

July 29, 2011

Ultima III - End Game

The trip through the castle went pretty well in regard to battles.  There were plenty of places for the party to lame-regen and the only new monsters were some floor tiles that were effectively invisible.  Which didn't matter because they still just move down one each turn like every other creature in the game.  After two sets of those, the cards were to come into play.  Death, Love, Sun, and Moons were to all be placed to seal Exodus.  I didn't think the order mattered but that changed as soon as I dropped the first card and everyone died.  I couldn't recall anyone telling me about any dang order so I brute forced my way through it.  Good thing the fights were cake at this point as each trip in only took about 10-15 minutes.  I (correctly) guessed that Death would be in the fourth slot, so there wasn't that many combinations to try out.

Yeah, love'll do that to you.

Just as I'm thinking "Wait, if I'm sealing Exodus, how am I going to fight him?", the place starts coming down all around me.  It was just like that classic action movie trope where huge boulders and chunks of architecture are falling all around them.  It was just like that, except for the 'all around them' part.  Died twice trying to get out of that place.

"I'm too old for this shit!" <- also classic

Aha! So the sealing didn't work and Exodus is breaking out and that's why the place is shaking apart and when we get out we'll enter the final battle with Exodus and OMG! there's the exit!  Just a few more steps and....

AAAAIIIEEEE!  It's hideous!

At first, I was a little ticked at being denied what could have been a challenging fight (as long as Rot didn't work on him) but then I realized "What a twist!".  So many RPGs, both new and old, incorporate the kill the foozle plot device.  With Exodus being mentioned frequently by townspeople, it never occured to me that such an old game wouldn't have an end boss.  Bravo, Mr. Garriott, bravo.

Before the next game gets underway, an analysis and breakdown of this one must occur before I'm granted access to proceed.  Will follow shortly.

July 28, 2011

Ultima III - Who Rotten 'Em?

Progress started slow but steady and gradually started picking up steam after finding out the Cave of Gold does indeed contain many golds.  Just not on the first two levels, which I thought is as far as it went for some reason.  I think I thought of it as a "beginning" dungeon (being right near Royal City).  It wasn't until hitting the bottom level 8 of my third dungeon that the pattern became clear.  Utilizing the wizard spell Descent made getting to the lower levels (with more golds) a snap and pretty soon I had strip mined the shit out of that mutha.  With no one in the party able to wear any heavy and expensive armour, all that cash cash money went straight into stat building.  Oh, and I guess we got some marks along the way as well.

Mark of Fire?  Pfft... you can't sell that.

First to increase his power levels significantly is Shen Nung.  Being a wizard, the only stat I was concerned with was Intelligence.  With every five points (500 GP) came an additional spell.  By the time Nung reached 70 INT, he was blessed with the spell that would ruin Exodus's day.  Rot.  Brings every monster's Hit Points down to 1 with 100% success rate.  This spell is so badass that I had to replace Wisp (Ranger) with another Wizard.  This brought to an end the 8 minute plus fights and made it far easier to distribute experience (only rewarded to those who managed to inflict the fatal blow) among the party.  This came at a great time as the "tactical" battles were getting quite stale.

"Think they'll move down one?"

Now the Rot spell is quite pricey (70 MP) and those points can take quite awhile to regenerate so I can't use it every battle.  Or can I?  I can if I decide to become quite lame.  Which I did decide.  You see, bringing up the main menu and then cancelling it counts as a tick of time.  Encounters (at least in dungeons) only happen when you actually move into an empty square (which also means almost no fights when finding a large deposit of chests).  As long as I had enough foods to eat, we could sit there until our magic levels reached near peak.  Kinda lame, I know, but shut up.

Speaking of lame, the chests strewn about each dungeons are often filled with many gold pieces... oh, did I say often because I meant ALWAYS.  The only variation is in the number of pieces themselves.  This really dampened my impetus to seek out new treasure rooms.  Part of the motivation to exploring is the discovery of new things.

It is kinda too small to hold
much anything else.

With each of the members stamped with the four marks and each holding cards begotten from the temples of Ambrosia, our lame-empowered band of battle weary adventurers have arrived at the entrance of Exodus Castle.  Using the Silver Horn (oh ya, I got that along the way) to serenade the snake to its watery grave, we prepare for our final assault on Exodus.

I hope Exodus is tougher than his guard snake.

July 25, 2011

Ultima III - Cruel Grind Fest

Hey, Open spell, how are you?  Did you know that you work on chests and not just doors like I originally thought?  You did?  Well then why didn't you tell the rest of us?  WHY'D YOU KEEP IT A SECRET?

OPENing chests for a mere 5 MP has the party actually getting some gold gains now (and no more quad-poisoning!).  It didn't take long to get the best weapons for everyone but armour is still quite expensive.  Not that it matters.  I need as much gold as possible to raise stats from this place:

I have a feeling this is going to be expensive.

Ambrosia is the place to be for raising your stats past their initial levels.  All the temples have been found except for the Temple of Dexterity but I'm mostly interested in getting Intelligence and Wisdom up.  At 100 GP per stat point, this may take awhile (average gold per fight, regardless of difficulty, is around 60 GP).

I hear ya brah... I hear ya.

There is not going to be much exploring the depths of what classes have to offer due to the sheer grinding that must be done in order to get gold.  A few dungeons explored gave an occasional unguarded chest but nothing different from the regular chests from fights.  There was barely any even in the Cave of Gold.  Haven't explored everything yet so I'm hoping there is a cache of mountainous piles of gleaming gold hidden somewhere.  If not or if I cannot find it..... *sigh*.

The reason why RPGs should always
have double wide corridors.

July 22, 2011

[Game 001] Ultima III: Exodus (NES - 1987)

I went into this with the mindset that console RPGs were going to be easier than PC based ones.  So wrong.  So very wrong.  I figured I'd be out of here within a couple years, tops.  If this is any example of what is to come, it'll be much longer than that.

Ultima:Exodus boasts 11 classes of the mostly usual fare.  Since one of the goals of this project is to explore the game mechanics, I've been experimenting with all the classes (at least a few levels before shortlisting).  Perhaps it is just because this game is one of the earliest releases to hit the NES but I'm not finding a whole lot of difference between the classes past what I can see right off the bat.  Stats don't go up when I level, just Max Hit Points do.  I ended up going with my default 4 member party config.  That is, a fighter, fighter / spellcaster, attack spellcaster, and healing spellcaster.  In U:E, this gives me a Fighter, Paladin, Wizard, and Cleric.

On second thought, maybe
a ranger would be better.

Unlike later RPGs, U:E has the monster difficulty level increase as the character's levels do, instead of being localized to an area.  At level 1, the encounters are not all that tough.  Spellcasters have a 0 Magic Point Nuke 'Em All spell.  Wizards get Repel which works on goblins and orcs and Clerics get Undead which works on uhhhh.... I forget.  This means mucho XP for my casters.  Past level 1, these spells don't seem to do anything to any other creature.  It's now that the difficulty cranks up.  The wizard's attack spells now can't take out a single enemy (in a field of 6-8) and the fighter is missing hella lots.  Luckily the monsters are visible on the main overland map and so the harder monsters can be avoided (there are several different icons for different monster levels).

Gold is got from chests left after fights.  Chests that sometimes have traps in them.  Chests that sometimes poison my ENTIRE PARTY and then give a paltry sum of gold.  Curing poison requires a trip back to the castle and a cost of 100 GP per character.  Bloody hell.  This has made it very difficult to gain any golds for purchasing more equipment.  Any gains I make goes into food soon enough.

Just after getting poisoned
for the 15th fucking time.

My quest seems simple enough.  Find and kill Exodus.  Most townfolk don't say anything too much of value but hopefully more details will fill out as I hit up other towns.

Whoa, whoa... slow down, egghead.

The main party are all at level 5 and we just ganked some pirates for their ship.  With some nearby dungeons located and ready to be explored and a fine seafaring vessel under our control, we of the party Nung feel confident that coffers of gold and magically imbued weapons lie within our grasp.