Lands of Lore

I forgot to mention in my previous entry the game I'm actually playing now, of those old classics. It's Lands of Lore, by Westwood. A first-person step movement RPG. Obviously it appeals to me because I love Dungeon Master so much, but it's a great game in its own right. It's a lot more story focused than DM, and simpler in its gameplay (particularly the magic system). It is quite a glorious example of nice VGA graphics. Monsters scale nicely (the environment too can be set to scale smoothly as you walk, but I find this offputting and prefer the immediacy of clear steps, so I disabled the option). It's quite hectic, too, and throws a lot of enemies at you. I've had a fair few hairy moments in the dungeons so far, really takes me back to some of the moments in DM. Low on health and mana and being pursued by a gang of enemies.

Back to the roots

Yes, my dalliance with the seductive harlots of the new consoles is pretty much at an end and I've come crawling back to the bosom of retrogaming. I always do. Not that I haven't pickep up a few new favourites along the way... Virtua Fighter 5 has a very definite place in my affections and I'll continue to play the series for a long, long time. I'm still looking forward to Mass Effect 2 and Too Human, and I've been dabbling in Bladestorm recently, which is fun. I came to that via a chance encounter with Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders on the original Xbox. It's like a collision between Dynasty Warriors and a Total War game, with a bit of character building inbetween. Very compulsive.

I'm also quite enjoying Yakuza on the PS2, which surprises me. I let this one slip by me, thinking it another cash-in on the GTA formula, but some praise on the 1Up Yours podcast inspired me to check it out and I'm glad I did. It's essentially an action RPG set in modern Tokyo, with you working your way through a mystery plot full of twists and betrayals, and engaging in a heck of a lot of fisticuffs along the way. It's hysterically foul-mouthed, which seems to be the concession the developers have made to it being an 'adult' gangster game.

But anyway, the main topic of this post - the oldies!

The thing that compelled me back was a brief experience with Lost Odyssey on the 360. A very traditional eastern-style RPG that I played solidly for a few days and kind of fooled myself into believing I was enjoying. To explain that, I can only say that I got engrossed in the character tweaking and the prospect of the visuals over any compelling gameplay qualities the game offered. After about 20 hours I came to a boss battle that I lost mainly due to my own lack of tactical thought, and instantly I wasn't interested in the game anymore. I had a weird kind of flash forward and I saw that I really wasn't enjoying things, that I was essentially grinding my way through a story that didn't particularly grab me, and I simply couldn't be bothered to devote any more of my time towards it.

This had me hankering after a more 'hands-on' RPG experience. Something with more depth of tinkering, and something much more open, where I didn't have to slavishly follow a single plot thread from start to finish (several times in Lost Odyssey I found myself in the midst of epic cutscenes, going for up to an hour between opportunities to save). I started pootling about with Haxima again, and that gave me the Ultima bug. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was knee-deep in DOS RPGs. Now, I never had a PC until about 2001, so almost everything prior to that is new to me aside from the things that got ported to the ST and Amiga, or things that were so famous I couldn't help but hear about them. RPGs though, being a particular acquired taste, tend not to be known outside their fan circles. There are so many treasures to be found there, though, and I've spent the last week or so emulating a great many of them, picking through to find the ones I want to stick with and seek out genuine copies of.

It's also reignited my love of old computer stuff over console stuff, too. My heart really lies with the nostalgic memories and great variety of games you got on computers (the format breakdown of my top100 speaks volumes to that). I broke out the Amiga and had a fun time with that, playing an Ultima V I managed to grab off ebay (complete with all the bits, no less). On the PC side though I've really been bitten by the D&D bug. Proper turn-based epic stuff like the SSI 'Gold Box' games - Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, and so forth. The Magic Candle is another that I'd previously not heard of, but it's something of a warmly regarded classic. I've reinstalled Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Arcanum, Fallout and The Temple of Elemental Evil too. All games I've dabbled in but never really set aside the time to play properly.

I'm not saying all these old RPGs are still wonderful stuff though! There are limits of clunkiness that even I can't go beyond. I've found the Phantasie games to be an example, among others. What I do find though is something I've known all along but tend to push to the back of my mind: that I want to like JRPGs more than I actually do - mainly because of the attractive visuals and stylings - but my real fix comes from western style games that allow the player to just do whatever they want whenever, and dip into the main quest at will, even if they are represented by the most basic visual forms. I guess that's the essence of a compelling game though - one that holds your attention regardless of graphical flourishes.