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Psychotic Reviews: Steambot Chronicles

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Steambot Chronicles; or Ponkotsu Roman Daikatsugeki: Bumpy Trot as it was originally named in Japan is a Playstation 2 game developed by Irem and published by themselves in Japan, Atlus in North America, and 505 Gamestreet in a few countries in Europe. There is also a spin off on PSP named Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament. An odd tie in a puzzle game on PS2 and PSP named Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship, and being one of only four games published by Majesco on the PSP in the USA. A quick look at the back of the case shows the game being marketed as an open world RPG, and that is correct in a way. The game starts off as linear as any other RPG that’s been made and then opens up. Its similar to the opening dungeon in the Elder Scrolls, only dragged on much longer. In this long opening sequence you’ll visit all three of the main towns, many of the back areas, and explore most of the world anyway, by the time its completely opened up. Once an area is open then it may be visited at any time afterwards, and money can be hoarded this way.

There are times where the story in the game essentially halts and time will not pass no matter how many times you run in and out of any city (this is how time passes in this world). You can dig up all the big fossils on this very day if you desire to make a massive amount of money. I did, then I lost it all on the stock market. No, I lied there. But, there is a stock market in this game. Your very actions in sidequests can even open more companies on the stock exchange! Other pieces of optional content can help and boost the price of other companies, so you can commit the most sinister crime of insider trading thanks to these options.

Let’s rewind back to the beginning. You wake up as an amnesiac survivor of a shipwreck, a girl named Coriander runs over to basically save your life. The main character can only barely remember his name when he wakes up, and shows signs of obvious brain trauma. Coriander goes by the nickname of Connie for the game, and Vanilla’s full name is Vanilla R. Beans. The rest of the main cast occupies many other necessary spices for any aspiring chef’s spice rack. Vanilla takes a tossed out, junky Trotmobile, basically an early mech shaped like a classic car. Connie is the lead singer of the biggest band in all the land, the Garland Globetrotters, and you can join! There are many options of musical instruments in the game, and each one is its own rhythm game, with some being offshoots of others.

These instruments range in difficulty, and I found mastering the harmonica you start with to be one of the more difficult ones myself. You can run around and play some pianos that are around the cities, and perform solo or with somebody on the street to make some pocket change. Being in the city does not advance time, so other than the story concerts you can play outside for an hour of real time and save up some stock options, or more instruments, or clothes, maybe some furniture to jazz up your fancy urban suite. Maybe that crazy painter Pablo has some nice paintings to decorate your walls. Don’t forget to add food to your shopping list either, or else you’ll starve to death! Or, more likely, you’ll at least lose the ability to run before you remember to feed Vanilla!

Back to the music I can’t help but feel that the audio was woefully underfunded for a task this grand. I went through the game thinking and feeling that the instruments were all synthed, when it turns out they were all done in a studio! There is a wealth of music for this game, but its spread out just like its world is. There are areas that are dead silent in the game, and the cities all have repetitive and looped music. It does change depending on what time of day of it, but that left the countryside feeling empty. But, the lack of music made those lone treks across the desert feel that much more lonely. Why didn’t the trotmobiles have a built in radio? There’s a suggestion for Steambot 2!

This game has a lot of options for what basically amounted to a lower budget RPG from a company that was a far cry from its glory days in the arcade. Steambot suffers from intense slowdown in various parts of the world, which were technical issues that likely needed more time to be ironed out. Despite the world being open most of the paths between the cities are funnels, so any slowdown on these screens is experienced every time you run through these areas. It can be annoying, especially when you’re locked in combat with a more dangerous Trotmobile.

Technical issues aside this is a fulfilling game that had a lush and vibrant world for its time. The setting is one that feels like a politically fractured area in the early 20th century. Steambot’s enemy design around human piloted Trotmobiles makes this game feel almost nothing like a traditional RPG, and more like a fun experiment courtesy of Irem’s creative team. Irem themselves bowed out of video game development after the Fukushima disaster since their only major title at that point was Disaster Report. Today they focus on their amusement machine market, they’re a big name in the powerful Japanese gambling market. There was early teasing of a sequel to this game in the year following its release, but Steambot 2 was officially cancelled in 2011.

Some of the developers from Irem formed a company called Granzella in the aftermath of the closure of Irem’s video game team. Granzella bought most of the rights, and is known to be continuing work on the Disaster Report series, and a Steambot 2 has been teased as well.

They made a real trotmobile!

They made a real Trotmobile!

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Psychotic Reviews: Hyperdimension Neptunia

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Hyperdimension Neptunia is a turn based RPG developed by Idea Factory, Compile Heart to be specific. It was published by all kinds of different companies depending on where you live, Compile Heart in Japan, NIS America in North America, and Tecmo Koei for the Europeans. It has spawned sequels and a plethora of extra media in Japan. It was remade for the Vita with the epithet Re;Birth 1. Once again the Japanese start messing around with our punctuation and grammar.

The idea behind the game sounds like heaven for long time fans of video games. Imagine the major manufacturers personified as goddesses, and you get to play as one! You play as Neptune, the personification of Sega, with the name pulled from the Sega Neptune prototype of the combined Genesis and 32X. Neptune love sleeping and food, almost too much. The major supporting characters include personifications of the developers and publishers involved in the game. Compa for Compile Heart, IF for Idea Factory, Nisa for Nippon Ichi, and Gust for GUST! The Goddesses can also transform, with Neptune growing well over a foot in height and a couple letters in cup size. She’s affectionately referred to as “Magical Boob Girl” by IF.

In this world the Console Wars are real battles between the Goddesses as they vie for domination of the world of Gamindustri and their own realm of Celestia. Some events transpire in Celestia that lead to the Goddesses descending to their respective planes, except Neptune who ends up lost. She lands face first and suffers from amnesia after that. There is a lot of hidden comparisons and criticisms of Sega and the other hardware manufacturers scattered throughout the story, this being the first major one. There are events scattered throughout the planes, with Planeptune including one where a game obsessed kid criticizes a game company’s history, including releasing a console the same day they announce it. That sounds familiar. The same kid also screams at an executive for the company, telling him the company sucks, then justifying it as a sort of encouragement for the company to improve. For such a light hearted game there are many quips and jokes that feel like they’re roughly scratching at sensitive scar tissue.

In the end, this is not Segagaga. There is no atmosphere of despair and failure surrounding a group of executives and creators. It is upbeat in no small part thanks to Neptune’s natural energy, eagerness, and brash personality. The main characters are unique in their own way, and the supporting characters are quite helpful, Gust’s discount ability saves a lot of credits! Compa is a rather airheaded nursing student who ends up being pulled along with Neptune into a grand, epic adventure after her school is closed due to monsters. Her grandfather is also hilarious! IF is the more rational and level headed group member, helping to balance out Neptune and Compa’s tendency to run head first into dangerous dungeons without preparing themselves.

While the story and characterization is quite strong the rest of the game is lackluster. The battle system is quite weak, devolving into monotonous combos that you’ll end up skipping to get S ranks in the dungeons. Repeatable dungeons are all about finishing them quickly to get higher ranks, then you get more reward money at the end. Skipping the attack animations makes this actually attainable. So you’ll spend most of combat mashing a few face buttons with L2 mashing in between them. This gets old quickly and wears the fingers down. There is usually a grinding dungeon thrown in somewhere, where some dungeons are harder, take longer, and offer worse rewards this grinding dungeon is relatively easy with some great rewards and fast experience. One of the last dungeons I found of this kind got me from level 48-65 in about an hour. I was entirely overpowered after that dungeon.

Items are also awkward. Instead of buying the items you want to use and navigating a menu the party gathers up four ingredients, then mixes them based on whatever item skills you equip them with. Its not a simple equip either, but how many percentage points you allot to that specific ability. I pretty much kept the cheap, low level healing abilities up at the maximum percentage since the healing skills are also percentage based. The one skill I found myself micromanaging was Neptune’s Protein skill. This lets Neptune start the battle with Lunatic, an attack power buff. Bosses die fast with that on, but its expensive to use for every battle.

I do not believe that Japanese developers have properly grasped the concept of DLC yet, moreso when this game’s DLC was releasing. Neptunia has some DLC, including free dungeons. Some of these dungeons are extemely high level, and you’ll have to buy multiple level cap increasing DLCs to make use of most of these free dungeons, which serve to grind out a hundred or so levels. As monotonous as the main game is I know I would never have the patience for that kind of post game grinding. Some extra characters are also unlocked in combat through purchasable DLC, like Nisa and Gust. There are also the obligatory costume and gear packs to buy as well. Given the price of a used copy of the game now you’ll spend over twice as much extra scratch for DLC that will likely never be touched, so I would not even bother supporting this awkward and contradictory style of content addition.

This first game in the series really should only be played to see the story, and as such you might as well play it on the easiest difficulty. You won’t be missing much for this, and will probably save a couple fingers some fatigue and soreness in the process. This game took me the longest to play out of anything I’ve reviewed so far. I started the game I just beat almost three years ago, but found myself bored and moving onto other things only to pick it up for a day or two months later. I finally powered through the rest of the game to see the rest of the story. The monotony may drive you insane and if you’re looking for an RPG with deeper and more engaging mechanics then it is best to look elsewhere in the PS3 and Vita’s library.

Psychotic Reviews: Suikoden Tierkreis

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Suikoden Tierkreis was the second game to be made by Konami for a non-Sony system, but it was the first of those games to be released outside of Japan. Suikoden Card Stories is basically a retelling of Suikoden II as a trading card game and was released on the Game Boy Advance exclusively in Japan. I have no idea what I’m doing in that game, but I do know what’s going on in Tierkreis for the Nintendo DS mostly because of the English language. Tierkreis was the first Suikoden game since the release of Suikoden V on the PS2, and was anxiously awaited by fans of the series since there was about a three year gap between releases.

Tierkreis is a complete and total spinoff of the series. It has absolutely nothing to do with the main numbered series. As a result of this it introduces its own world with its own set of rules, all new characters, and new political entities. There are some familiar elements from previous games, such as the headquarters and 108 Stars of Destiny to recruit. This game calls them Starbearers though.

Some of the most loved design choices from the main series are gone for this game. There are no tactical battles, there are no one-on-one duels. Well, technically there are some one-on-one fights, but these take place in the normal party based battle system. The familiar cinematic system of dialogue and counters is nowhere to be seen. The weapon sharpening system has been axed in favor of equippable weapons. What was a nice way for characters to have more defined personalities was replaced by the ultimate ‘throwaway character’ system.

Many of the plot elements are unfolded through the job board. A number of these end up with the recruitment of more Stars, but some are just there for money making purposes. Thankfully, not all recruitments involve this board, so you still have to explore towns and other areas to find out where people are hiding out. You make most of your money in this game by actually moving the plot forward, as you can turn in these missions at the job board to earn a big paycheck.

This game still focuses on political machinations and the various ambitions of the independent rulers of their respective areas. Unlike the main games there are many different nations, kingdoms, tribal areas, and cities all within the game world. There is a religious, militant, zealous imperial styled country, a magical kingdom, a city of porpoise people, a tribe of felines, a kingdom of swordsmen, as well as smaller villages.

Tierkreis’ world is described as being much larger than just the explorable area, as there are many worlds connected by gateways. There is another tribe that specializes in using these gateways to travel between worlds and use items they find to trade in other worlds. This also lets characters from other worlds visit your own, but sadly the reverse is not true. It would be awesome to have small areas to explore in other worlds while keeping the plot focused on the main world.

This is not completely unique to this game though. The idea of other parallel worlds existing has been blatantly mentioned in previous games, including the first two, Suikogaiden II, Suikoden IV and Tactics. Some stars of those games are theorized to be from other worlds, but this idea was never the focus of any of the stories from those games, just one piece of a massive puzzle. Tierkreis is completely focused on not only the fact that these parallel worlds exist, but how they are related to each other.

The lack of tactical battles really hurts the feeling of grandeur that previous games give. Going into a different screen where there are units to maneuver, tactics, and strategy to earn a victory is just much more satisfying. In Tierkreis you usually make one to three parties and each one gets a couple normal battles, maybe a boss battle, and then you’re on your way.

The music is a big step down from the main series. Short loops make their return from the first Suikoden, but each area gets its own unique tracks. The visuals are quite nice for a handheld of the time, and most characters have multiple pieces of art to represent different emotions and facial expressions. The game even has voice acting! I do not care much for the voice acting on the main characters. It sounds like somebody gave the VA for the main character an extra $20 to say all of his lines as fast as possible, so he is hard to understand since words fly out of his mouth. He also has a lame catchphrase: “We don’t know what’s going to happen until we try!” That might make some more sense after you play the game though. The others range from good to mediocre, but with the game’s budget this is probably better than one might expect.

Overall Tierkreis is a fine game for what is offered here. It works well, the story is a bit simpler than the main series entries, but it is worth a look even if you’re not a fan and are looking for a fun RPG to play on the go. If you’ve played the main games before this may feel underwhelming with all the changes and omissions, but the game is fine for what it tries to do and give the player. The story works well, but the localization is quite messy at times with punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes fairly consistent throughout the game.

Psychotic Reviews: Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean

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Albert Odyssey is one of those pesky Working Designs games for the Sega Saturn. It is a classical styled turn based RPG which is actually a departure from earlier titles in the series. The Albert Odyssey series started on the Super Famicom, developed and published by NES favorite Sunsoft. These are tactical, strategic RPGs in the vein of Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle mostly. There was also a sequel made for the Super Famicom, but both of these were never released outside of Japan. Albert Odyssey: Legend of Aldean began development for the Super Famicom as a side story to the first two games, but that version was cancelled and ported to the Sega Saturn. In Japan this game was released as Albert Odyssey Gaiden ~Legend of Eldean~, and was developed and published by Sunsoft as usual.

In comes Working Designs, finally moving beyond the limited audience of the Sega CD and onto Sega’s new system. This audience would also be quite limited, and the Saturn’s short life would eventually move the company onto the juggernaut Playstation. But before that happened the company managed to localize and release 6 games for the Saturn. Albert Odyssey is the first one that I am playing.

First off I want to say that graphically this game is a slight upgrade from its Super Famicom roots, but it certainly feels like it would be right at home for that system. As a result of the Saturn’s strong 2D capabilities the pixel count is much higher than you would see on any Super Nintendo game. There are little bits of 3D perspective on the world map that the Saturn was able to soup up a bit, but these would have looked fine with the Mode 7 capabilities, much like Final Fantasy VI’s airship traveling. The music is all Sega Saturn though, with nice CD quality audio and high quality, crisp voice acting from time to time. There’s not much voice acting in the game, but what is there is quite enjoyable and fits the characters rather well. Not susprising since Working Designs was one of the first to utilize voice acting for their CD games.

What really bugs me about this game, and this was also a complaint from reviewers when the game released, is the localization. Its not a direct translation with a few cultural phrases, superstitions, and such changed so the new audience would understand them, oh no. Some of the dialogue, especially NPC dialogue, is a poor attempt to garner laughs, chuckles, and such, but it is poorly executed and a vast departure from the original Japanese script. I even saw one of the main characters say “Holy Sh-nikes” to which I replied, “Holy 90s localization!” Another NPC blatantly breaks the fourth wall by saying she doesn’t remember her lines in the script. This was the furthest thing from funny I’ve seen. Everybody calling Pike, the main character, fat gets really old, really quickly. Its because of games like this that have RPG fans so adamant about the differences between translation and localization. This is an example of a localization that just went too far and Working Designs is the prime reason for this.

See what I mean?

The story is a typical save-the-world from big evil bad guys scenario at first. Later on however, there is a twist where you must go on a manhunt, again looking for a big evil bad guy because kidnapping and such. At least this is a bit different. You not only have to save the world from certain conquest and destruction not once, but twice! I wonder what would happen if you failed in taking down the first threat, would the two bastions of evil then decide to fight it out to determine who shall be the supreme evil overlord of all beings of this world? Would they enter some sort of endless Blood War using pawns of little evil underlings for various schemes and maneuvers? That would be some Baatezu vs. Tanar’ri style warfare there.

One feature I do enjoy about Working Designs games of this time period is a section of the manual where they explain what changes were made to the gameplay. Some of the things they did included cut down on the encounter rate while increasing experience gains, decrease load times, fixing diagonal movement, and adding shoulder button support to change between characters in the equipment and magic menus. I really can’t imagine why a game would originally release without shoulder button support for character switches but hey, they were still kind of new in 1996, by five years. This at least gives you an idea about some of the changes, and helps you realize how some minor changes like L + R button support can shave a lot of time off of menu navigation.

Overall this game is quite easy. It starts off impossible to lose but does increase in difficulty as you get stronger and add more members to the party. It never gets overbearing though, and you’ll only really grind for about 10 minutes here and there to squeeze out an extra level or get a little bit more money. The characters are quite interesting from a narrative standpoint, with Pike being one of the most boring ones. He was a child when his hometown was invaded and destroyed, so he was raised by peaceful harpies and carries a magical sword. Eka is a beautiful singer who joins Pike and the two end up getting married and living happily ever after. Leos is a charismatic priestess who becomes renowned for caring about all the people and races of the world, and going above and beyond to help them. Gryzz is a Dragonman who joins after the party saves his people from certain death, he’s young but is a bastion of honor and the party’s heaviest hitter. Amon is a metrosexual Birdman who joins because he’s hot headed and tired of the personal politics of his tribe, so he joins the group without even really knowing them too well. Kia is a young magician who joins the party for their second quest. She has the power of the teleport spell and adds a rather naive young voice to the party.

The gameplay is solid, yet simple. This game is quite short, so if you’re looking for an RPG that you can sink your teeth into, play casually, and beat without much of a time investment then I would recommend this game. If you’re somebody who wants more value for your buck then I would pass on this game, as it regularly sells for over $80 nowadays. The packaging is quite solid and beautiful, with shiny lettering and a much higher quality manual than most Saturn games received, so this game has a crossover appeal between RPG fans and collectors since it looks so good on a shelf.

PC RPG Renaissance Part 2: The Golden Age

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As the mid 80’s came there were plenty of new additions to the RPG scene, many companies would be built or come into their own as a result of success and the quickly growing PC market as a whole.

Origin would continue pushing the storytelling envelope with its own creations in Ultima V. Lord British has essentially been overthrown by his advisor Lord Blackthorn. Blackthorn was possessed and corrupted by power and ambition, skewing the virtues away from the original system of voluntary following as self enrichment and enlightment. Blackthorn has pushed the virtues into the law of the land, causing suspicious behavior and a suppressed populace around Brittania. Garriott really showed how a philosophical system of belief meant to free the minds of a world can be turned on its head and used for less than virtuous purposes.

In 1985 the aforementioned Interplay joined the ranks of the success stories in this genre, releasing The Bard’s Tale, the same year as Ultima IV, such a wonderful year. While gameplay wise The Bard’s Tale was quite similar to Wizardry the focus of the story and combat was more focused on magic than most games before it, which featured it as an option that may or may not retain balance in combat depending on party build. Interplay would develop the sequels to The Bard’s Tale, but since they were forced to change the original intention of the storyline and flow for the series their heart was not really in it, leading to the sequels being considered largely mediocre. Interplay’s heart would instead go toward the development of an entirely new experience for gaming, the post apocalyptic world. In 1988 Interplay would release Wasteland, a popular and successful endeavor that focused on the politics and rebuilding efforts of survivors of a global thermonuclear war. Interplay loved this idea so much that Fallout would be designed as a spiritual successor to Wasteland. A recent Kickstarter for a true Wasteland 2 was recently funded by Interplay’s founder Brian Fargo and development will be between his new company InXile and many members of Interplay’s Renaissance internal team at their new company Obsidian.

Strategic Simulations, Inc. would bring the officially licensed Dungeons and Dragons to the PC market with its series of Gold Box games starting in 1988. While SSI had its own experience beforehand with 1985’s Wizard’s Crown and 1987’s Eternal Dagger they were the ones who won the bid to license D&D from TSR. The Gold Box games would use the storytelling benchmark set by Temple of Apshai at first, telling its story primarily from print media with in game citations for players to read after completing certain events. SSI and its Gold Box series would top the sales charts through the late 80’s through a combination of crisp design, storytelling, and riding on its D&D license.

1987’s Dungeon Master would bring the first person perspective from early dungeon crawlers such as Wizardry and the dungeon diving in early Ultima games and produce combat in real time. This game can be only be described as ahead of its time, as it offered many seemingly smaller details that combined into a smooth, immersive experience. Players were able to manipulate objects with the mouse. All of these innovations combined into a powerful game that SSI would emulate with its later Gold Box games.

Wizardry would also keep chugging along through the late 80’s, the 4th through 6th entries in the series introducing more story elements, but really keeping the same gameplay intact. But after 3 games before it Sir Tech had their gameplay design largely intact already. All that mattered now was to really balance the first person dungeon crawling, turn based combat, party building, and difficulty, really the difficulty.

To close out the 1980’s we have Might and Magic, a series which began in 1986 and continued until 2006 despite the company who bought the original developers going out of business. While Might and Magic was highly popular for its time it did not really do too much differently than those that came before it, borrowing heavily from other RPG series of its day. But it all came together in a tight experience and made its home in the hearts of many gamers.

By the early 90’s there were so many companies which had success behind them and their various series that the only thing that seemed able to stop them was their own increasing ambition. Well, that is partly true. Technology was advancing at a fast rate, early pseudo-3D was gaining momentum and development times were getting longer as teams got bigger. A few new success stories came about, but of those, few were able to keep their momentum as the declining popularity and shift in market interest was already happening.

Origin made it through the 80’s standing taller than ever, and celebrated the new decade with Ultima VI. Ultima VI introduces a political quandary to the player, showing the consequences of his actions in Ultima IV, namely taking the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. Demons invade Brittania to reclaim their holy book and are later taught to share.

Ultima VII would be the beginning of a new trilogy, and set it off with a bang. Now a big, bad archdemon is trying to take over Brittania and only the Avatar can stop him! Ultima VI and VII take some inspiration from Dungeon Master in that many objects can be moved around the world, put in your own bags, or dropped wherever the player desires, giving Brittania a huge, new amount of interactivity.

Other than these new Ultima releases the early 90’s were already quieting down, but one more influential release would come about before the True Darkness set in. Betrayal at Krondor was released in 1993 and as far as I’m concerned, the Golden Age has already passed by this point, and this is the last gasp of an era passed. Betrayal is based on Raymond Feist’s Riftwar universe, making it one of the only licensed RPGs up to this point that was not a Gold Box D&D based game. Despite being a solid role playing experience the times had caught up to this game even before release. The graphics were considered outdated at release but heavy RPG fans let this game slip in as a cult classic despite largely forgettable sequels.

The PC RPG Renaissance: Part 1 The Dark Ages

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In 1997 there was a large shift in the RPG World in general. On the console side the genre was given immense exposure due to the exploding popularity of Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy 7, this game would go on to be the second highest selling game for the Playstation. This series is going to be focused on the PC side of things. Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game was released by Interplay Entertainment in this same year to widespread critical success and commercial support, selling more than any RPG had in years for the PC. Before Fallout released many industry insiders and long time gamers had essentially given up on the genre, developers were not making many due to rising costs and due to diminishing returns publishers had stopped greenlighting them.

Now by its simplest definition a renaissance is a rebirth or revival, which means there came a time before the release of Fallout where RPGs on the PC were king. So before we step deep into this revival it is imperative that we understand what came before, from what heights had this classical age of PC gaming climbed to? How hard and fast did it fall? What did these gamers get to experience in the days before RPGs shifted to consoles?

In the Dark Ages, for the sake of ease I’m going to label this time period as the late 70’s to the mid 80’s when most PC games were largely text of ASCII based. A lot of ideas would be pioneered during this time, deep storytelling came about from text adventures and gameplay ideas came from the earliest text based RPGs. Rogue was highly influential in terms of development ideas. This one release popularized the idea of ‘randomly generated content’ to developers and gamers, leading an entire subgenre of RPG to be labled as ‘Roguelike’. This basic design philosophy inspired everybody, from the massively successful Diablo series to the more niche Mystery Dungeon games from Japan.

Temple of Apshai was released in 1979 and was one of the first graphical RPGs to be released on any PC system. Limitations lead to what became a team effort for storytelling that would become prevalant through the late 1980’s. Text in the game would give the player a section of literature to read in a printed manual that came with the game. ToA was perhaps the first RPG to do this, and set a true benchmark until technology could catch up.

At this time graphics started to make their appearance more well known on the early Personal Computers, before 1980 most games with detailed graphics were on powerful mainframe systems. Due to technological limitations most of the RPGs that came out in the early 80s were simple representations and retellings of the designers’ own tabletop campaigns, mostly Dungeons and Dragons. Wizardry and Ultima would release at roughly the same time, 1981, and both would prove highly popular and influential for the future. Wizardry was built completely around one large dungeon, laying the early groundwork for the modern dungeon crawler. Ultima would also make liberal use of dungeons, but spread them out throughout a world with its own story, the player able to fully explore the overworld before delving into the underground dungeons.

Wizardry would keep its basic design philosophy and continue being fairly successful. The series was the benchmark for character building and those who just wanted to dive into a dungeon and get right to the action. Wizardry would become incredibly influential worldwide, even making quite the splash in Japan where the series would become the most direct inspiration for Dragon Quest according to its creator.

Ultima made a habit of evolving its world, storytelling, and gameplay experience with every new release. Origin Systems and primarily Lord British himself, Richard Garriott, would become the greatest storytellers in gaming history to this point. Many of them even hold up today. Ultima III would really be the first release that truly set the series apart from its contemporaries, introducing plot twists into its story as well as really starting to hash out the mythos for Brittania.

Ultima IV is an entirely different beast though. Where RPGs were largely shallow up to this point (and even after), telling stories centered around ultimate magic artifacts or one stereotypical bad guy bent of world conquest/destruction, Ultima IV would introduce the idea of total freedom, philosophy, and self discovery to gamers. There is a story, but there’s no real evil antagonist at all. The world of Brittania is at complete peace after the events of Ultima III, so the main character is summoned by Lord British and educated about a philosophical system based around 8 Virtues and sent around the world to master these virtues. This adventure is a landmark in not only gaming, but the evolution of storytelling in gaming. No game before it was not solely focused on some evil force or mystical artifact, and few have focused solely on the philosophy of a world and belief system as much as Ultima IV since its release, making the game quite an enigma.

Keep an eye out next week for Part 2.

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