There’s a reason this is Wednesday. My article is due by tonight and I have been dragging my feet to play these games. Let me just state right now that I have very little interest in the realm of classic fantasy. Wizards, Orcs, Trolls, Dragons, Paladins, Archers, what have you…not my thing. Sadly, the series of articles I’m writing aren’t called Play Most Of The Nintendo: so I must soldier on.
My first entry is yet another port, and a quick trip around YouTube confirms this is a rather strange port of a completely different game. There’s really not much comparison I can make, but I can safely say this NES version seems like the most fun to me. From what I saw of the Amiga game, it seemed like a first-person flying game with 3D polygons that was attempting to be a little far ahead of its time. Westwood Associates (of later Command & Conquer fame, when they switched to “Studios”) actually received accolades for that version. Their NES version, however, takes all the RPG elements out of the equation and makes everything a straight-up action game. You start out as either a Bronze, Silver or Gold Dragon (all of this I’m sure is in line with the mythology of the game, but I am the absolute wrong person to ask about this). They all have slightly different skills (one is faster, one is more powerful, one has more defense) but I found my favorite was the Silver variety. I was then launched into what was basically a SHMUP (shoot-em up, if you read last weeks article) in a kind of all-range mode. You flew around trying to shoot at other dragons, random catapults and various other things lobbing projectiles at you. There is a quasi-3D aspect to the affair, with the ability to fly at high or low altitudes instantly with a touch of the up and down D-pad buttons. This added a new element I haven’t really seen in a game and allowed the player to enjoy some sense of depth without getting lost in 3D space. This same feature was attempted with the elevation of buildings and canyon walls with far less spectacular results, mainly because running into your environment meant you lost HP (it was actually an energy bar, but whatever). I found myself running into a lot of things a lot of the time which all added up to a frustrating experience. I wish I could say the graphics added to the presentation, but it seemed like a normal US-made game, brimming with uncreative palletes and a perfunctory music score. Despite that, and the overall repetition of the game and its difficulty, I still had some fun playing it, so I can’t rule it out completely. I do think it’s not really in keeping with the spirit of D&D, as really the only thing that it had going for it was the story mostly took place in that world. Being a mostly terrible gamer, I eventually put in a Game Genie code and played the entire game to see where it ended up taking me. At the end, I faced a multi-headed monster that my roommate was able to, and immediately I might add, identify so casually I thought he had played the game before. Nope. So I guess they are doing something right. Try it!
See, I knew it. I knew there was something bad coming up here. All these Dungeons and Dragons games and nary a one had I actually heard about. So, here we have Dragon Lance: Heroes of the Lance, which is based on a series of books I have never read. Apparently, the PC version received all sorts of acclaim on its release. The NES port? Who knew? One of the worst games ever made. I played it for 10 minutes and gawked at the screen. Everything just feels broken and half-finished. I looked to see what the real versions were like, and while similar, at least the characters seemed to move like normal people and combat and switching between fighters seemed much more smooth with a mouse. I struggled to comprehend anything on the NES. My party of 10 heroes were reduced by half in the first 5 minutes. You don’t play as a party so much as switch between individual members to try to fight creatures (like a bald little guy who kicked your shins) and try to pick up items (like a blue crystal staff that burns your arms) and move around a side-scrolling world (wait, did it actually scroll or did I just go in the cardinal directions through doors every once in a while when the compass glowed) that was so basic and so boring, that I was immediately confused, sleepy and angry all at once. There are point and click adventure elements like “take” and “drop” and “use”. But, I hardly knew what anything was and who could even use it. Should I play it over and over again till it makes sense? I’m sure the manual must be a thick ream of paper that I will never know the touch of this human for I don’t even want to put a cheat code on this game and see what happens because my lack of care is so strong and the amount of dense profanity wanting to spill from my lips may literally create a black hole. This game represents every fear I’ve ever had of role-playing games come to life in hideous, banal 8-bit travesty. This bald, bearded man is kicking me in the shins as each of my heroes fall one by one. I watch as my sword plunges through his head: his punches striking nothing but air and I watch my life bar drain little by little. I press B, I press B, I press B. I die. I might have failed in my quest to find the Disks of Mishakal but U.S. Gold, you have failed to make a game that will be enjoyed by anyone. Granted it was 25+ years ago, but you should all be ashamed. This is my nightmare. A man, who can write a much funnier bad review than I can ever hope to, wrote a gem on this flaming wreck of a game back in 2007: Please enjoy, The game? Avoid it like you might avoid licking the floor or eating a gerbil.
Perhaps my PowerPak was trying to help me out, but for some reason I couldn’t get the last 2 games in the Advanced D&D series to work. Pools of Radiance was working slightly, but I couldn’t seem to get into the game once my characters were created, so I watched some gameplay footage on YouTube. This is very much like Bard’s Tale, a game that I used to watch my best friend play back on his Apple II/E. You went around and talked with people, fought groups and tried to keep your party alive. A pretty classic RPG all around. I really can’t say much about it except it seems exactly like the kind of game you love or you hate. Personally, I can’t get into it. It’s too dry, it’s far too green (maybe something that helps the space needed for the game? I’m unsure why everything is so pea green) and it’s far too much an RPG. I think I’m going to give it a better shot than I have had the opportunity to do so this time around. This game is going to take some time and effort I believe, more than I have in me after the eye-gouging terror that was Heroes of the Lance. I would be interested to hear from everyone on what they love about RPGs, especially ones from this era. There was little in the way of visual splendor, not a lot in terms of audio magnificence, but I know these games were wildly popular with certain groups. Did your imaginations go wild with ideas of who these people were and what their story was? Did you work out the strategies to the Nth degree and draw out maps and steep yourselves in the story? There may be a few games in this series that I will have to play over a longer period of time to wrestle with the concept and try to see the good. I may only be able to do it with a select few RPGs, are there any that you would recommend? Leave a comment. I will not put a review on this one because I didn’t really experience it fully, but perhaps another day on a different emulator will yield better results.