Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Game #53: Pool of Radiance (NES) - Getting My Feet Wet

Game 53

Title: Pool of Radiance
Released: April 1992 (June 1991 JPN)
Platform: NES
Developer: Marionette Co., Ltd. (Originally developed by Strategic Simulations, Inc.)
Publisher: FCI / Pony Canyon
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (on console)

Come to Phlan they said, see the sights they said
Now it's time to return to another childhood classic. Of course, instead of the DOS version I played hundreds of times (not beaten, just played), I'm diving into the console port on the NES. I haven't completely decided how I feel about it yet, but suffice it to say it's definitely lacking. A single save slot is available, and luckily the battery still works in my cart. I bade farewell to the previous adventuring party. There were three default characters, not quite enough to fill the party of five, but I always enjoy the character creation process (it's probably the reason I played this so much).
Instead of choosing class, race, and gender separately, the game lists all possible combinations
I decided on a dwarf fighter, a cleric, a fighter/magic-user, a fighter/magic-user/thief, and a magic-user/cleric. One of the greatest drawbacks of the NES version is the inability to modify stats. I was left to re-roll stats for nearly 2 hours before I settled for slightly above average. My dwarf did max out at 18 (99) strength, but the other two fighters settled for 17. Adjusting the character's combat model is also missing (the aspect I enjoyed the most as a kid).
At least Rolf is still here, although he looks a bit worse for the transition
There's no grand world saving plot in Pool of Radiance. Some time ago, the city of Phlan fell to an invading monster horde. More recently, a group of enterprising individuals have retaken a portion of the city, dubbed New Phlan, and have sent a call to all adventurers whether interested in fame, treasure, or good deeds. They've established a council, have shops, a tavern, training hall, and multiple shrines. The party found themselves working together for the good of the city (or themselves). Rolf ended the tour by showing us the way into the slums; the first area to clear in our quest.
The first thing to do was properly equip the party. They started with no gear and a mere 540 gold to their collective names. I managed shields for everyone, long swords for the fighters, maces for the clerics, and a mix of banded, chain, and leather armor. I bought a couple slings to have some ranged weapons, and found clerics weren't able to equip them. Seems I needed something called a staff sling for them. The council is the hub for quests. Three quests are given at a time by the clerk; to start I was commissioned to clear the slums, clear out Sokol Keep, and recover some old books on old Phlan. I memorized my spells, and headed off into the slums.
You forgot the "yet"
Memorizing spells is a necessity in old D&D. Spells must be selected for memorization each and every time. It's a shame this game doesn't recall which spells were previously memorized. It gets a little tiresome, and I recall it in the PC version. It can only be done while camping, and requires a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Clerics have access to the full assortment of spells if they're capable of casting a particular level, but mages must seek out scrolls to scribe into their books. To offset this, each level gained grants a magic-user one spell to scribe from any spell level they're able to cast. All mages start with detect magic, read magic, shield, and sleep. Detect magic in this version is not useful at all as no non-magical items are ever found outside stores. Sleep is over powered in the early game, and I'm glad to have the ability to cast it three times.
The mix of voice makes this strange to read; stopping by the friendly tavern
The slums proved relatively easy. The game limits the number of random encounters per map. Once cleared I was free to explore the area unhindered. I discovered a number of treasures that allowed me to deck out my party with long swords +1, some chain mail +1, some magical shields, and banded mail for everyone. I'm saving a dust of disappearance for when I really need it, as well as a necklace of missiles (fireballs) that I gained by retrieving a potion for a mage named Ohlo. Most battles were limited to 3 or 4 enemies in the beginning, and easily taken out with sleep. However, I avoided the troll battle in the lower left. From previous experience,  I knew it was going to be trouble.
I didn't bother to argue with this scary looking man over the 1,000 gold price tag for every level
Taking a break from the slums, I headed over to Sokol Keep. In front of the gate I found the skeletal remains of an elf. He had a scroll on his person that the party thoroughly memorized. Using the words from the scroll allowed me to avoid fighting the patrolling undead (a rough battle for my low level party). In the main hall I encountered a large party of goblins and hobgoblins led by a couple ogres. The keep was mostly free after taking them out. The had a letter that ominously referred to "the boss." I learned that the old guard of the keep were bound as undead; their leader had long ago locked them to this fate. Speaking to the head cleric, Ferrann Martinez, I told him of the current reconstruction effort, and he imparted the names of those that destroyed it long ago: Tyranthraxus, Edranka, and Torath. Before departing, he told me of an armory behind an illusionary wall, and of Mendor's library with records of the attack.
Nothing I could do with the floor lamp... the pile of treasure next to it was nice though
With Sokol Keep wrapped up, and a couple more levels under my belt, I decided to have my hand at the troll fight back in the slums. Trolls are harsh enemies at such a low level. I suspect the developers intended a party to use the necklace of missiles or dust of disappearance to make it manageable, but I'd rather save both for later. Capable of attacking three times, and regenerating hit points every round, it's nearly impossible to do on the first visit to the slums without additional magic.
Unlike the DOS version, there are kobolds (instead of ogres) capable of being slept to block the trolls, which are immune
It turned out I was worried for nothing. The trolls were paired with kobolds that I slept, trapping the trolls at range. I took them down with well placed arrows and staff slings, and cleaned up the kobolds before the trolls regenerated back to life. I fulfilled another commission, and then headed to the library. On the way was Kuto's Well, which I'll come back to later. I left the well alone, but rescued some woman in the area. More importantly I gained some treasure hidden in her cell.
Searching randomly for books; ACTUALLY random whether any useful books are found
I fought a basilisk in the library. I recalled this fight, and had brought brass mirrors, but they didn't reflect the gaze of this beast. I shamelessly restarted the fight rather than walk back with a statue for a party member. There was also a madman trapped in the library, but he ran off when I tried to take him back to town. I refused to make him go by force. A garden took up a corner of the library, but it was covered in green acidic slime that I could find no way around. So, I gathered as many books as I could, and went on my way; however, my way was blocked by the specter of Mendor.
Give it up man, you're already dead
I recalled having a way to avoid this fight in the PC version, but could find no way of doing so here. I was stopped every time I attempted to exit the library. The fight took place without any option to parlay. Most encounters give the party the option to attack, flee, wait, or parlay (this has additional options for tone as well). I reloaded this fight a single time as I was completely unprepared the first time, which resulted in a few level drains.
I came away with a number of good items, including a manual of bodily health, which I have yet to see a benefit to having read
One of the biggest gripes I have with the game is the limited inventory. At just 8 items per character, it leaves little room to collect all treasure in an area. This is especially true as I continue to collect useful scrolls, and other items that I'd rather save for later. I haven't fully searched the town, but I don't recall any kind of bank or storeroom. I returned for my fulfilled commissions, and was given three more: discover what item was to be auctioned at Podol Plaze and who wins it, discover who now resides at Kovel Mansion, and assist Braccio with a special task. In addition to those, another council member, Cadorna, had a side task to recover a package from the old overrun textile house.
Braccio ordered Dirten to join me in restoring the Temple of Tyr that was now overrun by followers of Bane
Since I was kind of following the order of commissions, I dragged Dirten along to Podol Plaza. Along the way I cleaned out Kutos Well. Apparently, an infamous thief named Norris the Gray resided under the well. I picked up some new gear, including a ring of warmth.
I didn't even know this was a thing to do
Podol Plaza was rather sparse. Most of the buildings were run down stores or abandoned houses.
Sorry, I mean, "naban doned" houses
I found a hidden shrine of Il-Mater where I was able to rest and recover. I based my exploration of the area from here, but only found an inn called The Pit, and a temple of Bane that I trashed. The auction was held in the central yard. When first entering Podol Plaza, I had the option of disguising the party as monsters, but either my charisma wasn't high (or low) enough to pull it off, or I was really unlucky because any encounter with monsters would reveal myself. Instead, I chose to hide, and only could listen to the auction proceed. A strange man bought a wand of illumination for 5000 gold. The auction ended peacefully, and everyone went their separate ways. I was rewarded for my report.
The price of healing is steep in the beginning, but isn't too bad by the mid-game
The next area I cleared was Kovel Mansion. It was filled with thieves, but most encounters were a single 6th level thief that would try to run away. The mansion was filled with traps, and locked treasure troves. I left them for later as my thief had no way to open them, and my mages hadn't learned 'knock'. I fought a couple tough battles against six 6th level thieves and a bunch of 1st level thieves, but with stinking cloud and hold person now in my arsenal, I easily dispatched them. Actually, my biggest enemy was fighting the limited inventory; usually finding treasure enough to fill me up before I had depleted my combat resources.
This letter found on the thieves' leader didn't seem to alarm the council or the party that Cadorna might betray them
In the wealthy district I ran into a group of orcs with Bane's crest. I picked up a leather symbol of Bane off their bodies, which allowed me to enter the temple without raising the alarm. One quick battle later against their head priest, Mace, and I had removed the evil aura surrounding the temple. I'm not sure how lucky it was, but I landed a silence spell on Mace, so I didn't have to worry about hold person from him. Dirten stayed behind to look after the temple while I looted the room. Good riddance; his AI was terrible. He'd often burn through hold person on enemies already held, and only cast cure light wounds on himself.
There were three treasure hoards of this size that each filled my inventory
Combat is the standard AD&D fare, initiative based turns with THAC0 (hitrate), and the lower armor class the better. Strength gives a bonus to hit and damage. Dexterity reduces AC and a bonus to hit with missile weapons. Constitution gives an additional bonus HP each level. The last three (Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) are either class specific or don't factor into combat. Spells have a casting time, although sleep and magic missile are instant. Buff time for spells like empower (bless renamed), meditation (prayer renamed), and protection from evil seem to last less than they should. In fact, I had slow poison going on my front line to prevent poison attacks from frogs and scorpions, but it didn't last more than an hour. I have a feeling a few of these spells are bugged. Also, ranged weapons seem to have a higher chance to hit compared to melee attacks, but that could come down to randomness.
Dueling myself in the training hall as I'm short 100 experience
So far, having a thief doesn't seem worth it. Combat lacks critical hits, and more importantly backstabbing seems non-existent. There's no way to distract an enemy; they always turn towards their attacker. I haven't tried it while invisible yet, so I'll report if that changes things. The only use I've gotten from my thief is attempting to disarm traps, which is about as useful as it was in Warriors of the Eternal Sun. There was a section in Cadorna's Textile House where a thief was useful, but I'll get to that next post.
How every battle begins
Elapsed Time: 15h12m (Total Time: 15h12m)

No comments:

Post a Comment