Rose Tinted Memories of CRPG's

yakumo9275's picture

After Matt's couple of CRPG articles, I’ve sat down and thought through rose tinted memories on my favourite CRPG titles, time for some armchair commentary on my favourite golden age CRPG's.

Magic Candle, Wasteland, Questron II, Curse of the Azure Bonds + Pool of Radiance, Eye of the Beholder, Bards Tale II, Ultima III, Demons Winter.

That’s quite a range of CRPG’s; we have good old CGA graphics of Ultima III up to the VGA of Eye of the Beholder. So what makes them all enjoyable as each other?

Each of my favourites brought something special with them and they are all pretty unique when implementations are compared to each other.

Implementation Info

  • Mapping heavy games, Bards Tale II, Eye of the Beholder
  • Strategically Combat heavy games, PoR, Azure Bonds
  • Light Strategic Combat, Ultima III, Magic Candle, Demons Winter
  • PrePlan Ahead combat, Wasteland, Bards Tale II
  • Strongly skill-based games, Wasteland, Magic Candle
  • Pseudo 3D graphics, Eye of the Beholder, PoR, Azure Bonds, Bards Tale
  • Top down tile graphics, Magic Candle, Wasteland, Demons Winter, Ultima III, Questron II
  • Single Player Character, Questron II
  • Party Based Players, Magic Candle, Wasteland, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Pool of Radiance, Eye of the Beholder, Bards Tale II, Ultima III, Demons Winter.

Technical Breakdown

  • CGA Graphics : Ultima III
  • EGA Graphics : Ultima III, Magic Candle, Wasteland, Questron II, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Pool of Radiance, Bards Tale II, Ultima III, Demons Winter.
  • VGA Graphics : Eye of the Beholder

EGA in this instance refers to IBM PC EGA and Commodore 64 16 colour graphics (Which is also why Ultima III is listed twice as I played it on the C64 and PC).

One thing they all have in common is the Epic(tm) storyline.

Sequels, Sequels, Sequels...
Not all sequels are good. Magic Candle I for instance is head and shoulders above its two sequels. MC II+III took everything that made part I great and.. screwed it up big time. Apart from stepping up to VGA 256 colour graphics, they were more of the same with extra monotony. The gold box games died after Azure Bonds. Bards Tale III and II were just more of the same as I. Wizardry II+III were designed as add-ons to part I and not really separate games.

The Ultima series is the only game with real progression in its sequels up to a point, Part of that was Richard Garriot's insistence each game have a new engine, hence we have two parts to VII rather than the second part being number VIII.

So in no specific ranking order, lets bust out some rose tinted commentary;

Ultima III
I list Ultima III as my fav, I also love VI but can take or leave every other Ultima. A lot of people rave on and on about how great U-VII was and U-IV but for me, U-III is really the bomb. By the time of Ultima III they had worked the rough edges off Ultima II and honed it into a good, focused game.

Through these rose tinted memories, Ultima III really captured my imagination; I had an entire continent to wander around, with its own individual towns and people in them that I could talk to. I was mesmerized by the scale of it all... And then to find the hidden continent through the whirlpool! I remember writing down all the clues people said in every town, taking copious amounts of notes.

The story unfolded piecemeal, bit by bit as the player explored the land and dungeons. The hallmark of the epic discovery.

I have somewhere in my parents house, old notebooks filled with character conversation and notes on what everyone said to keep track of all my clues and who said what about what/whom.

Magic Candle
Magic Candle for me, picked up where Ultima III left off, there was a unique story, an epic epic epic sized world, an abundance of people to talk to in all the different towns. A real night and day time system, skills for earning money. Its biggest disappointment was its dungeons. Very tiny and poorly done fake isometrics, were the only blight on an otherwise superb game.

MC1 introduced some nice little touches into the game play, like the washed out bridge that needed ropes to get across. Finding mushroom patches on the map to save you spending money on them in town.

Trying to earn money was really annoying, but at least you could leave someone working in the gem shop while the rest go off and do other things.

The continent also felt huge and immersive. Trying to travel from one side of the map to the other took an age making it feel big. Finding hidden caches of mushrooms and the washed out bridges were cool. I also loved that you didn’t know who was in the overland combat, just that a skull bones icon would advance toward you on the map.

Wasteland had an awesome skill system and very open play, and what’s more, there is no dwarves and lots of napalm! The quality really shines in this game, and it should, since some of its designers were none other than folk who worked on the Tunnels and Troll tabletop rule set. Blood Sausage indeed.

Sometimes you wanted to punch out the AI. Some NPC's were notorious for unloading full clips of ammunition when a little less would have sufficed.

Hands up how many of you shot Red Ryder in Highpool? This game had so many interesting things to do, and was probably the first game to really use skills in a way that was not tacked on as an extra. Another well done piece was the ability to split the party up (and a requirement to win the game).

Using the same combat engine as Bards Tale II made the game enjoyable. I’m not sure a tactical 2d icon combat system would have worked as well (Plus you wouldn’t get those neat animated portraits).

Questron II
This is a really cool beginner CRPG, being neither too easy nor too hard. The interface is basic, and with a minor number of arms and armour to choose from, there is nothing overwhelming. It’s a single player game and I remember thinking it was neat to see your glowing white PC icon walk animatedly in each direction rather than being a static square. Its a little schizophrenic in its 3d dungeons in the second part of the game can be quite hard for the unprepared, and are a stark contrast to the early game.

Curse of the Azure Bonds + Pool of Radiance
CotAB Is my fav as they refined the engine, but Pool really kicked it off. So much has been written in the past about Pool of Radiance. The unfolding epic mystery story of "The Boss" was classic AD&D stuff. A much more advanced Wizards Crown combat engine was awesome for tactical combat.

I really loved that the town clerk would offer you a couple of quests and you could pick and choose what you would do and in what order, and just exploring everything from the interior maps to the overland and finding the Lizardman Castle really opened up the scope of the game. I remember being offered the Valhingen Graveyard quest early in the game and how seriously hard it was to complete, that it was mostly recommended you complete it practically at the end of the game.

Some of the odd things (character portraits you created for your characters that you never saw after you created them), were dropped and some things (the 'fix' command) were refined in the progression of the Gold Box games.

The biggest thing they didn’t get correct was the PC scaling between games. You start in PoR as a level 1 weakling. Azure Bonds would knock you back some when you imported, and by the time of the third game, Secret of the Silverblades you were godlike so they knocked you back again.

The range of monsters from the start of the game to the end were so wide that AD&D couldn't scale the monsters up the way the PC's scaled from game to game.

They tried to fix it by starting new series with some success (The first two Krynn gold box games), and the Frontier series (the most overlooked of the gold box series). They even tried to go to VGA and digitized music with the last entries (Pools of Darkness, Treasures of the Savage Frontier, and Dark Queen of Krynn in that order).

It didn’t help that Secret of the Silverblades was seriously lacking, in story and direction / level design.

Pool of Radiance was really something else though at the time.

Eye of the Beholder
Most people call me crazy for putting this ahead of Dungeon Master. Yes DM is a really super awesome puzzle fest, but I never liked the interface. Certainly on the PC EoB had better graphics and sound compared to DM, and DM really felt like a poor ST/Amiga port (and it was) on the PC.

I don’t remember ever wanting to head butt a monitor so bad as when I won this game and got its notorious ending. What a letdown with the rest of the games cinematics, sound effects and wonderful hand drawn vga artwork.

The biggest pimple on this game is its reliance on rations and making you eat all the time. Sure you had a create food cleric spell but it detracted from the game (much as it does in nethack and crawl).

Dungeon Master really spawned its own little type of genre (DM, Eye of Beholder, Captive, Bloodwych, Black Crypt, Ishar, Lands of Lore, etc) The majority of folks being on the Dungeon Master side of the table, me, I like the Eyes...

Bards Tale II
The bards tale games were masochistic games for those who liked mazes and mapping. More like Dungeon Master without the 3Dness.

Some of the clues were pretty cunning, requiring you to look over your handmade graph paper map to see what clues were spelt out in the maze designs. It also liked to throw riddles at you to let you proceed or get access to other parts.

For all its hindered and fifty odd monsters, they managed to share a limited number of animated portraits, which kind of worn on you pretty quick.

Just imagine a modern day game making you draw your own maps! People would riot because the game doesn’t play itself for you.

This game was all about masochism, from mapping to combat.

Demons Winter
I love this game, and I don’t know why, since there is so much wrong with it, I can only put it down to truly rose colored glasses. Don’t get me wrong, its a fun game, but really has some glaring faults. It could have been so much more.

One thing I liked in this game that’s not so apparent in other CRPG's is its usage of items. The dungeons have quite a few items that you need to use in them, for example in the first dungeon you (should) do, there are keys, mallets, serums etc, and each one provides different clues. Use the key on the rat cage, and the rat runs through the wall showing you a false wall. Use the mallet on the coffin and the serum and revive one of the prisoners and get more info. It adds more to the game play and makes the dungeons less boring. It gives each dungeon more purpose than just trying to find the exit or the stairs down.

What I didn’t like was the maze in the first dungeon, draws wall tiles all around you, but the ones you can pass through have 1 pixel different from solid wall tiles... I never figured this out until recently (on an LCD screen) as my screen was never big enough / sharp enough to tell there was a difference! ARGH!

Demons Winter does have a great list of skills, classes and attributes which makes it interesting (Want a fighter with a dedicated kungfu skill?). Several different magic spell systems (Fire, Wind, Earth, Iron, Spirit)

Being a sequel, it was also more interesting to play if you had played the Shard of Spring, it was the same land, same towns, same landmarks, only you had more than one continent to explore.

Another cool event happens in this game, the entire continent freezes over... you'd best be prepared. Time does matter here so if you have not got your characters ready when it happens, you might need to start again (Although this huge event doesn’t trigger until much later in the game).

All of my favorite games have some serious flaws, and all contain things that today’s gamer would just not stand for (taking notes? making ones own maps! preposterous!). But none of it diminishes my rose tinted memories.


Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
What do you mean? I promoted

What do you mean? I promoted it to the front page. You made a duplicate... Let me know what you think happened so we can be sure we don't have an issue...

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)

yakumo9275's picture
Joined: 12/26/2006
dupe? doh! :/ mm I posted

dupe? doh! :/ mm I posted it last night and never saw it appear under the my blog part (maybe I posted in the wrong part...). so I reposted this morning. I also dont see it on the front page.. the first entry I see on the front page right now is "Video: What do women think of sexy female avatars?" which was posted on saturday.. can we delete my dupe then? I've cleared out my cache etc but I dont see a dupe entry. Checking my account->recent entries etc.. I cant find a dupe anywhere..

maybe I am looking at the wrong part of the site to find it...

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
yakumo9275 wrote:dupe? doh!
yakumo9275 wrote:

dupe? doh! :/ mm I posted it last night and never saw it appear under the my blog part (maybe I posted in the wrong part...). so I reposted this morning. I also dont see it on the front page.. the first entry I see on the front page right now is "Video: What do women think of sexy female avatars?" which was posted on saturday.. can we delete my dupe then? I've cleared out my cache etc but I dont see a dupe entry. Checking my account->recent entries etc.. I cant find a dupe anywhere..

maybe I am looking at the wrong part of the site to find it...

That's not good, because Matt's "What else is out there" blog post was after that. Perhaps you need to hit refresh? Anyway, I deleted the other one and am promoting this one now. Check it about 1:45 PM EST on the front page...

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)

adamantyr's picture
Joined: 01/28/2007
Nice spread of CRPG's. I

Nice spread of CRPG's. I have to say, though, that my favorite Ultima was U7.5, Serpent Isle. I remember staying up all night playing that one.

I think one element that's often overlooked with older games is the manuals. In the 8-bit days, computers didn't have enough RAM to store a lot of text. Even with disks, you tended to have terse or direct statements, not the colorful meandering conversations of later games, such as Planescape: Torment. So to fill in the gap, the game manuals tended to be works of art, in both style, visual artwork, and prose. A lot of the games would try and keep the "tech" stuff in one area of the book, or even in a separate book entirely, in order to preserve a sense of realism. And of course, Ultima upped the stakes even more by adding trinkets and cloth maps. Consider that the Oblivion special edition included both a map, a faux-leather manual, and an imperial coin trinket... someone at least remembers what a real CRPG was like.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Note: We've got a cache

Note: We've got a cache delay of about 5 minutes, I believe, so if something gets promoted to the frontpage, it won't show up to non-logged in users for about five minutes.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
FYI, this article has been

FYI, this article has been posted about on Game Banshee. Congratz!

Joined: 02/25/2007
I like the Ultima games and

I like the Ultima games and have every one of them but my most favorite games of the past were the Might and Magic games (especially 3 and world of xeen) but the later ones (6 on) weren't as good as the older ones.

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