Day 204 – Ultima 9 : Ascension

It’s been a long time coming but I’ve got to the final game Origin ever made. I have finished this before but last time I played it I hadn’t played most of the rest of the final trilogy so I’ll be curious to see what I make of it this time around.

Before it was released this was the most hyped game I’ve ever come across and was basically marketed as the best game of all time which would complete and tie up the trilogy of trilogies… With several years of hindsight I pretty much know this isn’t going to be the case but I still liked the game the first time I played it. This game was beset with bugs and major plot inconsistencies from previous Ultima’s however. I had to resort to cheating on my first run through this to get onto the Isle of the Avatar (which has an invisible wall around it until you are supposed to go there).

The intro shows a farmer getting crushed under a rock that falls off a giant pillar that comes out of the ground. We will find out more about this later. The intro is very nicely animated for the time – the only company that could compete with this sort of thing back then was Squaresoft.

I may have finished the last game on the guardians homeworld, or at least somewhere with a giant guardians head but I’m starting this on Earth. I’ll choose to ignore this and pretend that this happened before U7 and that the story is picked up again when I arrive in Britannia.

Earth is a tutorial level, which is a first (and a last) for an Ultima. We zoom in through the window to see the avatar in his ridiculously large bedroom. The narrator wakes me up.

This game may be 10 years old but the graphics still don’t look too bad and the world is impressively interactive right from the start. I can flip light switches, move things around, turn the tv on, listen to a remix of Stones on my radio and the like.

Golden ankh’s appear around my house which talk me through tasks.

There are books all over the place which I can read. A lot of the books are just recreations of the Ultima 7 ones which is a bit of a rip off but at least they are here.

To equip things I just drag them onto myself. I get my clothes in the bathroom like this – its a very intuitive system.

Another improvement is that I get a toolbelt this time around as well as a backpack. Searching around in backpacks in the last few Ultimas has been a real chore – this is in effect a shortcut bar to 12 of my items. I can even use the function keys to quickly use anything on here.

My backpack and a key is downstairs + a bit more unneeded advertising.

I also find my compass and a journal. The journal keeps track of my quests as well as allowing me to save the game. Again this is a nice addition and something that would have helped in earlier games.

Once I get outside I get to see the graphics to better effect. They really are superb for the time – especially the sky which gradually changes throughout the day. The music is also some of the best I’ve ever heard in a video game. U9 may have some problems but it definitely has things going for it as well.

My training isn’t over yet. I have to learn sidestepping on a hopscotch course.

I can then hack at this dummy with a sword, and there is a target to fire a bow at. The combat here is basically point and click. Combat was never my favorite thing in Ultima’s – this is a reasonable system, if uninspired. At least it is quick and simple to learn.

I can walk through the woods outside my home next, exploring a bit. There is a cave behind the waterfall.

They have some seriously big spiders in these parts.

I’m also attacked by a pirate with a sword who I then hack to pieces. Not really appropriate behaviour for Earth – its a good job I’m not coming back.

When I’ve fooled around in the woods for long enough, I go to meet the gypsy.

She tells me I this will be my final trip to Britannia. I’m not sure what I’m thinking of the voice acting so far. It isn’t brilliant, thats for sure. And some of the lines would be impossible to read for any actor – i.e. here where she asks if I’ve mastered the use of my equipment.

She asks me all the same questions that we saw back in Ultima 4. I like the cards for each of the virtues. The dragon edition of the game came with a real life set of these (as well as a ludicrously big box).

I manipulate it so that I play a fighter.

The gypsy tells me I’ll be left some appropriate gear for a fighter when I get to Britannia.

Then she summons a moongate to transport me there.

Before I can get to the moongate, I have to get through a gazer which the guardian sends after me. This is weak on Earth as it is a magical creature and there is no magic here.

I step through the moongate and immediately get fried by a monumentally large dragon.

We pan back to show Blackthorn watching the scene in a mirror.

Blackthorn is serving as the guardians lackey now in return for getting Britannia after the guardian is done with it. The guardian says I’m still alive and must have been taken somewhere beyond the mirrors sight (Stonegate). I’m not sure I think much of Blackthorn returning here as a lackey. I didn’t see him as being exactly evil in U5 but more corrupted by the Shadowlords. Before Ultima 9 I also imagined the guardian to be momumentally big. There has been plenty of evidence for this – in UW2 I got sucked into his head in the void for instance, or even the start of Pagan where he held me in his hand. Apart from his stature the new guardian model is pretty nice though and the voice acting is excellent with the same actor brought back in. I remember that Michael Dorn (Worf out of Star Trek) recorded the voice originally but there was a change of heart.

We get a stylish title sequence showing a panning view of a stained glass window then we get to the game proper.

Stonegate is actually another tutorial in all honesty. I’m still led through and told what to do at every stage. I get a spellbook to start with.

There are the usual circles of magic in this game with a linear circle at the start. There are a few spells in here such as ignite, douse, hurl rock, etc. I have to use each of these to get through this section. Here I kill a giant rat with a stone spell. I can then jump over to the platform it was on, pull a lever and open the door out. I can even drag the spells onto my toolbelt and cast them quickly from here. The interface for this game really is quite nice and its not getting in my way at all.

I use a gust spell here to blow this vase onto a pressure plate. The physics here is a bit dodgy as it gets stuck in the shelf but at least the gate opens. Every object in the game has independent physics, which is impressive but possibly overly amibitious for the technology at the time.

The standard of graphics keeps impressing me though. This room has two giant statues with water flowing out of their mouths. I have to shut off the flow with a valve, which drains the pool and gets me a route out.

For the final obstacle, I have to douse all these flames.

I walk out of Stonegate to see a status of my old foes, the Shadowlords.

Stonegate towers above me and looks generally imposing.

The guardian is going to let me have a look around before he crushes me and I get a little message from him.

One of his lackeys from the Wyrmguard tries to stop me first but he is no trouble.

I step on the teleport he was guarding and I’m warped to LB’s castle.

His seneshal sends me straight to talk to LB.

I should be getting used to the scale of everything in this game but LB’s hall really is stupendously large. I wouldn’t want his heating bills.

LB is looking a lot older these days. He says some problem has best the land. Black columns have arisen, people are not happy with his rule, I have to sort it out, etc.. He wants me to go to Despise and check out the column there.

So I’ve made it to Britannia and been given my first quest. This is where the real game starts as I’ll have to work things out for myself from hereon out. I’ll have a look around the castle and Britain before I head for Despise. So far Ultima 9 is looking quite good actually. The dialog has suffered as a result of full speech but it could be worse . The graphics and music are both awesome for their day and the engine is intuitive and easy to use (when its not crashing). I expect I’m going to enjoy this one more than Ultima 8.

One thought on “Day 204 – Ultima 9 : Ascension

  1. Well. Ultima IX really has a superb engine that just needed to be refined. One of the things that keep surprising me in this game are how they change the dungeons in real time. I mean, for instance in Stonegate there is this masive gate that opens when you push a level and then some stairs appear in the walls.

    There are those kind of things in all the dungeons and that makes them really original.

    You see games like oblivion that really have uninspired dungeons that have nothing like that.

    The cutscenes in Ultima are something that really impressed me. Ultima Online has the same quality in it’s cutscenes as Ultima IX does, and that game was from 96-97. Also some of the cutscenes in Ultima IX were older than when the game was released. Squaresoft wasn’t as good back then. It wasn’t until Final Fantasy VIII that their cutscenes got into the same level as this ones.

    I’m no fan of Ultima IX story, but I always try to make explanations for the innacuracies it has. For instance I consider that the Avatar did travel back to Earth in Ultima VIII and the last scene was just either a flashforward to his appearance in Britannia (with the Dragon and the Wyrmguard and all) or a dream sent to him by Hawkwind (the narrator that wars you about the Guardian invading Britannia).

    About Blackthorn, last thing we heard of him was he staying with the Monks on Serpent Isle. He’s difficult to place back at Britannia as the Guardian’s lackey.

    If we take in consideration one of the unused origins of the Guardian (he was somehow the merging of the Shadowlords into one being), it could make sense that he was able to corrupt Blackthorn yet again.

    Or simply, Blackthorn’s corruption in Ultima V was worse than we thought. Just because the Shadowlords dissapeared back in Ultima V does not mean his corruption went away. He just stepped into the Moongate, not necesarily being a good guy again. He just went his own way for a while until he became a Guardian’s lackey in the end.

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