August 01, 2012

Ultima IV - End Game

After being so used to the sleek controls of Final Fantasy's airship, the hot air balloon is a big step back.  Wind, as it is wont to do, goes where it damn well pleases.  Using a Wind spell will change the direction of the current wind but only for a limited time.  It also can't land on anywhere but grass tiles, but then again the airship couldn't land in a lot of places either.  With four heavily armoured characters crammed all in such a tiny space and all fighting for the controls, there were frequent times of overshooting the original landing destination (also blaming wind gusts).

Aww, come awwwn, Dupre, let
me make the fiery thing fire.

So many herbs used in casting Wind spells.  It's probably on par with the Heal spell which normally gets the Most Casted trophy in RPGs.  But wow... what a trip.  The skies of Britannia are free of hostile creatures and since battles are such a bore, the group spent a lot of time checking out the ENTIRE.  WORLD.  While on land, tiles behind forests and mountains are obscured from view but not so from the air.  That simple change really added to the sensation of taking to the skies.  Sailing past the now familiar towns, I envision the townsfolk running out of their homes, waving happily at the characters who, of course, return the gesture.  Each subsequent visit, the enthusiasm and numbers would die down a bit.  By the 50th visit, nobody would even so much as turn a head in the characters direction.  What I'm trying to get at is that the balloon really delayed my planned dungeon diving.  When the party finally got around to the majority of the dungeons, they were fairly easy thanks to the generous usage of level-mapping gems.  The only difficult encounters were with the rare swarm of Reapers.

Who just love casting the sleep spell.

While acquiring the remaining stones, I met with yet another guardian who had his wires crossed concerning his virtue.  Seriously, I have eight virtues to keep track of and this clown can't even keep his one straight in his head.  I soon learnt that every guardian wants a yes answer regardless of how the question is worded.

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!!

With all the stones now in my possession, the only thing lacking was the Rune of Spirituality (Shen's prime virtue as a ranger).  The only clue I had was that it was located in a great castle in a hidden room near the soldier's chambers.  I checked and double-checked all four of the great castles in the land and couldn't find anything that looked like a barracks.  My problem lay in that I was taking the clue too literally and looking for actual soldiers.  It ended up being in Lord British's castle hidden beyond a room with two chairs, a table, and a single mage in it.

This not soldier is ready for action!

Sheepishly recovering the final rune, all was in position for Shen to attain Avatarhood.  His magic point maximum topped out at 99 and he was now able to get the Avatar-only sword of paradise and exotic armour (ooh la la).  It was back into the depths of the dungeons to the bottom floors where the Altars of the Three Principles (Love, Truth, and Courage) are.  In order to retrieve the key item from each altar requires placing the four stones of virtue that make up the principle.  This is where taking notes from all those NPCs that yapped about principles came in handy.  The manual actually includes a nice little chart to fill out which also helped.  The only thing left is for the Avatar to enter the Stygian Abyss and find the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.

Of course located in a desolate,
lava-filled wasteland.

Shen is forced to go at it solo but thankfully there are no random encounters here, just a bunch of predetermined rooms.  Certain bunches of rooms contain puzzle elements, as one has to find the correct path or else hit a dead end (while still having to do the battle there).  Here are some snapshots of the highlights of Shen's trip.

The dragon statues offer a nice contrast
to the lava filling up Shen's boots.

Doppelganger surprise party!  Good times.

Our little trooper is all tuckered out.

In order to proceed from one level to the next, Shen must answer a pop quiz given by a booming voice.  He must correctly match up each virtue with the colour of the stone it represents.  Unfortunately, it became apparent that the answers followed a simple linear progression (e.g. the fifth choice on the first question matches with the fifth choice on the second question).  Mix that shit up, game.  I took notes from all your damn NPCs; make me use my notes, dammit.  Anyway, after reaching the final level, Shen is taken to the location of the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and then teleported to castle Britannia for the endgame fanfare.  All the companions are there, even the ones that never got used once.  Snubbing those losers, Shen went to embrace his former troupe.  The fighter Geoff, whose skills with the axe and ability to soak up damage were invaluable to the group.  The druid Jaana, whose mighty Tremor spells left even the mightiest of foes shaken.  The paladin Dupre, whose undying friendship and optimism kept the party from giving up during those moments of frustration.  Greetings aside, Shen spake unto Lord British to receive his accolades for unearthing the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.

The Codex of Ultimate Wisdom?

The game ends with the most anti-climatic end screen of all time.  I waited and waited for a good end screen to pop up while the music played out and then waited even more after the music stopped.  I would have rather just had The End written in the default font than this bullisht.