Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Game #53: Pool of Radiance (NES) - Sink or Swim (Finished)

I'm done with this game, so why do I need further rewards?
Pool of Radiance wrapped up rather uneventfully. I don't think the NES port was balanced for a party capable of three fireballs in a single round of combat. After the pyramid, the party basically snowballed through the rest of the game. Well, at least right up until Tyranthraxus.
Found the lizardmen keep in the middle of a marsh (forest tiles)
The lizardmen keep had a number of set encounters, but no random ones; however, it was covered in an anti-magic field. Reduced to physical damage it became noticeable that my ranged attacks seemed to have a higher chance of hitting. I easily made my way in and out of the keep to rest, and each combat capped out at five lizardmen; no threat.
I'm... uh... yeah... sure... right after I go the opposite direction
Further avoiding the graveyard, I stumbled upon the Buccaneer's Base to the west of Phlan. Most locations aren't obvious on the map until discovered. Inside a slave pen there I found the missing Bivant heir. I tried to bargain for him, but without a pass to speak with the captain I was denied the chance. I released some animals for a distraction, but they were all rounded up before I could reach the boy. It was during one of these distractions that I managed to corner myself in one of the buildings. Normally a set encounter to fight buccaneers or leave moves the party back a space out of the building: from the corner it's right back into the corner. With no other choice I attacked the full force.
Funny, I was thinking the same thing
Hold Person is a powerful spell, and so is Fireball and Stinking Cloud. Sleep surprisingly useful as well. I returned for the reward, and finally resigned myself to clearing out the graveyard. I kept reloading until I managed a clear path to the vampire. On that path was an old man that pleaded I help him rid the graveyard of undead. He led me to the vampire, and then turned on me immediately. Samir Ahwahl, the efreet, poured out of his bottle and joined the attack... from the back line. After one close battle the vampire retreated to his tomb. There I finished him off easily.
Seriously, this AI can't trace a route from the white square to the pale blue sprite
I searched the site of the first battle, and came away with a lightning wand. The clerk rewarded me, but had no more missions. Zhentil Keep awaited, and according to the map in the manual was as far to the west as I could manage. There I was welcomed, and treated to a lavish dinner. We discussed politics. I'm not sure if it was my negativity towards Cadorna, or always scripted, but the guards attacked the party in the middle of the night. I came away with another lightning wand, and gloves of ogre power.
I'm sure they're thinking that if I can survive an assault on Zhentil Keep, then surely I can take out Stojanow Gate
The only quest left was to break through Stojanow Gate. There's an option to use a wagon and bribe the bugbear guards, but even on the other side, I didn't find an easy way to take out the gate without being exposed. Attempting to return through the gate alerted the guards, and they attacked. Pushing back through triggered a fight with six ettins. After that the gates were open. The only area left was Valjevo Castle.
I know I was ordered to slay him as a traitor, but I released him instead... role-playing a good party I suppose
Up until this point every area was a 16x16 grid. However, the castle comprised of four of these grids aligned in a square. I cleared out the buildings surrounding the castle with various encounters: the castle blacksmith had a good assortment of weapons, there was a laundry room that provided disguises (although they failed immediately--I'm lousy with disguises), I found Cadorna and set him free in exchange for the castle gate password, and many, many encounters with giants (some of the fire variety).
A priest at the temple of Bane attacked immediately with a fireball outside of combat
Inside the castle gates was a hedge maze. There were two gates, each leading along separate paths. One path led to an imposter of Tyranthraxus. I killed him, and then pushed through the hedge, killing my cleric (slain). I tried to press on, but the contingent of eighth level fighters guarding the pool took me out easily without my second source of hold person.
I'd be remiss if I didn't post at least one full party wipe screen
On second attempt I buffed up with protection from evil, empower, and haste. Haste is... special. This version of the game has a very wishy-washy way of implementing attacks per round. Bows normally have 2/1 and darts have 3/1, but not all the time. Shark, my 8th level fighter should have 3/2, but that never happened. Even with haste I barely reached 3/2, and ranged attacks remained the same. Movement speed was properly doubled at least, but reaching the enemy was never an issue. I recruited Genheeris (sic), to help with the assault, but he spent most of his time canceling his spells because his AI failed to find a good target for fireball and stinking cloud.
Ah, the cliché join the big bad option... I'm never brave enough to say yes
The battle with fighters was much easier with two characters capable of Hold Person. Tyranthraxus was a bit odd though. He was completely immune to all magic I could cast (Lightning Bolt, Magic Missile, etc.); strangely, Genheeris was able to land a couple magic missiles. In the end, I had to beat him down with my weapons. Shark fell, slain by dragon fire, but Tyranthraxus fell to a well placed arrow. Maybe if Shark landed a few more hits he wouldn't have died.
Tyranthraxus... you mean like a T-Rex?
Even though I destroyed the shell of Tyranthraxus, his spirit burst through his dragon form ready to possess one of my party. Before he could attach to someone though, Bane pulled him back into the pool for failing him, sealing his defeat.
It's almost like Bane said, "no, really, the game is over, time to come home"
The ending then played, showing each character on a nondescript background. Various art was shown: a progression of the journey. Then the credits rolled. I'm happy this game is finished. Control resumed in New Phlan where I received my final congratulations and reward, a password based export option, and finally the ability to continue exploring the land. That might be a first for a console RPG.
Someone should have recalled this game
The more I played, the more I explored, the more I wanted to play the PC version instead. There are just so many aspects to this game that fail to be reproduced. From the hobbled thieves to the joke that is haste, this is one large disappointment. I'm not even sure invisibility properly worked. As far as I know, there aren't any US released games that used the character sheet passwords. Curse of the Azure Bonds was released on the Famicom, but there never reached the states. A familiar disappointment.

Elapsed Time: 8h15m (Final Time: 31h43m)

Combatant - There's little challenge to the combat aside from avoiding cheap tricks like instant kill poison and level draining. The AI is incompetent. The enemies rarely feel different. Stats do seem to matter, but it feels unbalanced. Rewards are heavily dependent on random treasure with gold and gems providing the majority of experience. Many rules are poorly implemented, or completely absent, making this a very poor port.
Rating: 5
Seems there was some coordination, but maybe not enough play testing
Admirer - Combat icons aren't selected, unlike the PC version. Abilities do advance, and magic-users get to select spells, but there are only a limited number of useful ones. Controls in combat are slow. The same drab color palette is used throughout the game.
Rating: 3
At least we can export the characters for the next game
Well, it takes a password...

... not 1, not 2...
... but 3 screens long
Puzzler - The clerk acts as a good source for the main quest and side quests without any kind of dividing line between them. There are a few puzzle elements, but it's rather light. The rewards are really good, and I was awarded experience every time I cleared just a single band of undead in the graveyard. There are multiple ways to handle many of the scenarios, some of which avoid combat altogether.
Rating: 6
I wonder if slaying him would get me extra points with the clerk, but if I had I'd need to find another way through the gate
Instigator - While light on narrative, there is a story behind most of the activities in the game. I'm sure if I hadn't taken out all the different bands that could have joined Tyranthraxus, then I would have faced them inside the castle. The taverns act as a hub for hints, and the dragon Diogenes directs the party towards the next appropriate task. There are many options to influence the main or side stories that take place.
Rating: 5
I could pay 25,000 at this point
Collector - There are a lot of different items available in the game. Unfortunately, inventory space is terribly limited. I would often toss out potions and other situational items to drag back magical equipment. The economy is very tight in the first hour, and then it's obscenely irrelevant. I had over 200,000 gold and 1,000 gems by the end of the game. There's no weight or encumbrance, and ranged ammo is unlimited, a couple of welcomed changes.
Rating: 4
How does the game expect me to have room to carry all of this?
Explorer - The over world map is the most interesting part, but the locations are well hidden. The music is better than the graphics, but that's not saying much. At least exploration is wide open from the beginning of the game.
Rating: 4

Final Rating: 27 [45%]
Finding what I thought was a random base in the middle of the wilderness
Overall a very disappointing experience, although that's due mainly to my time with the original game. I enjoyed reliving the story and build-up from normal gear to fully decked out magical weapons and armor. What I missed was the full experience I remember from my childhood. If you're going to play any version, definitely find a way to play it closer to the original. While Curse is out, Hillsfar does back an appearance on the list. I wonder if these passwords would work there.

Speaking of childhood experiences, I'll cut The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past next, and then play through Arcana. Both took up a good portion of my childhood play time. I'm not sure why I played Arcana so often, but something about the card based characters endeared the game to me. Link once again doesn't quite live up to what I consider an RPG, and I'll explore that once more. Arcana on the other hand, while simplistic, does meet at least the character development and combat criteria.
Only in my memories


  1. Arcana was one of those (many) games that I heard of as a kid, but never got a chance to play. I tried the game a few months ago and it came off unfavorably as a multi-dungeon Wizardry. I'm looking forward to your write-up to see how wrong I am about this.

    1. I'm not sure how wrong you are, but I enjoyed it. It's a light-hearted save the world dungeon romp that suffers from long and repetitive combats as well as a poor translation.

  2. I enjoyed Arcana a long time ago, but I didn't see any replayability whatsoever in it. I remember it as dungeon crawler: 95% mazes and combat, 5% story, and nothing else. No real puzzles, and not a whole lot of strategy in battles.

    1. It's funny you say that, but as a kid I found many ways of playing the game. One I did without using any of the spirits. Your recollection is pretty accurate. Still, it was fun to revisit a childhood favorite.

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly about this being a very poor port of the PC version. However, on its own, I still think this version is quite decent compared to other NES RPGs of the time. I had played this version first before getting a PC a few years later and discovering the awesomeness that is the Gold Box series.

    I can't believe Old Man Graveyard Magician didn't get more mention from you! His crazy antics and worthlessless in combat kept our spirits high as we laughed and laughed at him until his inevitable betrayal. We knew the betrayal was coming since there's no way a man of such suckitude could possibly survive more than a few seconds in that hellish graveyard.

    I don't know if you've played through all the original Gold Box games or not, but if you're ever itching for more of the same, the Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures File Archive has tons of user-generated content using the same engine (though it can be a somewhat involved process getting it set up correctly).

    1. The game does a lot of things well, and stands up to other RPGs on console in this era, but I can't help to see only what's lacking from the original. Old man graveyard magician was about as inept as the other AI characters, and really didn't stick around very long since I went straight for the vampire. Thanks for linking to that archive, I'd forgotten to point that out.

  4. Pool of radiance is one of the best RPG games the nes has to offer. It really brings back some good memories of when I was studying in another college and dating a Milf... Good memories :)

    1. Not sure I'd go that far. The PC version is better, but this one wasn't too bad.

  5. PoR is one of my favorite games and I always since it's praises when underrated nes games comes it.

    True, it is not as complete as the computer versions, but there's still a lot going here that few other nes RPGs have. The scope and size of the game world, strategic combat, huge battles, and all the little secrets. And while the colors are overall kinda drab, there's quite a bit of nice pixel are in this game's portraits and special scenes.

    The password at the end was for a planned NES version of curse 5hqt never happened. It doesn't work in hillsfar.