Sunday, September 21, 2014

Game 28: Warsong (Genesis) - Dive Head First Into the Fray

Unacceptable! *reset*
Warsong has a fairly standard rule-set for combat that it throws away about halfway through the game: soldiers > archer > horseman > soldier is a staple for the first half of the game. I understand shaking it up with some variety, but when my horsemen attack enemy soldiers and get wiped out 10 - 7 the game fundamentally changed.
Like these... what are they weak against?
In the 10th scenario Garett decided to lead the charge against Pythion. On his way to Dalsis he found castle Ualk, the last stronghold before Dalsis. This map had an obvious ambush, and even though I anticipated it, I still lost Sabra to a single rogue enemy archer while she was at 8 HP. I misjudged the enemy's mobility, a factor that's not directly shown to the player. Had it been Bayard or Tiberon, I probably wouldn't have reset immediately. But, I really wanted to keep Sabra for her Dragon Knight class, which I didn't know at the time was already not an option. This time knowing exactly where they would I appear, I set a counterattack. Still nearly lost Mina. In the end I had to resort to using Garett, now the king class, to finish off some archers as soldiers just weren't cutting it.
Go wait in those mountains away from the castle. Reason? Oh, just because...
One of my biggest pet-peeves, and I think I mentioned it before, is the fact the unit AI is dumb. Beyond that though, I have to switch it to manual every single map, for each general. I really wish this setting was stored. The biggest issue with letting the AI move units around is their pattern, even if they're a damaged unit right next to their general. Also, if they happen to move directly next to an enemy, they'll initiate an attack no matter the match-up. There are four options for the AI: move, attack, defend, and manual. Every map it defaults to move, and I haven't tried the other two.
That one enemy unit just barely in range to attack Sabra... still stings
At the end of the 10th scenario Carleon joined, and I found a magic wand. At last, the army arrived at Dalsis in full force. I prepared my units anticipating a tough battle, but I hardly expected the beating I received. It was as if the enemy units were pumped up on power pills. Garett and Mina barely slipped by on the bottom left side as Lance appeared once again; at the same time flying monsters attracted by Warsong arrived. The battle consisted of holding choke points at the four corners as I slowly whittled the forces down. I had Garett and Mina climb over a wall to escape the general I knew they had no chance of defeating. Calais, with the help of Tiberon, managed to make her way to the center; the goal of the map was simply to get Garett there. I thought that meant the pool of water, but any tile on the center island seemed to end the map.
Garett arrives just before the flying units to the north descend
By the end of the 12th scenario I was dreading the difficulty would continue. This one was by far the worst (at least to the point I am now). Seeing two entrances to the castle throne room, Garett decided to split the party. The map started with four of my generals in one room surrounded by two mages capable of devastating spells, two other generals, and Pythion (who thankfully didn't move). The key to surviving that was to take the loss of potential experience and bait the mages into a situation where I could take them out next turn. Killing a commander removes all the units assigned to them. I managed to do this with Carleon's archers, on my second attempt. The first was met with severe failure as I lost Mina and Calais due to some poor planning, and would have quickly lost everyone else. Sabra gained her second class change here, and I realized I misread her path to dragon knight; it's through lord, so I made her a grand knight. Mina also finally gained a rank up to priestess, and gained access to monks, which are useful against undead (a unit type I have yet to see). In the end, I took it slow against Pythion, and retrieved Warsong and an evil axe.
No, no, I just killed you, no returning
Before ending the night I took a peek at the 13th map to make sure I wasn't blindsided by anything. When I returned to the game, I placed Calais and Mina with guardsmen to take out the two groups of slimes. This was the first map with a chest. In it was a mirror that prevented the basilisks on the map from turning the commanders to stone. I also found the setting for game speed: it only affects the speed the computer selects units to move, but setting it to fast has already had a noticeable effect. Once the mirror was retrieved, any commanders turned to stone returned to flesh, including Lance, now a dragon knight and fighting on our side. Another new monster, ants, made an appearance on this map, and bucks the trend of unit classes. At the end of the map we picked up the amulet of power. I'm really not sure if these items do anything beyond adjusting stats.
At least I got to see what the Dragon Knight class is capable of once Lance joined
Map 14 started the party in a town with a single werewolf in the middle. Killing it triggered more to appear from the forest. Strangely only six commanders were available for this map. There are two friendly generals with citizens, and despite the announcements for all citizens to retreat towards the center of town, they didn't move an inch from the corners.
This doesn't look like a trap at all~
The oppressive difficulty thankfully took a respite during the past couple maps, and continued into the 15th scenario. Even though I was again using a reduced army (only four generals allowed), and a nearly invulnerable dragon bearing down on another town of civilians, it seemed much more manageable than 11 or 12. Seems each map is limited to eight friendly generals, so I only had access to four of my own because there were three groups of citizens, and an efreet I needed to summon to defeat the dragon. A dragon knight would have been helpful to summon it right away, but I decided against it in favor of some experience for my own units. Lance is already stuck at level 9 like Baldarov (RIP).
Guess whose fire is stronger
With the dragon weakened, Garett decided it was best to hunt it down now before it had a chance to fully recover. Map 16 found the party inside the dragon's lair. With groups of monsters again, including slimes, and a burgeoning point bank thanks to my stingy unit assignments, I decided to go full force on this map. In the end, against the dragon, it came down to generals with high attack power. Even Calais with 33 attack couldn't scratch it. Bayard, still a lowly knight, opened a chest with a dragon slayer sword; however, he wasn't that strong to begin with, so I really wish Sabra or Garett would have opened the chest.
Oh, and the sword disappeared once the dragon died
The dragon was by far the hardest single unit I've faced. Multiple times I barely scratched it, at great loss to my generals HP, only to have it heal up before I could attack again. It took Bayard with the dragon slayer, Sabra just being a herself with the great sword, and Tiberon (now a knight master) with the evil axe. I'd already burned through Garett's, Mina's, and Carleon's healing, and I had to wait for Thorne to maneuver around the backside for additional healing. It took three rounds of attacks and healing to finally put the dragon down without any losses. I advanced Calais to arch mage rather than magic knight. Someone in chat mentioned a ranger class for Mina, Calais, and Sabra on that line, but I stuck to my original plan rather than following the spoiler. The ranger class is apparently like a superhero class where they don't have any units, but are extremely powerful.
Random soldiers sometimes join in the dialogue
Hidden in the dragon's roost was an ancient rune tablet. Inscribed was the story of Ganelon, a magic knight, who used evil to take control of the land. A knight of light, Galafron from Elthlead, fought the evil with his sword: Warsong. With it he sealed the evil in the land of Seneferia. Garett determined that was a good place to try to thwart this rising evil. Pretty sure I'm walking right into their hands delivering the key to their release.
Yeah, I think I have enough points now; let's go full throttle
Elapsed Time: 10h03m (Total Time: 20h58m)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Game 28: Warsong (Genesis) - A Boy and His Sword

Game 28

Title: Warsong
Released: 1991
Platform: Genesis
Developer: Career Soft
Publisher: Treco
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Exploration - Combat map only (top-down)
Combat - Turn based (player first)
Series - Langrisser

I don't know if it's the long absence or the style of game, but I've found some difficultly to write about this game. It's the first strategy game for the blog, and the story is rather sparse. The game is merely a series of combat scenarios strung together with a short description to explain the current situation. However, despite its simplicity, I have enjoyed it.
The evil emperor Pythion casts a spell during the initial assault on Baltia
The story begins with an attack on the Castle of the Baltia family. Pythion, the evil emperor of Dalsis, is behind the attack. He wishes to claim Warsong, an enchanted sword held by the Baltia family as an ancient heirloom rumored to grant magical powers. The opening scene begins with the first strike against the castle. Starting the game throws the player right into the action.
The first scenario grants control over Garett, the prince of Baltia, and Baldarov, captain of the guard. Each scenario has a winning goal, and a losing condition. All maps so far have had the death of Garett as a losing condition, but there are additional ways to lose. The win condition in this case is for Garett to escape, with no mention of what that really means. He's commanded by the king to retreat for help from a neighboring city. Friendly units include player controlled characters and those controlled by AI. Enemy generals and their cannon fodder units are revealed at the prologue as well.
The prologue includes a map that shows enemy locations, but not exactly which unit is where
The first time I played chapter 1, I accidentally got Baldarov killed, and learned that if a character controlled by the player dies they're gone forever; however, this isn't true of the characters controlled by the AI. I'm still unsure how to predict the expected damage from each battle. Displayed stats are simply an attack and defense value. Level and class also factor in with a soldier > archer > horseman > soldier pattern, but some generals don't always follow this format. Also, current HP (maxes at 10) seems to matter. My problem was I didn't anticipate a lot of randomness. Take Baldarov, my level 9 Sword Master at 10 HP versus a level 2 Lord at 10 HP for instance; they ended their first fight at 7 HP and 4 HP respectively. The enemy healed 3 HP, and in the next battle (7 HP each), Baldarov got completely wrecked. The second chapter without Baldarov was too much, so I started the game over.
Uh, how?
The generals available for each scenario are presented at the beginning. It's possible to leave some out during some maps, but I don't know what the benefit is for doing so. After selecting the generals to deploy it's time to assign the cannon fodder units. Hiring these units costs points, which are gained at the end of each scenario based on how many enemy units were defeated plus a base scenario bonus. The units available to each commander is based on their class. Garett, who starts as a basic Fighter class, only has soldiers available. Baldarov, who is the highest class of Sword Master, has soldiers, archers, and horsemen to choose from.
Each character has an area of influence (highlighted blue) that increases their units' base stats as long as they stay close
Enough mechanic talk though. On to the game! For the first scenario, I took out the general's forces stationed to the left and raced off north with Garett and Baldarov. The second finds the duo traveling towards Sulras to find Carleon, but they're besieged by bandits on the road. To make matters worse they've been joined by a traveling companion. A currently worthless Mina whose AI often times has her to run directly at the enemy unguarded. To make matters worse, one of the losing conditions is the death of Mina. Luckily the enemy AI is more likely to attack the cannon fodder than the generals.
Ending summary, extra units on my side seem to be a waste of points, so a balance must be made to have enough units for the current map and keep my total high for future maps
The third scenario introduces Thorne, a general under the command of Carleon, who assists in defending Sulras as it's attacked by the same thieves I fended off on the road. This time the ending goal is the death of the enemy commander. Mina is still as useless as ever. Garett gained enough experience to level up to 10 during this fight, which gave me a choice between changing class to a knight or a lord. The instruction manual shows that Garett is the only one who can become the king class through becoming a lord, so I chose that one.
Class changes add some variation, but I'm not sure how much it changes strategy
At the end of the third scenario Sabra appeared, and brought news of Baltia Castle: it fell to the enemy. While Carleon assembled his troops, Garett ran off to fight by his father's side. In the fourth scenario Garett, Sabra, and Baldarov were in the middle of a forest on their way back. Suddenly, slimes appeared and attack. These special units were strong, so the only option is to flee. Surviving ten turns was the goal. After the fifth though Mina appeared with a new type of unit, the guardsman. This is a fairly useless class; however, they're incredibly strong against slimes. She came to the rescue and gained quite a few levels. Only commanders gain levels from experience, earned by wiping out enemies. The killing blow is all that matters, none of the damage leading up to that earns anything. The generic units earn experience for their commander.
There was this strange body shape in the bottom right corner of the map; however, I didn't find anything to do with it
Commanders get one action per turn: move, attack, magic, or treat. If movement ends next to an enemy unit then it's possible to get a free attack that turn, but there's no way to move and then cast a spell. Magic up to this point hasn't played a large role. As a lord, Garett gained access to the first level of healing, and Mina, being a cleric, has the same. Going into the fifth scenario I completely forgot about magic. Treat allows a commander to recover 3 HP. Generic units only have the option to move and attack.
I figured there'd be an ambush in the center, but that choke point is the key defeating the enemy
I tend to give the AI a little too much credit. I figured some would come down the middle while others surrounded me on both sides, so I sent units out to meet each threat so I didn't get boxed in. The enemy didn't even bother with the right side, and instead charged through the middle. The white area are impassible mountains, the brown are hills that give +30% to defense, light green are plains that give +10%, and dark green are forest tiles that give +20%. Some units gain additional bonuses, such as lizardmen and mermen that get +50% from water, which normally gives zero, and elves gain +40% from forests. Flying units are special and have a constant +30%. In any case, the AI decides a full frontal assault is best, and fails to flank me. One group did try routing me on the left, but they stood in a stalemate against a single tile-sized choke point.
Set dialogue sequences happen at the beginning and end of each scenario, but sometimes in the middle when certain events happen. Here Baldarov dies in a scripted event by taking an arrow from an unknown assassin
Scenario six finds the party, one less member, back at Baltia Castle. The objective is to kill the current enemy leader, Geryon. Now while the difficulty of each scenario varies, six was the first without the powerhouse experience sink Baldarov. To make matters worse, the placement on the map forces the party to split up on opposite sides of the map. At the beginning of each scenario, after assigning items and soldiers, the game continues with the placement of player units on the field. I ended up placing three on one side and Mina on the other, forcing her to run around the castle to catch up with the others. I lost a fair number of units, and retreated to the hills in order to stand a chance, and in the end it came down to the individual generals to finally take down Geryon.
I put my main force on the right, and luckily there were hills right there to take cover
At the end of the scenario I freed Tiberon and Calais, two friendly units who defended the castle in the initial chapter. I also gained a shield, and added it to the sword Sabra brought with her, and the cross Mina received as a gift from Carleon. Calais revealed that Warsong was taken by Pythion, and it has a more sinister history than rumored. Its magical powers derive from an ancient evil trapped inside the blade. Not much is said of what happened to Garett's father, but I assume he died.
Kind of weird to talk about him like this without his passing
In the next scenario, Garett received word that some of Baltia's men were still fighting the enemy at one of the forward defense fortresses. Bayard was surrounded, and things were not looking good for him. I lost this the first time I attempted it because I took my time advancing, making sure I cleared out the enemy; however, Bayard's death was a losing condition. The key to this map is to know lizardmen are weak to archers, and charge to Bayard's location as quickly as possible. Even so, Bayard was dangerously close to dying when I finally got my troops to his side.
Lance, the enemy general in the fifth scenario, showed up just as I was working the enemy leader down, so I missed out on the extra gold or experience
Scenario eight had Garett chasing a fleeing enemy. Allowing the leader of this map to escape ends in a loss. In my haste to start the map I forgot to give troops to Garett, and once again Lance showed up and I didn't have archers to take him on. Garett could be a king by now had I been able to take out all those horsemen. In any case, this map was rather simple and posed little problem. Last scenario Calais managed to change class from warlock to wizard, which opened up the fireball spell in addition to the magic arrow she started with. Both seem to have the same damage potential; however, fireball has twice the area of effect. Also, Bayard and Sabra changed into Knights. According to the manual Sabra is the only one that can reach the Dragon Knight class, and flying units sound awesome. Once Thorne catches up I think I'll have him go the lord route so I can check out the Magic Knight class as well as have a second general with archers.
Can't wait to see what other spells come along
With the enemy properly routed, Garett decided it was time for an offensive against Dalsis. The first obstacle was the river Worth, where I should have probably brought more mermen; however, I was feeling a bit stingy with my points. Tiberon was the only unit who had access to them, but the enemy seems better at using them so when Tiberon's class change came up I chose knight over his serpent king class. The former also allows for an additional class change into knight master which has better stats.
Neutral enemies appeared on this map and attacked my units and enemy's without regard
This map introduced the monster type, which isn't directly allied with either Baltia or Dalsis forces. It was fighting its own battle and attacked any nearby unit. At the same time, Lance showed up once again;. As expected by now, Garett and his archers were otherwise occupied, so I had to maneuver around to avoid both the horsemen troops and the krakens, who inexplicably can travel quite easily over land.
The fearsome plains kraken heavily damages a Sabra's horsemen attacking from the hills above
Somehow I managed to pull back from Lance long enough for Garett to reach him. I really hope Thorne gets to see some more action. Another lord with archers would help tremendously. In any case, the krakens were distracted my two other enemy generals, and the goal of the map, for Garett to reach the other side was achieved without a single loss. The maps are definitely getting more dangerous.
Thanks to enemy infighting I got points for all units killed whether I did the killing or not
I'm now sitting at the start of the tenth scenario. The manual lists 20 in total, so it's probably fair to call this the halfway mark. I suspect maps will increase in scope at some point, but each one has averaged about an hour. I've really been taking my time with the maps, but I'm hoping I can make quick work of the rest of the game. While it's enjoyable in its simplicity I'm itching for something a little more fast paced. I'm sure a greater variety of screenshots would be a plus as well.

Elapsed Time: 10h55m (Total Time: 10h55m)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Game 27: Magician (NES) - Final Rating

Combat is quick and especially deadly for the unprepared. There are a wide range of combat spells, but many of them are too inefficient. In addition to damage, spells have an elemental attribute, which all have corresponding shield spells. The player and enemies have equal access to these shields, and learning what enemy weaknesses are is where much of the strategy develops. There many utility spells as well that are helpful for dodging. A variety of enemies keep play fresh throughout the levels. Unfortunately combat is mostly superfluous as enemies rarely are an obstacle to overcome and many times fail to provide a reward for the risk involved.
Rating: 4
By far the most deadly creature, the ogre can kill with a single hit
The most memorable part of the game is entering the spells by selecting different runic combinations. It's possible to fill in the spell book with all spells by the end of the first level. Paul gains additional mana by completing various quests objectives. This is the only progression in the game. Paul's appearance never changes, and there aren't any options for advancing his skills. Overall control of Paul is good; however, gauging jumps and turning left or right when exiting a building are troublesome.
Rating: 4
Strangely, this spell isn't in the manual, and an attack spells in the manual isn't in the game
While the main quest boils down to "go right," there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. Searching every oddity is necessary, and progressing without doing so can result in an unwinnable situation. I'm reluctant to name anything a side quest in this game since discovering and solving everything is necessary for the complete ending. Most puzzles fit well with the world, although the puzzle rooms are a bit misplaced. The puzzle rooms don't offer any risk, but the rewards for getting through them are always beneficial. In the end, there's only one way to win completely though, and only one way to accomplish that task.
Rating: 4
Most puzzle rooms are just trial & error
Poor Paul. Overlooked during the elimination of all wizards it falls on his inexperienced shoulders to defeat the evil wizard Abadon, who was capable of defeating all other wizards. That sounds plausible. There are plenty of descriptions for the various locations, and NPCs are helpful by providing random spells just when Paul needs them. The player's actions don't change the world, and instead feel like excuses to raise his experience (mana) once again.
Rating: 4
Paul left while Abadon was still dying, that's cold
There are plenty of hidden items, and no limit to Paul's inventory. Gold is necessary, and since it doesn't drop from enemies very often, having a good supply is beneficial during the early game. Late game? It's absolutely useless; there's no where to spend it. I learned that nothing carries over when playing through to the next loop, which makes hoarding gold and items useless. There's little way of knowing if all items have been found unless you check them off from the manual. Finding the items that allow free use of spells is key to getting through the game successfully.
Rating: 4
My save game at the end shows how many objects I'm carrying, and spells learned

This is one of the best NES musical scores I've heard. It really enhances the atmosphere. The sprite work is unique; it hardly feels like an NES game. It's interesting to see the progression from level to level as a bright promising journey turns into a seriously dark environment. Unfortunately there aren't any unique features to see in the environment. There's nothing awe inspiring; everything flows well, but no one thing is really outstanding. Exploration of the environment is closed within each level, which does give a sense of urgency to move forward, but doesn't allow full enjoyment of the world. Not that Paul could really live off the current food supply.
Rating: 4
Even the final scene is kind of meh
Final Rating: 24 [40%]

This game has a special place in my heart. It was one of my last experiences with the NES as we bought SNES later that year, and I quickly became engrossed in the newer console. I did play some later NES titles by renting them, but I believe this was one of the last we purchased. While each individual category above is slightly below average (due to the scores skewing towards turn-based RPGs), I feel this game provides a complete experience for any player.
I can't imagine wanting to go through this multiple times right away, but maybe some day I'll see the other endings
I'm not sure this scoring method is really going anywhere. It could still be too early to tell, but for now I'm going to downscale this effort. This is going to my last post highlighting the scoring in such detail. From now on I'm going to include it in a brief overview at the end of the last game post. These posts usually take an extra day away from playing the next game, and was one of the contributing factors to the hiatus this blog went into. These posts are some of the least commented, and least viewed, so it's time to let them go. As always feedback is welcomed.

The month off has been good, but I'm very eager to getting back into it. For those curious what I've been doing to fill my time, I've been participating in a semi-annual mystery game tournament (finals this Saturday), and idling in the chat of a streamer that goes by the name TheMexicanRunner. He's on an adventure to play through every licensed NES game released with an English language version. Something that he calls NES Mania ( He just completed his first 100 games, which are picked by the viewers. Wish him luck in his effort.

Next up is Warsong starting very soon after this is posted. This'll be the first SRPG for the blog, so I hope it's well received.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Game 27: Magician (NES) - Warmed Up ("Finished!"*)

Game 27

Title: Magician
Released: 1991 (US only -- title screen has a copyright year of 1990)
Platform: NES
Publisher: Taxan
Genre: Action-RPG
Exploration - Side-scrolling (light platforming)
Combat - Real-time
Series - Standalone

I'm fairly sure most will remember this ending if any
I considered cutting this game altogether. It's on the edge of RPG status according to my scale. It offers a large selection of spells, stats to track, items and equipment to use, and Paul (the main character) increasing in power as the game progresses. My main point of angst is the character progression. The only stat that increases is max mana, and it only does so after completing quests or searching certain areas. Mana ties into the spell system though, and having more does allow the casting of more powerful spells. It's disjointed, and not in the hands of the player.
The demo holds a secret spell; one of the best things about Magician is the music
Still, here we are with a full post, so you already know my decision. I played it anyway, to the end, although I ended up missing the best ending. For now, this is what I have, but I hope to get a better ending at some point. The main reason I included it is nostalgia. (What better reason?)
I can FLY?!
This was a game I played heavily as a child; however, I always had difficulty. I remember managing to at least the lake level, but the platforming prevented me from getting any further. My brother, on the other hand, beat it at least once (although I don't know if he managed the best ending, or subsequent loops). We seemed to be the only ones that had even heard of it, let alone played it, among our friends and family. Even today it seems an obscure title; one I suggest anyone give a try if interested in action-RPGs like Faxanadu and Cadash.
The demo makes it look so easy
The story is a standard affair. Abadon, a previously good natured wizard, decided evil was more his style, and summoned evil spirits. He built his evil castle on an evil mountainside complete with creepy caverns. To ensure no other wizard interfered with his plans he destroyed them all with ease because no one thought evil would ever come to the land. A newly apprenticed wizard, Paul, was overlooked because he's a weakling. He's the only one left standing between Abadon and complete domination. The game really wouldn't be complete unless I was going to find some otherwise useless items to defeat Abadon, so there are also four elemental potions to create an ultimate potion that will seal Abadons power.
So it begins...
Before we get to the game, I want to highlight the developer, Eurocom. This was their first game, and their only RPG in their 20+ years of existence. Seems the only legacy the game left behind was the musical score by Neil Baldwin. Instead of following the game up with another action-RPG, the team decided straight action platforming was a better avenue to explore. They never returned to these roots. While it's by no means a perfect game, I would have enjoyed seeing improvements in a sequel. It's such a unique and curious game.
Let's get to it! Paul starts out in the town of Serenna. As an apprentice he doesn't have a single spell to his name. He starts with 1,500 gold to fund his journey, which he'll spend on spells, tips for gossip, and to gorge himself on innumerable foodstuffs.
Two minutes in and he's already hungry
The first town offered an easy level to get acquainted with the game. There were doors to enter (most barred), NPCs to chat up (most unhelpful), and shops to purchase all necessary equipment. The majority of the doors, including what I assume was Paul's home, were barred and no one answered when I came to call. Those with signs (e.g. "Ye Olde Guild") transitioned to a selection screen that gave various options: listen to patrons in a tavern, purchase items in a shop, or speak directly with main characters. Wandering characters that weren't completely hostile offered some nonsensical tip (e.g. "all wizards have gone crazy, don't trust anyone"), handed over their life savings, or (after the first town) provided a spell word to enter into the spellbook (a manual process, which I'll cover later). Paul quickly became famished and parched by his arduous trek after crossing his home town. Seriously, by the end of the game he drank 20 gallons of water, consumed 9 whole chickens, 10 legs of ham, 12 crusts of bread, and 10 bowls of hardy vegetables. I'm fairly sure this was all accomplished in a single day.
Uhh... thanks!
To gather information at the tavern I had to ply the bartender by ordering a tall glass of milk. (That's right, milk, it does a body good... got milk?) I learned of a house in the wilderness without doors or windows. From the local gossip I learned a wizard was turned into a statue, and someone near the wise man was holding a rummage sale. The wise man was found in the middle of town, and asked Paul to deliver a letter to "Ye Olde Post" for him. He also offered a flask of magic water, sure to come in handy. I never did find a use for it, and I think it's the main (possibly only) reason I didn't get the best ending.
This is a unique portrait for the game, most are blank stares
The rummage sale actually has some key items
Here's a good example of the game's difficulty. Levels are confined. There's no going back. If an item is missed it is gone, and it's perfectly easy to do too. There's one hint (normal for this era) that someone is having a rummage sale, and it's given after some off-handed gossip about pigs with a fever. This key--only available at one unmarked shop in the first town--is the only one in the game. Leave town without it and you can't complete the game. Strangely, I was able to buy three even though they aren't consumed. Three is a limit on all items though.
All spells have an adjustable power rating from 1 - 4 that increases the effectiveness of the spell at the cost of more mana
Spell scrolls are available in some shops as well, and I took the manual's advice in my purchases and how to handle the hostile warrior on the outskirts of town. As I completed quests (discovered the unmarked shop, spoke to the wise man, and delivered the letter), I gained experience. Experience in this game translates directly to an increase in max mana. Once max mana reaches a certain threshold, the rating moves to the next level. This is the only semblance of progress and leveling in the game. The "Level" on the menu is the game level, of which there are eight (nine if the fight with Abadon counts as a separate level). All experience must be gained to achieve the rating of magician, which unlocks the best ending.
Each level completion is accompanied by a screen transition
One of the most unique features is the ability to enter spells directly into the spellbook if a spell's runic transcription is known. By entering up to five different runes, spells are created at the cost of 50 mana. This allows the player to save money used to initially purchase the spells on subsequent playthroughs. The very first character of the wilderness imparted mi-ol-st to "make light of situations," which turned out to be the light spell. Spells are usually useful near the time of their acquisition, but the light spell doesn't come into play for a couple more levels.
I just remembered I never did use those sunglasses here, probably would have been helpful; oh, and did I mention the game only allows saving 15 times?
The manual also offers some hints. Most item hints in there are the useless kind like, "This has to be good for something," and, "if you throw it in..." A general hint to search everywhere is the only clue I found to a hidden egg and scroll in a hollowed out tree trunk. I suppose the hole in the tree trunk might be enough to pique interest, and the walking past two locations hinted at by description of a powerful magic sensed by Paul without a means to interact with them should raise suspicion. The scroll is the reveal spell, which caused two otherwise invisible objects to appear.
Entering a spell a random wizard just told me about
One of the invisible objects revealed was a statue of a wizard. Using the spell above I just learned, revived him. He told me his name was Belseth, and he was turned to stone by Abadon. His thanks was a scroll, a vial, and I gained some experience. The turned out to be one of the super important elemental potions; this one is earth. The other revealed location is a store, which sells mana potions, health potions, and anti-venom. All are very expensive. I ended up purchasing an anti-venom and health for the boss at the end of the level.
The game has a strange way of scrolling text
Further along were more hostile enemies. The only potential rewards gained is gold dropped, which really doesn't offset the risk and time involved. When I try again I think I'll just skip them all. Learning an optimal path is a puzzle all its own, and one the game intends the played to learn over the course of many restarts. Learning where to place a save is also key to continuing forward progress.
There was also a dry well I fell down. The chest has a mana potion and the fly spell, enough to get out as long as you bought a key
I saved at the edge of a marsh, which I knew from past experience was very deadly (it's also in the description). There are certain key locations where descriptive text scrolls. Sometimes these are innocuous, such as describing the destruction of the buildings in the background, while others hint at dangers and notable features. The marsh was far too large to use my newly gained featherlite spell (without which Paul sinks), even when combined with the fleetfoot spell. With both at level 4 they still don't last long enough. The key was to fly, but the danger wasn't over. Fireballs leaped from the water to the height of my flying character, doing minor damage.
All deadly plants spit poison
In the middle of the marsh is the first boss. It shoots venomous projectiles, but with an anti-venom potion on hand I didn't really have to worry about it. The boss dropped a chest, and while it's easy enough to fly to the exit at this point, the chest contained both a mana potion and a rune stone. Combining this stone with the cane purchased in town (it happened automatically) created the Staff of Power. It has the ability to cast an attack spell (lightning-1 I believe) without consuming mana. This was used to great effect from that point on.
Maybe this really did all happen in a single day
The game continued in much the same way. Walk from left to right to complete each level while overcoming challenges. Talk to NPCs, open chests, and slowly gain more mana. The lake area began with a new attack spell and boatman sitting idly near the shore who neither spoke, nor responded when spoken to. It was only when I gave him some gold did I suddenly appear on the boat. I remembered spending all my gold by this point when I was younger and found some hidden in a bush nearby the boat, which I decided to collect.
Looks like a storm's approaching
The boat trip took me to the first in is a series of islands. The first is rather large and housed a thriving community of hostile warriors. A couple of patrons in the tavern argued over the proper phrasing of the jump spell, which I gladly noted. I also learned there was a warlock imprisoned in Abadon's tower. On the far end of town is where the real challenge of this level began, and the only platform section in the game. Using the new jump spell, I propelled Paul across small islands jutting out of the water. The key was to adjust the power of the jump spell based on the distance to the next island. Spirits of past hapless adventurers haunt this area as well, and fire bolts of spectral power. Halfway across I came to a point that looked too far to jump, and then I remembered I could fly.
At the end of this section was a lone gargoyle that prevented the screen from scrolling to the end of the level. As he flew around he would fire fireballs. All spells have a specific property, and shield spells for each are obtainable. Attacks degrade these shields until Paul takes damage directly to his health (or venom, which degrades health over time based on a percentage). Altogether this created a delicate balance of mana, shields, and health. Add in food and water which depleted over time, and it's an intricate system that rewards preparedness while at the same time provides a sense of urgency.
Taking damage causes characters to flash grey, but a shield will cause projectiles to bounce off with a "clink" sound
Some flavour text; Merl Forest is on the other side of the lake, and has a rather creepy atmosphere.
The next level was Merl Forest. A giant toadstool firing, you guessed it, more venom was my first encounter. Like the other bosses, the screen refused to budge while it lived. The remainder of the enemies in this area were easily bypassed. This left only some short dialogue with NPCs that garnered two new spells. The forest also had a poisonous pool of water. Hindsight moment: this is where I probably should have used the magic water. Further along the path, a strange face set in a tree was sleeping. Waking the tree and using the translate spell gained from the petrified wizard I learned about three doors, and a path through a maze.
Wood-worm treatments? This could be important
The forest is home to the brother of the wise man in Serenna. He acknowledged and thanked Paul for sending off the letter, then warned of the treasure room behind the second door. A beggar who appeared to be mediating also calls the forest his home. I tried to meditate with him, but to no avail. I tried to give him gold, but he did not accept. I then looked to the Help spell. I bought it in the first store and to this point had no need for it. The hint given was "he needs no gold," which I had already figured out. Food is what he wanted, and offering him three portions gained me three hints for the three doors to come. Only the first bit of food gained Paul any experience, and any more food beyond three resulted in a polite "thank you."
Riddling the three serpent names; the last hint said the third is neither Shome nor Venmor
With all this knowledge gained, I quickly forgot it and brute forced my way through guessing the serpents' names. A wrong guess was instant death, but I saved nearby. In addition to the serpents, a trap was laid in the second room. A Ring of Ven was waiting for an unwary traveler. My curiosity got the better even with the wise man's warning, and I picked up the ring. It automatically equipped, and continuously released poison. I could cure it, but it would build up over time again. Beating the game with this ring equipped seems like a fun challenge.
Beware the treasure in the second room huh? Well, I'll just pick this ring up very slowly, and oops it's on my finger
The first door contained an ogre. He had powerful physical attacks that could kill Paul in three to four swings. He was very manageable though as he wouldn't attack unless Paul was some distance away. I remained close and used the Staff of Power. The treasure he left behind had two spells: boulder and power shield. The third and last door was the exit from the level, a secret entrance into mount Vulnar, atop which sat Abadon's castle.
Fangs enough to still kill me
Following the forest was a cave system where I finally found a use for the light spell. Immediately, Paul is set upon by a venomous spider as the game began to ramp up the number of hostile enemies. The Iron Boots spell gained in the forest was necessary to break through a decaying part of a rickety bridge. There's no fall damage in the game, so leaping down pits blindly didn't seem all that dangerous, until I got to this level.
"Alas, your quest is over" is I phrase I saw a lot in this game
One cave at the bottom held a dragon who traded a magic charm for the egg found in the wilderness. No egg? Not sure, but either death or dead end I'd assume. Three charms were necessary to pass this level. Another was behind a puzzle room; the first of many in the game. It seemed a strange addition as the game changed to an overhead view and time stood still. The puzzles involved slowly uncovering the correct path to take to reach the other side. Choosing incorrectly has little lasting consequence, and just wastes time. Exiting and entering these rooms is unrestricted.
The last charm is gained from defeating this animated statue
The last cave had an old woman. Once Paul presented the three charms to her, she turned into a young woman; her youth restored by breaking another of Abadon's spells. Her gratitude came in the form of the vial of water, and teleporting Paul into Abadon's castle. I later found I missed an area by not exploring past her cave; however, there wasn't any indication that I should do so as far as I recall. A system of passages known as the Maze of Doom was at the far right end of the level. Inside that maze was a vital spell, and it wasn't until two levels later that I learned I needed it. Luckily I had a save left in these caverns, so exploring to the spell, writing down its incantation, and entering it into my later save game gained me the SlowMo spell.
A sample puzzle room from the dungeon level; this one had moons that teleport and some blank tiles that return Paul to the entrance
The next area was a dungeon. There were a series of iron gates that were guarded by enemies. Beyond them were puzzle rooms and chests, or more enemies that produced a chest once defeated. Most chests here had an artifact with amazing abilities like +15% to all shields or set food and water to 100%, usable once. The two main things to accomplish here were finding the scroll for the spell twin, and releasing the imprisoned warlock. Once again a hidden door was hinted at when walking by, and revealed with the spell. I'm not sure if Paul can enter without revealing the door.
Mensim gave me the vial of air
The final puzzle in the dungeon was a simple door release that needed to be weighted down with something. The recently gained twin spell was the obvious solution. This level seemed like a bit of a reprieve from the constant worry of draining resources. There were fountains of water which relieved the stress of thirst. The chests were plentiful with food and healing. Only one enemy, a giant rat, proved troublesome and truly not worth the time to defeat him.
You wait here, I'll go get Abadon
The main castle was the next area. Abadon constructed a maze of twisty passages interspersed with large swinging balls suspended from chains. These magical balls cannot be leaped over or around (remember, we're in a 2D world). Instead, the only way to pass them was through combining the SlowMo spell with the Fleetfoot spell. This caused the fast moving ball to slow just enough that a speedy Paul could saunter by with getting wiped out. One touch from the ball or chain is instant death. This was the point I was stuck at until I loaded a save in the caverns to fully explore it.
I can feel the wind from the ball as it swung behind me, and then the ball itself as it smashed into my head without the SlowMo spell
Past this point were a couple other balls, but mainly monsters (including spirits, ogres, and skeletons) that guarded passageways. All led to the same room in the end, but some meandered a bit more than others. It took a bit of trial and error to figure out the best path through by balancing the rewards in the each room. I'm still not sure if I have it down completely.
In case anyone else needs a free pass
All paths converged to a bridge made of fire. Fire Shield wasn't effective. Instead it the best solution was Fleetfoot once more, although I suppose the Fly spell might. At the end of the bridge was a fire demon, easily beaten like the other stationary bosses. From him I gained the final vial of elemental potion (fire). Beyond him were three doors... evil, evil doors. The first took Paul back to the very beginning of the castle, the second to somewhere in the middle, and the last to the most subtle puzzle of the game. Apparently there's an unwritten rule somewhere that a sphinx's name must be unique. In any case, hindsight and all that jazz. I was able to guess the correct name on my second try. Strangely, nothing happened when entering the room. The sphinx only awakened when I tried to leave.
Before looking closely at my screenshots I thought there were no hints for this puzzle
The final level, or penultimate, is an ascension of Abadon's tower. Easiest level of the game. There were exits to the left or right of a long open shaft that offered another amulet, some food and water, and a spell to show the credits.
I'm not sure why this is a reward so late in the game, but I guess many would fail to see the true ending
The last two rooms had a fountain that completely restored mana, and recesses where the ultimate potion is assembled from the elemental vials. The battle with Abadon didn't go very well my first attempt, so I spent some time using up my food, water, and artifacts to build up my shields to nearly 100%. I ended up killing him with the staff of power and shield spells to deflect his attacks. The controls allow for Paul to have one item and one spell at the ready. That item can be a scroll to cast a spell (at level 1 power) so two spells are at the ready, but there weren't many benefits to it that I found.
After a certain amount of damage, I was prompted to use the ultimate potion
Abadon is no more, and the land rejoiced! Triumphantly walking past all those NPCs we touchingly became close to in a way only a game can portray minute long conversations as lifetime bonds of friendship, Paul returned to his home town a hero.
Not sure who the woman waiting at Paul's place was; he's a teenager, so maybe his mom?
If you didn't somehow have the foresight to get 100% completion and gather all the experience necessary to reach the fabled rating of Magician, then you'll get the ending at the start of the post too. I'm going to give it another try, and see if I can't get some screenshots of the real ending at some point. Either way, it's a fun game, and we'll see how it does in the final rating.
After Abadon is defeated there's an option to save, but the next loop only starts if Paul is rated as a Magician; otherwise you get the lame ending over again.
Elapsed Time: 3h50m (Final Time: 3h50m)

P.S. Sorry for the delayed posting. Looking for a place to move has drained me and my time the past couple of weeks, and I probably won't be back to a regular schedule until at least the first week into August.

* - Marked with an asterisk because I only received the bad ending so far. Will update this post or link to a new one if I manage the best one.