April 13, 2013

Pool of Radiance - Ranking

Story & World

The progression from lowly tenderfoots to grand heroes is strong within this game.  This is largely due to how much choice there is in which quests to do and even how much of a particular quest to do.  The many dialogue and interaction decisions also lets one roleplay their chosen alignment if they so choose.  Indeed, the characters could choose to turn against New Phlan at any point by simply attacking any of the NPCs there.  Tyranthraxus even gives the option for the characters to join him at the end, which results in the destruction of New Phlan.  I was playing all Lawful- and Neutral-Good-aligned characters so I rarely acted like a dink (except for one encounter where we bluffed our way past a guard patrol by acting tough).  In fact, one of the reasons we kept Magician around was because we felt driven to help the poor bastard out.  Anywho, the overall effect of all this gives the party the sense of determining their own destiny and not being forced to have to have good triumph over evil.

Being able to include computer-controlled NPCs in the party is a nice touch, though I wish it was fleshed out a little more.  Most don't stay around for very long, usually leaving whenever the party exits the area.  In addition to the static NPCs found in the game, there is an option in New Phlan to hire a more expendable one.  I was never able to utilize any of them, however; I assume they can only be placed in one of the first five slots that are taken up by the main characters.  The sixth open slot seems to be reserved only for static NPCs.  A shame, really, since for most of the game, that sixth slot is barren.  Despite my character's good-natured hearts, I would have liked having a redshirt around, mostly for the lulz.  Better than nothing, though, and the NPCs that did join us were amusing in their own right (oh, Magician, I'll never forget you).  16/20

Character Development

As one would expect from the D&D franchise, character development should be quite important, even though here it lacks the feats that would be available in later versions of D&D.  Unfortunately, only so much of what makes D&D great can be duplicated in a video game with the NES's limitations.  The only real choices are made by the magic-users when they get a free spell pick after gaining a level (clerics have access to all the spells that their level allows).  Most spells are quite useless anyway and only one or two for each spell level end up being of any use.  Fighters just get to hit easier and the thief skills are rarely used (and, even then, it was usually disarm traps).

Equipping the party with armaments starts out promising enough with a slew of classic weapons to choose from but it soon becomes apparent that most of them function the same.  When the characters start acquiring magical items, the majority of them are just of the "plus" variety, increasing hit chances and damage or decreasing armour class.  A bunch of scrolls and a few wands are thrown in but just duplicate spell effects, which is fine as they function as a reservoir in case memorized spells run out.  But come on, where's my Bag of Holding or my Deck of Many Things5/20

Combat & Monsters

The combat system has both good and bad aspects about it, and the bad aspects are mainly due to me being ruined by the superior PC version.  On its own, the highly tactical combats are fantastic, especially compared with previous games that have a lot of button mashing involved.  Movement and position play a huge role for success in battle as well as smart usage of status-affecting spells.  Monsters aren't entirely stupid, either; given enough room they'll do things like run around the front line to get at the juicy mages and/or clerics in the back row (didn't affect me so much with all my dudes being multiclassed fighters).  They'll also attempt to flee if things are going badly or will just outright surrender.  The monsters themselves are a diverse bunch and a lot of them are staples of the AD&D universe, from ankhegs to zombies.  I'm not sure of the validity of trolls hanging out with kobolds, but I guess I could see it happening.

A few combat features from the PC version are sorely missed here.  Thieves (at least multi-classed thieves) don't get a back-stab option in combat, reducing tactical options for that character.  The option to delay a character's action until the end of the round is present but made fairly pointless by not interrupting an incoming attack.  That is, the incoming enemy will get their attack in first before the delaying character, which also decreases tactical use of that option.  Opportunity of attacks also work differently in this version and only come into play when a character or monster moves completely away from a foe.  This allows a character to run circles around the enemy, so to speak, with no fear of reprisal.  If I recall correctly, the PC version gave an opportunity of attack for any movement within the opponent's zone of control.  Still, I won't hold these deficiencies too much against the NES version; the combat system is still great for the platform.  17/20

Graphics & Sound

Wow, what's with all the brown, PoR?  So much brown.  Going for a gritty look, are we?  Well, that's admirable but stupid.  Even the character portraits are heavy on the earth tones and the whole game looks quite drab.  Let's also not forget the inexcusable omission of a fireball graphic (perfect chance to use some freaking bright red!).  However, there is good variation in the graphical layout for each area, even going to the length of darkening the overall scheme when night falls.  The music follows along with the graphics.  It's there but fairly uninspired and not really fitting in most of the scenes.  6/20

Gameplay

Just as in the PC version, the economy breaks early and this time the party can carry as much cash money as they can find.  The problem lies in that there isn't too much to purchase.  Magic weapons are always found and the only thing that costs a lot in town are the clerics, who charge thousands of golds for their services (even then, I didn't need them all that often).  Gems can also be found and sold one at a time for a random amount but, again, these didn't come into play and I had hundreds of them by the end.

The open-endedness of the game is truly one of the biggest positives of PoR.  Is a certain area too tough?  Fuck it and come back in a few levels; it ain't going anywhere.  Or double fuck it and never come back.  PoR doesn't care.  That's just how it rolls.  It might even be a good idea to leave some quests out of the mix if one was planning to replay with a more difficult party configuration.  Five mages would be really tough at first but the power of a quint-fireball cannon just boogles the mind.

Controls weren't nearly as bad as I thought they were going to be (again, ruined by the PC version's keypad controls).  However, performing diagonal movement was a right pain in the arse.  Thankfully, if the missed direction would have a character instead attacking an ally, the game gives the player a chance abort the order and try again (and I still sometimes managed to screw up and give the affirmative, much to Davros's chagrin).  14/20

Final Ranking:  58/100