Ultima 3 FM Towns – Part 2

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It took about another 90 minutes to finish Ultima 3. Most of that was spent filling up with gold and journeying back to Ambrosia. Once that was out of the way, I just needed to get the four marks and make sure the Time Lord hadn’t changed the order of the cards in this version.

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When you know where to go and have a fully equipped party, gathering the four marks takes no time at all. I used my cleric and wizard to quickly get me up and down levels and had all four in around 15 minutes.

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On my travels I met some subtantially tougher creatures in the lower dungeons but my party had no trouble with these at this stage. After a tough start the combat in this game didn’t keep pace with the progression of my characters making the game easier and easier the further I got into it. Also, it is possible to run from combat in this version by backing out of the combat map. I only ever made use of early in the game but I don’t remember this even being a possibility on the PC.

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The trip to the timelord went similarly smoothly apart from some fun and games trying to go through the right moongate. The Timelord makes more of a speech in this version but the order of the cards hadn’t changed.

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After that I healed up and headed for Exodus. The snake lets me pass after yelling “Evocare” and I head into the castle.

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I wasn’t so sure my party was going to be up to the final battle. I’d maxed out the hit points of my two front line fighters at this stage but my spell casters were relatively weak. I needn’t have worried though. My spellcasters certainly came close to death but I would easily have been able to finish with just the two characters if it had been required. This part of the game was much, much easier than on the NES.

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I did run into more invisible floor monsters than in the other versions with my first encounter being in the top left of the map. These died in a single hit without fail so it’s just a question of bunching the party and attacking constantly.

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When I get that far, Exodus doesn’t look all that much like a computer. From these tiles I’m not sure I’d make the connection without the text telling me in the bottom corner when I insert a card.

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One addition which I’d not seen before is a quick end cutscene where a passage opens up behind Exodus through which I run through and see a floating orb of some description. At least in this English version the text doesn’t make it too clear what this is but it soon fades and I run away under instruction from the Timelord.

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The big finale cutscene is in English this time, although only barely. The bad translation doesn’t give completing the trilogy quite the air of achievement I would have hoped for with lines like “Doesn’t it look like the spine of a snake, does it?” but it’s still the best ending I’ve seen on any version so far.

I’ve enjoyed my time playing through the Ultima trilogy again for the first time since week 1 of this blog, although it certainly brought it home just how much farming is required in these early Ultimas. As a whole the FM Towns is the best version I’ve played with Ultima I & II being a big improvement, admittedly with some reservations. With Ultima III it’s a much harder call as the original music is so much better. This version probably still wins out over the enhanced PC version given the dungeon graphics and cutscenes but it’s a close call. The NES version had its good points also and is certainly another decent option although I did find it moved a little slowly for my liking. I expect that I’ve yet to play the best version as the Lairwair Mac version looks potentially the best of the bunch.

If you’ve never played Ultima 1-3 and fancy giving it a go, you could do a lot worse than tracking down a copy of this for FM Towns. The improved graphics and tweaked interface make it substantially more accessible and the Unz emulator has been rock solid with no issues at all. The trilogy is usually a crazy price on Ebay but is available at far more reasonable prices direct from Japan.

There is a certain Origin anniversary coming up tomorrow which will form the basis of a post or two on here and hopefully elsewhere. After that, I think I’ve going to have to give Wing Commander Saga a go.

Ultima 3 FM Towns – Part 1

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This is the final game in the FM Towns Ultima Trilogy. Since I’ve already blogged through Ultima 3 on both PC and more recently NES, I’ll keep this fairly short and concentrate on the differences. Like the other 2 games in the FM Towns trilogy, it has a standalone intro with some still images, CD music and a lot of Japanese text that I can’t understand.

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On starting the game, there is a nice rendering of a demon similar to the one on the original box cover and a much improved version of the band of adventurers shuffling back and forth fighting the dragon. Character creation hasn’t been changed and still offers the option of using races that would vanish from Ultima after this game (Fuzzy, Bobbit & Elf).

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The tile graphics are the same as the rest of the trilogy and the regular overworld music is used once again. This music hasn’t been annoying me anywhere near as much though as you really don’t spend all that long wandering around the main map in Ultima 3.

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One of the reasons for this is the inclusion of a combat screen which did add a lot to the tactical element of this game even if it slows things down. There is some original combat music which fits quite well and some new sound effects which can be over the top. I see more combat than I would like at the start of the game and it’s tough to survive while my party tries to find their feet. It gets a lot easier when I can equip my front line with bows and start to level up.

When I was playing the NES version recently I would frequently use the wizard and clerics dispel spells to clear whole monster parties. In this version I can only cast this spell once per combat and it doesn’t work anywhere near as often. It’s not entirely useless but my cleric imparticular is almost useless in combat because of this. I end up using her purely for healing and opening chests. Despite this she is slowly advancing in levels with an ocassionally succesful dispel. I can only assume that it requires fewer kills for clerics to progress which is just as well if I’m ever going to get her hit points up.

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All the towns are exactly as I remember them. There are minor changes to the dialog but it amounts to roughly the same thing overall. I’ve not spent too much time in the towns other than shopping and the occasional visit to Lord British for healing or levelling up.

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The dungeon maps are just like on the PC also, with identical graphics to the rest of the trilogy. There are some nice new fountain graphics but with the combat screens I can no longer see monsters coming which is something of a loss. With the identical layouts, I settle into my well practiced grinding technique of raiding the same collection of 6 chests at the top of the Dungeon of Fire over and over. With the convenient poison curing fountain on the way out, I can fix up my party if needed and repeat. I combine this with occasional trips to the nearby Perinian Depths where there is an easily reached healing fountain on the second level.

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After enough dungeon raiding and my party is now lugging around 9999 gold each. This doesn’t take too long with the emulator cranked up to maximum speed as the dungeons are nowhere near as dangerous as in Ultima 1 & 2. I head for Ambrosia and finding the whirlpool turns out to me much easier than I expect and I head straight in.

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The lost continent of Ambrosia turns out to be surprisingly red but otherwise the same as ever. I realise at this point that I’ve come down here without buying any keys which wasn’t the smartest move.

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I can still get to the shrine of strength at least so I max out all my characters in that one stat and head back to the surface to start raising some more gold before I go back down.

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I break this up with a trip to find the exotics which I probably should have done much earlier. After the tough start to the game, I’ve really not been having any trouble with the combat though and this is arguably the easiest game of the trilogy. When playing FM Towns Ultima I and II, there was always some tweak to the gameplay that made them much harder than the PC but this has been near enough an exact duplicate except the better graphics.

I do miss the original Ultima 3 music which would have been a better alternative but other than that this has been a great port. Like all these early Ultimas, the gameplay ends up being 90% grinding but it’s not too bad if you know what you are doing. I’ve yet to go after any of the marks and will attempt to max out the parties significant stats next before I get started on that.

Console Manual Scans

I’ve added a batch of new scans to the downloads for the console versions of various Origin games, some of which were available elsewhere already but they are on here now as well. The new pdfs are manuals for Ultima 3 (NES & Famicom), Ultima 4 (NES & Famicom), Ultima 6 (NES & Super Famicom), Ultima 7 (Super Famicom), Wing Commander (Mega CD & Sega CD) & Wing Commander Secret Missions (SNES).

In addition to all of those, I’ve been kindly sent a scan of the Lands Of Lore clue book by Matt Larson. This isn’t anything to do with Origin but I love the game so I’ve added that also.

Ultima 3 NES – Part 2

It turned out I was being pessimistic about it taking 60 minutes to max out my parties gold and it was more like 30. As soon as that is done, I immediately took the nearest boat I could find and sailed it straight into the whirlpool.

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This has the desired effect of taking me to Ultima 3’s other continent, Ambrosia. I was a little concerned that my slightly pathetic party could find things difficult down here but there are hardly any monsters at all and none of them are random from what I could see. It’s far, far safer than life on the surface ever was. I set off to find the four temples to spend my cash raising stats. Some of the temples are easier to find than others with this place being something of a maze but perseverance pays off and I soon find the strength temple.

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The temple isn’t quite what I expected. I can walk inside it and have to talk to a priest to donate my gold. It occurs to me at this point that I’ve no way of searching to get the cards since I don’t have a search command. Much, much later on, I find out that I can use the Pray command (which I also didn’t have) to achieve the same result.

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A single trip is enough to max out all the important stats for each character. I did come back a second time later to finish up but I could probably have finished the game as was.

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Rather than going straight back to gold farming, I decide to try and gather all the marks next. I think I counted 7 dungeons in the game, although I didn’t need to search all of them I’m glad to say. It’s always a safe bet that anything you need will be on level 8 so I magic myself straight down in each dungeon and search everywhere. In the process, I find the missing silver pick which I need to get the mystic weapons. My beefed up characters are much better able to cope with any monsters I encounter and some of the new mage and cleric offensive spells are particularly effective if a little expensive. My Cleric also gained a spell to exit straight from any dungeon which is highly useful.

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With all the marks gathered, I foolishly level up my characters making life twice as hard when exploring Sosaria as the monsters level up with me. I then head off to explore all those bits of the towns I couldn’t get to as well as the towns I’ve not been to yet. I find plenty of people hidden away in lava fields and other nasty areas but I can’t say I learn anything I didn’t already know. The exception here is a priest in Yew who gives me the Pray command which I already know to use in the circle of light to the South, thus giving me the Silver Horn.

With every town explored, I’m almost ready for the end game but I still haven’t been to see the Time Lord. I know the order of the cards from the PC game, but it could be different here and I may as well do things properly.

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The name of the dungeon has changed but he is still at the bottom of the only dungeon which can’t be reached by any means except moongates. These moongates aren’t of the oblong variety and I’d seen them several times before I realised what they were. Finding the Time Lord is comparatively easy and simply a case of magicing down to the bottom level as ever. The difficult part is getting out again. On the surface map, the dungeon is placed one square away from the moongate leaving no room to wait and hence pass time to make the moongate appear. I have to resort to talking to myself to pass time until the moongate pops up.

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I head back to Ambrosia to gather the cards, and then it’s time to take on Exodus. My characters aren’t exactly at the maximum levels but I deem them tough enough to get to the end. This was just about true but I did have to find a lot of corners to hide in and recuperate. All the monsters here are of the large 4-tile variety and attack in pairs. My cleric and wizard could take one out each time with a single spell but needed time to regain lost mana. This was definitely the most effective tactic I came up with. My fighters could bash the monsters to death also, but we took a lot of damage in the process.

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After some wrong turns and restarts I eventually pick out the correct route to Exodus. I initially think it’s another dead-end when I see the river, Exodus is barely even visible and I wouldn’t have guessed that it was a computer if I didn’t already know. The giveaway is the attacking floor tiles, which are a nuisance but die in one hit. I have to pray to insert the cards which I only discover out of desperation but I expect there was a clue somewhere in the game.

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Exodus is defeated and transforms into an Ankh which we grab. Rather than ending here as I expect, I now have to run through a collapsing castle to escape before it is destroyed.

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There are some fallen rocks blocking part of the route back, but thankfully all the monsters are now gone and I have a much easier time getting out than in. The game then ends and goes into the credits without so much as a congratulations. The credits are quite definitely full of Japanese people confirming that this game wasn’t done in-house by Origin despite rumours to the contrary. The fact that it was published a year or two earlier in Japan is also something of a giveaway to this.

As for the game itself, I didn’t tire of it and the grinding was fairly quick in the scheme of things. Had I been more prepared to take my time and explore every level of every dungeon, I’m sure I’d have amassed a lot of the gold I needed that way. I discovered huge stashes in some of the towns but I would have needed to fight a lot of guards on my way out if I’d used these.

If you were only going to play one version of Ultima 3, this shouldn’t be it when we have patches for the PC version or the Lairware version (which I should attempt to play at some point). If you’ve already finished one of those and fancy trying it again, you could do a lot worse. Ultima 3 on the NES is original enough to be it’s own game without trampling over the legacy of the original. I’m curious to see how Ultima 4 holds up now. The maps were slightly shrunken in this as it was and Ultima 4 was much larger and more complex.

Ultima 3 NES – Part 1

Ultima 3 was released on the NES either in 1987, 88 or 89, depending on whether I believe Mobygames, the back of the box, or the Ultima wiki. According to the wiki, it was written in-house at Origin but couldn’t be published by them directly due to Nintendo’s stringent licensing arrangements and this led to it being published indirectly via FCI. I’m informed however that this isn’t necessarily the case and the credits are solely Japanese names. There aren’t any credits at the start of the game or in the manual so I’ll have to finish it to find out for myself it would seem.

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I’ve got two versions both featuring very un-Ultimaesque covers, the Japanese one especially with its manga characters on the front. The manual is fairly substantial but is nothing like as much fun as the original PC version with its two separate spell books. It only has one short page on the history of the series and hardly sets the scene considering that it was the first console Ultima.

While I’ve been curious about these console Ultima games for a long time, I’ve never had more than a glancing look at any of them so playing this will be a first for me. It has to be said that I’m not much of a fan of the NES as a platform or JRPG’s for that matter. This doesn’t make me optimistic going into this but I didn’t expect much from the SNES Wing Commanders either and they didn’t turn out to be bad at all so I’ll attempt to keep an open mind.

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The first thing to note is that all the original music has been replaced by tunes that wouldn’t sound that out of place in a Final Fantasy. Personally, I preferred the original tracks but the new music is quite good if lacking the medieval Ultima approach. The new themes are repetitive but no more so than the originals, and they haven’t begun to grate yet although I have been playing a large portion of this while listening to podcasts.

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Character creation is a similar affair to what I’m used to. Not knowing any differently I create a Fighter/Thief/Mage/Cleric party which worked well enough in the PC versions of the game. I’ve heard that some of the character classes are close to useless if you make the wrong choice at this point.

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On starting the game, it looks very different to the PC and I can’t help but think of Final Fantasy again. The tiles use some very bright colours but it looks a lot better than CGA graphics ever did. It’s perhaps not quite up to Final Fantasy standards but one thing this has which it didn’t is the field of view also introduced in the Apple II original.

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Rather than having one character represent the party, the members trail along behind each other like a snake. With such a large target, this makes it tricky to avoid combat with the numerous bands of creatures roaming around the land. On entering combat, I start to notice my first major gameplay difference in that the cleric and mage are by far the most powerful characters at this stage in the game. They both have free spells which will take out entire parties of early level monsters (depending on monster type). Magic points are quickly regained and it’s the front line fighters that I’m struggling with in the early encounters. This is the opposite of most RPG’s I’ve ever played.

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I head for town and stock up on equipment for my fighters. The best weapons on offer are blowpipes which are a new one for me in an Ultima. Range weapons have to be the way to go, so after selling all my armour I get one for my fighter + a sling for my Thief. The town itself has a passing resemblance to what I remember but there appear to be fewer people and none of them say the same things. Saving is done at pubs in the towns without any cost. Since I’m playing this on an emulator, I’ll be sticking to savestates.

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At this point, I start to slog my way through as many monsters as possible to raise some money and level my party up. There is certainly no shortage of opposition and I’m soon raising a little capital. LB is in the usual place on his throne and raises levels on request as I gain experience. There is a downside to this in that there is a clear link in this game to the opposition I face and the maximum character level. The tougher monsters that start to appear are immune to the usual cleric/wizard spells and I can’t clear a screen of them without doing it the hard way. I’ve never liked RPG’s with this sort of mechanic. It takes away the reason for levelling up in the first place, and leaves me wondering if I’d be better off if I’d not bothered.

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My characters are starting to get as powerful as they are going to go without the Mark Of Kings so I begin a tour of the towns at this point. There aren’t a huge number of these but they do take a little exploring. I talk to everyone I find but I can’t say that I gain much in the way of useful information, although there are plenty of areas I can’t explore without a large supply of keys or various marks to get through fields. I do obtain a gold pick by looting treasure from one of the shop counters. I know enough about the game that this is used to dig up the mystic armour. I don’t know exactly where this is but it’s a small world map and should be on a little island.

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In the absence of a ship, I carry on playing tourist. I spy a hoard of treasure in one town but it was well guarded so I reluctantly left it behind and decided to try some strategies for grinding out some money. The first of these involves some dungeon delving into the dungeon west of Dawn. By casting spells down to Level 8, I could collect the large quantities of treasure on the bottom level and there were fountains in supply for curing poison and healing up.

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I wouldn’t say that the dungeons are safe but they appear to be sparsely populated from the explorations I’ve done so far. They are different in layout to the ones I remember. My previous strategy on the PC has been to continuously raid the same hoard of 6 treasure chests over and over on the first floor of the Perinian Depths but that dungeon doesn’t even exist here. Forays into Level 8 of this alternative dungeon are fairly profitable netting me about 2000 gold but they carry an element of risk and take a while with me having to wait for MP to regenerate to cast the down and up spells getting there and back. Aside from the risk of being poisoned, it’s possible to catch a cold from all the chests. I have no idea what the consequences of this are but I assume it’s much the same as poisoning.

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The dungeon graphics are certainly improved, but still not great. It’s impossible to see treasure chests (or anything else) 1 square away. There are no graphics for monsters at all because of this and they simply appear out of thin air. This does nothing for the gameplay when exploring, forcing a methodical square by square approach. On the bright side, there are wall textures which are certainly an improvement over the usual flat one colour panels.

This dungeon delving isn’t netting me money as quickly as I’d hoped. None of the chests in this game contain anything except gold. When playing the PC version, the real profit was to be made by selling off the armour. It occurs to me at this point that some of the towns have casinos. This isn’t unheard of in Ultima but they certainly weren’t in U3 before. With excessive use of savestates, I figure it should be possible to gamble myself wealthy and maybe save a bit of time in the process. After all, I’d hate not to have finished this game before my VFX-1 arrives.

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The gambling game of choice turns out to be Rock, Paper, Scissors of all things. Unfortunately the maximum bet is only 100 GP which is doubled with each win. This still turns out to be a reasonable way of raising cash but not all that much quicker than the dungeon delving. I’ll take whatever is fastest though so I may well end up grinding some cash this way. I expect I could max out the parties gold in an hour or so but it’s not going to be the most entertaining hour I’ll ever spend gaming, and I’d probably have to do it at least a couple of times.

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By around this time, I’ve got some party members up to level 5 which means that pirate ships have started to appear on the coast. I hijack one of these and sail to the first 2 square island I come across looking for the mystic armour. I must have been very lucky here as I immediately get the armour I was looking for. This should put me in a much better position for the rest of the game. The armour prices are extortionate and there was no way I was going to actually pay them.

I’ve spent a good few hours playing this now and it doesn’t feel like I’ve got very far. Having said that, I’ve half explored most of the towns so I must have seen a lot of it. The obvious task at this point is to raise enough funds for a couple of trips to Ambrosia. This is going to mean a lot of dull grinding but at least I’ll get to break it up by exploring the hidden continent in the middle.

I wouldn’t say I’m overkeen but I’ve not had a bad time playing this so far. It does seem to be 80% grinding but the original had it’s share of this. I can’t honestly say it has felt much like playing a PC Ultima and it’s practically a different game with the same overall theme and goals. From my point of view, I’d actually count this in it’s favour as it makes playing it now more worthwhile. I’ve been fortunate enough to have an advance preview of the forthcoming graphics patch for Ultima 3 which I’d rather be trying out in all honesty but this is still OK. It’s heavier on the combat than I would have liked and I’m hoping that levelling up my character stats will help me to speed through this to some extent.

It’s quite slow to play in general but I’m sure the PC original was no faster on a 1983 machine. Playing that now, one of the things I like about it is the ability to do things extremely quickly once you know the keys. It’s one of the reasons this and other early Ultima’s are still so playable on the PC in my eyes. Having to go through menus here does slow proceedings but they are well thought out considering the limitations and I’ve not had any trouble with them.

First impressions then are that this is a surprisingly good port. It certainly isn’t Ultima as I know it but it’s still fun in it’s own way. I hope I still feel that way after the forthcoming gold farming.