Thursday, March 6, 2014

Diary Entry #14: NES Avatarhood and Pondering Radio Ads

               While driving home from work, an ad came on the radio talking about fishing gear. It went something like this:

Female voice: Video games, video games, how do we get Lil' Billy away from all these video games?!
Male voice: We'll just take him fishing!
Female voice: Gee, that's a great idea! Put him on a boat, get him out in the fresh air, let's do it!

               Of all the things that can really pull me away from video games, the outdoors is one of them. I can hardly spend a typical day without playing something, but when I'm out camping in the summer, all I want to do is swim. Random aside complete, let's talk about games.

               Ultima: Quest of the Avatar on NES has absorbed two of my evenings this week. Ultima IV is another much-acclaimed game that many people have wrote about, so I'll just focus on my interactions with the NES version and highlight some notable differences from the PC version.

               My first day was spent gathering party members and seeking the runes of virtue. I cheated in the character creation portion, picking Honor repeatedly regardless of my actual feelings just so I could get the well-balanced Paladin character. I moon gate hopped to Jhelom and Britannia to gather some party members, grinding a little bit to purchase all of them bows back in Trinsic. After this, I headed over to the guild and bought the key for two thousand clams.

Chuckles looks like ghetto
Ronald McDonald in this version.

               I'm used to buying tons of keys like in Ultima V or Dragon Warrior, but in this game, there's just ONE key that opens every door throughout the land. With the key, I now had entry through doorways and thus access to every rune in the game's major cities. Runes are needed to access the virtue shrines, which I need to pray at to become an avatar, which I need to do to finish the game. Runes aside, the idea that I can open any hotel room and prison cell door in the world is a little alarming.

               My second was spent maxing out my virtue meters and achieving avatarhood by praying at the shrines. Certain stats require a lot of legwork and waiting for cooldown periods to end, such as giving blood at the healer to raise my sacrifice virtue, but others can be maxed through infinitely exploitable dialogue trees. All you have to do is say yes or no to a random question and your stats go up.

This guy gets REALLY excited
about apocalyptic destruction.

               Exclusive to the NES version is a literal dialogue tree. Located behind two secret walls in Lord British's dungeon, saying no to him can increase justice, humility, and two other stats that I can't remember. He tips you off to the Skull of Mondain, an item that can wipe out entire towns when used. I'm thinking of trying it at some point, but currently, I'm sticking with my goody-two-shoes avatarhood.

The tree's reaction to my goody-two-shoes nature.

               One of the interesting features of the earlier Ultimas was the line-of-sight perspective. It prevents your character from seeing around walls and certain terrain. An example from Ultima V is shown below: all you can see is the room you're in and the adjacent room.

Courtesy of Mobygames.

               Evidently this was too great a technological feat for Pony Canyon. Certain areas are blacked out, and when you cross the thresh hold into them, it reveals only a totally separate area. It's a really cheap approach to an interesting game element, although I love the idea that everything outside is immediately visible when you peer out the window.

               I'll admit, these are some petty nitpicks. Honestly, I've heard people complain about the four person party, the clunky battles, the simplified magic system, etc, but you can read about those elsewhere. Here, I discuss evil trees and Chuckles Ronald McDonald-esque appearance.

               Now I'm plundering the various dungeons in search of the virtue stones, which I then have to align with altars to get virtue keys. Hopefully I can get this done today. Some obscure Famicom RPGs I need to play next: Zoids, Zoids 2, and Square's Tom Sawyer. Looking forward especially to the latter.

               My girlfriend's currently playing South Park: The Stick of Truth. Honestly, it looks like the best RPG I've seen in a very, very long time. I don't want to play until she's totally finished, so I'll talk about it somewhere down the line.

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