Monday, August 14, 2017

Game #71: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (SNES) - A Game Unwinding (Finished)

A final score is strange to see in an RPG, but I suppose this indicates what quests I've completed
KTOW? Anyone have any idea what this might do?
It was difficult to gauge just how close to the end I was, and how difficult the final maps were going to be. Especially in a game like this where I expected I would need more pearls, a few more years to cure the loveless princess, and maybe even solve all the pyramids to unlock the fountain of youth. I first went to the Tomb of Terror, which was merely rooms filled with undead monsters. Luckily known of them aged my characters. Even the fight with the vampire king couldn't stand up to all the buffs.
I guess I went through these dungeons in the wrong order -- I forgot to return after becoming an Ultimate Adventurer
The Diabolical Maze was a bit tougher with minotaurs around nearly ever turn, although the buffs made even those battles a cake walk. Both dungeons allowed for teleport, so getting through them if you know exactly which squares to hit is rather quick. I picked up both hologram cards I was missing, and 6 orbs in total (the maze had 4). King Tumult provided the Blue Priorty Pass Card, and the title of Champion of Good.
I guess this is just another level of access, but I was expecting a bit more to happen after I drank from it
With that card in hand I went straight for the pyramid on Fire Isle. The only hazard to this area were the terminator enemies with seemingly only a single weakness: Implosion, which has a chance of doing 1000 damage. This led to a lot of party wipes if they happened to kill off my sorcerer. Through many reloads, I pushed forward, and finally stumbled upon Corak and Sheltem dueling. As I entered the area, Sheltem escaped as Corak was distracted by my presence. They both entered tubes, and I followed using the passwords received from Greywind and Blackwind.
A short cutscene showed an escape pod leaving Terra as we followed Sheltem and Corak
The tube led to a pod where we learned Terra was an experiment of the Ancients to create a land commanded by the four elements, where settlers could live. Sheltem was to act as custodian, preparing the land; however, something went wrong when the first settlers arrived. Sheltem treated them as invaders. Corak was created to correct Sheltem, and they've been warring ever since. The party, Sheltem, and Corak flew on to the next experiment, and the next adventure.
I'm not sure which shrines this was referring to
The final score followed the cutscene in the pods, but there was another hallway with even more terminators that I save-scummed down in order to find the statues that gave me the password to provide to the Ancients. I'm guessing the game originally came with a postcard to send back to New World Computing with that password and score. Of course, if I were going to do that I might have explored more to find every secret the game has to offer. But, there's a long list of games ahead of me, and this isn't the version I'd want to do it with.
This terminal offered some additional information, but wouldn't accept any of the passwords I had... a secret for another time
Elapsed Time: 2h49m (Final Time: 60h53m)

Combatant - The Might and Magic series, and this title is no exception, offers a very binary challenge. Fights are either too easy, or impossible. There's rarely any middle ground. Spells offered some variety, although it was difficult to gauge their effectiveness against each enemy. Once the right combinations of fountains were found though, all combat became trivial, and enemies rarely lingered long enough to enjoy their differences.
Rating: 7
The credits were found at a second terminal at the end of the hallway of terminators, and this is where I stopped the timer
Admirer - The variety of classes was nice in the beginning, but by the end there wasn't much difference between the fighters (except the knight who seemed capable of killing even minotaurs in a single hit). Portraits rarely changed to indicate status effects. The only ones represented were stone, death, and eradication. Spells remain locked to specific classes, so it was nice to have extra sorcerer and druid spells. This version takes some hits by the laggy controls. Party composition could take any form really, although I definitely don't recommend a party of robbers. A sorcerer allows for the quickest travel.
Rating: 4
Someone actually tested this game?!
Puzzler - The puzzles are the best part. Some are a little cryptic. Others are downright unfair (I still don't understand the Queen's countersign), but for the most part very enjoyable. I'm sure there's some way to reason through them all. Not knowing if something is on the main quest or just a side quest for additional rewards is a running theme to this series. This makes it seem there are multiple ways to get through the game, but those really necessary bits aren't too bad. Everything fits well into the world mostly because the story is based on being constructed. I went through a couple of pyramids after beating the game, and there were some plainly detailed answers to some of the puzzles.
Rating: 7
This one didn't seem like much of a puzzle
Instigator - The main story doesn't come to light until the end. Still, the puzzles drive towards answers that lead the party to the quest. Notes gathered while exploring eventually detail where the end game is, but the real revelation doesn't come until much later. The hints from the taverns are helpful in opening up the world for further exploration. In the end, the story felt present only for the need to put the puzzles into some context.
Rating: 5
Evidence that this game is less about the story, and more about the accomplishment
Collector - This game has one of the worst inventories, and worst economies that I've ever seen. Constantly dealing with a full inventory was the most annoying part of the game, even beyond the lag of transitioning every screen to get there. Add in key items that can't be traded or discarded, and it's completely unmanageable by the end. About the only thing this game does right is include a way to identify the strength of items. It also might be the first game to include achievements to mark a character's progress. There are 3 lines that I'm not sure what they are for, but I'm not going to play this version for another minute.
Rating: 5
In the final map I found an interspacial tranport box that enabled the party to jump to any map -- still a horrible mess to play
Explorer - Exploring the game was fun, really fun. I wouldn't have played for 5 hours at a time if it wasn't. The graphics and music were well done. The sound effects cut in and out, but weren't distracting. Finding strange things scattered through the world encouraged an unquenchable desire to explore more. The game is completely open from the beginning, and can probably be beaten very quickly, if you know what to do.
Rating: 8
The exposition that comes at the end details the whole story
Final Rating: 36 [60%]

Overall, this is a great game, and I recommend everyone give it a shot (on DOS, or some other PC version). There is a lack of feedback, but that could be a version thing as well. I'm not even sure where I used the hologram cards, if I did, or why I needed all 6. I didn't even use those passwords from Swamp Town, although they probably would have been useful in other pyramids. Even though I've beaten the game, I'm still thinking about it, and that's a sign of a memorable experience.

I probably won't say the same thing of the next game, Ninja Boy 2. It's difficult to determine where in the timeline this might fall (before, after, or an aside to the SNES game), but it's another adventure with Jack and Ryu. This year has been a bit slow on gaming, but I feel with this completion the remaining titles won't seem so long.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Game #71: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (SNES) - A Key Divining

I've really been overthinking this game
This time after being eradicated, and resurrected, there were no negative effects. Maybe due to already going through the process he's now paid his due, or it's random. Moving on, I started to go through the rumors at each inn, but noticed how little they told me. I stopped after Baywatch. Using the red and green keys I went through both dungeons, and gathered 2 Ultimate Power Orbs and a hologram card from each. It makes me think there are two orbs in each colored key dungeon, and a hologram card. Rather than try for all orbs, spread out to all kings, I'm focusing on the neutral king Tumult.
6 keys + 6 hologram cards is nearly an entire character's inventory
I tried to create a couple of characters to hold onto quest items until I found a use for them, and to offload keys to dungeons I've already completed. I then remembered that I'm unable to discard these items. To trade an item, you first have to choose discard, select no, then select yes and pick a character. Problem with these quest items: the option to discard them is disabled completely. This also means even if I found a hireling with a key, I would need to take them along in the dungeon.
The game still surprises me with random bugs as I somehow stepped outside the bounds of the map -- luckily etherialize brought me back in bounds
After completing the red and green dungeons I looted the castles (except Whiteshield's password locked chests as I still haven't solved the countersign puzzle). As I suspected, most of the treasures in the castle led to more gold and gems rather than quest items. There were some ancient artifacts, which got me experience for characters of matching alignment. I also freed up some inventory slots by selling off items that only offered 4 or less AC as I'm running 70+ AC due to mostly obsidian gear.
I'm pretty sure I don't need anymore treasure at this point -- I can probably live off the interest
Now done with most dungeons, I went back through the riddles I had noted. Yud in Swamp Town was the oldest. I tried lake, mountain, town, things that might go up and down without moving. I thought the answer might be something that exists in the game since Yad's answer was. With someone in chat asking if I had just tried ladder, my mind went nearly directly to stairs, which I can't recall actually being represented in the game. So, a small hint, and I received that password, which I still don't know how it'll help though I'm certain it's near the end game.
Did I just find the main quest?
Having avoided the main lands for too long, I decided it was time to fully populate the auto-map on every isle. The swamp land had the most clues. Once a king had 11 power orbs, I would receive something I needed to take to the pyramid on Fire Isle. There I would present the hologram cards. It makes me wonder if the remaining 20 power orbs are spread throughout the other four pyramids. On the Frozen Isles there's a fountain that increases all attributes 100 points, and combined with a well that increases effective level by 50 (which stacks), I temporarily overpower my characters with buffing spells. I managed to tear through three dungeons before the buffs ran out.
There are some statues that say they'll remember me, but even after activating them all I got this same message
Dragon Cavern produced a couple more orbs and a lot of treasure. The Magic Cavern on the desert isle produced the golden key, and the Cursed Cold Cavern delivered the black key. With those I should be able to access the last two dungeons in the swamp land, and gather up the last two hologram cards. I delivered all the quest items I gathered, and returned to the Cathedral of Darkness to get the hologram card there.

This was a lot easier when I took the clues as they were
Again, I was overthinking this puzzle. I thought I needed to apply the key to the full phrase Mighty Moose, which didn't include 'ighty'. I also copied down each letter in the surrounding rooms on a single line, not considering until this time that it was a substitution key where the columns matter. The puzzle of the five heads, however, continues to confound me. I'm just not sure what combination of north, south, east, west, would unlock the orbs. I might be able to brute force it, but time involved is too great. I also try not to do that if there's a clear clue.
I'm just not sure how this applies
So, I feel like I'm staring down the end game. With the fountains and wells at my disposal, it's really only riddles that could hold me up. My next goal will be the two dungeons: Tomb of Terror and Diabolical Maze. Then I hope I have enough orbs to enter the fiery isle pyramid. If not I might need to explore another pyramid for them. Either way, I expect to wrap it up this week.

Elapsed Time: 11h02m (Total Time: 58h04m)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Game #71: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (SNES) - A Note with Rhyming

I'll be honest; I have no idea what I'm looking at
There are many reasons to avoid this version, and I've found a few more. The only reason I'm still enjoying the game may be that I don't know any better, having never played Might and Magic on PC. While exploring the Slithercult Stronghold I came upon a statue that asked who sent me. It took some piecing together to find the answer. What led me to Epsilon was the cache of Quatloo Coins there, and that the Greek brothers Alpha -> Zeta gave me the same coins. In one of the fountains of Fountain Head there was mention of six brothers, and one was lost. Referencing the Greek alphabet, I was reminded of the missing letter, and guessed that.
A wrong answer had no consequences
What's missing from the dungeon, in fact from all dungeons, are notes written on the walls. I only know this as I was streaming the game, and someone commented on the lack of them. A direct hint of a message was present on PC that read "the missing brother sent me." The lack of wall messages has me a bit worried; however, I know others have completed the game, so while uneasy I have faith it's possible. There are some hints in dungeons, from statues and old bones, but the game might be just a bit easier with the full story as intended.
The reward for passing that section was slot machines that buffed might, endurance, and accuracy at the cost of one of the coins
I was in a dungeon crawling mood, so I continued into the Fortress of Fear, said to be home to the Mummy King. I cleared out all the enemies, and was left with a message that suggested I should turn four corners into statues, but I didn't quite understand what that meant at the time. My first problem was I kept teleporting around the place, which reset the statues replacing the energy field in the center of the map.
The real mystery is why the game thinks there's a head here when it clearly doesn't show one
My second problem was that the puzzle is bugged, and doesn't properly reset. So, stuck and unable to complete the puzzle, I attempted to teleport randomly into the walls searching for the Mummy King. Luckily this worked.
At least this sounds like a very important item
Next, I stopped by Castle Whiteshield, to see what I could learn from the dungeon there. Spread throughout were old bones that gave me rhyming passages. They seemed to culminate in a limerick, or I could have possibly missed a line (ordered by myself in what makes the most sense):

-The good King Zealot was quite a knave.
-To his wife and her lover a box he gave.
-His wive's young lover was an Orc named Smello.
-With dark-hound's breath and hair of yellow

-The Queen was shocked by her pine box.
-For the open end had golden locks.
-Smello's box sent him reeling.
-And wooden planks were his last feeling.
-The countersign lies in the Queen's box.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but the countersign is the key to opening the chests in the king's throne room. Hopefully I don't need anything from them anytime soon. With my luck they'll just be a few more ancient artifacts that merely give my party experience.
So I moved on...
I had found a clue that suggested I should sit on the seats of power in both castles of Greywind and Blackwind on their wedding days to the same water nymph. They had both been tricked, and were now locked in an undeath they wished to free themselves of, but could not alone. The seat of power in Greywind gave one character boosted stats, and in Blackwind I received some items. The dungeons, and keys to their salvation, were a little more confounding.
One in each corner, I flipped them over, rang a gong, and unlocked a fourth
Once I unlocked all four centuryglasses, I wasn't quite sure what else to do. I set them all down, all up, rang the gong, and nothing more happened. There were monsters, and a couple treasures, still locked inside walls. I'm not sure they can even be unlocked with how buggy this game has been. Pondering what else I could do, I headed back to Greywind, who told me I had done exactly what was needed.
I guess that means I need to help out Blackwind... or guess three numbers
Now Blackwind was a bit more confusing. One statue demanded 100,000 gold, which was easy enough. Another statue that demanded 1,000 gems, again easy. A third statue that demanded... well, I'm not sure.
To be pet?
I feel like I'm missing something key here. No matter what I do, this third statue always eradicates the character that touches it. I don't believe that's the solution, but then again I realize now that I never did return to Blackwind after visiting all three statues. I'm not even sure there are only three statues as the dungeon is filled with teleport squares that send the party back to the beginning. I'll have to give it another shot, maybe even recruit a character I don't care about eradicating (a fate worse than death). I wonder if I could make one of the hirelings do it.
If only I didn't have to give up a character slot
Either the game is lying to me, or subtly telling me to stop playing this version
So, I moved on, and turned my attention to Castle Dragontooth. The clues to get into the dungeon asked me how many troops survived a final battle with the werewolves, but it only spoke of troop size in legions. It wasn't until I found a life giving statue nearby outside that I could survive two wizards capable of dealing 1,000 HP with a single spell. Behind them, reachable only through use of the teleport spell, was a statue that told me a legion was 4,000 soldiers. With that, I correctly answered and explored the dungeon. It wasn't much, only offering some strange witch's brews that talked of math in the hands of time, and few others that increased my stats.
I didn't have much luck deciphering the question "if you used the key, what might the Mighty Moose be?" inside the Cathedral of Darkness
I finally made it through the dungeon locked by the blue key, and found two Ultimate Power Orbs inside, but I couldn't gather them as they were locked in stasis (my guess until I answered that question). I don't know if those letters on the map are part of the riddle, or merely John Van Caneghem signing his work. There were also five statues I could turn in each of four cardinal directions (Positro, Penetro, Dynatro, Barytro, Proto) as well as a message to "set the lock, solve the key, drink the cup, and I'll hear your plea." I moved on, and cleared out the cyclops cave, gathering the red and green colored keys.
After raising from erradication I noticed my endurance took a dive -- this happened in the cyclops cave when I hadn't saved for sometime, and I didn't check his stats until after I saved... did I mention there's only one save file on SNES?
I pressed on. Tired of my full inventory I spent the rest of that night finding the pirate lady that wanted pearls. After scouring the Fire Isle, I managed to find her off the coast. Each visit, she took one pearl, then dumped my party in Swamp Town. I repeated the process four times, and now have a quest to give her enough so she stops her marauding ways. Remembering a caravan that trained in might and endurance, I brought my knight's endurance up to a more respectable 25 while the rest of the party has 60+.
Cracking the secret of the skulls leads to knowing more about the (one?) purpose of the pyramids
Already suffered the consequences, I figure my knight can take the hit again from Blackwind's dungeon. If that doesn't work I'm not sure what else to try there. I didn't give a good effort in the Moo stronghold, although I'm not sure the ultimate orbs of power are truly necessary. At this point I have over 3 million gold, over 20,000 gems, and enough experience that my characters are in their high 20 to low 30s. I feel like gaining more isn't really gaining me anything.
This plus 25,000 gold doesn't seem like a whole lot at this point--I was more excited getting those pearls out of my hand
So, my next goals are the red and green dungeons, Free Reign castle dungeon, and another shell once the 99th day rolls around again. I suppose I should pick up the golden pyramid card, and see what lies within. Even with the quest log it's difficult to know what will lead to a major revelation, and what garners only more riches. I'm almost tempted to dump most of the gold into the experience fountain back in Fountain Head, but I'll let the bank accumulate a bit more interest before that.
I could always go for that 76th arena win the tavern says no one has done before
With no end in sight, I'll carry on with the various quests before me. That's usually how these Might and Magic games go. With or without notes on the dungeon walls there should be enough to make it through... I just need to finish everything. I still haven't figured what goes up and down yet never moves though. Not a clue on that one.

Elapsed Time: 13h19m (Total Time: 47h02m)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Game #71: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (SNES) - A Port for Whining

This item definitely sounds like it would be cursed in any other game
It felt good to finally make progress. So good, that I spent more than double my normal play time this past week. With all that time, I've come to realize that this port, on the SNES, is the worst way to experience this game. The lag between movement or actions make it nearly unplayable. There are even times when the game will appear to freeze, not accepting any commands (although the mouse cursor still moves), then up to 40 seconds later it will finish whatever processing it was doing and resume the game. Enemies seem to have been rebalanced in strange ways (e.g. goblins are pushovers, but orc warriors will obliterate a low level party two steps later). Hirelings no longer have their own slots, and instead take up one of the six party slots, so they've become useless.
Beating the first quest leads to more quests, these much more vague
Despite all that, I'm enjoying the game. After finding enough silver skulls I returned them to Skull Miser. He gave me a password to get further in the dungeon, and after finding a few secret passages I faced off against the rat overlord. Releasing Morphose revitalized the fountains, which now produced strange riddle-like quests (e.g. "With the presentation of one past ten, two shall be forever vanquished. Their strongholds felled and kingdoms barren, Your title of Champion established.") I now need to branch out into the world, discover its secrets, and decide its fate.
This is going to take a while
In the dungeon under Fountainhead I found a statue that taught everyone how to swim. Using that I traveled along the river, then cleared out the tall grass sections in A2. The map is cut into sections up to F4. The first isle stretches through all of A and parts of B columns. Castle Whiteshield, shown on the map above, didn't allow me access until I had the crusader title (something a paladin would start with, so that's one benefit to that class). Baywatch, the second town, offered up the skills of Mountaineer and Pathfinder, which allowed the party to cross mountains and forests (respectively) if two or more characters had the skill. Using these two I increased my riches 10 fold as there were many hidden caches of gold, gems, and items. Those skills also allowed me to take out many monsters from safety as I fired arrows down on them in the next square while they were unable to scale the mountainside.
Another example of Nintendo of America censorship
The next major quest line I followed started with someone named Alpha in Baywatch, then Beta in the caverns below, next Gamma in Wildabar (which took some time to locate), Delta below that town, and finally Zeta in the Arachnoid Cavern. Connecting all the messages suggested I could find a small island south of Castle Blackwind where a portal opened only on the 99th day of each year that would spit out a sea shell stolen from Athea, a siren of the sea. While I waited for that day I continued my adventures. I found a boat ride to Swamp Town.
This game sure loves its riddles; I have yet to solve this one
Beyond combat, which has either been incredibly easy or impossibly hard, the game offers up riddles that often require piecing together in order to solve. Inside the Arachnoid Cavern were lords that had a math problem involving features of the Cavern including the number of crystals, gongs, and thrones. Once solved, Lord Might (who was the only lord not named directly) rewarded the party with 1 million experience, and offered to recharge the crystals there that conferred stat bonuses for 5,000 gems (I have nowhere near that amount). Each of the castles (Whiteshield, Free Reign, and Dragontooth) have passwords locking their dungeons with riddles throughout the castle that lead to the answer.
There's a general lack of skill description; not even in the manual, I have to guess what benefits the navigator skill imbues, and how many characters should have it
After exploring B1, which had many fountains that temporarily raised stats for a day, I've fallen into a pattern of hitting each fountain before entering a dungeon. It's made progressing much easier, so long as my entire party doesn't get paralyzed/stoned/immobilized in some way. I've mainly been exploring locations mentioned by hints, but eventually needed to start branching out into the other dungeons, like the one near Fountainhead that granted everyone the crusader skill. With Lloyd's Beacon learned by both my archer and sorcerer, it's been much easier to set a point at the dungeon, teleporting back to Fountainhead to gather all the buffs before porting back to the dungeon. I suspect the game will progress faster now.
A snake munches the display when the party dies; I'm not even sure how they died here since I can't check character status in combat, and character portraits don't change with status effects like DOS -- my best guess is gargoyles turn characters to stone on touch
One of the more bothersome aspects to this game is the inventory. After completing the brother's quest, I found myself holding a Quatloo Coin from each of them. They're worth 0 gold, so they might turn out useful for a quest, but take up 5 slots I could otherwise use. Add in other quest items like keys for dungeons, artifacts to return to each of good, neutral, and evil castles, plus the ultimate power orbs that I later need to decide who to give them to... it's a bit overwhelming to manage considering all my armor pieces plus the ability to wear 10 rings and 4 medals. Each character has 14 item slots. I really wish the bank had a vault for these. Maybe there's a pack mule skill that will allow them to carry more.
The way these posts are situated on top makes me think there's some kind of hidden message
My biggest victory so far was fully exploring under Swamp Town, and returned the evil artifacts I found there to Castle Dragontooth. The caves below had some strange trap that looked like electrical fields; however, no matter what elemental protection I enabled, it still did 50 HP per hit. I managed it without many buffs at the time because I had tried to teleport, which failed, so I figured Lloyd's Beacon wouldn't work either (later found out it does). I rested before each trap, bashed the wall in front of it, was attacked, then the trap triggered again after combat before I could move. Those enemies behind each wall also magically aged characters with every hit, which meant I couldn't drag out combat to heal. I admit, I saved and loaded after every successful step forward.
I'm not sure what Born: 2/482 means, but he took a hit and magically aged... characters can die from old age
At the end of two different passages I found altars. I paid homage to the goddesses, and was granted a boon to strength for one and endurance for the other. The remaining dungeon served up treasures as well, but those stat increases were the best rewards. If only I could find such altars for speed.
These were permanent increases, well worth the extra years
With my extra endurance I spent some time in the Swamp Town tavern where I picked up all the tips. One provided the mirror portal password to Blistering Heights, the final town. I noted that I should go back to each town's tavern to ensure I have all the clues. On the 99th day I picked up the shell, and returned it to Athea for a large reward that left the male characters with an In Love state. I then randomly stumbled upon a brokenhearted princess outside Swamp Town that removed that status. Although she remained melancholy, my quest status suggests with enough love she'll recover.
There are huts all over with different interactions, this one rewarded me for donating to each temple
I'm still not sure where the main quest is, or which dungeons might lead to the greatest rewards. I have plenty to explore. I'd really like to find a permanent speed boost to ensure my full party can act before the likes of that gargoyle can lock me down--at least I've found a fountain to get me by. Most dungeons aren't limited to a 16x16 map, making exploration of take longer than expected. It also makes looking at the full map impossible since I'm not making my own. A small price to pay for the hours of time saved. Hopefully it doesn't come back to bite me in some way.

Elapsed Time: 20h46m (Total Time: 33h43m)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Game #71: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (SNES) - A Glitch in Timing

Game 71

Title: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra
Released: Jan 1995 (1993 TG-CD)
Platform: SNES
Developer: Iguana Entertainment (New World Computing [PC])
Publisher: FCI
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Might and Magic

I might be playing this game, at the very least this version, a bit early, but I have a good reason. I have a policy of playing any version at the time of the first release, and that's what I'm doing here. The TurboGrafx-CD version is incredibly expensive and difficult to find, and I couldn't confirm it had mouse support (or if the TG even had a mouse released in the US). As one of the few SNES games to support the mouse, I felt this would be the better experience. I'm not sure why then I decided to use a controller instead, but I'll attribute it to trying out a different experience.
Only one save game is allowed
Like most Might and Magic titles, the majority of the story is in the manual. It follows a band of adventurers as they seek ancient ruins where a scroll was said to reside. Sheltem was once again behind some brewing evil about to unleash on the world. As I began, it was unclear what this story had to do with the party I controlled. Starting year is 500, this game appears to be a prequel.
*Plop*
Every new game begins with the premade party standing in front of the inn in Fountain Head. It's not a bad group, but I always feel better creating my own characters. The roster is restricted to 10, so I deleted the original (getting their items beforehand) in order to create a new full party. To create a character I selected character portraits (race and sex that are locked to these), stats rolled randomly with the option to swap them, and alignment (good, neutral, evil) that only comes into play with equipment in this series.
Unless gnomes are supposed to be green I have a feeling they mixed up the portraits
Available class is determined by the character's current stats. Classes come in a normal variety of fighter (barbarian), cleric, thief (robber), mage (sorcerer), and druid in this game with the addition of hybrid classes of each one with a fighter for knight, paladin, ninja, archer, and ranger. I don't know if it'll become necessary to have one of each. There are also mercenaries in each town. They take up one of the six positions in the party though, so I'm not quite sure what use they are at this time.
I'm not sure if it's just this version, but the party begins in an obscene amount of gold and gems
With the party fully formed (knight, paladin, cleric, robber, druid, sorcerer), I set out exploring the first town. I quickly found Fen's Fineries, which sells additional equipment. I bought a second bow, and outfitted everyone with additional armor (so far I know of helms, gloves, boots, chests, cloaks, and shields--there may be more). The manual is light on information about equipment; about the only thing it covers in any detail are spells.
Noting the location of the temple before I need it
Fountain Head also has a tavern, training ground, bank, and magic guild operating on a day/night cycle. Time progresses only when taking actions, which remains true even when distant monsters appear on the display. There are also fountains throughout that ooze green slime. At a prompt I threw a coin into one, and a group of three bubble men appeared assaulting the party. I fear some sinister force is behind this. Not too difficult, I repeated the process until I had enough experience for level 2.
Getting a tip from the tavern keeper--make sure not to "eat" too much otherwise the character gets "stuffed"
While exploring, the party has options in the side panel to shoot arrows, cast a spell, rest for 8 hours to replenish HP and MP, bash forward, dismiss a character, consult quest log, view the auto-map (if a character has cartography--which is easy since there's a skill teacher near the bank), check the time, and get a status overview of the party. Selecting a character portrait brings up additional details on that character and their inventory. The gem on the bottom of the main display opens the system menu to save and load the game. The gems in the corners indicate elemental resistances for the party, and the gargoyle faces in clockwise order from the left indicate an active levitate spell, nearby enemies if a character has danger-sense, and likewise secret doors if a character can sense them.
HP of characters and enemies are displayed as colors: grey > Max HP, green = Max HP, yellow < Max HP, red = near 0, blue <= 0 HP
Characters that drop to 0 HP or lower are potentially only unconscious. They're only dead once their portrait is replaced by a headstone. There are gates throughout the city that only open with a good bashing. Bashing down a door takes a skill check of the first two conscious characters to succeed, and whether successful or not damages them in the process.
It took me way too long to find the exit as I thought it was merely another door to bash down
The menu changes to combat options when enemies are within melee range: attack, cast, use item, run (per character), and block. There is also an option to set a default choice for each character to streamline combat a bit. During these early battles I haven't found a need for anything other than attack. Unlike previous Might and Magic titles, gold and item rewards from combat are given automatically once all enemies in the area are vanquished. Some enemies, like the bubble men, don't give any reward. So far, these early enemies drain resources far faster than I'm rewarded. Hopefully things balance out eventually. Unfortunately, I haven't made much progress in the game due to a strange bug. I had trouble determining the cause as I couldn't find anyone else that wrote about it online.
The game can potentially lock up and wipe the saved game
At first I thought it was the cart, but I tried the same cart again.
I had to go back through the videos before I noticed it always happened after the same action
I ordered a second cart. It happened again, which had me thinking it was my SNES.
I wonder which part of memory this is...
I then tried on emulator, and reproduced it there.

I definitely wasn't expecting this, but it helped determine it wasn't related to my hardware
It was then I went back to the videos and confirmed it always happened when I used the shoot command after moving, but not every time. I think using a mouse prevents it completely due to timing differences with the input, which would explain why there's no info about it online. So, because I decided to try something different by using controller, I lost weeks of progress, but uncovered a bug no one seems to have discovered or at least bothered to log online. Word of advice for anyone playing this version: use mouse, it's faster and doesn't have this issue (so far).
I re-rolled my party for hopefully the last time as I consider just burning the whole place down
Having some more experience with the game I adjusted my party to knight, ranger, archer, ninja, cleric, sorcerer. I feel like this combination will serve me a bit better. I've already been taking down enemies quicker with arrows fired by the archer. Burning the goblin infested wagon rewarded me with experience and some magical equipment (including a belt of luck).
I wonder how necessary the quests given by the fortuneteller will become as they aren't logged in the quest log
One of the biggest changes to the series is the addition of quests tracked in a log. The game begins with one regarding Fountain Head and the cleaning up the green ooze, and I've been focusing on clearing out the caverns below town to rid it of the ooze. As I explored I found two other quests: ultimate orbs of power are requested by King Righteous of Castle Whiteshield, and 5 silver skulls are necessary for some ritual by an aged man named Skull Miser. As I've been clearing out the caverns below the town I've found those skulls slowly, and expect to have all five by the time I finish.
There are also some vague quests such as this... I'm sure I'll learn more about them as I proceed
Inside the caverns below Fountain Head were bats that poisoned, barrels to search, and completely visible unavoidable traps that taunted me as I had to walk through them . The bats were fairly weak yet quick, and often acted before I could. Their poison, and possibly all poison, drains stats rather than hit points. Cure poison is an 8th level spell, far out of reach. Barrels usually have gold, although some have permanently increased stats, and still some are damaging or instant death. Wanting to ensure the increased stats went to the relevant class, I started saving before the barrels and loading if, say, my knight gained wisdom. A potential problem presented itself, doors I had bashed were shut again when I loaded. This, coupled with poison that drained my might, meant I could "soft lock" myself behind one of these doors leaving the only way out my last resort of contacting Mr. Wizard. Calling on this power returns the party to Fountain Head at the cost of 1 level per character, not too bad at this low level yet still a pain. I think now I'll avoid the possibility by only saving in towns.
I have 20K gold and 300 gems in the bank accruing interest
By the end of this last session I've finally caught up to all I did through all the other false starts, and then some. A game can go so quickly when you have a little knowledge. Like knowing my sorcerer can't forgo a weapon and hold both a mind whistle and fast horn.
Identifying an item is the only way to know exactly what it does, and costs 10% of the price of the item
Now with all that trouble out of the way I can start enjoying the game. This is the first where auto-mapping is so prevalent that I'm risking not making my own maps. I am taking notes of interesting locations, but the auto-maps seem to stick around indefinitely. Making my own maps, while enjoyable, would take up even more time.

Elapsed Time: 2h32m (Total Time: 12h57m) [yes, that's 10h25m of false starts--I'm not sure if I should continue to count the full time.]