The Enchantress is dead!

At last!

Minax the Enchantress just perished under Enilno’s blade. Good riddance to say the least, as I must admit Ultima II was more pain that it was worth it.

For starter I did finally solve my aftermath issue, not with a boat but with a plane! I did forgot that you could use Time Gate with planes, so in the end it was just a matter of getting a plane and flying over the ocean. After that all that remained to do was basically grinding like a mad man in order to get enough gold to buy the strongest weapons and armor and to enhance my character.

Minax wasn’t much of a challenge either, and her minions are actually more challening than she is. As far as Boss Battles go, I actually think Mondain’s was more inventive albeit not terribly hard either.

My opinon about Ultima II in the end isn’t a very positive one I’m afraid. I would argue that it probably is the worst Ultima game (I mean even Akalabeth gave me more fun), and that even some of the weirdest console versions of Ultima games were more fun than that. That’s not to say the game did not have some neat evolutions – notably the bigger town and dialogue aspect was a fundamental improvement over Ultima I – but the rest of the game is mired with design mitakes that make Ultima II an exercice in frustration.

The game does try new stuff and I’m certainly not gonna hold this against it and this has been Ultima’s moto right until the very end, but it doesn’t really succeed at it, and the fact that the following games returned to a formula closer to Ultima I in terme of gameplay is revealing.

In any case that will be it for Ultima II, onward to “Exodus: Ultima III”!

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A pirate’s life I’m meant to be…

It’s amazing how much a simple boat can change one’s life…

I mean basically before getting a ship, Ultima II was an exercice in frustration: too many monsters to kill at once, food going down to fast, travel that Time Gate than ce annoying…

Getting a boat though almost feel like cheating, because the moment you get one in any of the eras, monsters are no longer a threat anymore. While you need to attack ennemis at one adjacent tile unlike in future games, most monsters are basically killed by one canon shot, giving you both gold and XP as if you had killed them normally. Since using a ship also don’t consume food, it’s all about roaming around the seas in every area killing every monsters, then waiting until new ones pop up and so on until you get more XP, more Gold, and basically get a stronger character.

The downside is actually getting the ship though. I am actually still needing a ship in the Aftermath Era, as you’re stuck to appear in North America there, but I actually just can’t seem to find one which is getting incredibly annoying. Also there are so many monsters who appeared on adjavent unaccessible islands that I’m starting to wonder if I don’t have reached some monster cap limit which means a ship can’t appear now and I’d be screwed. I hope not, but this is still annoying.

But then “annoying” would probably summs up Ultima II pretty well. I do feel the game is mired by design mistakes, and that on the whole it’s very much a step back from Ultima I.

Meh.

Epic Fail…

This is basically how I would sum up my attempt of playing through Ultima on the FM-Towns.

First of foremost: Ultima II really is not that fun to play to be honest. Sure the FM-Towns graphics are nice (see below), but it does suffer from many obvious design decision, the most important being the fact that a lot of very important item (wether that’s keys, torches or those annoying blue tassels needed to board a ship) can’t be bought anywhere and can only be obtained through sheer luck after a ton of combat.

Now that is already a major issue against actually having fun with the game: but the FM-Towns basically make it worst.

First it plays slower – which might not seem a major issue but can get annoying. Second, it has way too much monsters at a time with a spawn rate much greater than the usual version of the game: it basically means that you can get on a world map with things like Dragon attacking you with a level 2 character. In addition Lord British has become a cheap bastard and only gives you 150 HP when you talk to him instead of 300 HP.

But the game breaker really is the way food is handled is annoying. Outside of the fact that food seems to goes down even faster than in the original version of the game, the main problem is that it consumes food even when you are simply “passing” time – which become a major issue because you have to pass time a LOT in Ultima II.

So after a few hours of playing… I finally gave up altogether and decided to restart Ultima II with the good ol’ PC version, turned to EGA graphic thanks to Voyager Dragon’s patch and running under DOS Box. I wouldn’t say it makes the game enjoyable, but at least it becomes much less of a pain to play.

On a closing note I feel I should also mention the game manual “The Second Age of Darkness”. Except for the first Chapter I which proved a good historical context (albeit inconsistent with Ultima I) and that from what I gather was actually in re-releases of the game, I must say the manual is quite dissapointed by Ultima standard since it is basically a pretty common instruction booklet.

So this is it, for my dissapointing quest against Minax. I’ll be coming back as soon as I progress more with the PC version.

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress

Ultima II is obviously the second episode in the Ultima series. It was released in 1982 by Sierra Online (as they were the only ones willing to produce the cloth map Richard Garriott wanted to ship the game with) and uses the basic of premise of Minax (Mondain’s lover and apprentice) taking revenge upon those responsible for the death of her beloved and conquering the universe through space and time.

Ultima II remains sort of an oddity in the Ultima series. It is pretty much an evolution of Ultima I in term of gameplay. It plays the same and the biggest evolution is that towns now use a view similar to the world map and that you can now talk with NPCs to learn tips and information about the plot (altough all those NPCs only have a single line of dialogue).

However it’s more in term of plot and context that it differs greatly from every other episodes. Indeed, because rather that using the backdrop of Sosaria the game actually takes place on Earth (with the manual going as far as to hint Ultima I was also set on Earth) with the player character travelling through time to different Earth era by the use of “Time Gates” in order to find the way to destroy Minax at the “Time of Legends.”

As such the game offer even more technology than Ultima I, such as lasers, power armors, airplane and of course space ships!

This aspect of the game has often been retconned out of the later game, which usually go and claim that the whole events happens solely on Sosaria, altough some of them (and specifically Ultima IX) aknowledge that Minax did attack Earth through time as well.

Personally I’ve never been that huge a fan of Ultima II, altough I’ve kind of grown fond of the context over time. The fact that I first discovered it on the Atari ST didn’t help. You see I had already played Ultima III to VI when I got my hand on the Atari ST version of the game, and I was expecting something similar to Ultima III. I did not expect to see one of the ugliest Atari ST game of all time (with overly white graphics) and I was more that puzzled by the Earth context of the game, wondering that this had to do with Ultima.

But the game breaker really was the interface: rather than using the traditionnal Ultima keyboard interface the designer choose to use a fully mouse driver UI based upon the Atari GEM interface from TOS (or Tramiel Operating System, think the equivalent of Windows at the time) with multiple windows and everything being based on mouse click (for instance you double clicked on monsters to attack them or in towns to enter).

This basically made the game nearly unplayable and made me regret the usual keyboard interface of the other games of the series.

I did played quite a bit of it though, but I never came to finish the game until 1999, when I played through the Commodore 64 version on an Emulator in anticipation of Ultima IX.

For this Ultima Adventures playthrough, I have actually decided to play through the little known FM-Towns version of the game. The FM-Towns was a Japanese computer which received some very unique ports of Ultima games over the years. Notably the computer had a specific release of the Ultima Trilogy I~III compilation which included remakes of the entire “Age of Darkness Trilogy” with a new tile engine and brand new music. The downside is that they use the same graphics and music for all three games, which is why I’ve decided to use this version for Ultima II since there are no better ports out there and that the original version really is awfully ugly.

So here we go: Ultima II awaits!

Ultima II Cover