From The CRPG Addict
|So begins a mostly-optional but fun dungeon level.|
I spent 14 hours late this week trying to win Crusaders, and I made it to the threshold, but I can’t quite cross it. Unfortunately, I waited a bit too long to blog about this experience, and looking at my notes and screenshots, I find it impossible to discuss what I accomplished in any kind of linear order. The endgame requires so much backtracking that I came to memorize entire dungeon levels. It also required three separate violations of my “no cheats” rule, although they’re not technically “violations” if I’m completely stuck and can’t progress otherwise. They still feel like violations.
|Getting into the dungeon on the Isle of Crypts required the “Majestik Wand” that I found last session.|
The first level was large and full of undead, fairly easy to map. It has some annoying squares where every time you enter, you set off a trap that damages, blinds, or “vegetates” your characters, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid or disarm them. I don’t know; there’s a golden urn at one point, and it might be possible to disarm the traps by putting some powder in the urn the way it supposedly is in the Dane Tower, but I never found any of that powder.
|This message accompanied a lot of the unavoidable-damage squares. I never figured out what it was about.|
As I began to explore, some ghost kept appearing and shrieked things like, “IIII WWWWANT MMMY BMOCYENOBBB!!!” Having been programmed now–largely by the Wizardry series–to automatically check everything backwards, I immediately interpreted this as something like “bony comb.” I’d been carrying around a “bone comb and brushes” since Orkogre Castle, so when I finally found the corpse of an old Gorn queen and used the object on it, the specter went away. That might be the longest amount of gameplay between finding a quest object and using it that I’ve experienced.
|Most of the ruins in this game used to belong to the Gorn, it seems.|
There were some locked doors on the level that opened only with “Keys of the Tomb” or “Keys of the Crypt,” both of which appeared in random loot on the level. The rooms behind these doors had some treasure chests with decent objects. There were actually quite a few treasure chests throughout this session, and while I didn’t record in detail what I found and kept at each location, by the end of the session most of my characters were wielding different items. My Valkyrie got a Valkyrie-only weapon called “Maenad’s Lance.” I found a decent mace called “Diamond Eyes,” but the only character who could use it effectively was my lord, so I ended up transferring the “Sword of 4 Winds” to my ninja, who oddly never found a high-level ninja-specific weapon. I found an entire suit of Samurai-specific armor on one corpse, and I hated to discard it all, but at this point I didn’t want to do any more class changes.
|It would have made more sense if his name were * M I L D I N C O N V E N I E N C E *.|
There were combats with demons and dragons among all the undead, and the level culminated with a battle with a black dragon called * D O O M *. Despite this being a spaces-and-asterisks boss, he wasn’t that difficult, or at least I didn’t take any detailed notes that suggested the combat was difficult. I think I might have gotten lucky with a critical hit (against which most boss-level enemies seem immune) in an early round.
|“And a thousand eyes, can’t help but see . . .”|
The enemies, all of which were optional, ranged from the trivially easy to the impossible. In rough order:
- Ra-Sep-Re-Tep. This was the undead skeleton in the starter dungeon. I don’t know how he’s in two different places, but he doesn’t seem to have advanced very much in between. I killed him almost immediately. It was frankly embarrassing.
- D’Arboleth. A ghost enemy. He died in maybe 8 rounds of physical attacks (meaning he had maybe 1,000-1,200 hit points), with none of his attempts at “Death” working.
|D’Arboleth’s demon ally was more difficult than he was.|
- Horragoth. A demon who attacks with some lesser demons or sphinx-type enemies in tow. Both he and his comrades are fond of mass-damage spells, and Horragoth himself often casts “Death Wish” and “Word of Death.” When these spells work, they’re obviously devastating to the party, but I find–especially with “Magic Screen” active–that they hardly ever work. To beat him, I just had to keep up on healing while whittling down his hit points.
|“Do you know what you just interrupted?!,” Horragoth screamed.|
- Thing from Hell. This is a bug beast with more than 5,000 hit points. It frequently casts “Mind Flay,” which can drive a character insane, and a physical attack that causes high-level poison. (Insane characters behave erratically, usually ignoring your assigned action and sometimes attacking other party members.) This was the first Gorror that I encountered as I mapped, and I gave up after a few tries. Much later, when more of my characters were capable of casting “Sane Mind” and had higher levels in “Mind Control” (see below), I tried again and was able to beat it.
|Bix goes insane.|
- Beast of a Thousand Eyes. I haven’t been able to defeat either of the last two enemies, but at least I can survive a couple rounds with the Beast. By icon, the Beast is in the “flying jellyfish” family. He has these tentacles that don’t do much damage (although they can poison), and every time I tried to fight him, he’d use those tentacles for a few rounds while my melee characters pounded him for hundreds of hit points. But then, inevitably, he’d cast “Dazzling Lights” and it would be all over. “Dazzling Lights,” according to the manual, is a spell that does random effects to enemies, including insanity, nausea, blinding, stoning, and death. His, for whatever reason, seem to favor the “death” option. I tried to keep up with resurrections and other healing spells, but in about 15 tries, he always wiped out my party by the 12th round.
|Ironically, he doesn’t appear to have any eyes.|
- Fiend of 9 Worlds. In contrast to the Beast, I couldn’t even last three rounds against this Rattkin enemy before all hope died. He has a Vorpal Blade that causes 99 hit points every time it strikes, almost never misses, and leaves a character poisoned even if he survives. He also shoots mystic arrows that seem to have a lot of luck with critical hits.
|It annoys me that an enemy this powerful is a Rattkin.|
Once I understood the “shtick” of the level, and perceived that the combats were optional, I didn’t mind the difficulty so much. It actually improved my approach to the game’s combats in general, which is a funny thing to say this late in the game. There are so many spells that even with the number of combats you face in the game, I’ve tended to rely on the same handful for most of them. (It should go without saying that with any difficult combat in this game, I started, or at least re-started, with “Enchanted Blade,” “Magic Screen,” and “Armorplate” blazing.) Trying to defeat the Gorrors, I experimented a bit more with different spells and combat options and found a few combinations that could have served me better.
|Having just woken up from a nap, the party regrets not having its protection spells turned on right now.|
Among my discoveries are the utility of “Create Life,” which creates an (invisible) ally to fight along side you. Not only is this ally capable of doing some significant damage, but he must stand off to the side somewhere because the enemy is capable of either attacking the party or the ally. If he casts a spell at the ally, even a mass-damage spell, it never affects the party. Those rounds where the summoned ally absorbs the enemy’s attention are very rewarding.
The spell “Armormelt” seems to do a good job of softening enemies for melee combat, and I’ve found that “Anti-Magic” causes their spells to “fizzle” a satisfying number of times. “Superman” does a good job bolstering allies. However, the problem that I have with these spells–and perhaps the reason that I avoided using them for so long–is that the manual is coy about how long they last. There’s no indicator on screen to show that you have any of the buffing spells activated, so you just have to trust that when you cast the spell, it’s doing something. I’m not big on that kind of trust.
A lot of commenters have extolled the virtues of building up the “Ninjutsu” skill and hiding in the first combat round. My characters do all have this skill–a side effect of my cycling them through ninja or samurai classes, if only for one level, to give them “Kirijutsu,” which governs critical hits. When it works, all the characters drop into shadows and then come out screaming the next round with backstabs and such, doubling or tripling the melee damage they can cause. You can also elect to stay hidden for multiple rounds and let your summoned allies do the work. There are even some mass damage spells that don’t break your cover, although I haven’t experimented long enough to get these.
Anyway, my problem with the strategy is that it really only works if all of the characters manage to hide. I didn’t spend enough points on “Ninjutsu” for some of the characters and they usually don’t make it. When that happens, the un-hidden characters draw all of the enemy’s attention and don’t prevent the enemy from casting mass-damage spells that hit everyone. Also, even characters with 50+ points in “Ninjutsu” don’t seem capable of hiding from high-level enemies like the Beast with the Thousand Eyes.
What strikes me is how, this late in the game, it’s generally physical attacks that save the day. This separates Crusaders from a lot of games in its genre where fighters become useless around mid-game, and spellcasters end up doing all the heavy lifting (Phantasie and The Bard’s Tale series are two where this is is particularly true). Here, it’s the spellcasters who become somewhat weak, with high-level enemies (infuriatingly) shrugging off even the highest-level spells cast with the highest number of dice. I find that at this stage, the best my spellcasters can do is keep the melee characters alive and healthy long enough to do their jobs. In a lot of rounds, I have my mage, bishop, and alchemist join the front three characters in physical attacks.
The only thing I had to accomplish on the Hall of Gorrors level, it turns out, was to find something called the Jewel of the Sun behind a hidden door and corridor. After that, it was on to the next section. But to get there, I had to get the first of my three hints.
|This pillar is going to be important later, too.|
To get out of the Hall of Gorrors, you have to open a gate with something called the Key of Skulls. The Key of Skulls, in turn, is hidden within a pillar called the “Gaelin Stone.” The pillar has four faces, and at each face, the party can read a message that talks about two of the game’s maps. It turns out that to get the key, you have to physically “use” the LEGEND map and hold it up against the western-facing edge of the pillar, which discusses the DRAGON and STAR maps. This is what it says:
A Dragon, a Chest, and a Key…
A Stone Tablet, Three Statues, and a Five-Pointed Star…
This is what the LEGEND map says:
Whatever was written upon the map has long ago faded. Now it is but a blank piece of parchment, dotted with several scattered holes. Around the edge of one hole near the center, you can just barely discern the faint remnants of a ring of reddish dye.
You hold the Gaelin Legend over the face of the Runed Tablet, and see that the holes in the parchment conform perfectly with the knobs of stone protruding from the pillar. The hole near the center of the Legend is positioned directly over the eye of the Dragon, and by inserting your finger, you discover that it is actually a well-concealed button. Pushing the button, a secret compartment opens up in the tablet, revealing a black key in the shape of a skull.
Even knowing the solution, I don’t understand how I was supposed to figure it out from the available evidence. The word “Gaelin” is only attached to the LEGEND map, as far as I can tell, in this one paragraph. Nowhere else in the game do you “use” the maps like this. What am I missing?
In any event, the gate led to the next section of the dungeon, where I spent most of this session’s time but have the least to say. It was eight levels of 8 x 8 squares with no stairs between them, only teleporters. There are 54 teleportation destinations within the area, but some of the destinations have more than one teleporter, with the result being that about 25% of the squares are either teleportation or destination squares. Some of the levels have dark areas that you have to “feel” your way through, and one has a water area. There were a few locked gates where I had to find treasure chests with keys before I could open them.
|Dark squares, a staple of other tile-based blobbers, really haven’t been a part of Crusaders so far. This was briefly disorienting.
Naturally, it took a long time to map the entire thing, but this is the kind of challenge that I enjoy. I don’t know why I enjoy it. There isn’t much creativity involved in mapping an area like this, just a lot of trial and error. I enjoy it anyway. I stayed up all night one night finishing the map.
|The eight dungeon levels with all of the teleporter origins and destinations.|
There were multiple battles with undead, demons, dragons, and other high-level enemies, and while I had a fair number of reloads during the process, the battles weren’t overly hard. Each one delivered an average of maybe 20,000 experience points. My characters require 600,000 experience points between levels these days, so about 30 battles per level, but I have six characters, so roughly every five battles or so, someone leveled up.
Aside from a few weapon and armor upgrades, the key item to find among the eight levels was the STAR map. The STAR map turns out to be the solution to one of the “statue” puzzles back in the City of Sky, and you need something from that area to get through the Tomb of the Astral Dominae, so this represents one of the mandatory backtrackings from this dungeon. At the time that I found it, however, I didn’t even begin to guess that was it’s purpose. It wasn’t until I was looking up a later hint that I saw an unwanted (although it turns out, equally necessary) hint about the STAR map.
|If someone else had gotten to this first, I might have rage-quit.|
The hint I needed came from one of the dungeon levels, where to progress I needed to press eight buttons–Egg, Moon, Cross, Tower, Dragon, Skull, Sun, and Star–in a particular order. Looking through my existing maps gave me no ideas. Looking for a hint, I discovered that the answer was to be found on the CRYSTAL map, the only map that I hadn’t retrieved so far. The last clue I’d received about it said that the Rattkin had it.
|This area had four rooms of two buttons each.|
It was clear that both to find the CRYSTAL map and make use of the STAR map, I’d need to leave the dungeon, so I backtracked my way out the doors and back to my boat. I returned to New City to use its fountain and sell some excess equipment and ponder my next move. I briefly considered looking at a more explicit hint about the CRYSTAL map, but ultimately sighed, sucked it up, and took the long forest path back to Rattkin territory.
|I’m glad you’re moving up in the universe.|
- The City of Skies, which I talked about last time, has this museum where there are several powerful-sounding artifacts including a “Mercurian Light Sword” and a “Cobaltine Power Glove.” Each item is behind a force field and can only be unlocked with a “Key of Light,” of which it appears only one exists. When I first visited the city, I found the key after visiting the museum, and owing to the difficulty navigating the area and its invisible walls, figured I’d decide on the artifact later. Then I forgot to go back. I also forgot to go back when I visited the city the second time to use the STAR map. Those items probably would have made a difference. Maybe I’ll go back if I still can’t beat the final battle.
- Many of the chests in the Isle of Crypts dungeon were impossible to disarm even with a character with a “Skullduggery” skill at 100. That seems a bit unfair.
- In my opinion, the graphics and animations for the various demon creatures are the best in the game.
|These guys are reasonably intimidating.|
It seems like almost every weapon and piece of armor I found was useable only by a fighter, Valkyrie, lord, or samurai. I never found any really good stuff for my bishop, alchemist, or mage.
- At one point, I thought I had discovered some good stuff. One chest gave me a number of items “of Doom,” including a staff, and both upper and lower pieces to a robe. The items were cursed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this game; it just means you can’t unequip them without casting “Remove Curse.” The armor class on the robes was insanely low, and they also had a high magic protection rating. I was so enamored of them that I didn’t realize until much later that they sap hit points from whoever is holding them. It’s slow, but fast enough that the character will die during 8 hours of resting. I reluctantly gave them up.
- My characters all have at least 18 in everything now. Some of them are up to 19 or 20 because of ankhs that you can “invoke” for a one-point attribute gain. The nice thing is that even with the toughest enemies, my characters almost always act first.
- It’s been a long time since I cast something at anything but the highest level. I wish the game would just default to the highest level.
- And I wish there was a higher-level healing spell. Most of my characters have enough spell points for 8 to 10 castings of “Heal Wounds,” and it takes that many to fully restore a character’s health. That’s like trying to heal a Dungeons and Dragons character with nothing but “Cure Light Wounds” when he’s Level 20. It would be nice if the game had offered a “Heal Wounds a Lot” spell to cut down on some of the time.
- Here’s a process I’m getting sick of: Entering the temple in New City. Acknowledging a message about the statue of Phoonzang. Acknowledging the screen with the name of the temple. Acknowledging a descriptive message about the temple. Acknowledging the introductory screen of Father Rulae. Telling Father Rulae that we want GUIDANCE. Talking to Father Rulae. Reminding Father Rulae that we know the SACRAMENT. Acknowledging his reaction. Saying BYE to Father Rulae. Acknowledging his farewell message. Telling father Rulae to LEAVE. Acknowledging his farewell message again. Then finally being able to walk down the corridor behind him to the healing fountain. It would be nice if the corridor had just stayed open permanently after the first time I told Rulae about the SACRAMENT.
|The characters have gotten creative during this process.|