March 29, 2013

[Game 034] Pool of Radiance (NES - 1990)


Well, here it is... the game that indirectly started it all.  See, just back before I became the manchine, I had completed a particularly daring cyber-heist and was taking a well-deserved extended vacation.  During this break, I had planned on tackling the entire Gold Box series for the PC, starting with Pool of Radiance.  I was at about 90% completion when I just had to search the Internets to find out what the hell the sheets of gold that I had been carrying forever were for (nothing).  This search brought me to the CRPG Addict's blog and I delayed finishing the game while I read through his archives.  It was during this time that the Cyber Police raided my secret underground lair and I was forced to become the manchine.  What started as a small, self-imposed quest through a fantastic series of games turned into a much vaster quest that incorporated all the crap games as well as the gems.  Oh well, I'm already almost 10% done and haven't hit any major stumbling points (yet).

So, knowing how fully awesome and full of win the PC version of PoR is, it was with some trepidation that I went into the NES port of it.  I had heard that this version was the weakest of all, but would it be enough to pull this mighty title down to the likes of Spooky Kitaro 2?  I am pleased to report that it's not even close.  The only thing that really suffers is having to use a D-pad instead of a num-pad (makes diagonal movement a real pain).  The gameplay is still all here and mostly intact from the original version.  A big draw for me in the PC series is that characters from PoR could be exported for use in the next game in the saga.  To keep the gameplay balanced from one game to the next, level caps were introduced to keep the characters from becoming overpowered.  In the NES version, the level caps are still here which should ensure that I can't just grind my way past any difficult encounters; proper tactics in combat are a must.  In order to tilt combat in my favour and also to make sure that gaining experience always remains useful, I am going with an entire party of multi-classers.  In the bizarro world of Forgotten Realms, only elves and half-elves can multiclass, so I'm going with two Fighter/Magic-users, two Fighter/Clerics, and a Fighter/Magic-user/Thief.  Of course, I also spent a stupid amount of time rolling stats for each character.

If only I could trade some
Cha for some more Dex.

The game starts off in a small section of the city of Phlan, the only civilized area in an otherwise monster-infested place.  Upon our arrival, we are greeted by a human named Rolf, who gives us a brief tour.

You're human?  Geez, I'd hate to see
what your undead look like.

Missions are available at the City Council branch and are mostly about destroying all the monsters in a selected area.  There's no princess to worry about, no mad wizard trying to take over the world, just good ol', skull-cracking, hack 'n slash.  Perfect for a fledgling group of first levellers.  With three of us being able to cast the panty-creaming Sleep spell, early fights end heavily in our favour.

I love it when things is dying.

Even though our initial hit point totals are low (ranging from 3 to 6), getting reduced to zero HP isn't as bad as that may seem.  As long as one of the clerics (Aeris or Zeelus) survive the battle, a fallen warrior can be given a shot of Cure Light Wounds and he'll be back on his feet and ready to escort everyone back to civilized Phlan.  Of course, if the clerics don't survive...

Well, let's just say that Shen is going to be
putting that 18/74 Strength to the test.

Clearing out each sector consists of finding and fighting all the static encounters but also enduring a set number of random encounters.  Once an area has been "cleansed" it can be searched for loot at the party's leisure.  The loot itself has been pared down from the PC version; there is no sifting through piles of long swords and leather armours after each battle.  Only items of note will ever be presented to the characters and this usually means it's magical (making the Detect Magic spell pretty useless).  Unfortunately, each character can only hold eight items and half of these slots are used for weapons and armour.  I've already had to sell off some healing potions just to make room for more loot.  Some items I know won't have much of a use until much later in the game and so I have devote a couple slots to them.  Items such as clerical scrolls of Restoration which gives a character back the experience points lost from a level-draining undead.  There's a whole sector dedicated just to undead and I recall that a good number of them were drainers.  We've already had our first encounter with a level drainer while searching Mendor's Library for tomes regarding Phlan's history.  As we attempted to leave with several of the volumes, a ghost materialized and tried to put a stop to our book learnin' but Davros wasn't having it.

Oh snap, ghost!  You just got Davroed!

Hilariously, Davros got hit and drained a level from each of his classes right off the bat.  The rest of us held our snickering in check as we gangbanged the ghost with our magical weapons.  Since Davros was drained to just below the experience needed for the level he was just at, he immediately had enough xp to train up again.  In effect, he had not so much lost a level as the thousands of xp he already gained on his way to the next level.  This xp I think could have been saved with a Restoration spell but we didn't have any such scrolls on us at the time.  Or, should I say, we didn't THINK we had any such scrolls on us.  Due to the low cost of identifying items, we had always waited until getting back to New Phlan before reading any scrolls (just in case of a cursed one).  Davros had already trained his level back up before we discovered that we had a scroll with three Restorations on it.  His xp was now officially gone.  To further add insult to injury, a little later we noticed that the local priests were also able to cast Restoration (for a hefty fee, of course).

Oh sure, buried way down here at the bottom!

Well, it's only a couple thousand xp, I'm sure Davros won't lag too far behind.  The rest of us thought we were now powerful enough to finish clearing the slums of Phlan.  Though this area was the first one we attempted to clean up, we were initially unable to because of one particular static encounter involving trolls.  Fighting trolls at level one guarantees a full party wipe but now most of our classes were at level three.  Those levels combined with some solid tactics and we were sure we'd get our revenge.  The battle commenced with the two trolls and their kobold underlings quite a distance off.  We waited at the entrance to the room as the kobolds made their way forward.  The lumbering trolls got a faceful of fire from Temujin's Necklace of Missiles (fireballs).  I quickly waved my hands and traced the well-practiced Sleep spell and brought the kobolds to a slumbering stop a mere metre away.  The trolls were much too polite to want to disturb their little kobold buddies and dutifully stood there as we needled their charred bodies with arrows.

Did I mention how much I ♥ the Sleep spell?

As much fun as the first level Sleep spell is, I was even more pumped for the second level Stinking Cloud incantation.  I recall using it to great effect in the glorious PC version; not only did it have a chance to incapacitate anyone within its noxious vapours, it also prevented any creature from entering it either.  It didn't, however, prevent arrows from passing through it.  Sadly, Stinking Cloud has been demoted to a mild stench here.  The barrier effect is gone and it just acts like a stronger Sleep spell, affecting monsters that are too powerful for regular Sleep (though in a 2x2 area as opposed to Sleep's 3x3).  It's still okay as a spell... I guess.  Oh well, I still have the level three spells to look forward to which contain my absolute favourite spell of all time — FIREBALL.  How much do I love fireball?  One of my first Magic: The Gathering decks I ever built was nothing but fireballs.  I went from hobby store to hobby store and purchased all the loose fireballs I could (a cheap common card).  I spent about a minute building my master deck with just mountains and dem f'balls.  Imagine my dismay during my first match when I was told that the whole deck was not only highly illegal, but also incredibly easy to beat.  That's why I now prefer RPGs like Pool of Radiance here; they give fireball the dignity and respect it deserves.  Aah, I can't wait to get all my fighter-mages at least one fireball memorized.  The amount of destruction that a triple fireball cannon will wreak has me popping at least five boners.  I had some other stuff to discuss but funk it, I need a fireball fix.  Instead, here's a picture of some dude who joined us after we freed him only to ditch us when we got back to civilized Phlan.  Luckily, we didn't bother to give him any weapons or armour.

Though maybe we should have given
him something to cover those moobs.