Ultima 6 SNES – Part 1

(The images are currently missing from this post after my previous web server died but will hopefully be replaced soon)

The CIC birthday bash has been and gone for another year. I’ve made a mental note not to walk over 30 miles during the day next time I’m planning on staying up most of the night but I managed to hang around longer than expected even if I was (and still am) less than lively. Ploughing through most of those updates will have to wait until some mental capacity has returned but the ones that have caught my eye so far are an incredibly harsh post-mortem for Privateer 2 and the EA sales data list which has a few surprises.

Not to be outdone the Ultima Codex has been celebrating its own birthday with a slew of updates which I’m also not up to reading through just now. I can summon up the will start on a new Nintendo port though in the shape of Ultima 6 on the SNES:-

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I’ve two versions of this with the Japanese edition on the left and the US on the right. Unusually the Japanese one is far easier to get hold of as I recall with the US release being a little uncommon. The two lots of packaging bear no relation to each other with the Japanese edition using the original cover and the remake having new original artwork. There isn’t much to choose between them for my money but the manual for the US release wins on the presentation stakes even if I can’t judge the content. The NES manuals included a slew of hints and maps which aren’t present here leaving it up to the player to figure most things out for themselves. It does give a grid for using the orb of the moons though encouraging the player to use this right from the start rather than walking between towns.

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SNES Ultima 6 was ported by Pony Canyon and published in 1992 in Japan which puts it a year earlier than Ultima 5 came out on the NES. It didn’t make it over to the US until the following year though.

It’s safe to say that Ultima 5 on the NES wasn’t exactly a triumph and bore only a passing resemblance to the Apple II original. With the move to the SNES, my hopes are far higher for this port. I’m also quite keen on playing U6 again whatever the format. Around this point I start to get less and less familiar with each newer game in the main series until Ultima 9. I can live without returning to Ultima 8 but the three games prior to that are all long overdue another look after a 5 year gap.

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We get off to a good start with the original introduction more or less intact. The text has been slightly altered and the Avatar shuts his eyes at the point the Gargoyle priest is crossbowed (thus avoiding excessive violence in a Nintendo product) but it’s all to the same effect. The main thing to note here is that I didn’t go through any character generation whatsoever missing out one of the more famous aspects of Ultima games.

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My generic Avatar is dumped straight into a battle with the gargoyles to start the game. This gives me a chance to have a look at the new interface which is a radical departure from the PC original. The first thing to note is the full screen graphics. One of the criticisms I’ve heard over and over of the U6 engine is that the viewing window is too small, especially when combined with the lighting effects at night which shrink it down even further. Lighting effects are still here but with a full screen view of the world, it’s visually a lot more like playing Ultima 7 which can’t be a bad thing. This is limited on the SNES to a degree as the world isn’t always on one map and loads when entering certain buildings and rooms.

The combat itself is intuitive using a self-explanatory menu system. There is even an auto option which appears perfectly adequate for bashing at the nearest opponent. I would argue that the control scheme used in the rest of the game doesn’t make good use of the multitude of buttons on a SNES gamepad. Almost everything can be accomplished with just the A and B buttons through menus which works but it would be far quicker to use the rest of the buttons to speed certain tasks up.

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Conversations use keyword menus and are a monumental improvement over Ultima 5 NES as much in quantity as structure. There aren’t any character portraits admittedly which is a loss but I’d rather have the extra text. I’ve only explored Britain so far and I’m not familiar enough with U6′s original conversations to compare them without getting both versions running side by side. I got the impression that the conversations have been cut down and possibly some characters cut altogether but there is enough left that it’s not entirely obvious. There were definitely people who I couldn’t locate such as Kytyn at the museum but the NPC’s have schedules so I may well just have been looking at the wrong time.

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Navigating through the inventory is a little clunky in this version, not to mention slow with a decided delay in bringing up the screen in the first place. It’s close to the PC version in appearance and functionality but in terms of ease of use on a console I’d say it’s arguably the weakest of any of the Nintendo ports so far making it my least favourite aspect of this version on early impressions. The final thing I’m going to mention with the controls right now is picking up items which appears to be done by looking at something in the world and then pressing A again to use it. This is all very well except if I look at a bag I then search it and have to pick up the items one by one leaving the bag behind. With the difficulties of navigating my inventory I might be better off without bags anyway but I expect I’ll be running out of room quickly.

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The controls then could either use some tweaking or I still need to learn how to use them properly. The graphics however are excellent and I do like having the full screen to play in. The music is straight off of the PC version and not sounding too shabby at all through the SNES with the sound effects like ticking clocks being an improvement.

All I’ve done so far is explore Britain which is much the same bustling city that I recall. After the Japanification of Ultima 3 and especially Ultima 4, this port appears to be surprisingly true to the PC and so far I really like the look of it. By comparison to Ultima 5 NES, it’s safe to say I’m going to have some fun playing through this one.

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