Ophidian Dragon blogs his way through the entire Ultima series, from beginning to end.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Runes of Virtue, Day 4

Well, strictly speaking my 4th day of Runes of Virtue was sometime at the beginning of this past week, but somehow I have not gotten around to blogging about it until today. A large part of the reason is, of course, that there's so little to say. The Isle of the Avatar's Stygian Abyss is, as one would expect, chock full of crazy traps and creative puzzles. Some of them, for example, require you to push rocks around and create passages in walls with them using a lever that makes walls vanish and reappear (it's difficult to explain...), and on more than one occasion you must take advantage of your enemies' capacity to kill each other and/or destroy spider webs. My least favorite puzzles, however, are the big rooms full of blinking teleport arrows. You must use them to move to the exit, but the fact that a screen full of dozens of blinking arrows gives me a headache added to the challenge significantly! There's some magic armor in the abyss and it was, to my surprise, not very difficult to get to. The endgame, as one might expect from the Game Boy, is relatively anti-climactic. You disappear from the dungeon where you got the rune of humility, and appear kneeling before Lord British. The end.

-Ultima II, which gives you an ad for another game in the Sierra version (anyone recall which game? I can't get my Sierra copy to work)
-Escape from Mt. Drash where you are told in block text on a mold-green background you achieved the title of "Questor." Woo hoo.
-Ultima IX, where that idiot Raven and Lord British look up to see that for some reason you have exploded and have turned into an ankh made out of stars in the sky.

I was tempted not to include Ultima II because of my fondness of the "ALL HER WORKS SHALL DIE!" message that you receive upon Minax's death.

Back to the issue at hand--Runes of Virtue. Overall, and amusing diversion. THe only serious flaws of the game are the irrelevance of the premise (retrieving runes related to virtues) to the dungeons (which have nothing to do with the virtues) and the odd game mechanics (pushing levers and eating mushrooms seem to have about the same effect, and how does a rope build a bridge?). Beyond that, the game is not overly challenging, and the ability to restart over and over makes up for its lack of a save feature (though in a world of emulators, who cares about poor save features anymore?) I would not suggest the game, however, for an actual Game Boy due to its length and the repetitive nature of gameplay when you cannot save. As a final note--I still think those wizards look like vampires! Look at the big black cape with high collar and the pointy teeth!

One could argue that the game is canonical--After all, it appears to take place sometime following Ultima VI, and the goal is to rescue the Runes and become knighted, and a certain drunken paladin has just recently been knighted as of Ultima VII. Never mind that he was apparently a "Sir" long before that. And even if he wasn't, Lord British has some pretty stringent requirements for becoming a knight if it takes, what, 300 years of continuous service?

Expect a slower rate of updates for the next two games--Underworld II and Serpent Isle. The reason is simply that playing them is less fun because it's only been a little over a year since last played the games, and Ultima is more fun when you've forgotten a large portion of the game. On the other hand, it's been about 7 and 12 years since I played Ultima VIII and Ultima IX, so those will be a lot more fun for me. Plus, those two games are not particularly good, and it's a lot easier to write criticism than praise :-) I remember when I started the blog I speculated that it might take a year to do--but I kept up a pretty intense pace back when I was unemployed, and it seems like I'll probably be done before Christmas as I result, despite my much slower-goings lately.

I also need to take some time at some point and reply to comments and other feedback again. Maybe during my Underworld II blogging!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Runes of Virtue, Day 3

My third day of adventure in Britannia, or in some domain that has a certain amount of resemblance to Britannia, I retrieved the rune of honor and the rune of humility. After the last rune, I took an underground passageway to an island that presumably represents the Isle of the Avatar, and where Beh Lem allows me to borrow his boat. And look, he has wings now!

The game is somewhat devoid of plot, so there's not much to comment on. I guess I can talk some about the various items and creatures you encounter. A lot of the Ultima denizens we know and love are there, including reapers (which are stationary and shoot laser bolts), trolls, various forms of rats, skeletons, and the now-violent-again wisps, which teleport around and zap you. Less tied to the computer games are the vampire, the rolling-boulder-thing-with-a-face, tigers, and unfriendly giant heads a la the Olmec. The hardest monster is the black shadow guy, which I don't recognize. Most of them are easy to avoid, though sometimes they hit you just by going past you.

As far as player characters go, you choose between Iolo, Shamino, Dupre and Jaana. Iolo is fast and has a bow, Shamino starts with a magic axe, Dupre starts with armor, and Jaana...I don't know what she does. The game claims she can wield powerful magic weapons, but i already am using a magic sword as Shamino. The world itself resembles Britannia, but islands are much farther away from one another, and the main continent seems to have been chopped into a couple of pieces. The towns and castles just have one or two characters, who also oddly are wandering in the dungeons as well, offering advice and/or sarcastic comments. Among others, we get to see Ultima 6 characters including Dr. Cat, Sherry the mouse, Chuckles, Ariana, that horse seller who wants to sleep with you in Trinsic, Beh Lem, Finn, Kilp/Klop the two headed horse, and Budo, the pudgy armorer from Yew. Wait, that's not Budo...Budo was the fat theive's guild man. What was the fat armorer's name? Anyway...

In the game, you can use soup to raise your health and panpipes to freeze your enemies. I am not very inspired by the controls, because they make it difficult to attack in a direction without also walking in that direction--there is no "turn around" button, just a "walk in this direction" button. Sometimes I can get it to work, and I can move left and right while firing downward at something, but often I walk forward right into someone's fireball!

The game is nearly finished after a good five to six hours. One more hour will probably wrap it up, once I complete the abyss. It might be amusing to go back and play as Jaana, to figure out what exactly she can do that Shamino cannot.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Runes of Virtue, Days 1 and 2

Ah, it's nice to have a PC again, although it is sad to see the skeletal remains of the old one, after I yanked out all the cards and drives. It was surprisingly hard to find a motherboard with floppy support for my 5 1/4 drive! Oh well

Runes of Virtue was an Nintendo Game Boy adventure game released sometime around 1992, either before or after Ultima VII, and I suspect after. It features Birtannia, approximately, and various characters you might recall from Ultima VI, including Dr. Cat, Sherry, Finn, Lord British, and some woman I don't remember. The basic premise is that someone has pilfered all of the Rune of Virtue, and you have to go on a quest to retrieve them, with British telling you where to go, although strictly speaking in some cases you can ignore the guy. They are hidden in caves, with the caves full of traps, mazes, and assorted monsters, including wisps, slimes, trolls, blob things, gremlins, vampires, and even the seahorse, not seen since Ultima V! There are also some shops scattered about

Each dungeon tends to have one or two items, sometimes a weapon and often some sort of useful device. For example, one has a fire wand to burn dark spider webs, one has a lightning wand to zap knights, and one has a rope to cross water (No, this doesn't make sense). The game's something like a combination of Zelda and Lolo, with the puzzle-solving and such of the latter with the wandering enemies of the former. The graphics are pretty good, but I miss the blurriness of the LCD display, which an emulator just doesn't give you!

You choose Iolo, Shamino, Dupre or Jaana; I chose Shamino, who has a magic axe and a transparent face(!). When you find a rune, incidentally, you look JUST like Link in the original Zelda, when he lifts up a piece of the triforce. Thus far, I've gotten through 6 of the dungeons, many of which have been renamed for the ignorant among us--Hatred, Cowardice, Selfishness, Pride, etc. No more Covetous. The game's non-canonical, but nonetheless an amusing diversion from the much longer, hardcore games I will be playing soon! Four hours has gotten me this far, and I have to say...thank goodness for save states, or the game would probably become outrageously repetitive.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


For those who are curious where I went...My computer, at long last, has totally kicked the bucket. It powers on, and the fans work, but there's no video output, no beeps, no POST, nothing; after a minute or so it just turns off again. I will either be buying a new one today or orderig a new one, not sure which route to go. But it will probably be awhile longer before I am back to blogging...of course, since you are all subscribed to my RSS feed, there's no need to keep checking here, right? :-P