Written by  :  Nancy "Infested" Kerrigan (39)
Written on  :  Mar 30, 2011
Platform  :  NES
Rating  :  1.25 Stars1.25 Stars1.25 Stars1.25 Stars1.25 Stars

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At least it's not as bad as the Ultima 7 port.

The Good

The absolute best thing about this port is the music. The original computer versions of this game were old enough that the most you had to look forward to were the standard blips, bleeps, and blorps of the PC speaker. Fans eventually created a MIDI patch to add music to the game, but even those songs don't compare to Pony Canyon's musical offerings.

Particularly haunting is the opening theme. It starts with a low hum, then grows into a discordant, running harmony, interrupted with the occasional off key effect. Something about it all just clicks.

The other nice thing I can say about this port is that it's fairly faithful to the original game in terms of the game structure, though it has all of the obligatory limitations of a port to a console. Less text, fewer commands, etc.

The Bad

First of all, no way around it, this game is ugly. Even the stick figure graphics of the Apple II version hold up better than this mess. The characters have about as much definition and charm as a smudge, and not the kind that you can see the Virgin Mary in.

Graphics may not be everything, but this is a third/fourth generation game, released in Japan in 1987. That's the same year as Final Fantasy. Looking at it, you can just tell they didn't spend a dime more than they had to to get the graphics finished. This stands in especially appalling contrast to the superb musical score.

Like a lot of RPGs of it's era, this game is ludicrously difficult at times and is horribly unbalanced. The instruction manual that shipped with the game is bare bones, telling you little to nothing about what the different classes are and do, or what the implications of choosing one race over another are.

Many of the classes are redundant or overlap in some fashion or another. I don't know for certain if this is a flaw of the original or if this version is simply bugged, but there's no good reason to not fix these flaws if they were a holdover, or at least warn players that the bard and ranger classes are worthless.

The combat system is often aggravating. Particularly, it's difficult to level up certain classes because they can't use ranged weapons. Weapons in general are pathetically weak too. The magic users have attacks that are instant death for goblinoids or undead, respectively, making choosing a fighter class kind of moot, especially early on. Enemies can attack you at any angle, but you can only attack in the cardinal directions, leading to a lot of cheap shots. I could go on here, but I think you get the point.

The limitations in the text mean the clues and hints that NPCs give you are pretty cryptic a lot of the time. In the original, if you asked the right question, you'd get a paragraph or more to work with. Here, you don't have to know what to ask, but you get a line or two at best.

There's a lot of stuff in the game that's completely irrelevant to the plot so you can wind up running around on what are not exactly side quests, wasting your time on doing things that ultimately grant you nothing in exchange.

The Bottom Line

The first three Ultimas were more like giant puzzles than stories.

Unlike traditional RPGs, leveling up only increased your HP, as well as the difficulty of enemies that would show up on the map. In order to increase your stats, you had to pay one or more particular NPCs or shrines, or some such thing.

There was always a city or dungeon that could be raided over and over to produce the needed booty, so it was just a matter of stumbling upon the trove. Once loaded up, you visit your shrine and pump your stats. In this way, you were actually punished for leveling up too much until you could bribe your way to full strength.

If you're looking for a console RPG, there's only about an hour's worth of gaming in here. No, the game takes longer to complete, a few hours if you know what you're doing, much longer if you don't, but you only actually play the RPG part of it for a fraction of that time. The rest is spent on executing this repetitive loop of stealing, bribing, etc.

You might like this if you're a die hard fan, but really, this game is mostly a chore. Spend the time more wisely and clean your bedroom or something.