It has to be said that the last couple of games haven’t exactly been two of Origins best. I’m expecting this trend to continue to some extent going into Runes Of Virtue 2. To be fair the first ROV wasn’t too bad – it was a simple puzzle game and fairly good fun while it lasted. There was no plot and the music got on my nerves after a while but it was a decent game considering it was on the gameboy. Attaching the Ultima brand to it was a bit on the cyncical side though.
For the sequel Origin had twice as much space on the gameboy cartridge and scaled things up a bit. They also ported the game to SNES which is the version I’m going to be playing. This was a very faithful adaptation as I understand it but with massively improved graphics.
ROV2 has an intro which is something we didn’t see in ROV1. The black knight is back and making trouble again by kidnapping all the town mayors and hiding them at the bottom of dungeons. Its a fairly silly plot but its better than nothing and it fits in with the tone of the game. I’m summoned by LB to rescue them.
The graphics aren’t bad at all – they are somewhere between Ultima 6 and 7 and are a hell of a lot better than the black and white tiles on the gameboy. The music is a big improvement also – I was worried I was going to get something on the level of Metal Morph but its nowhere near that poor.
The game appears to be set aroundabout the Ultima 6 timeline with familiar characters from that game appearing such as Sherry the mouse here.
The castles and towns are expanded a bit from ROV1 – Castle Britannia now has many rooms and secrets with loads of free goodies to be had.
I also find a crystal ball which gives me a map of the world – this place certainly looks like Britannia which is more than it did in ROV1.
The bottom level of the castle has my first monsters to fight. Combat is very simple – I can pick a weapon for each hand and I just press a button to fire that weapon. I usually tend to stick to a sword in one hand and some sort of range weapon like a boomerang in the other (when I get one).
Monsters explode when they die – there are no stats to boost by combat as such. This is definitely not an RPG. I do get stat boosts when I finish each dungeon but these simply add an extra hp or mp. Given that you are more or less forced to play the game in a certain order these just even out against more difficult dungeon levels.
I can collect upto 99 gold coins which I can spend in some of the towns. These buy me things like armor, weapons, food (to heal with), etc.. I don’t get the impression that its neccessary to buy any of these items in the towns but they can make life easier. I’ve got the advantage of save states, though, so I’ve already got it easy.
I find Nystul looking a bit different to how I remember him. He has a crystal ball which shows me a map of the castle. These can be found in a few of the dungeons also and show the people and monsters moving around as well as the layout of the level.
After searching every corner of the dungeon I find a key which opens a door to a moongate. This moongate takes me all the way to the Lycaeum and a set of moongates which I’m told will take me to any town in Britannia. I seem to be getting ahead of myself at this point. I should really be trying to clear out the first dungeon so I head back instead of exploring further.
The first dungeon is just north of the castle. The world is multiscale just like the early Ultimas. The graphics for the world are again somewhere between U6 and U7 don’t look bad at all. It has to be said that Britannia was never this small before. I’d guess that the world of Ultima 1 was larger than this. However, its only there to get me between dungeons and at least it looks like the Britannia of the real Ultima games this time.
When I enter the dungeon, there is another cutscene showing the Black Knight kidnapping the mayor of Trinsic. This formula willl continue throughout the game.
I now start my first dungeon. These dungeons are where I’m going to be spending 90% of my time and are the real point of the game. Although combat is involved they amount to a series of puzzles where I have to push things around, flip switches, find keys and the like. The dungeons are divided into loads of quite small levels – some levels have multiple exits giving different paths.
If I die in combat then I can choose to continue and I start from the same dungeon level, with maximum health. This is very useful and I quickly make it standard procedure to get killed off asap on a new level so that I can start it with full health each time.
These telport/jump arrows are a common sight and are used in many of the puzzles and teleport you in the direction they point. A lot of the games puzzles involve pushing something around then it transforming into one of these arrows when you pull a lever.
Another common sight are mushrooms of various size which for some reason or other appear to change things in the level.
The dungeon is quite small and I find the mayor in no time. Without the cutscene to show me his hiding place I might have missed him but the room is very recognisable when I get there.
The mayor follows me around from this point. There is an exit ladder which takes me straight back to the outside – why I didn’t go down this way I don’t know but its convenient to have it there now. I walk back to Britain with him and there is a big celebration cutscene which I’ll be seeing in every town after I free the mayor + I get the rune and a strength boost. I’m not sure how strength equates to compassion but I guess the usual Ultima rules don’t apply here.
I head to LB who gives me my next assignment to rescue the mayor of Trinsic. This pattern is going to continue throughout the rest of the game.
I head for the next dungeon – the graphics for this one are quite different with a watery cave theme.
After I complete a couple of missions, another cutscene kicks in with another leader being kidnapped.
A bit of exploring later and I find one of the first important items. The staff here can be used to cast fireballs which burn away spiders webs. This will be neccessary later in the game. Its guarded by a room full of mimics who make a return in this game. The monsters are all familiar from other Ultima games on the whole in fact with mimics, gremlins, gazers, etc..
I rescue the mayor and get the same cutscene again with the sign changed + another rune and stat boost.
This time LB sends me off to the dungeon near Yew.
There are a couple of new things in this dungeon including little bouncing ball like creatures who don’t hurt but bounce around trigerring switches and the like. There are also long lines of pushable pots which I can push a whole row of.
Another cutscene – another mayor kidnapped.
Beh Lem makes his first appearance of the game – hes hanging around in the dungeon for no reason other than to give me a clue about breakable walls.
Further down in the dungeon I get another key item – a magic rope net. This can be used to bridge a single square of water. These are all items I remember from the first ROV – the puzzles are new but the underlying gameplay in this title is very similar. These items can then be used to make sure you complete dungeons in a certain order.
I’m making very short work of the dungeons at this point and soon rescue the mayor – LB sends me off to kill off whatever is haunting Empath abbey next.
There is a liche at the end of empath abbey which is by far the toughest fight of the game so far. I’m rewarded by LB with 50 gold coins which I don’t really need for completing the quest.
Its back to the dungeons after this side quest. In the meanwhile another leader is kidnapped.
This dungeon has some sort of moving boulder creature which I’ll be seeing a lot of from here on. These can be killed off with a bit of effort but usually leave a pushable boulder around which can get in the way more than the creature. Being run over by a rolling boulder is painful though.
At the end of the dungeon, the mayor is guarded by a gazer. This isn’t too tough although it does have a nasty paralyse spell. I return the mayor to town and head back to see LB.
He has another side quest where I have to take a letter to the mayor of New Magincia warning him of the threat. Getting to New Magincia is the biggest problem here. I use the moongates I discovered earlier to get around this. I get another 50 gold reward for this quest.
Its back to the dungeons with the usual cutscene when I get partway down.
This time the mayor is guarded by a giant two headed creature. This guy isn’t as tough as he looks.
I return the latest mayor and get sent after the next one. This is a bit more of a problem as I need a ship to get to the dungeon.
After a lot of wandering around, I’m attacked by a ship near Moonglow.
Approaching the ship gets me to a combat screen with loads of pirates. Killing them all off gets me the ship in Ultima 3 style.
As soon as I get the ship I notice a whirlpool and sail into it. I get a cutscene here which goes on for so long I begin to wonder if I’m supposed to do something. This drops me into Locke Lake. I’m not sure I like the idea of me losing my ship so soon after having got hold of it so I restore a game and decide to come back here later if I run out of ideas. I can at least sail around a bit and find another ship first.
I head for the next dungeon instead. Another cutscene shows the final 2 mayors being kidnapped together and sent to different dungeons. The Black Knight imprisons one in the stygian abyss and gets past the guardians with some ease although he is on a quest of sorts.
I’ve managed not to take a single screenshot of the previous dungeon but complete it and get my next quest off LB. I have no idea where to find the dungeon of Pride so I head for that whirlpool I saw earlier (after getting another ship).
Sailing through the whirlpool gives me access to Cove. Cove is a ruin full of monsters in this game but after a bit of exploring I find an extrance to the dungeon I was looking for.
This dungeon turns out to be truly huge. There is a central hub level a few levels in with 4 ways down each option having about 5 levels below it. There is a particularly annoying teleport puzzle which I spend some time on.
I take the east branch from the hub first and pass through the trolls ping pong hall.
The toughest monster yet is down here – some sort of hyrda.
I also find a ping pong ball and bat. This doesn’t sound that useful but can be used to flip switches on the far side of gates.
The bat seems to be the purpose of this branch as finding it gets me access to a ladder straight to the hub level. I head north this time. There is a puzzle here where I have to push a load of the bouncing ball-like creatures onto teleports – this takes a while as they really don’t want to go where I push them.
Another puzzle nets me some magic boots. These seem to have a one off use but I’ll no doubt be seeing more of them later.
They allow me to walk through all the walls in the level straight to an otherwise inaccessible exit ladder. I complete the north and west branches and get a new shield and sword.
Terry the adventurer seems to get about in this dungeon and is also to be found to the south. He tells me about a star wand he is looking for but can’t get through the locked door. If I’m getting a clue about it, I must need this thing. He’s also next to a barrier similar to the one guarding the abyss so it would appear to be a way past this.
The wand is on the level below. I grab it and head back to the barrier. Sure enough the wand can be used to create or remove the star field barriers.
This lets me get to the penultimate mayor and I return him home for another rune and stat boost. That just leaves the final one in the Stygian abyss. If the size of this dungeon was anything to go by, its not going to be all that easy.
This game has been a lot more fun than I thought it might be and I am actually enjoying it. It’s very simple, however and more than a bit silly. It probably made most sense on the gameboy as a game you might pickup for a few minutes at a time although for my purposes this SNES release is definitely the better option. I’ve not even attempted to describe the puzzles here – there are just far too many of them. On the whole they are simple and progressing through the game is never a problem. I can’t honestly remember being stuck at any time.
I suppose designing a puzzle based game that is never frustrating is quite difficult and Origin have definitely succeeded in that respect. There is always just enough of a challenge that its not boring although I will admit the formula is wearing a little thin now I’m getting somewhere near the end. The game is sort of a spirtual successor to the likes of Boulderdash although that game was a lot tougher and less forgiving as I remember. It is a huge improvement on Metal Morph anyway and proof that Origin could turn out a half decent SNES release. The gameboy was probably powerful enough to do a game as complex as Ultima 3 or 4 which I’d much prefer to have seen but I expect this had more market appeal.
Using the Ultima brand for this is strange – this game would have some limited appeal to Ultima players but its hardly a bonafide spin-off like Underworld or Martian Dreams. It could be intended to introduce people to Ultima but I’m not sure what someone who liked this enough to chase up the rest of the series would make of Ultima 7 which has very little in common.