Saturday, April 21, 2018

Legend: Very Silly Parties

I wonder if "Beamday" is anything like "Sunday."
There are a number of promising elements in Legend, but they just don't create a satisfying gameplay experience. To start, the puzzle difficulty is severely unbalanced. When I broke after the first entry, I was trying to figure out the final major puzzle in the first dungeon. It involved casting "Missile Damage" spells at a rune, which caused flames to belt out of a couple of pillars, which struck other runes, which caused other things to happen. Ultimately, I had to hit the runes in the right pattern to create a path across the water to the room's exit.
Apparently, after choosing the path, you can choose multiple effects, including the same effect multiple times.
Even with the hint that I had to use some "Double Missile Damage" spells, I couldn't figure it out. I had to look up a walkthrough to see the correct pattern, which was:
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Cast "Double Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Have a character other than the caster pull a lever.
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Pull the lever again
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Cast "Double Missile Damage" at the rune
  • Pull the lever again.
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Pull the lever again.
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Cast "Double Missile Damage" at the rune.
I mean, seriously? This was supposed to be discernible by a player playing blind? I get the idea of trying things and testing effects, but that only works when the effects are consistent and repeatable. When different things happen in response to the same spell in different strengths or at different times, it's pretty frustrating to figure out. And when the right sequence involves 12 friggin' steps, that frustration turns to fury.
Casting one of many spells on a rune.
With the puzzle solved, I was able to get the final keys necessary to shut off the traps and claim the treasure in the final room. The treasure turned out to be a "permit" giving me permission to visit King Necrix III.
Gasp. It's all been a test!
Necrix's castle was a brief hop back on the main map. There the king gave me some money and a key and told me to destroy the evil in the city of Fagranc. Developer Anthony Taglione doesn't really have a gift for fantasy names. "Trazere" is okay, but "Necrix" and "Fagranc" are both goofy, as was "Bloodwych" and its villain "Zendick."
The first quest.
Fagranc turns out to be on an island at the top of the map. It's only about half a map away as the crow flies, but to reach it, the party had to basically circle the entire land--around a couple of mountain ranges, through a narrow valley, and across a causeway to the island. I did it in stages, stopping in each city along the way to see what I could find.
My party and various armies roam the game map.
In one, the bartender told me to see his colleague in Groghurst for some news; the Groghurst (there's another one) bartender told me that the Druids have the "key to the secrets within MoonHenge" (and another). In another, I stopped in a temple and donated money to increase my "luck" score. I didn't really talk about it last time, but every character has a "luck" attribute that will save them from death in combat, depleting one point for every save. My assassin and runemaster were at 0 after the first dungeon.

In some tavern at the south end of the map, I ran into a minstrel who offered to teach the game's other songs for a fee. Not knowing when I'd see him again, I bought them all--exhausting my finances in the process. They include "The Thief of Dolik Pass," which increases everyone's dexterity; "Smithy Song," which increases armor class, and "Dance of the Faerie Queen," which increases speed. Others increase strength, defense, constitution, and intelligence. I'll have to experiment with their utility, but I can imagine keeping the original song, which regenerates health, most of the time.
Better than "The Thief of Buckblow Pass," I guess.
In Eb's Pass, I bought horses for the characters, improving the speed of overland travel.
"Eb's Pass" is, at least, two short to be risible.
As I approached the island, I decided to try my first "banner encounter." As the characters march across the map, so do various armies, both good (blue) and bad (red). The sigils displayed by these armies give a sense of their relative strength. There are 7 such sigils, ranging from hawk (weak) to skull (strong). I attacked an enemy with a pair of serpents, indicating the second-lowest difficulty.
Encountering a foe in the wilds.
The ensuing battle wasn't really any different than a long combat in a dungeon room. The same options applied. We won in a couple chaotic minutes. The runemaster died, but I got her resurrected in a nearby town. I think the banner encounters are necessary in a way; if you don't kill the evil armies occasionally, they eventually take over the land. 
A "banner fight."
As I close this unfortunately brief entry, I'm in the Fagranc dungeon, convinced I made a big mistake. The combats are so much more difficult here than the first dungeon, and the runemaster dies in just about every encounter. I clearly need to boost my use of magic, and in consulting the manual, I see that the mage "Mantric" (yep), who sells additional runes, is located somewhere way back near Treihadwyl (uh-huh). I also spent most of the money I'd use to buy runes, so even if I traipse back there, I'll probably have to grind in the starting dungeon for gold and perhaps a level for my weak runemaster.
If they were going for an anagram of "Fragrance," why not "Grafcenar"?
I want to get far enough into the game to experiment with the storied spell system, but navigation and combat are so joyless that it's tough to force myself to play for more than a quarter hour at a time. I don't have a lot of faith that more complex spells will change much, but I'll let you know.

Time so far: 6 hours

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Quest for Glory III: Open Savanna

A giant ant rushes my character as I admire the scenery.
As I closed last time, Rakeesh and I were leaving Tarna for the Simbani village. This was in the midst of a very long set of scripted events in which the most I could do was ask a few dialogue questions.

The journey to the Simbani village happened on a couple of small-scale maps of the savanna, crossed with rivers and mountain ranges, dotted with cities, villages, and environmental features. Rakeesh led the way on the first expedition, but later I was able to explore openly.

During the journey, Rakeesh told me a bit about the flora and fauna of Fricana. (In Alex's game, Rakeesh used this time to outline his growing powers as a paladin.) As we approached the Simbani village, he warned me that they're afraid of magic and that I shouldn't cast spells in the village or even tell them that I'm a mage (honestly, can I use magic anywhere in this game?). Part of the reason that the Simbani distrust the Leopardmen is that the latter are magic users. We camped once on the way, with Rakeesh warning me that if I didn't already have a tinderbox, I should buy one back in Tarna. This was the first indication that the game isn't linear, and that I would later be able to explore Tarna and the rest of Fricana at my leisure.
Rakeesh liontaur-splains the plot.
We arrived at the village and met Uhura, who took us to the leader, Laibon Mkubwa. Unfortunately, he had even less wisdom than Rajah about the Leopardmen. He was convinced that the evil magic-using creatures were behind the recent theft of the Spear of Death, a holy relic for the Simbani. He refused Rakeesh's plan to bring both the Simbani and Leopardmen before the Hall of Judgement, then kicked us out of his tent abruptly. In Uhura's tent, Rakeesh expressed surprise at the leader's attitude, which Uhura explained as the shame caused by losing the Spear.
That sounds a bit like "magic" to me, but what do I know?
Then, Rakeesh dropped a bombshell: his leg was hurting, so he was going back to Tarna in the morning. He suggested I continue my search for the hidden Leopardmen village in the jungles to the east. I mean, I guess I understand, Rakeesh, if your leg is bothering you. On the other hand, you did pledge, on pain of exile from Tarna, to bring peace between the Simbani and the Leopardmen--so, I don't know, it seems like maybe more than just one unproductive conversation with the Simbani chief is in order?
You're really comfortable just leaving this to me?
In any event, he was gone the next morning, and I had the run of the Simbani village. To the west was a place where I could practice throwing spears at a target. Uhura popped up to give some advice about watching the wind. My "Throwing" skill was pretty bad (it's not a very useful skill for a mage anyway), but later I improved it.
Tossing spears at a target.
On the north end of the village as a guy named Yesufu playing a mancala variant called awari, which is the second time we've see one of these types of games (the first was in The Legend of Blacksilver). It's a reasonably easy game to master, and a few wins increased my intelligence. He had a magic cage nearby that he said could be used to imprison Leopardmen (since no magic affects it) but it was empty.
Haven't you been playing this all your life?
Finally, to the east there was an elevated plank where I could practice climbing and balance. Uhura again appeared to offer some advice. Later, she challenged me to a balancing match, which brought up a little minigame in which the two characters trade moves intended to unbalance the other character. I defeated her handily. She mentioned an "initiation" for Simbani warriors. I didn't get a chance to go through that process, but I suspect the fighter classes do.
I'm glad I spent all that time on the tightrope in Shapeir.
A final visit to the village leader led to an interesting revelation: a drum sitting by his side was actually a magic drum, stolen from the Leopardmen. The Simbani had found it in the hands of one of their warriors, Mbuzi, dead outside the village gate. It's pretty obvious that someone is setting up both the Simbani and Leopardmen, but the plot requires everyone but me and Rakeesh to be morons.
"This did not strike us as suspicious at all."
After I explored the village, it was time to hit the open savanna. The game world ends up consisting of four screens laid east to west, with Tarna in the far west. I explored and accomplished quite a bit, but I'm going to relate it in a slightly non-linear order. Alex and I said we were going to try to "leapfrog" each other in our entries, but the truth is, after you visit the Simbani village the game stops being linear for a while, with no set order in which to do things. So I'll describe combat here, plus the one thing I know that Alex didn't do because he's not a mage.
The farthest-east game map.
Combat takes place frequently as you cross the savanna. I encountered hostile Leopardmen, giant ants, dinosaurs, flying cobras, crocs, and demon worms. When they engage you, you get a fighting mini-game similar to the first two titles. The controls in the lower right are duplicated on the keypad. The mage gets two control pads, toggled with the middle button, and I assume the paladin's abilities are on a second pad for that class. Options include swing, thrust, dodge, parry, flee, and for the mage, the ability to cast "Zap," "Force Bolt," "Flame Dart," "Dazzle," or "Lightning Ball," the latter of which I don't yet have.
Fighting a demon worm with my magic options active.
Despite the similar controls, it feels like combat was improved a bit for this game. First, the mage has a much more difficult time in physical combat than in the first games. I haven't been able to win any of the fights with my dagger alone. Second, the spells actually work as advertised. You can cast "Calm" before an enemy approaches and stop him in his tracks. In combat, "Dazzle" stuns the enemy for a couple of rounds. As a result, combat is more challenging and makes better uses of the mage's strengths.
Fighting a croc with martial options active.
One battle is a bit too easy for the mage. Leopardmen don't advance on you and engage combat; they stand to the side and cast spells. This would be dangerous if not for "Reversal," which makes you immune to their magic. Unfortunately, their bounced spells don't hurt them, either, but while they're futilely casting magic at you, you can calmly throw your own spells, daggers, or even rocks at them. (Rocks can be picked up on any screen and are endless.) I got my throwing skill from 75 to 180 just by stoning Leopardmen.
The Leopardman's spells hurt neither of us, but mine still hurt him.
Giant ants and flying cobras are thankless monsters. They leave no treasure and have a decent chance of poisoning you. Poison-cure pills are very expensive. I don't think it makes sense to fight them.
I'm pretty rich, but getting poisoned half a dozen times will have me begging on the street.
The toughest physical monsters so far are "dinosaurs," an oddly generic name for a beast that looks only a little like a dinosaur. You can loot horns from them when they die, but I don't know what to do with them.

I spent most of this session (the bulk of which I'll relate next time) looking for interesting physical features on the game map--big rocks, pools of water, structures, copses of trees--and traveling to them to see if anything was there.

Rakeesh had suggested that I prioritize the creation of my mage's staff, reasoning that "to restore peace in the land," I will need "all the magic [I] can get." I had no idea where to find the "magic wood" that I would need for the staff ritual, but I stumbled upon it accidentally while visiting a giant tree, based on the "world tree" of various mythologies.
The base of the Tree of Life.
The tree had a series of ramps that led me to a lush garden at its top. Visiting this place fully restores your health, stamina, and mana, which makes up for the slight annoyance of navigating to the top. I also found a fruit--the "gift from the heart of the world" that the pill-seller wanted for a dispel potion.
The Heart of the World.

About halfway up the tree was a cave where I encountered a group of lights. It called itself "the Guardian." When I asked it about magic wood, it told me to find a blue orchid in the jungle, to bathe it in the "essence of the Pool of Peace when the moon shines upon its waters," and to plant it on the stand at the top of the world. The Guardian also, when asked, gave me the gem that the statue of Sekhmet had told me to find, but I'll talk about that next time.
Some of the options when talking to the Guardian.
It took a little wandering to find the blue orchid, but once I found it, a simple "Fetch" spell put it in my hand.
I nearly subtitled this entry The Orchid Thief but it wasn't that big a part of the session.
The Pool of Peace was an obvious physical feature I'd already found. I wondered if it had anything to do with Erana. I had filled up a water skin there, since that was another ingredient of the dispel potion. When I visited a second time, I bathed the orchid in its waters at night.
Screenshots captured at night are really hard to interpret.
Returning to the orchid to the Heart of the World, I was rewarded with some magic wood growing from the tree.
I' m glad I didn't have to saw it with my knife. That would have felt wrong.
I took this back to Kreesha in Tarna, and we enacted a little ritual that turned the magic wood into a wizard's staff. It involved casting all my existing spells upon it, but the game did that for me automatically. I summon the staff as a spell, but it doesn't require any magic points. Once it's in my hand, I can't move, but none of the spells I cast with it cost any mana. They're also supposedly more powerful. This is going to make those Leopardmen fights even easier.
This was a pretty cool cut scene.
Incidentally, I had found the third element of the dispel potion much earlier--the fruit of poisonous vines that grow in a small alcove. Again, getting it was just a matter of a simple "Fetch" spell. But there were some cute meerbats (cross between meerkats and bats) hanging out nearby, and I suspect the thief or fighter solution employs them in some way.
Snagging a fruit as meerbats look on.
I had also found the feather of the honeybird that the pill-seller needed for more healing potions. It was a random encounter while wandering near Tarna. I followed the bird for a couple of screens until it busied itself with a bee's nest. I poured the honey from the bazaar on the ground. The bird alighted upon it. I knew I didn't want to hurt or hassle him, because he had to be happy when I collected the feather, but the obvious "Fetch" didn't work. The solution turned out to be simpler than that: you walk towards him and he flies away, leaving a feather behind.

With all of these ingredients, I satisfied all of the sub-quests that the pill-seller had. To thank me for telling him about Julanar, he gave me two dispel potions for free.
Aren't you jumping the gun a bit? What if Julanar doesn't like you?
Miscellaneous notes:

  • I've been constantly curious throughout the game which of these encounters are class or experience-dependent. Can someone who creates a new character in this game (or didn't help Julanar in the last) still tell Salim about Julanar? Can a fighter or thief with magic skill get a wizard's staff? Can I participate in the initiation ritual somehow? I guess I'll experiment later.
  • You occasionally come across silly signs in the forest. In addition to the one below, another directed me to "Spielburg Castle: two games back and one revision over."
  • The game is quite insistent that you sleep at least once a day regardless of your stamina level. The inn at Tarna, the Simbani village, the Heart of the World, and the Pool of Peace all seem to be safe places.
  • Just another mention that every potential object has a response to the "eye" icon. I probably haven't even seen 50% of these messages.
My hut in the Simbani village.
  • Time passes and food depletes rapidly as you wander the savanna. I nearly ran out of food. I ended up loading up in the bazaar towards the end of the session.
  • My "parry" skill isn't going up at all. I guess maybe you need a shield for it? But somehow I got it to 175 without having a shield in the previous games.
As with the previous titles, Quest for Glory III is pretty fast-paced, always with something to do. But I can already tell that re-plays, once you know where things are, will be very short. I probably won't bother with the paladin experience, since Alex is handling that, but I definitely want to figure out how a thief handles this game.

Next time, I'll talk more about what's happening back in Tarna.

Time so far: 6 hours

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Silvern Castle: More By Accident Than Design

I continue to progress downwards in the dungeon of Silvern Castle.
Wireframe dungeons have a certain brutal starkness to them, and I rather prefer them over early attempts at colored or textured dungeons. By the time of Dungeon Master, you naturally needed more advanced graphics to convey puzzle elements like levers and plates, but short of that, I don't know that a lot is gained by the repetitive bricks of The Bard's Tale and the featureless cityscapes of Pool of Radiance. Particularly if you're not going to show enemies or NPCs in the environment (which the Gold Box series stubbornly refuses to do all the way through 1993!), a few lines is really all I need. It's easier to suspend disbelief with secret doors that you just walk through when you're walking through a blank black wall, which is more of a concept than a real wall, than actual bricks.

But while the wireframe dungeon designer must rely on the player's imagination for the details, he can at least stoke that imagination with patterns in the walls. (Of course such patterns aren't limited to wireframe graphics; they're just more necessary with them.) Often these patterns can convey what the graphics cannot, such as a central hall leading to a throne room, a temple, or a jail with a bunch of small cells. They can spell words, numbers, or initials in the walls. We've see them go as far as to offer number or crossword puzzles. They can use vast open spaces and tight, windy corridors to different effects. Sometimes a dungeon level delights with its predictability and symmetry, but other times by throwing a curve in what first appears predictable and symmetrical.
Wizardry 3 suggested a castle in the northeast quadrant with this layout.
This level from Wizardry IV has you "ascend" a pyramid.
The author of Silvern Castle seems to have taken no such lessons from previous titles. I've mapped four and a half levels now, and they're all completely chaotic, as if designed by a script rather than a careful hand. The lack of any sense to the unused (inaccessible) ares is mildly infuriating. The only consistency is an odd fondness for 2 x 3 rooms, some of which serve as "lairs" for the various monsters in the level. Because the levels have no particular design, most of the space and the time mapping it is simply wasted. I like mapping, but more in the service of a goal than a task by itself. This is the sort of game in which I would be perfectly happy to consult with a walkthrough's maps to see the key locations and just spin around the hallways to generate random encounters for the experience.
My map of Level 3.
Adding to the rather boring process of mapping, at least through Level 5, the game shows no signs of using any of the navigational obstacles common to Wizardry descendants, such as spinners, teleporters, squares of darkness, and anti-magic squares. There aren't even any traps (there's one square that drops you from Level 3 to Level 4 and causes some damage, but it's clearly annotated). While some levels have multiple staircases, they don't go to independent parts of other levels. I'm surprised to find myself missing these elements, but mapping by itself is only so exciting.
The game's own map of Level 2. Note the lack of any pattern or design.
(On the positive side, I recently subscribed to the "Great Courses Plus" service and have managed, while mapping the levels of Silvern Castle, to watch a decent percentage of a series on what archaeology tells us about the history of Israel. I've been a Teaching Company fan since the days when you had to buy courses on VHS, but their entire model was really custom made for a streaming-subscription approach, and I'm glad they managed to last until the era of smartphones and tablets.)

The size and tedium of the dungeon levels sapped some of the initial enthusiasm I had for Silvern and its additions to the Wizardry template, but only some. The game does provide a relatively consistent and rewarding sense of character development, and difficult tactical combats equal in tactics to Wizardry, and without Wizardry's merciless insistence on permadeath.

Silvern has a particularly good approach to the economy. It's not a complex one, but the inability to get mega-rich requires some careful choices. Recall that spellcasters have to find or buy scrolls to learn their spells; they don't get them automatically when leveling. Most of the scrolls are well out of the range of a starting party, and only after exploring Levels 3 and 4 can you buy even a handful of scrolls covering the first few spell levels. You have to make careful choices as to the needs of the party in combat versus exploration. "Return," for instance, selling at 700 gold pieces, is a bit of an indulgence. It warps the party back to town from anywhere in the dungeon and is mostly a benefit for the player rather than the party. Yet in my zeal to save for it, and thus save time playing the game, it was well into the game's eighth hour before my party members even had all the best non-magic equipment sold in the shop. I'm currently saving for a 3,000 gold piece "Teleportation" scroll which will reduce the time to and from the dungeon's lower levels.
I reluctantly spend some money on "Cure Poison." The scroll of "Return" is going to have to wait.
The encumbrance system only adds to these choices. I've long since given up picking up silver and copper pieces, but I haven't been able to bring myself to toss unwanted equipment even when it overloads the party. That extra short sword I found after killing a goblin sells for 9 gold pieces. A suit of chainmail sells for 60. These are not trivial amounts when my mages don't have a quarter of their available spells yet.

Part of the consequence of this slow growth in spells is that most of my trips back to the town are because someone suffered a condition that I don't yet have the spell to cure. You start encountering poison, illness, paralysis, and petrification long before you can afford all the spells necessary to cure all these conditions. There are potions that do the job, and they're not very expensive (you find a lot, too), but it's easy to run out.

Beyond suffering these occasional conditions, combat has been relatively fun. I need to add here that I've cranked my emulator up to basically infinity speed. At an era-accurate speed, I would have thrown the game away in the first couple of hours. It can take up to 3 minutes for a monster-intensive combat to load and shorter but still-maddening times between screens or while waiting for combat messages to scroll by. AppleWin's speed setting slides between 0.5x and 3.9x authentic speed, but with a final setting that's, like, a 1,000,000x. Things happen instantaneously. I leave it set here unless I'm fighting a new monster or using a new spell and I need to more carefully study the individual combat transactions.

As you explore downward and gain more character levels, the game increases the maximum difficulty of monsters encountered. This is what I prefer. The alternatives are increasing the average or, worse, minimum difficulty, which always makes me feel that "development" is really just an illusion. Even on high levels, I occasionally want to encounter a lone orc. That happens here. As you get more powerful, you also start encountering enemies that are scared or friendly (giving you a choice to attack) or who simply surrender and hand you their gold and objects. 
There are no alignments in the game, so I don't think there's any consequence for saying "no."
Party composition looks a lot harder than the average Wizardry battle, and sometimes I forget what game I'm playing when I'm terrified by 4 level 4 mages, 6 clerics, and a couple of supporting parties of fighters. But Silvern needs some extra enemy volume because the enemy AI is poor. Each enemy seems to act more-or-less randomly rather than tactically. They don't target your weakest character. They don't reliably attack at all. Sometimes they "use" objects that they don't need or that don't do anything. Enemy spellcasters hardly ever cast spells. But again, they make up for poor AI with volume, particularly in "lair" encounters, so the combats are still suitably challenging.

Most of the player's tactics come in the form of spells, of course. "Sleep" is pretty effective against single large groups, and "Fireball" is suitably devastating. The spell point pool is relatively generous, and since all spells draw from the same pool instead of dedicated slots, the choice of whether to use a spell isn't as agonizing here as in Wizardry.
Blasting an ogre group with a "fireball."
"Lair" battles occur in 2 x 3 rooms, but I can't tell if they're fixed or random. At least once, I lost one badly and it wasn't there when I reloaded and returned. They typically have a monster "chief," a group of "guards," and two groups of mooks. They're likely to deliver the most experience and gold and the best equipment.
A "lair" encounter.
A few other notes:

  • The game makes a distinction between "hallways" and "rooms" on the levels, with rooms almost always illuminated and hallways almost always dark. This hardly matters because even in illuminated rooms, your "Light" spell continues to deplete.
  • For some reason, Level 5 started consuming my "Light" spell at a rate double the earlier levels. 
  • "Lair" combats often produce treasure chests. You don't have to type the trap type to disarm it, like in Wizardry, but the thief fails about as often.
A rare treasure chest.
  • Only towards the end of this session did I start to find any magic items, namely a suit of chainmail +1 and a long dagger +1.
A character sheet towards the end of this session.
  • The developer includes apple symbology in a lot of his room and encounter descriptions. 
He must have been a real fan of the platform.
Enemies encountered in this session include fire beetles, oil beetles, tiger beetles, pit vipers, hobgoblins, ogres, giant rats, giant bats, orcs, kobolds, draconians, and thouls. The game clearly looks to several sources for its bestiary, and as far as I can tell, the "thoul"--which uses an orc-like icon--is original. [Edit: I was wrong. I guess they come from OD&D.]  It paralyzes.
A combination between a troll and a ghoul?
Plot-wise, not much has happened. Level 2 had a room with a pentagram that caused the party to flee in terror. I'll have to return later, perhaps with some anti-fear spell. There was another special encounter at a statue of a nude woman, which so enraptured my characters that enemies sneaked up behind us.

Level 4 had a statue of an elven woman warning us of ghosts and demons. We found a silver key in the room, but it didn't open either of the locked doors we found on Level 1 or 4.
One of a few special encounters in the first few levels.
As I wrap up, my characters are all Levels 8 or 9, which seems high, but some of them need at least Level 15 to switch to prestige classes. I figure when I hit Level 10, I'll start fiddling with buying and selling attributes and looking at potential class changes. I'm hoping the game at least has Wizardry's decency of sticking to 10 levels, in which case I figure I'm about halfway through, but I guess we'll see.

Time so far: 12 hours


Sorry, everyone. I meant to get another Quest for Glory III entry done before this one, but I didn't quite make it. Look for that tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Quest for Glory III: Questions of Honor

My inventory sure loaded up after the first session.
The first couple hours of Quest for Glory III play like an extended prologue. You have a little freedom, but most of the events are timed and scripted and don't allow you to screw up and miss them the way you can in Trial by Fire. This isn't good or bad by itself, but there was one particularly long segment (transitioning this and the next entry) in which the character was just shoved from one place to the next, and I was glad when it was over.

Alex over at The Adventure Gamer got so far in his second entry that I'm going to have to split this one into two; look for the second on Monday.
To a new player, it's also not clear that these "cut scene" screens allow you to click around and speak.
I have so much to cover because I started the game over after my first entry, following the revelation that using the mouth on the character--which produces a joke in the remake of So You Want to Be a Hero--opens up lines of dialogue not possible by clicking on the NPC, including the ability to "Greet" and "Say Good-bye" before and after every conversation. You also often get "Tell About" options, which is how I was able to tell the shop owner about Julanar. He vowed to leave and find her "on the next caravan" to Shapeir, which I hope is after the conclusion of this game.
I really think she could do better.

The option also allowed me to do more in the Temple of Sekhmet. When I greeted the priestess who tried to throw me out, the statue of Sekhmet came to life. He chastised the priestess for saying that the presence of a human defiled the temple ("you will speak only MY words--not your own"; I briefly considered how cool it would be if this happened every Sunday morning). He called me "Doer, Changer of Worlds, Releaser of Darkness" and demanded that I return with the Gem of the Guardian to be "weighed and judged."
I get enough weighing and judging at my annual physical.
Since I already knew the layout of the land, I was able to re-explore most of the city on my first day. The first priority was changing money in the bazaar. I followed NPC instructions and went to the north end, but before I could approach the money-changer, I witnessed a keffiyeh-clad thief sprint away as the money-changer yelled "stop thief!" I fumbled around trying to figure out what spell might do the trick, then realized I'm not supposed to cast spells on the streets of Tarna. By then, the thief was off the screen, so I all I could do was chase him.
Well, that was anti-climactic.
There, the thief was arrested by some liontaur guards, who demanded that as a witness I accompany them to the Hall of Judgement. The liontaur judge named the thief "Harami," which was nice foreshadowing on the part of his parents, since it means "sinner" in Arabic. When asked if he wanted to say anything before he was "named honorless," he answered, "hey, big deal." The council designated him honorless and evicted him from the hall.
I'm not sure this is the basis for a sustainable criminal justice system.
After thanking me for helping to capture the thief--honestly, all I did was walk from one screen to another--the head lioness said that King Rajah--whose parents also had a gift of foresight--wanted to see me. 

Rajah was a bit of a jerk, lounging on his throne, tended by lioness guards. He expressed doubt that a human could do anything to help with the present situation, particularly since the city already has a powerful mage. (This dialogue, of course, must be class-specific.) He insulted his brother, Rakeesh, for needing a human's help and called him "cowardly" for wanting to make peace with the Leopardmen instead of taking revenge for the death of Reeshaka (Rakeesh and Kreesha's daughter).
A true "role-playing" game would allow me to kill him right now.
Rakeesh stood up for himself, nothing that "revenge for the sake of revenge is pointless" and "mindless revenge is pure stupidity," at which point Rajah threw me out so he could speak to his brother alone. There were a couple of times during the conversation where I had to click on myself for dialogue, and I suppose the dialogue could have gone other ways if I'd asked things of the king instead of "talking about honor" or whatever I chose.
Rakeesh is the only data-driven liontaur.
Back outside, I was free to explore the city. I spent the rest of the day in the bazaar, starting with changing money. I had enough to obtain 180 royals. At first, I thought this was a huge advantage for an imported character, but it turns out new characters also start with as much money. This meant that I had to make almost no tough choices at all as I explored the rest of the bazaar. I bought anything and everything, hardly ever bothering to "bargain," and still had over 100 royals to spare. Of course, I didn't have to buy any pills, thanks to the stock I brought with me.
I think I had more than that at the end of Trial by Fire.
They moneychanger offered some interesting foreshadowing, saying that there is tremendous inflation in Silmaria and that since no one can travel in and out of Mordavia, the exchange rate for their coins has bottomed out. These are the locations of Quest for Glory V and IV, respectively. If we didn't know from Corey Cole's comments how much of this series was planned years in advance, this bit of dialogue would provide some insight.
Now, if he'd mentioned Sardonia, we'd be really blown away.
The rest of the bazaar offered a variety of colorful figures selling items of both obvious and questionable utility. In the order that I met them:

  • Two "junk dealers" clearly based off Sanford and Son, a reference that was already 15 years old. The Redd Foxx character, wearing a fez, called himself "An Forda" and referred to his son, appropriately, as a "dummy." The developers lacked the rights to the real theme song but played a suitably similar tune. They had some amusing dialogue but ultimately only had a tinder box to sell.

    (As Alex points out in his entry, you can use the tinderbox to light a water bong in Salim's place, which causes you to become a drug addict, which causes you to die in an alley years later. I don't know what amuses me more: that the Coles, who I'm guessing have lit more than one water bong in their lives, offered such a conservative warning, or that Alex immediately thought to give it a try.) [Edit: Speculating on someone else's drug history, even in humor, is rarely a good idea. And in this case it seems to be incorrect. I apologize.]
Breaking the fourth wall? Or did some variant of World War I happen in this universe? Are the games set in Earth's future rather than the past?
  • A weapon-seller. He convinced me to buy a "fine dagger," but it turned out to be the same as the one I already had. I also bought a throwing dagger and a spear. I assume other classes get other options here.
  • A merchant selling both water skins and zebra skins. I bought one of each.
  • A merchant selling fruit. I bought some, but I have a bunch of rations already.
  • An oil seller.
He was somewhat mission-driven.
  • A guy selling honey. I think I'll need this to lure a honeybird later and capture his feather while he's happy, a quest given to me by the pill-seller.
  • A woman selling pretty beads. I bought a couple of sets.
  • A rope-seller. (Alex didn't buy the beads or the rope. I wonder if this will come back to haunt him.)
  • A katta selling wooden carvings. This was the one for whom Shema had given me a note. I guess if I'd given him the note first, I could have gotten a carving of a leopard for free, but I screwed up the order and ended up paying for it.
Katta has wares if you have coin.
  • An Anubis-looking dog selling meat. He acted like a dog, too--desperate to please a human master. My purchase of a few rations sent him into an ecstasy of adoration. It was a little creepy.
This is why it's a good thing that dogs can't talk.
  • A woman selling clothing. For no reason except that I was buying everything, I bought a robe.
  • A huckster selling protective amulets. The game wouldn't even let me get conned into buying one.
I mean, it's not like amulets of protection don't exist in this world. Why am I suspicious?
At the end, I had a pretty full inventory. This would place to note that the game offers fairly detailed descriptions of each item when you click on it with the "eye" icon. Very few games are doing this in this era.
Or maybe few games ever did it, and I just fooled myself into thinking Might and Magic VI-VIII and the Infinity Engine games were the norm.
From Alex's entry, I see that I missed the ability to donate some coins to a drummer in the lower bazaar. I saw the drummer but missed his collection plate. I'll have to return later, although I'm not sure if the resulting "honor points" are important to my mage.

Back at Kreesha's place, we had a long conversation. There were a couple of cute reversals of common themes in the "real" world: the Council of Judgement consists solely of female liontaurs because "males are too emotional to make rational decisions," and it turns out that the liontaurs have a saying that "curiosity haunts a human." I suppose being "haunted" is better than being killed.

She had quite a bit to say about Rakeesh. He's apparently the only ruler in Tarna's history to voluntarily step down, and the only liontaur to become a paladin. She believes that the Demon Wizard that Rakeesh previously defeated is behind the recent troubles. Rakeesh intends to "pledge his honor" to bring peace, which means that if he fails, he can no longer enter Tarna. That not only seems a little strict but also reckless on Rakeesh's part, since he doesn't yet know anything about what's happening. What if the Leopardmen really are the aggressors?
And what if the troubles are caused by demons? Won't we need to fight the demons?
Kreesha also gave me a mage-specific quest: the creation of a mage's staff, "both a container and an amplifier of the magic user's spells." But before we can do that ritual, I have to return with some "magic wood."
She didn't mean go to the tavern and see Janna, but that's what I did.
In the tavern that night, the ability to click on myself gave me some new dialogue options with the hostess, including "flirt." At first this seemed to go well:
Oh, much more. "Communication" wasn't even a skill until the last game.
And then even better:
The Cole skirt an "MA" rating.
But the bottom dropped out when I tried to give her one of the strings of beads:
You couldn't have mentioned him an hour ago?
I was happy to see that Alex liked the inn as much as I did. There's something enormously evocative about the image, candles flickering on the table as the light dims outside, people comfortably resting on cushions in a huge, open room with cool, clean floors. It's one of the only video game images I've seen so far in my chronology that made me want to visit in-person--my enthusiasm only dampened slightly by the suspicion that they don't serve cocktails here.

Alex also reminded me that there's no adventurer's guild in Tarna--just a bulletin board in the inn with a bunch of random messages, none of them quest-worthy. That's an element of the previous two games that I miss.
The next day, I didn't have much to do. I interrupted Rakeesh and Kreesha in flagrante, which must have been great fun for the artist to draw. Rakeesh explained more about the thief's punishment from the previous day: as one designated "honorless," he'll be totally ignored. No one will sell anything to him, give him a place to stay, or give him food. Since there are no caravans on which he can leave, he's in for a difficult time. (Rakeesh didn't mention what happens if the guy simply steals food.) The whole story gave me a flashback to an episode of The Outer Limits or something where a guy gets branded on his forehead and no one is allowed to talk with him. At first, he thinks this is awesome because he can do whatever he wants, but later he nearly dies of loneliness. Anyone know which one I'm talking about?
This still doesn't make any sense. I understand why you had to kill the Demon Wizard, but why did you have to give up the throne to do that?
It also occurred to me that I haven't seen any signs of a thieves' guild within Tarna--no one who would provide succor to someone like Harami. Maybe the amulet-seller in the bazaar? I guess when I try the game as a thief, I'll make the sign to him first.

For the rest of the day, I spent some time practicing spells. I wandered out onto the savanna only briefly--I'll have more to say about that tomorrow. I tried to find Khatib Mukar'ram, the survivor of the Leopardmen ambush, but he was never in the tavern when I arrived. I went to bed early and was summoned automatically to the Hall of Judgement the next day.
"Levitation" isn't the most masculine-looking spell.
The head of the council summarized the plot so far, in case I hadn't been paying attention:
Two months ago, the Simbani requested that we aid them in their war against the Leopardmen. It was the decision of this Council to send emissaries to the Leopardmen to determine their grievances. The peace mission was ambushed at night by creatures or beings unknown. Evidence and the account of the sole survivor of the ambush, Khatib Mukar'ram, indicate the Leopardmen. A warrior of Tarna, Reeshaka Dar Kreesha, was discovered missing from the bodies of the emissaries. Signs and scent indicate some sort of struggle, and then all trace of Reeshaka was lost.
Neville Chamberlain over here.
The various council members then debated what to do. One wanted to seek revenge for Reeshaka; another said that liontaurs should not get involved in affairs of humans. A third pointed out that humans are a part of Tarna. Rakeesh then stepped up, stated his opinions about demonic involvement, and pledged his honor to bring peace.
But what about war with demons? I'm so confused.
The head lioness emphasized the consequences if he fails and asked if I also "pledge my honor." I'm curious about the consequences of saying "no." For this character, I figured that Rakeesh is the only reason I'm here, so I might as well stand by him. If I'm exiled from Tarna, the worst that happens is I go back to Shapeir and continue being a prince.

I see from Alex's entry that saying "no" is the only way that a fighter character can remain a fighter; otherwise, he inevitably becomes a paladin. That suggests that "yes" is the "honorable" path. But to me, it's the path of "I really don't know much about this situation and I'm not going to commit myself to a life-altering course of action until I do."
I'm curious how the low-honor thief deals with this.
The council gave us time to fulfill our oaths. Afterwards, we had another audience with Rajah, who continued to berate Rakeesh and to show support for the hawkish faction.
Well, that's a good attitude.
He said he'd give us time, but warned us not to take too long. Shortly after that, Rakeesh and I walked out the front gates and on to the open savanna.
More about this map next time.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • The inability to reliably walk off-screen is a huge interface issue. I might be missing entire explorable areas because the game fails to transition from screen to screen when you get close to the edge. I end up having to walk to the edge and then use the keypad to keep nudging my character until the transition takes over.
  • I like the music less in this game than previous ones. This comes from my own personal quirk of not liking background music in general. I feel like the first two games played cute leitmotifs as you entered certain areas and encountered certain characters, but then stopped. This one has more constant, unrelenting background music.
  • On the other hand, as several people--including Alex--have pointed out, the graphics are beautiful. Definitely some of the best that we've seen by this era.
  • I've been checking my character sheet, but my adventures so far have mostly earned me only "communications" points.
  • This comment threw me because I forgot at first that The Mummy (1999) is actually a remake of a 1932 film. But I'm still confused because in neither film is the mummy called "Amenhotep."
And how would a character in this game have seen a movie anyway?
This is the sort of game where the content-per-minute is so high that I could easily post a full entry per hour. That will probably shrink in the middle stages, but for now I need an entire second entry before I can leapfrog Alex. More soon.

Time so far: 3 hours