Before I begin relating the beginning of my adventures on distant Serpent Isle, I should obviously start by mentionning the game manual: “Beyond the Serpent Pillars”
Needless that it is written as usual from an in-game perspective, with the “Mad Mage” Erstam being the author of this book.
Now this book is very interesting due to the unique perspective it offers. For starters because of how it relates a different world from Britannia, but also because the History of the old Sosaria as being told in this book feels obviously quite different from the one we usually get on Britannians manuals (you know that saying about truth depending on one’s own point of view, right?).
In some ways I guess you could liken this manual with Batlin’s Fellowship, due to how Ultima VII’s manual really was little more than a propaganda book that brougt up a lot of false ideas. I do feel it is somewhat different however, because while Batlin blatantly lies and manipulate, it does feel like Erstam really do believes in what he is writing, even if his vision of things is tad twisted.
And in case it’s fun having Lord British being described as an incomptent ruler, especially since it’s hard to disagree when taking Ultima VII into account! But in principle, the view that people might not have been content with Lord British’s rule, and this to the point of leaving Britannia is just very interesting.
The beginning of the game itself is very neat. It’s not gruesome like Ultima VII’s was, but in a couple minutes it manage to bring a great sense of mystery with your companions and equipment dissapearing, that discussion with the mysterious monk Thoxa who appears to you (and already let you feel that something is wrong there), and the small battle that ensues between her and Karnax.
Even the small secret cave you get to explore right after offers a really neat feeling.
Now Shamino rejoined me and we both moved southward until we got to the city of Monitor.
Monitor was established by Sosarian settlers coming from the city of Montor, and is a city of Knight which base their whole life on the principle of Courage. Now this sound like a noble goal – after all Britannia did had two settlements related to Courage and Valor.
Except the people of Monitor have a vision of Courage which is basically warped and twisted – and is more about obtaining personal gain and pride that do the right thing or live with Honor. The Knights of Monitor are for the most part aughty, vain, and arrogant and view their Courage as the only thing that matters, shuning on anyone who isn’t a Knight and especially despising magic. They are not bad people in any means, but simply follow of path that has made Courage a mockery of what it is supposed to stand for.
Upon arriving you are send to see the town’s Lord – Marsten, which is the opportunity to learn a lot more about the city and its story. Dupre also joins you again, and for a small fee you can also get Iolo back since he had been put in jail after being transported in the middle of a funeral by a Teleport Storm. (You can also have him released for free *after* you become a Knight, but I wanted to have him as soon as possible).
Now while you learn a lot about Monitor from its inhabitants, but it becomes very clear that you won’t get far in there unless you become a Knight. Indeed some of the NPCs refuse to even speak with one who is not a Knight! So you learn things about the Knight’s Test north of town, notably from this specific character:
Now I can’t even begin to say how much I love Cantra as a character. This is actually odd because you don’t spend a lot of time with the character per se in the game – but she is one the main character in the early part of the story in the end and also one of the very first NPC you meet in the game as she is right next to the entrance of Monitor. And indeed she appears joyful, innocent… and welcoming – which is unlike most of the other inhabitants.
There will of course be more to say about her… but later.
So I left the city through the north gate, and head for Knight’s Test dungeon north-west of town. Now this is basically a small dungeon area which consist of finding the Urn which contains the ashes of the Goblin Lord Pordigurn and mix your blood with them to make yout totem animal appear and decide in which Knight Command you’ll be.
Of course the Urn are at the term of a dangerous dugneon, and the test is to survive it!
As far as dungeon goes, the area is fairly small – but it is a very well designed piece: it has traps, puzzles, secret passages… and some unexpected and nasty monsters! Also since you play it alone and with minimum equipment, it requires you to think if you don’t want to die and even show some tactical skills with combat – which sounds ludicrous when you think how crappy U7’s combat system is!
Now it got quite hard at times, but I did get to the Urn and thought my totem animal: a Wolf!
I got his body with me, but as it turns out: the leader of the Knight’s Test had put all these magical monsters in the dungeon and wanted me dead. But he is the one who dies with by my hand.
So I returned to Monitor and was congratulated on my complete of the test. One thing I’ll point is that the first time I played the game I spend a lot of time looking for Cantra at that moment to tell her of my test… but to no avail.
I was not quite a Knight yet since I’ll only be officially welcomed after a big banquet done in my honor with the meat from my totem wolf. So I got the fur to the furrier so that she can make me a cloak, the meat to the tavern keep so that she can prepare, and got to the tatoo parlor so I could get my nifty wolf tatoo.
Now all I have to do is wait a day for my feast to begin.
But suddently my character became green and sick and I am now heading to the healer Harnna.
Somehow, this does not bode well…