Crusaders of the Dark Savant: Won!

From The CRPG Addict


Yes, that’s what I want to hear after 108 hours. Our adventures are only just beginning.

          

The final level of the dungeon on the Isle of Crypts holds the Tomb of the Astral Dominae. It’s behind a gate that doesn’t open until you’ve walked around the level and stepped on various tiles with the same names as the game’s maps.
The greater difficulty on the level was the numerous encounters with robots. I believe in order of difficulty they are battle droids, cosmo-bots, and mega-bots. Each is capable of a mass damage laser or phaser attack, and if any spells were capable of protecting against them, I never found it. They were highly resistant to spells themselves, and so battle mostly came down to keeping everyone alive while I destroyed them with melee attacks. When I first arrived on the level, I thought my party was pretty tough, so the level shook me a bit.
           
This was harder than the endgame battle.
       
Combats in this game are extraordinarily variable in composition and thus difficulty. The enemies themselves might always be the same in a particular area, but the number varies a lot. When you step on a “battle square,” you might find a single dragon or six dragons in three groups of two. In the case of this level, one or two battle droids were no problem. A party with six mega-bots was game over. I got through the level mostly by dying and reloading when I encountered a tough party and saving when I got through a battle with an easier one.
The difficulty of the droids paled in comparison to the final battle, but I need to relate a bit more before I describe that. The final battle takes place in the Tomb of the Astral Dominae, and to get through the Tomb, you need two “keys” from the outside world: the Locket of the Tomb and the Ring of the Globe. Both require some item or knowledge from within the Isle of Crypts dungeon, which is what I meant last time about the backtracking.
            
What happens when the party reaches the Tomb of the Astral Dominae without these objects.
          
Getting the Ring of the Globe requires the party to complete the “Great Test” in the City of Sky. The test involves three statues of Phoonzang, the first of which just requires his name. The third statue doesn’t really have a test at all. But the second one has a level of puzzle difficulty that’s a little absurd. I wouldn’t have figured it out without a hint. It involves pressing nine buttons in a particular order. The buttons are labeled serpent, gate, wand, pyramid, star, dragon, cross, skull, and map.
The hint, which I saw accidentally while trying to look up a different hint, was that the solution makes use of the STAR map, which you find on one of the teleporter levels on the Isle of Crypts. The map is full of long and pseudo-poetric ramblings. The relevant part reads:
            
Look upon life as thee may look upon the stone, and create thee then thine own order. Look first at a man, and if thee looks rightly, then soon ye shall come full circle. Then look beneath him, and if thee looks rightly, then soon shall thee once again come full circle. Thus may thee divine the puzzle from the pieces.
            
Well, none of this has anything explicit to say about the buttons on the statue, so I would have overlooked that it had anything to do with the puzzle without the hint. But the only hint I got was that the STAR map was the key to the puzzle. I still didn’t know how it solved the puzzle, and I was determined to figure that out for myself.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the different buttons on the puzzle correspond to some of the items listed on the Stone of Gaelin, and the map of course tells the reader to “look upon the stone.” I had previously thought the words on the stone were clues about where to find the maps or where to use them, but I was barking up the wrong tree.
The words on the pillar, if you ignore the titles and read in a counter-clockwise direction (i.e., “look rightly”), go in this order:
           
  • First Row: man, pyramid, crescent moon, devil, boat upon waves, cross, tower, coiled serpent, lantern, dragon, chest, key
  • Second Row:  egg, winged chimera, magic wand, skull, radiant jewel, statue, cube, crystal ball, gate, stone tablet, three statues, five-pointed star
            
So basically you start with “man” on the first row and then read to the right, ignoring the words then don’t have a corresponding button. When you get back to “man,” you “look beneath him” and do the same on the second row. The final order of buttons is pyramid, cross, serpent, dragon, wand, skull, gate, and star. The “Map” button in the puzzle is never used at all, which is a bit confusing. Having described the puzzle, I’ll save a discussion of how I feel about it (and the maps in general) for my summary.
             
All that to get here.
          
Beyond the statues of Phoonzang, we found a spaceship, and in searching the spaceship, we found the Ring of Globes. The spaceship becomes important later.
The Locket of the Tomb comes from the Mandolian Isles, a small area west of the Isle of Crypts that I would have missed if I wasn’t trying to grind a bit before attempting the final dungeon level again. Since enemies don’t always appear randomly when you want them, the easiest way to “grind” is to first make sure you’ve tripped all the fixed battles, and that means visiting every square. I was systematically lawnmowing the Sea of Sorrows when I ran into the Mandolian Isles, stepped into a building, and found an obvious place to use the “Jewel of the Sun” I’d found in the Hall of Gorrors.
            
This is like the 90th statue of Phoonzang in the game. The guy sure did think a lot of himself.
          
We were teleported to an area with a statue of Phoonzang. Searching it revealed the locket, and then the statue awoke and had a long speech:
     

The day is come! I do not know how many centuries have passed since last I breathed these airs and walked these lands But in death does time lose all meaning. And so it is but a moment ago that I lay down to final rest. There is much I wish to tell you, the story of all stories. Of life and death, and of the time between. But soon enough shall my voice fade again, its energy depleted, its task at end. In your hands you hold the locket, a part of the final key. Carry it well, for it is a guardian of my secret. Within its crystal cells have I imprinted the code of my palm, so that by my hand alone shall the key unlock the Astral Tomb. But though I be dead a thousand millennia, this cast does yet live on. For upon all my descendants and theirs, for the remainder of all time, shall my code exist upon their hands, the secret bequeathed through the blood of my children. I do not know your name, whether you be man or woman or child. But if you blood be mine, then the secret shall be thine. When you stand alone within the Astral Tomb, grasp the locket within you palms . And behold the miracle! O, would that I could see the wonders of my works! My blessings be upon you, distant child of my loins Upon your brow do I heave the weight of a Universe!

    
The text is important because it indicates that the person who uncovers the Astral Dominae will have to be a descendant of Phoonzang, which on the surface seems like an absurdly short-sighted requirement (what if his kids decided not to have children of their own?). This sentiment is also echoed in the GLOBE map, which says “thou are the key!” In other words, Vi Domina is supposed to be the one doing all this work, not my party.
           
The woman can’t even pronounce the damned thing right.
        
This brings us back to the Tomb of the Astral Dominae. We entered the tomb to find it vacant. Some words on the floor read “*ASTRAL DOMINAE*,” and the game tantalized us with the possibility that, just like the maps, someone might have beaten us to it. That would have been funny. After all this work, I’ve got to chase down Brother T’Shober to win the game.
              
One wonders why it’s called a “tomb” since the Astral Dominae wasn’t really “alive.”
          
But no, it was just hidden. Searching the area revealed a kind of trap door in the floor. Using the two “keys” produced no result. Time to call Vi Domina. When I used her communicator, she appeared and seemed surprised as I was that the globe wasn’t in the room. She mentioned some “keys” that the Dark Savant had talked about, and asked if we knew what he was talking about. We said YES. She asked if maybe she should use them. We said YES.
The globe arose from the floor but was curiously dark. Then the Dark Savant appeared, claiming he’d injected Vi Domina with a homing device after her last disappearance, as well as something that allowed him to paralyze her with the push of a button. He tried to take the globe but found he couldn’t budge it. Then, he attacked the party in a rage.
            
I think . . . maybe you mean “mercilessly”?
        
He attacked with a group of “Savant Kui’S-Ka” in multiple groups. Both the Savant and his allies have powerful mental attacks that drove the characters insane each round. I couldn’t keep up with “Sane Mind,” and the insane characters were useless, so he mopped the floor with us in several rounds.
             
The Dark Savant’s party.
          
I tried several reloads. The Savant also has something called a “Chroma Glove” capable of paralyzing multiple characters–sometimes every character–when he pulls it out. I tried a bunch of different spells and tactics but couldn’t defeat him. I was discouraged from reloading too many times because every time I did, I had to go through all of Vi Domina’s dialogue and acknowledge the various Dark Savant messages first. This might be the earliest example of a difficult boss encounter with a long, unskippable cut scene in front of it.
I returned to the outside for more grinding. Among other things, I returned to the Dane Temple and re-visited the meditation chamber where, ages ago, three of my six characters had gained the “Mind Control” ability. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. Later, after commenters clued me in, I didn’t realize the importance of the skill. I’d already squandered any opportunity to develop the skill to a high level, but I figured it might help if each character at least had it.
I finished lawnmowing the Sea of Serpents and gained a few more levels. Later, I realized that there’s one square within the teleporter levels that always generates a combat when you step on it, and the experience rewards here were higher than anything outside, so I spent some time there. By the time I got bored, my characters had risen from around Level 25 (in the first Dark Savant encounter) to Level 32. Three of my characters now had “Sane Mind” instead of one, and everyone had at least 10-15 points in “Mind Control.”
             
My ninja and some of her endgame stats.

          

It took me a couple reloads–the “Chroma Glove” was still a dealbreaker when he pulled it out–but I defeated him. I focused my lead characters’ melee attacks on the Savant while two spellcasters ravaged his minions with “Nuclear Blast” and then cast buffing spells (including “Create Life”). He only had about 500 hit points and lasted only about 4 rounds. I just had to keep the characters alive that long. If I’d known that, I probably could have won with a few more reloads the first time, without the extra grinding.
           
The Dark Savant is after the ultimate power in the universe and wields a magical glove. It feels like this is familiar.
           
When he was dead, Vi Domina roused herself, put on the Ring of the Globe, and started fiddling with the Astral Dominae. When it came on, she had a long bit of senseless exposition:
           
This is incredible. It’s a blueprint. No, it’s . . . it’s a formula, a code. For the creation of life! Wait. It’s also a map Of Energy. And Matter. Of the nexus between Energy and Matter. But, but . . . then, that is what Life is. The nexus, the flux, the bridge between Matter and Energy. That is the secret of Life! By the gods!!! With the power of this Globe, you could create a living being of unlimited energy! A being with the power of the stars! A Superman! A God!!! No wonder the Dark Savant wanted to get his hands on this. Ut! What is this. It’s a chart of a star-system. Hey! I recognize this system. But there isn’t a . . . Oh! Very clever! This must be where it all started!
           
There were a lot of screens of blah blah after this (sample: “Who among you could have guessed on this day that the awesome power of the heavens [would] fall into your hands?”). None of that made very much sense and left a lot of open questions–if you could do those things, why didn’t Phoonzang do them instead of leaving it to a descendant that might never have been born, and so forth–but we’ll talk more about the story next time. For now, Vi Domina wanted to know if we’d discovered any sort of spaceship that might get us off this rock. Obviously, we had, because that’s where the Ring of Globes was. She said she was going to get her personal things from the Dark Savant’s ship and to summon her when we were at the spaceship’s location. She gave us the Astral Dominae to hold in the meantime.
         
Are you going to call the thing by its actual name even once?
        
It would have been nice if the game had just taken us there, but instead we took the long way back down through the Isle of Crypts dungeon and its teleporters, rowed the boat back through the fog, walked through the cavern network, and emerged again in the City of Sky. We felt our way through the invisible walls and back to the starship that had given us the ring. We used Vi’s communicator to call her back. I’m eliding a lot of superfluous text here (“What is this new place that Vi Domina semes intent upon reaching in such a hurry? And more, will the charms that seem to bless her life be strong enough to protect you as well?” etc.)
Instead of Vi, the Dark Savant appeared, clutching Vi Domina’s bloody and unconscious body. He didn’t really explain how he survived, just mocked the idea that we could have hoped to defeat him. And in one of the most annoying tropes in fiction, he then claimed that we had been doing his bidding all along (which really isn’t much of a twist if you started the game with the opening that has you arriving on the planet with the Dark Savant). I suppose I ought to give you a bit of his subsequent rant. This is in ALL CAPS in the original, but I can’t bring myself to type it this way:
         
I am the Savant, the dark herald of change! For too long has the fate of man been ruled by the ghosts of those enshrouded in mystery. Deciding how and when men might be slowly fed the secrets of the heavens. It is time for a new order in the universe! It is time of a new perception of purpose in the cosmos. It is the time of the coming of change! I am the harbinger of new destiny! I will create galaxies filled with supramen . . . men who are unafraid to embrace the truth of the heavens.
           
He then demanded that we turn over the Astral Dominae in exchange for Vi Domina, suggesting that it was the only way to save her life (and ours). It’s a classic choice. Does the good of the one outweigh the good of the many? You could make a strong argument that giving an item of ultimate power to an insane megalomaniac is far more evil than letting one woman die. You could make the opposite argument, too. It annoyed me that the game decided to come down hard on one side and make an explicit suggestion to the player:
               
Considering the unknown nature of his awesome powers, perhaps your role at this time is that of compliance. After all, certain death is not the way of the wise, and to die here shall certainly serve no meaningful purpose, and who knows what tomorrow shall bring. Better to be alive to see it than not.
             
Thus annoyed, the first time I got these messages, I chose to keep the globe. This brought up an immediate and short ending. The Dark Savant raised his hand and: “There is darkness all around. You feel nothing, nothing at all. You do not know how long you have been here. You do not know how long you will remain. There is only the darkness all around.” But the game did prompt me to make a final save, so I guess it’s a legitimate ending and may have a unique beginning in Wizardry 8.
       
The player makes a final save.
        
I reloaded and gave the Dark Savant the globe. This resulted in a lot more text, but it boiled down to Vi waking up, saying don’t worry, she knows where the Dark Savant is headed. Using the ring and locket, she fires up the spaceship and we head off.
           
Out there, somewhere, looms the shadow of the Savant, in his hands the power of the Astral Dominae, and deep within, you know that your paths are destined to cross again. During the voyage, you spend many a night listening with fascination to the incredible stories that pass from the lips of the remarkable girl, Vi Dominae, who seems to possess an unquenchable curiosity about the nature of the universe and everything else as well, and it is through these tales that your own new perception of life and the stars and all that they contain begins to emerge.
             
Again, cue a final saved game.
           
I’m not sure we made the right decision here.
         
There turns out to be two more potential endings that I didn’t experience. But to get either, you have to blatantly lie to Vi when she asks if you’ve discovered a spaceship. I’m not sure if the developers got confused and thought they had left a way open to reach this point in the game without visiting the spaceship, or if they just thought some players might want to lie. If the latter, they don’t really given any compelling reason to lie. But if you do, Vi tells you to meet her back in New City. There, you get caught up in a final epic battle between the T’Rang and Umpani and have to choose one side or the other. Somehow, the Dark Savant still ends up with the Astral Dominae, and the party and Vi end up chasing after him in either a T’Rang or Umpani ship.
             
In 3 out of 4 endings, you’re in a spaceship chasing the Dark Savant.
           
I’ve had negative things to say about the quantity of text and the story it tells, but we can’t ignore that by 1992, there are few games that even attempt to tell a story with this level of complexity, and even fewer that allow for player choices and multiple endings. I have to give the game credit for those features even if I make fun of some of the specifics.
             
It’s nice to have choices at all.
           
I would note that some of the text at the end of the game is oddly racially specific. The Dark Savant rails about the “fate of man.” The STAR map talks about “the unique gift of Man, that by which he alone is separated from all others.” This is interesting rhetoric, but my party, which includes only one human, isn’t sure how to take it. It’s possible that in this universe, we are to understand “man” as meaning any sentient race, but perhaps not. Phoonzang himself is clearly human, and the “hero” of the story, despite the party doing all the work, is clearly the human Vi Domina. This isn’t necessarily a plot hole or a criticism. It just adds an interesting twist if your party of Mooks, Felpurrs, and fairies finds themselves within an epic quest to determine the fate of “mankind.”
I was surprised that nothing about the ending came back around to the beginning. We never see Aletheides again, nor ever hear anything again about the Cosmic Forge or the Lords of the Cosmic Circle. I never got any satisfaction about the relationship between the Cosmic Forge and the Astral Dominae, even though it sounds like they do many of the same things. I’m guessing that even if you arrived in the game with Bela the dragon, he never reappears either. Most disappointingly, if your beginning had you arriving on Guardia with the Dark Savant, who demands that you find the Astral Dominae for him, there’s no way to role-play your party–quite ironically–as crusaders of the Dark Savant. The endgame still assumes that you’re opposing him instead of willingly obtaining the globe for him.
I’ll have more thoughts on the story in the summary, where we have to talk a bit about what happened next for Sir-Tech. For now, it’s nice to wrap this one up after more than 100 hours. It would be nice to think that this will be the longest game of 1992.


Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2018/12/crusaders-of-dark-savant-won.html