Shortly after reading Blogging Ultima III, I decided to look it up on wikipedia. I remembered this game by its NES port, and I also remember not beating it. I had tried picking up Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar NES a couple of months back, to finally beat it, but my fervor didn’t last very long. I decided that it was high time I laid ExodusNES to rest, this evil from my past.
As I read the blogs on U3, some of it sounded familiar while other parts not so much. Was the NES game a port, or a kind of twisted sister of it? I had to find out — and I needed to figure out why this game defeated me. I started up a new file in my favorite NES emulator, FCEU, and a new .txt file in Notepad. It is time.
(Please note! Before I even get started, I’m going to apologize about the flow of thought. I only wrote things down in my .txt file when something interesting happened, so there isn’t alot of coherence there. I’ll do my best to keep it entertaining.)
What a great start to a game: there are five name fades before we even hit the title screen. FIVE. Restarting this thing winds up being a miserably long wait. I started up a new game, and was presented with a party/character creation menu. I have to choose four characters’ classes based on little previous knowledge of the Ultima world, that’s fair. There are premade characters, that helps speed the process of getting into the game – but I’m basing my decision on some stats instead of capabilities. I guessed at a balanced group: Fighter/Dwarf/M, Paladin/Bobit/F, Cleric/Dwarf/F, and Wizard/Fuzzy/M. What’s a Bobit and Fuzzy? I have no idea. I would rather have just had all Humes, but wound up with none at all. You can tell that the characters are male and female because the girls are all pink. Good times.
So when you’re all done creating and naming your first four characters, you’re welcomed to the world by Lord British. God it was awful. Look at this:
This is probably as good as the graphics are going to get. Look at British, he gets the royal treatment. There’s 25 unique tiles that won’t be used anywhere else. Apparently Exodus is going to wake up and I’ve got to do something about it, like beat him (it?) up. Sounds good, British, where do I start? And what does he do – he just throws you into the world without any warning.
There was a castle and a town nearby, so I headed into the town to assess what I got to start the game with. I started by working my way through the menu – Magic was first. I started with 0MP so when I went through the list, all that was showing was the no-cost Undead and Repel spells. I know better now.
Next was the status screen. They decided to hide the weapon and armor equipping menu in here, I don’t know why. It turned out that everyone started with Cloth for armor and Dagger for their weapon. On top of that, each of my characters was holding 100 gold. That’s an important fact I’ve kept in mind.
Next, if you press the select button at the menu, you get another couple of options. There’s a horse command? What does that mean? The only other thing worth noting right now was the Food command. I HATE games that make you keep track of food. There’s just no reason to make me watch another counter and waste my hard-earned gold just to have the luxury of staying alive. Next they’ll have me seeing the doctor regularly and making sure I get my sleep at night.
For my next trick, I decided to try and save my game. There’s no save option from the menu, so maybe I had to talk to the King, like in Dragon Warrior. No, he told me I need to get more experience, but didn’t mention anything about saving. So maybe I had to find an inn like in Final Fantasy. I headed to town and looked around – food shop, weapon shop, armor shop, pub… No inns here. Maybe it was back in the castle? And there it was, nestled in a corner I never would have noticed in passing – the inn.
Great job at making this stuff obvious, game designers! Perhaps they thought that challenging me would make it more rewarding. Well it did, but at what cost? I hate the designers a little more for it.
Just to punish them, and maybe to make the game a little easier, I decided it was time to take advantage of the character creation and party forming. Make four new characters, band them together, have three of them give the leader their 100 gold, save, band that guy with at least one of my main characters, have him/her give a main character that 400 gold, save, delete the four new characters, and repeat for as long as you have the patience for it. I wanted to do the same with food, but you can’t give any one character a certain amount of food like with gold. You just “share” it – add the four food counters together and divide by four to give everyone an equal amount. They didn’t want to make it too easy.
I spent some time in town checking out the wares in the weapon and armor shops. After I built up enough money, I bought one of everything and had everyone try it on to see who could wear what. When you equip something, you get no indication of whether the equipment you just put on is better or worse; I had to base my decision on how expensive it was. More expensive must mean better quality, right? The final decision I had to make was whether the Blowgun would be a better purchase than a Spear for my fighter and paladin. They won’t let you equip a melee and ranged weapon at the same time, so I had to make a decision. I went with the ranged weapon. I even checked to see if you could re-equip mid-battle. You can’t. I should have probably had one of each type of weapon just in case I found the melee doing more damage, just for the sake of diversity.
The dragon armor costs 8250gp. I had to go through the creation/give/reband/give/kill process 21 times before I could afford one peice of this armor. Thankfully only one character could wear it. As I was bilking the game for money, I played a little with different ways to speed up the process. At first I was creating only theives so I could tell what I was doing based on the character sprites. I found that didn’t really matter much since I was concentrating mostly on the menus. I was naming the new characters A, B, C, and D, again so I could tell them apart from the characters I wanted to keep. If you just don’t name them, the game substitutes “- – – – -” for the name, and that’s still easy to pick out – and makes it quicker. All of these things, and playing with the emulator speed rate, helped me get through about two hours of gold farming. I find myself playing the game at 200% speed normally.. and 1600% (max) when I’m slogging through those 5 opening credits.
I saved up a little more and bought a bunch of food – everyone had 1236 food when I got tired of gold farming. After a couple of steps you lose one food, but your HP is restored by one. I don’t mind the tradeoff, but they could have left the HP restore in and taken out the food. I guess it’s just not Ultima without the hassle of food.
One last thing before we actually start the game – line of sight. This is one of the few games (or is it the only one?) that I’ve seen implement a line-of-sight system. You can’t see behind walls, it’s as simple as that. Check it out:
The game doesn’t lag at all when they do it, either, which is nice. So why is this the only game that bothered with it? I think it might have to do with the fact that it’s extremely annoying to get lost in a forest. Not being able to see makes it a pain and a half to map the game out, too. One last gripe is that they only do the line-of-sight testing with the leader, so if you have your last guy around a corner, you might not even be able to see him. Pretty dumb there, game designers. You lose another couple of points.
I decided that it was time to start exploring. I started in Lord British’s castle and wandered around, talking to the walking signposts – err, I mean townsfolk. They put in a couple of doors I couldn’t get through, and there was some lightning floor tiles that I stayed away from. Actually, I saved and tried walking on them. As I expected, they killed me. One of the more interesting quotes was “Are you decendants of Link?” You mean the Link from the Legend of Zelda series? I’m not sure if they were advertising or what.
There was a doctor in the castle, he offered a couple of services. Apparently he can cure colds, that would be nice to have in the real world. The last option you can choose is Give Blood. I had to know what that meant, so I gave it a shot. It turns out that you wind up losing 100hp and gaining 30 gold. Not a very good exchange, doc. The only other thing I found interesting in the castle was the ship that was sitting in the castle moat around the left side.
I can’t reach it, but there it is. Thats either one tiny ship, or one huge-ass moat. (I didn’t take pictures for most of the time I played, so you’ll find my captures have nameless characters with the starting equipment. Maybe I’ll work on them a bit as I go along?)
Considering my time in Lord British’s castle done for now, I headed to the town nearby. The people here had alot of information for me. This is the first town, right? I’m getting hints about Exodus, Ambrosia, Dawn, the Mystic Sword, the Mark of Kings, Dungeon Fountains.. Why do the people of this town know about all of this stuff? Are other parties of warriors passing through and leaving townsfolk with interesting bits of information? Well, whatever the case is, I’m writing all of this down!
Once I’d gotten all of the information I could, the only thing left to do was leave and look for other locations. This was a good time to start mapping my surroundings, and thats what I did. The first town I came across was Yew. It’s nestled in the center of a circular range of mountains, filled in with forest – and the forest tiles make their way into the town. It’s almost completely wooded, and there are a few interesting sites hiding away inside the woods. One of these sites is a circular spot with some lava tiles and some priests that say that it’s the Circle of Light. Whatever that’s all about.
Heading out of Yew and in a northeasterly direction, I find my first dungeon. Wow, it’s dark in there. When I used the light and glow spells I found myself suddenly without MP. While I could walk around and get it back, I wasn’t ready for this, so I headed back out. Where was the ladder again? I got lost pretty quick. I found another cave south of Britannia with some lava around it, and I stayed out.
As I explored further south, I came across a mountain barrier.. and a moongate!
I remembered this thing, it lets you warp to other places in the world! Without further ado, I hopped in. I was sped to the inside of a large ring of mountains, where there was a lake and a town. This town was called Devil Guard.
I learned some things about a snake, found myself a stable (but I couldn’t afford the horses yet), and came across my first Guild Shop. Magic keys were for sale here! Now I could get behind a bunch of doors that stood in my way. But first, I needed to finish the world map off. Back to cartography.
After hopping around in the moongates I saw the backend of a giant snake near what I think is Exodus’ castle. I found a mountain pass inaccessable except for two different moongates, and a cave also in a mountain pass. I headed all the way back up to the north west and discovered that the map wraps near the mountain barrier.
I decided to pack it in for the day, and leave it here until the next time. Until then!