Saturday, June 7, 2014

Game 26: Rings of Power (Genesis) - Every Other Game Has Rings It Seems

Game 26

TitleRings of Power
Released1991
PlatformGenesis
DeveloperNaughty Dog
PublisherElectronic Arts
GenreRPG
Exploration - Top-down (isometric)
Combat - Turn based (auto-target)
Series - Standalone



Rings of Power is one of the few games where I don't know what to expect. I haven't played many of the games on my list, but I've at least heard something about them. This one, however, has gone under the radar in such a way that all I really know is it is difficult, and it's easy to get lost. After reading the manual I'm looking forward to the challenge.
The in-game intro supplies most of the story
A battle between Nexus (bringer of a golden age) and Void (usurper and harbinger of the dark age) resulted in the Rod of Creation separating into 11 parts, known as the Rings of Power. That was 500 years ago. Rumors have surfaced that the black priests of Void seek the rings to recapture their power. Thalmus, headmaster of the Sorcery Academy, has put the task of collecting the rings to Buc, a young apprentice.
Rod of Power? What happened to the Rod of Creation?
The manual fed me enough intrigue that I could hardly wait to start playing, and now that I've sunk in some hours I'm eager to get back. I don't want to get too far ahead before writing something up though. Beyond basic controls the manual described each character, transportation methods (and how much food/water they consume), and some hints written from Thalmus' perspective. There's also a small walkthrough, which I've avoided so far.
Game menu screen, unfortunately there's only one save slot
While there's a lot of detail in the manual, the game has done a good job of covering the same information. Every character in the game has some talent for a discipline of magic. Knights have separation spells, which tear apart objects. Archers use force to propel objects. Necromancers' spells have to do with the body and including healing forces. Enchanters have the ability to transform reality. Conjurors summon power from different planes of existance. Sorcerers have control over the mind. Each discipline has a corresponding academy where I'm to seek out a specific individual to add to my party.
Let's get to it!
Detailed in Thalmus' hints are where to start looking for each ring. There's one ring for each discipline, an second ring for each magical discipline, and third ring for sorcery. The game also came with a glossy map of the world, called Ushka Bau, that shows the name of most towns and important locations. To reduce costs outside the US, you had to purchase the map separately (the manual also didn't receive a full color print in other countries).
I just realized I didn't explore that building behind me in this intro (*Plop*)
I noticed the manual available online cuts off at page 66, which misses most of the hints. Here's a quick summary of them all for anyone interested:

Characters
----------
Slash (Knight) - seek out Hack in the City of Division
Feather (Archer) - seek Guildmaster Arrow in the City of Speed
Alexi (Conjurer) - seek Guildmaster Haze in the City of Perfection
Mortimer (Necromancer) - seek Flemm in the City of Blood
Obliky (Enchanter) - seek Xylotyl of Kaos

Rings
--------
Division (1st Separation) - King of Doggania knows more, but has taken ill; don't trust the regent
Advancing (1st Archer) - Queen of Richi may know where it is
Thought (1st Sorcerer) - Red Priest Ak Thul in City of Mind knows of it
Intuition (2nd Sorcerer) - El Gripa, grounds keeper, at academy of sorcery may know of it
Will (3rd Sorcerer) - Keef the Thief, leader of the Thieves Guild in Thieves Haven, may have it
Bile (1st Necromancer) - located with Pain's body? Seek Curtis in City of Blood for more info
Blood (2nd Necromancer) - Motarin (evil necromancer) has it, seek guildmaster in city of blood
Variation (1st Enchanter) - in a tower on Eastern side of Great Desert, search Kaos for more info
Mutation (2nd Enchanter) - ring turned into a woman moving from city to city, start search in Kaos
Calling (1st Conjurer) - speak to old man behind a waterfall, Slice in Division might know more
Perfection (2ns Conjurer) - hidden in a "perfect place..." seek University Library expert on Perfection
Attempting to acclimate myself to the menu and controls
The display reminds me strongly of Populous, but I'd guess the real reason for such a small world view is a limitation of the Genesis. This game was originally made for the PC, and it's possible the developers needed to reduce the screen area to avoid slowdown. In any case, I've gotten used to it. Orienting myself, I found I was standing right next to the Academy of Sorcery.
The helpful controller displayed in the upper right can be toggled on and off
I met up with Thalmus inside. He taught me and five other students the spell of Stun. After class, he told me to speak to Ak Thul at the temple, and return once I'd finished there. From my notes I noticed Ak Thul was supposed to know something about the Ring of Thought; however, I spoke to the priest and learned nothing knew. I received a Tome of Nexus and nothing more.
Well, what does this have to do with anything?
One of the biggest difficulties I've had with the game is identifying which character I'm addressing. The game uses a menu of topics; however, unlike Ultima IV, there's no option to ask for a character's name. Many times the character will eventually identify themselves; that wasn't the case with Ak Thul... I'm still not sure I actually spoke to him.
Maybe I'm being cynical, but I get the feeling a twist is on the horizon
The town had general stores which either sold trade goods or food and water. Food and water are consumed constantly. The manual suggests different rates depending on the terrain and type of travel. A travel agent can sell dinos to help reduce food and water usage over land, or boats and ships that allow sea voyages. There are also dragons that allow flight, but consume a greater amount of food and water. I'm not sure what happens if I were to run out of either as the manual didn't go into that kind of detail.
Do you always leave your things on the floor?
The rest of the village consisted of houses with commoners, a city council office where a crazy man was behind bars, and taverns and inns where I could grab a drink or rest in a bed. It's possible to heal at the inns, but I noticed HP and MP replenish over time as well. I wonder if this is the first case of auto-regeneration in a console RPG. Eventually I returned to Thalmus, and he gave me a quest to retrieve the academy symbol from a hermit.
You mean kill him, don't you?
I've learned that dialogue isn't always unique to each character. Either an entire area/town or class of characters have a generic set of text. Characters with something unique to say offer it first before devolving into the more generic script. Many times though that script really doesn't fit the character at all.
Talk about an out of character experience
As expected from the developers of Keef the Thief, there's a lot humor injected into the game that doesn't fit the game world. The crazy man locked up seems to be a personification of one of the developers. He has a lot of dialogue about reprogramming the game, and is especially fearful of the Buc1.bc file.
I'm not sure if this is an in-joke, or if I should consider it a hint for the game
On my way to meet up with the hermit I ran into quite a number of random battles. I quickly learned one thing, I'm not ready to fight any of them. Combat actions occur either automatically or manually. I've set it to manual mode as it gives me the most control. Even then, I only control which spell to cast. Movement is automated, and I'm not sure how it is determined. There are four different general combat settings for the party that range from high powered attacks focused on one enemy at a time to low powered attacks that are used on the closest enemy.
This is a 6th level spell, cast by an enemy randomly encountered inside the first town
Another random battle I have no chance of beating
At least the hermit was a quick fight. I've had to avoid all fights aside from those directly involved in the main quest. I think things will continue like this until I get a couple more companions. When I returned with the eye Thalmus invited everyone to join him in the main hall to discuss the findings of his most recent research into the Rings of Power. As he explained that each of us should form a party, and to be wary of the black priests of Void also seeking the rings, two of the students (Darius and Fezzik) attacked Thalmus and killed him.
Is that a command?
If only there were some way we could have known! I mean if there were only some way we could have realized evil lurked in the hearts of these two students. I could have warned Thalmus.
Oh wait, I did...
I wonder if I could get away with attacking them early...
With Thalmus' last word I was transported outside the City of Division, home of the knights of separation. I was instructed to speak with Hack to recruit Slash. Instead of releasing his student from his studies, I was first tasked with finding a black priest, Scourge. This Scourage had a key that unlocked a chest with the knight's symbol. As soon as I showed this to Hack, Slash joined my party.
When I arrived in Division I earned enough experience to gain a level
Quests in this game aren't tracked in any sort of journal, and the triggers aren't always obvious. In fact, it seems possible to skip around some quest lines. For example, one of the knights in town told me I could find Scourge by asking a merchant named Rashiid; however, he told me this even before I spoke to Hack. Dialogue does change over time though, as I received new clues from some characters after recruiting Slash.
All options are available for any conversation, bribe gives 10 gold to the character, but the result is always unknown
Beyond the overworld map and indoor areas, it's possible to zoom into every square outside. This allows closer examination of the surrounding area. Most of the time there's nothing to see, but there are a few instances where closer examination reveals hidden passages. It was in one of these that Scourge was hiding. Lucky for me he was alone, as I'd randomly faced him outdoors while he was accompanied by other thugs.
'Show' automatically chooses an item they're interested in, or tells me they're not interested in anything
My next suggested stop was to recruit the archer character from the City of Speed; however, that's clear across the continent. The City of Blood, the next town over, seems much better to visit after Division. A necromancer that can assist in keeping me alive would be an excellent addition at this point. Unfortunately, getting to the headmaster is a bit difficult as he's too wrapped up in a private funeral.
The search command is very handy as it gives an overview of everything available while indoors, more games should have this
In order to gain entrance to speak with Flemm, I was asked by the doorman to help him out by acting as courier for the corpse upstairs. Turns out he's too busy getting ready for a date to take it out to the grave site of Tsalami. It's strange that even though the game tracks day and night, day-to-day activities are all the same. Flemm is always busy, and the guy guarding the door always has an upcoming date. I've learned the grave's location is up on some hill to the south of town, but I haven't located the grave.
Hints are very plentiful, I'm not sure how anyone could get lost
A lot of the hints I've been getting come along with coordinates that currently don't have any meaning. I learned of a sextant hidden behind a waterfall near the city of Cathedral, which is supposed to give me the coordinates of my current location, but the city is also on the other side of the continent. A casino at 21' 24' is supposed to have a clue about Ring of Blood, Curtis is near town at 16' 7" 16' 4" and is supposed to know of one of the rings, and lastly the grave I seek is at 15' 6" 18' 3". I'm torn between going out of my way for the sextant now, or continue searching all the graves until I stumble upon Tsalami's.
Beyond random combat, there are also encounters like this that request gold... refusal turns the "friendly" dialogue into combat

The time really flew while playing and exploring, but I think I have a handle on the game now. I should progress much faster going forward. A couple of random observations so far leave me with mixed feelings about the game. First, there's no equipment, only spells to purchase. At the same time I've been strapped for cash since I didn't invest in trade goods right away, and there's a constant need to purchase food and water (at least I think it's constant as I'm unsure what happens if I try to go without it). Second, I don't really see any stats beyond HP and MP. Supposedly spells will do more damage as I level, but I didn't notice a difference between 1st and 2nd.
I'm pretty sure this guy lies, as I just fought him and am hurt
I have many other clues and leads to go off for many more hours. There's a waterfall at 30' 1" 5' 4" where I'm to find a lead for the Ring of Calling. There's an expert on the Ring of Division at Cathedral. A sorcerer at the City of Mind will tell me more about one of the rings if I return with the Mirage spell (purchased at Magic B Us... I swear I've heard that joke before). I need to get a handle on the trade good situation to build up some of my funds though if I'm to get any further.
I wouldn't mind if the in-game map was the actual game world
Elapsed Time: 2h40m (Total Time: 2h40m)


Edit: Raifield noted that the images look a little blurry. This is probably due to my capture hardware upscaling all images to 720 x 480. If I choose any other resolution it doesn't detect the source unfortunately. First is the original, followed by a conversion to 320 x 224 (standard Genesis resolution).

Let me know which is preferred, and I can add in a step to convert the images if necessary. I don't think there's much difference when viewing them on the blog, but if you click on the image you get a full resolution display.

17 comments:

  1. Fro what I've read, since I know pretty much nothing about this game beforehand, is the whole world is pretty much open from the start. And the rings can be completed in out of order. Where you may run I to a problem figuring out something for one , you can go after another and maybe find clues for the one you were looking for etc. supposedly a very non linear game. I also perused a FAQ and saw someone had a trade guide for items in each town, so appently it is something you can track and record for trading purposes.

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    1. Yeah, I've got a handle on how the trading system works now. Turns out there are merchants that give better prices for trade goods than the ones who actually sell the goods of each town. Should be good on funds now, but food and water seem to sap so quickly I'm not sure how I could ever afford a dragon (which supposedly saps 40 times as much... not that I've found a place to purchase one).

      My current difficulty only stems from the random encounters capable of wiping out my party before I can flee. I guess when the manual suggests not traveling at night I really should listen.

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  2. I've been waiting for you to reach this one! Seeing this brings back memories. It was a very ambitious game, the world felt really huge and interesting back then.

    From what I remember, I think running out of food just makes you lose health over time (until death).

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    1. Very ambitious is right. I've been a validated for my opinion regarding the small display, as I've noticed in quite a few places the game already slows down quite a bit.

      Good to know about the food. I ended up getting very close to running out and many warning messages, but nothing about the consequences.

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  3. I've never heard of this one, and it certainly looks confusing. It also looks quite ambitious given the Genesis' technical limitations; perhaps in that regard, it was a precursor to Naughty Dog's later, critically acclaimed games, the "Jack and Daxter" series, the "Uncharted" series, and "The Last of Us".

    I assume some legal or rights problems prevented this one from being included in the Genesis collection games; it certainly looks like it deserved to be in them.

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    1. It's interesting to see Naughty Dog to shift away from RPGs after Keef the Thief and Rings of Power. Seems that era ended once they broke relations with EA. I don't think either game really hit it big. So far, Rings of Power is pretty fun, but I can see how frustrating it is since it's possible to die from a single combat.

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  4. The graphics sure look muddy. Are they that blurry in this game or is it just an effect of the screenshots? Sword of Vemillion looked to be a lot more clear than this. This game looks like I'd be developing a migraine in about twenty minutes.

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    1. The main difference is Sword of Vermilion was on the Wii, and I have that connected via s-video. All my screenshots are automatically resized by my capture hardware unfortunately. I could resize the images back down to native resolution. As a comparison here's an original followed by a resize:

      http://i.imgur.com/CAm2IbQ.png
      http://i.imgur.com/qzYK40f.png

      The whole display has a very constrained feeling though, I'm not sure we can get around that. I'll edit these into the post and see how they display on the page.

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  5. For the pictures, the top one (original) is the clearer picture for me. I noticed that they were blurry, too, but Raifield beat me to the comments ;)

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    1. Thanks, I've tried something a bit different in the next post (just went up). Let me know which is preferred.

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  6. I remember loving this on the genesis. My first open world rpg to explore.

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    1. I can't imagine there were many open worlds on the Genesis. Seems like a difficult task to set out on, let alone complete.

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  7. "This game was originally made for the PC, and it's possible the developers needed to reduce the screen area to avoid slowdown."

    Are you sure? I thought this was solely developed for the Genesis...?

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    1. Yep. I'm not sure how far into development the platform focus shifted, but it seems far enough to stand out as a limiting factor according to this interview with Naughty Dog: http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/10/04/rising-to-greatness-the-history-of-naughty-dog?page=3

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  8. Video game titles are actually close to because the 1980s and also since that time, there were a lot of multi-colored and even just abnormal game titles which have been competed.

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  9. I love there's still people playing this, one of my favourite games of all time!
    Small hint for gold, the merchant at the starting town sells gems, you can bribe him to lower the price down to 64 gold per gem, stock them up until you have about 600 gold left and when thalmus sends you in Division you can buy a ship for about 500 gold and travel north to the town of commerce where you can sell gems for around 500 gold EACH. Rinse and repeat when needed.
    Just know that if you do even only a second trip to Mind buying gems, and back to Commerce to sell them you reach the 15k gold gap.

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    1. That was my route for gold for most of the game, didn't have to worry about funds at all.

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