July 24, 2012

Ultima IV - Virtually Virtuous

Right.  About those stones of virtue.  We started off in an earnest attempt to drive hard for the bottom level where the stone presumably lies...  Got distracted by something.

♪ Call him Cash Cash Money
but his name is Jerome! ♫

The very first dungeon we entered had a level that contained a chest in every step.  These are replenished when the dungeon is exited.  The path down to the chesty level is quite short and fairly free of encounters.  Let's just say that even the high and mighty Dupre was caught drooling a bit at the notion of a gold grind.  Visions of heavier armour and +1 bows danced in our heads.  Wordlessly, we all glanced at each before giving a unanimous nod of approval.  No longer would the bountiful treasures in the castles and towns tempt us to steal them any longer.  These chests were rightfully ours!  Special thanks to whoever keeps replacing the chests!

Not so tempting now, are you.

This came at a good time as we needed new equipment since we had been leveling so much.  Encounter difficulty goes up along with level and our mediocre weapons just weren't cutting it anymore.  We also had plenty left over to top up on herbs to fuel our spells.  If I weren't so damn humble, I'd say our little group had become the muthafucking bomb and number one contender for the title of Avatar.  A quick trip to Hawkwind confirmed that I had achieved enough points in many of the virtues and could attain partial Avatarhood by visiting the corresponding temple and meditate.  Dungeons were on hold again as we took an all-expenses-paid, world-spanning trip to the temples.  We could have taken any one of our numerous ships that we had previously obtained by defending ourselves against pirates.  Pirates, while tough in the beginning, were now being cut down in record numbers and the ships they left behind were beginning to stockpile.  It got to the point that we could just hit up any coastline and there would be a ship full of pirates just waiting to get massacred by the destined Avatar.

Hey, Avatar!  Hey, over here!... OMG
you guys, he's coming over!  Squeeeeee!

Something seemed fishy about all this, however.  During all our times on the high seas, we never once saw a ship that wasn't a pirate ship.  I thought this was a time of peace but apparently the incredible pirate numbers have completely crushed all the trade routes.  Pirates are so desperate to be piratin' that they'll start a combat they have zero chance of winning.  Or perhaps they were hired by a certain Lord British who wanted to give us easy access to transportation but had the pirates put on a little act in order to disguise his helping hand.

Oh noes we have been defeated! The
ship is yours! *wink wink, nudge nudge*

With every party member carrying a missile weapon, most encounters are over fairly quickly (e.g. pirates have no missile weapons and therefore no chance).  Monsters are not fast enough to cross the distance of the battlefield and eventually succumb to heavy artillery fire.  There are some encounters that start with everyone mixed up (representing the party being surprised or ambushed) and melee weapons finally get some wear and tear.  I was hoping that the dungeon encounters would provide more opportunity for using terrain as cover, but unfortunately missile weapons ignore all terrains and can hit any target anywhere.

Jaana blasts an arrow through
several metres of rock.

Yeah, I eventually made it into the dungeons after achieving partial avatarhood to find my first dungeon stone.  I had already acquired the stone of humility aboveground (cuz I'm awesome like that) and so marched into the dungeon Covetous to seek the orange stone of sacrifice.  In addition to the normal random encounters, there are static room encounters that provide more than just a straight hallway to fight in.  Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned wall-hacking missile weapons, this means little to the outcome of the battle.  The good news is that there are chests and sometimes wandering around opens up a secret passage.  Making my way to the dungeon bottom, I used some gems (shows map of the immediate area) to sniff out some secret passages and found myself at the vault containing the orange stone.  A guardian at the vault needed to be sure I was worthy and so asked me, "Art thou one who would withhold the gift of thy own blood from a dying companion?".  Being one who is bursting at the seams with virtue, I of course answered no, I would not refuse to give my blood for a companion.  My reward was to be scolded and kicked out of the dungeon.  FFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-.  Thankfully my poorly drawn, mistake-laden maps led me back down in semi-hurry.

Fine, have it your way.  I WOULD
withhold my blood then.

Just the two stones are in my possession now.  Really have to get serious about those dungeons, right?  But wait, I just got a key which unlocks all those doors I've been seeing in the castles and towns.  Shouldn't take too long to go on another global tour and explore behind those doors.  It's mostly just meeting a few hint-happy folk anyhow.  What could I possibly find that would distract me from those dark and intriguing caverns?

Hot air balloon: The poor man's airship.

July 13, 2012

[Game 023] Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (NES - 1989)


Sequel to the very first game of my gauntlet, Quest of the Avatar improves on every single aspect of Exodus.  Not a particularly hard challenge, I know, but QotA also does something unprecedented up until now — the main quest is not to save the world or kill a foozle.  Britannia is enjoying peaceful times and Lord British is looking for the one who would become the Avatar, a living embodiment of the eight righteous virtues.  In order to become worthy of Avatarhood, Shen must excel in all the virtues: honesty, valour, compassion, justice, sacrifice, honour, spirituality, and humility.  It is because of these virtues that I never finished the game while I was a hormonally charged youth.

FILTHY URCHIN!  HOWST DARETH
THOU BEG UNTO ME?!  *facestab*.

Some of the virtues translate pretty obviously into gameplay elements.  Losing valour for fleeing combat or giving gold for compassion are pretty self-evident.  Virtues like spirituality or humility are tougher to figure out.  Just by wanting to become "the best" in all the virtues is already at odds with humility.  Luckily the game employs a virtuous gauge in the form of a wise seer residing at Lord British's castle.

♫ The wind of time is blowing
through meee...  ♪

Each virtue is connected with a character class (e.g. Paladin is linked with honour) and the player's starting class is determined by a series of scenario questions related to the virtues.  I used to think that this was an awesome way of determining a class.  Looking at it now, however, the system used is extremely basic and obvious.  The questions are always the same and pit two virtues against each other.  After half are eliminated, the process repeats two more times with the remaining virtues until just one is left.  Making things even easier is having the character class picture on each side of the scene.  One could get the class they wanted without even having to read a single word; just pick one picture and then always choose it.  The other virtues don't matter.

Duhhhh, I think I'll be the shepherd, duhhhh.

The MacGuffins needed within the game are all virtue-aligned as well.  QotA utilizes two sets of items: runes and stones.  Runes are usually found in towns and allow access to the corresponding temple where the hopeful Avatar can meditate (oh hey, that probably increases spirituality, duh).  Stones are found in dungeons and also have a colour associated with it.  I haven't found any of those yet.  In fact, the entire group is around level 6 and I've only mapped one level of one dungeon.  The beginning of the game starts the player off with just the main character.  In order to gather more members, travel to the other towns is necessary.  But the other characters don't always join right away and a certain level needs to be reached before they will.  I had my heart set on the paladin, Dupre.  Every time I would gain a level and still get rejected by the sassy Dupre, my determination to grind out another level was increased tenfold.

*sigh* I should have just started as you.

The mage, Mariah, was another one that I wanted but would not initially join.  For a paladin and a mage, this makes sense.  They belong to powerful classes and I respect them for not just idly joining any old group.  Katrina the shepherd though?  This is a character that the game manual itself describes as having no fighting or magic ability and limited use of weapons and armour.  She should be begging to join with Shen and the others.  BEGGING!  Not only that, but her hometown is in ruins, the ground is poisonous to walk on, and the majority of the inhabitants are monsters (albeit the chatty kind, not the fighty kind).

Oh, okay, we'll come back later.
*snicker* (We totally didn't)

Anyway, the four characters I wanted now comprise the core group: ranger, fighter, paladin, and druid.  Druid could be swapped out for mage if more spell power is needed down the road but I doubt it.  Anyone with magical ability has access to the same spells as everyone else.  The more dedicated spell casting classes just seem to have larger reservoirs of magic.  There's no major distinctions between the classes, similar to Exodus, so swapping will likely be at a minimum.  With Dupre by my side, the party is finally ready to tackle some dungeons and get us some stones.

July 09, 2012

Dragon Quest II - Ranking

Story & World

The increase in world size is obviously a boon to any RPG.  Dungeons kept with the DQ tradition of simplistic style and did not require mapping.  The addition of the long intro to the game really helped to set the stage.  Sequels have the advantage of having a preceding game to help establish its lore but also more responsibility to properly implement that lore.  DQII does not disappoint in this aspect.

A few side quests were offered up here, netting the party an equipable item of some kind.  Most of the quests were for MacGuffins necessary to kill the foozle, as in DQI14/20

Character Development

Same as DQI but with three characters instead of just one.  They do gain stats differently from each other but tend towards gaining stats in their predetermined roles (e.g. Pure fighter Shen usually gains Strength and HP).  A sliver of player controlled development is available in stat-boosting items.  In DQI, these items obviously are going to the only character available.  Having three characters to choose from here at least gives the player a little developmental control (ah, who am I kidding?  They all went to Shen (except for magic boosting ones)).

A slot for a helmet and an accessory have been added to the three slots from DQI.  Didn't matter too much to Kain and Maria, though, since they were limited in which slots they could use.  7/20

Combat & Monsters

The spell list is filled out a little more than in DQI but even with two spellcasters in the group they still doubled up on a lot of spells.  Not necessarily a bad thing; you can never have enough Healmore sources.  Combat is a little more fun with three characters but each one generally falls into the same routine each fight.  Multiple types and numbers of monsters are encountered instead of a single one.  12/20

Graphics & Sound

Same as DQI.  16/20

Gameplay

The economy ran pretty similar to how it ran in the first game.  There were more gold problems in this game but that's because there were far more full party deaths, which robs you of half your gold.  Yeah, we could have put our golds in the bank but does anybody really trust banks these days?  (I only used the bank at the end of the game after it was pretty pointless to do so.)

DQII breaks up the linearity of DQI quite a bit (the larger world helps a lot).  Certainly after getting the ship, the world opens up significantly, allowing for the five crests to be obtained in any order.  Difficulty is marginally increased (keeping the spellcasters alive is the main reason).  The same great pacing is kept but over a much longer time period than DQI.  15/20

Final Ranking:  64/100

July 06, 2012

Dragon Quest II - End Game

The quest to cure Kain's ailment was literally over before Shen and Maria got to the end of the block from the inn.  An old man mused that perhaps the Leaf of the World Tree might lift the curse.  Oh, you mean this leaf we've been carrying around for the last month?

World Tree Leaf: Get the
clear skin you deserve!

At least now we're back on track to get the remaining crests.  Some of them are cleverly hidden and the only way to even know their approximate whereabouts is to carefully listen to townsfolk that talk about them.  This... I initially did not do.  I had been stumbling across crests so far and figured the remaining locations would be pretty obvious.  Not so for the fire crest.  By the time I realized that I wasn't just going to happen upon it, I had also forgotten which town that one guy who talked about the crest was in.  Something about a fire monolith but I hadn't come across any fire-based monoliths yet.  Seeking out the one guy and abashedly asking for the crest speech again was the kick I needed.  Turns out the crest was in one of the monoliths that have three transporting portals in it (the lit braziers in it are what made it the fire monolith).  This major hub of activity had been frequented by us many times in the past.  All this time the crest was buried beneath a tree just 'round back.

Who'd have thunk it?

Getting the fire crest fourth when it looks like it probably could have been gotten first just goes to show how DQII took a more nonlinear approach than its predecessor.  There were a few times where I already had the MacGuffin needed (such as the Kain-curing leaf mentioned above).  Another one involved a quest to find the key to open the water gate of a parched town.  I had already met with the thief who had stolen the key in the first place and acquired it from him.

Wow, I've seen all your porns, man.

I had no idea what the watergate key was for until I entered the very town that needed it.  The price one pays for rejecting the linear route, I suppose.  I already knew the final crest would be found in the cave on the way to Rhone (where Hargon resides) because I actually listened to the townsfolk this time.  The cave is filled with tough fights, pit traps, and rage-inducing mazes.  The mazes are of the type that if you take a wrong branch it sends you back to the beginning of the level.  Usually there are just two branches but I'll be damned if I didn't hit every single incorrect path possible.  After finally getting out, we found ourselves in a mystical space far removed from the earthly realm.  Some powerhouse monsters exist here but are an excellent source of EXP.  We can just barely hold our own against these new foes so this becomes the first and last time that grinding is necessary.  We suffer more than a few full party deaths and lose half our golds each time (luckily we have a big stash in the bank back on earth — not that we need gold at this point).  Finally we get around to assaulting Hargon's castle.

It certainly looks ominous
and foreboding.

However, upon entering...

Umm, I think I took a
wrong turn somewhere.

No, it's just Hargon's illusion magic tricking us.  Even staying overnight at the inn fools us into thinking we're back to full health and magic.  It becomes very obvious something isn't quite right when everyone we talk to goes on and on about how great Hargon is.  We had been forewarned about Hargon's deceitful magicks and knew that the charm of Rubiss would dispel those illusions.  Let me just grab the charm and.... hmmm, maybe it's in my other pocket... mmm, nope.  Hey, Kain, do you have the charm of Rubiss in your backpack?  No?...  Oh, crap.  I forgot to get the charm of Rubiss back in the prime world.  In order to get the charm, all the crests must be found first and I found the last one on my way up to this realm.  Well, no choice but to abort this assault and race on back.

Descen..*gasp* Descendants
of..*whew* of Roto here.

The ascent up Hargon's tower was gloriously straight forward and just had a few really difficult fights.  The group is flush with prayer rings (restores magic points) and keeping healed up hasn't been a problem.  Upon reaching the throne room, Hargon started a little chitchat and asked if I had heard of how awesome Hargon is.  I replied that I'd never even heard the name before.  This infuriated Hargon and the priest prepared to throw down.

He actually looks more ready
to get down in that getup.

The fight was over quickly and I figured that worse was about to come.  Turns out that Hargon was just a puppet or servant or something of a bigger and more terrible evil!

What a twist!

Shidor's not shy about launching massive group damaging spells or throwing double melee attacks on a single character.  Kain and Maria had their hands full just trying to keep everyone healed.  Why is there no heal party spell?!  Argh!  Even with both spellcasters fully charged heading into this fight, Maria still had to waste a turn or two to use a prayer ring.  Despite their best efforts, Shidor wasn't relenting in the least.  In a stroke of bad luck, a well-placed Explodet spell eliminates both Kain and Maria.  With no source of healing now, I, the obstinate Nung, would inevitably fall to Shidor's superior strength and skill.  Shidor's fanged maw grinned cruelly as he tasted the victory at hand.  But there's one thing that Shidor had forgotten.

Shen is the muthafuckin' MAN!

Kain and Maria are resurrected and the triumphant trio head back to my home of Laurasia to tell my father, the king, of our victory.  King Dad is so happy that he immediately abdicates the throne and gives it to me.

Hail to the king, baby!

Cue to the credits while showing cutscenes of all the places we travelled to throughout our journey.  A long stroll through memory lane signifies that this is...