For I have completed my Ascension… and the world shall never be the same again.
Upon completing the restoration on the Shrine, Dupre comes to you to inform you that when the last Shrine was cleansed, he was brought back to life. And so were any other companions you might have killed in the course of the game. As crazy as it was to ressurect Dupre (and it was, really!) I do have to admit one thing: it always felt heartwarming to see him back in the flesh.
Upon return at Castle Britannia… you learn that Lord British has assembled all the Companions and wants to talk to you.
Now for all the flaws and the issues Ultima IX has. For all the reasons one might have not to like it. I just can’t understand how any self-named Ultima fan could NOT be moved by this sequence as you go to each of your companions in turn, and bid farewell to them and to Lord British.
I’ll say it: this is heart-wrenching. My eyes tore up eleven years ago. They still did today. There’s been too much investment with all these characters not to feel extremely sad to have to leave them behind. And there is also something of a dual meaning here – because it’s not just about the game and the character but also saying farewell to Ultima in a way. Even the crazy Richard Garriott character bidding you farewell in the cell below the castle has something touching in there.
I can’t say this enough: but they really nailed perfectly this aspect of the game.
And so when you leave Lord British behind to set sail for Terfin… it’s with a deep feeling of sadness, and the sentiment of leaving a part of your life behind. And even when you say your farewells to Raven, there is something that really hit the spot… because for all the cheesiness of her romance with the Avatar – well she was a nice character, and a companion who followed you through the whole story – even if she stayed on her boat!
Terfin. I’ve tried. I really tried. But after half an hour of playing through it I gave up and decided to circumvent the final dungeon.
The dungeon is not bad… but it’s pretty common with some tones to find to open the passageways and so on (although it also offers a very interesting moral dilemma in the form of a young girl poisoned by Gargoyles that you can either let as she is… or kill to end her suffering – reminds you of a certain Virtue question?). But this dungeon is also fairly long and it has a lot combat which can get really hard even with the best equipment. And it feels like a rip-off because it’s supposed to be the “easy way in”. Yeah Right.
But most importantly really: it breaks the mood. By the time you leave Britain all you want is to get to ending and finish it… not spend a few hours in another dungeon crawling. I do feel it was a design mistake to put this dungeon here (even if I guess it’s the “norm” to have a Final Dungeon) and that Terfin should have been put earlier in the game – perhaps the first time you went there.
So I decided to bypass it – but not with a real cheat. I went back to Britain and bought a teleport scroll. Then I returned to Terfin and cast the spell through the cracks of the big door: and it works! This might sounds like cheating… but I would argue that it feels like a legitimate and logical possibility!
And so I passed through the corridors and came upon the Throne Room of the Guardian.
I put each of the Sigils on a pedestal and called forth the Barrier of Life. Imprisoning both me and the Guardian within it.
The plan of the Guardian during this dialogue sounds pretty clear to me: he wants to absorb the Avatar to gain unlimited power – which makes sense since a whole is more powerful than two halves. But of course by having the Avatar doing the ritual instead, it would mean that HE will be the one absorbing the Guardian back into himself. This is not about creating a new entity for me, but more about the Avatar absorbing the powers of the Guardian to be reborn in another plane of existence.
While all this happens, the Companions also do their part by putting the Runes inside the Columns, thus having them nurturing the Virtues.
Which does not mean brainwashing people (-sic-) into following Virtues, but quite simply reverting the effect the Columns had on the Moon’s orbit thus preventing them to collide with Britannia and destroy the world.
Thus the Guardian had been thwarted – and all that was left was to cast the ritual of Armageddon and bid farewell to Britannia…
I actually like the ending. Yes it is short and doesn’t give much answer as to what happens to Britannia after the end of the game. But it is focused on characters so it works. I mean, Ultima is not Fallout – it never has dealt with the aftermath, so why should Ascension be any different?
It works as an end and it has George Oldziey’s beautiful music to illustrate it. Although… I will admit that the rendering of the characters during this sequence is rather mediocre, especially the Guardian who looks damn ugly.
And of course: the end credits music is ATTROCIOUS. Will all due respect to Seth Mendelson, he was a great lead designer to the project, but not so much with music. I’ve been thinking for years about trying to modify the audio track to put Stones instead… and I feel it should be doable so I’ll be working on trying it. I’ll let you know.
As for the Avatar… Well there has been a lot of debate as to what happens to him really, and what his ascension means. Some people even feel he simply died. Ultima X: Odyssey went with a schizophrenic approach, with the Guardian and the Avatar forming a new entity… and fighting to get control over it. Personally I’ve always felt the Avatar had simply ascended to a god-like entity (the Ankh constellation being an obvious indication of it) destined to become some form of Time Lord-like figure (though less related with Time I’d guess)… with the role of being the protector of Britannia for all eternity – watching offer his beloved land.
Yes Ultima IX is a flawed game. Yes it has many issues with the canon and taken as a sequel to Ultima VII – it is certainly a poor sequel. But Ultima IX was not just meant to be a sequel to Ultima VII – or at least not in this iteration. It was meant to provide a closure to the series and the story of the Avatar. It was meant to be a come back to the Ethical and Virtuous roots of Britannia. And it was meant to really close the book on the history of Ultima.
And at all this, it succeeded.
I cried when I finished Ultima IX eleven years ago, because it was a trully moving and memorable experience. But most importantly because if felt really like the end of an era, and a time to bid farewell to a beloved world and characters once and for all.
Truth be told we’ll probably never have an Ultima like this anymore. And by this I don’t mean like Ultima IX, but like the old series as a whole. Even Ultima IX for all its ground breaking aspect, also had very old school approach of design that didn’t sit well with gamers of the late ’90. And this certainly would not in 2010. But most importantly it really was a personal mindset of Richard Garriott, which anyone else would certainly have a lot of troubles to emulate.
In truth there is something heartbreaking to think that there hasn’t been a new Ultima since Ultima IX came out in spite of various attempts. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that this would really be the end of Ultima – we all expected to have new games come out over the years, even if these were in online form and without the guidance of Richard Garriott.
There has been rumors lately about a new supposed Ultima project being done at Bioware Mythic. This is a very exciting prospect, and I hope it’s true and come to pass.
But what I’ve realized too is that the old Ultima ended with Ascension and whatever will come out next.. will probably be a new beast altogether.
One thing I’m sure though is that I want new Ultima games and that I hope the franchise will come back stronger than eve!
Because having just replayed and completed the entire series, all I know is that… I feel sad now 😦