Die Dunkle Dimension: Quest of the Abschreiber

From The CRPG Addict


A city of elves has the least elvish name ever.

         

Die Dunkle Dimension does a decent job evoking the core Ultima IV experience of exploration, learning about the world from NPCs, and slowly assembling a journal of clues and quests. That all the translation makes it a bit frustrating for me isn’t the game’s fault, though it does affect my ability to play for long periods or in inconvenient locations where I don’t have multiple monitors.

But even if the game were in English, I think I’d find it a bit irksome. The primary problem is combat, which is far too frequent, takes far too long, and offers far too few rewards. You can’t walk five steps without an enemy appearing and attacking you. Both you and the enemy miss most of your attacks, making every combat drag on for multiple minutes. You get paltry experience and gold rewards from each combat, so you have to fight hundreds of them to level up.
           

Battling a zombie and something.

           

But because combat is mechanically easier than town exploration (to fight, I don’t need an Internet connection and a separate window for the translation screen), I spent a decent amount of time grinding near the druid’s hut (where you can get free healing) as I tentatively explored outward. I rose to Level 4 during this process and amassed enough money for a decent set of equipment when I finally found a town (Trisdic, an obvious reference to Ultima‘s Trinsic). Then I discovered that no matter how much money I had, my stats were only enough to allow wielding the most basic weapons and armor.
            

Buying my first weapon.

           

Meanwhile, enemies scale with your level in number and difficulty. Pretty soon, I started encountering “nettle trees,” which of course poison you, in just about every enemy party. Unless I’m near the druid or one of the locations with healing, poisoning is an automatic reload because I have no way to cure it. But fleeing from these trees causes you to lose hard-won experience. It’s frustrating as hell.
Animals also suck. I keep getting attacked by snakes, wild horses, and unicorns. They deliver no experience or gold, but you can’t flee from them without losing experience. You can’t avoid combat by outrunning them because they can move on the diagonal but you can’t. You have to beat them until they themselves flee.
          

Losing 12 experience points because I didn’t feel like fighting livestock for no reason.

         

Leveling up is done at the castle by speaking to the king, just as in Ultima III-IV, and is accompanied by a similar sound and flashing of the screen. You get a few dozen extra hit points per level. Meanwhile, speaking to Cerfax the druid gets you a handful of spell points per level.
            
Leveling up.
          
Leveling gives you the ability to speak to trainers and increase your various attributes. The castle has a trainer (Ator) who increases attack and defense scores. Later, in other towns, I found trainers to increase strength and skill. I haven’t yet found intelligence (which I really need) or charisma. At first I thought that you could only train one attribute per level, so I was conservative about using too many slots on one attribute, but after I was able to train four times in both strength and skill, now I’m thinking that maybe you can train each attribute every time you level.
           
“Arnold” trains me in strength. He responds to SCHWARZENEGGER but claims that isn’t his last name.
         
Once I felt strong enough, I began to explore the island in a roughly counter-clockwise manner, using the map as a guide. There’s an entire peninsula to the northeast that I can’t explore because of swamp squares (which poison you), and of course outlying islands for which I need a boat. Otherwise, I’ve explored roughly the top half of the main island, finding the king’s castle, the towns of Trisdic, Gaht, and Worthal, and the Tower of the Circle of Black Magic.
The towns have all been small enough to make mapping unnecessary, which is refreshing after some of the other Ultima clones lately (Deathlord comes to mind in particular, as well as Nippon until you find the in-town maps). There are generally fewer than 12 NPCs per town, not counting generic guards who all say the same thing. Some NPCs are shopkeepers who only respond to words relevant to what they’re selling–although you have to be careful, because some seem that way, but then launch into long speeches from an obscure keyword.
             
Dunkle also follows the old Ultima trick of hiding key NPCs in dark or hidden areas of town.

            

I’ve noted that “translating” has been tough, but it’s more than that. I not only have to translate, but then figure out what words in the original German are likely to produce more text. You also have to take care with words with umlauts and eszetts (ß). The game represents these characters but knows that many players won’t be able to easily type them, and thus requires phonetic input. So when a character says something about the groß böse (“big evil”), you have to render your follow-up questions as GROSS and BOESE.

(Related language question that this made me think of: I always hear that letters with diacritics like ä and ü are considered distinct letters and not just a and u with extra accents. Does that mean that when Germans recite their alphabet, they include these letters separately? How does it work for alphabetization? Do all a words appear before ä words, or are they mixed together? Where does ß fall alphabetically?)
Then, the game occasionally gets cute with its text, as in the image below, where I’m talking to a drunk guy. The developers added extra words and syllables to simulate the slurred speech of an alcoholic. I’ve seen this a million times in English games, and it never occurred to me how hard it must make it for someone trying to translate.
            
This text is tough to interpret.
           
But I muddled through, and here are some of the key takeaways and “to do” items from my various visits:
            
  • Every town has a druid who says that the druids want to help me, but then offers no additional keywords, just “ask what you will.” If I ask about anything obvious, like the KRISTALL, they just tell me to see Cerfax, who already gave me the rundown. I have no idea how they’re supposed to help.
          
The druid claims that he jut wants to helfen, but then he doesn’t helfen.
          
  • Each town also has a sorcerer who says he or she specializes in a particular spell and then says “Seek the [Black/White] Circle” if I express interest in that spell. These people seem kind of superfluous, since the two circle towers also have sorcerers who a) specialize in those spells, and b) will actually teach them to you.
  • In Gaht, a city of elves, a man named Anatol sells unicorns. He says I’m too clumsy to ride one, but that was before I found the skill trainer. I need to re-visit.
  • Also in Gaht, an elven princes named Thyra told me of the elbenbogen (“Elven Bow”), a magic weapon created by the elven queen Mithra and kept by a weapon-seller named Elrik. Elrik, in an episode I wish more RPGs would follow, said something like, “I’m really supposed to hold on to this bow, but I guess you are on a quest to save the world.” But he wants 1,000 gold pieces for it, so I’ll have to pick it up later.
             
The elven weaponsmith cuts the B.S.
            
  • In Worthal (which, confusingly, is called “Thorwal” when you enter), a retired seaman named Kapt’n Hook offered to sell me his sextant for 340 gold. Another thing I’ll have to save up for.
  • A bard in Gaht named Ijale told me of his magic glass flute that had something to do with causing the Crystal to vibrate. It was stolen from him when he was in Mubrak, a town I have not yet discovered.
  • In Trisdic, a sot named Zacharion is hiding in the tavern while his wife, Helena, looks around for him. She tells me to ask him of “treasure” if I want to hear the most ridiculous story ever. Zacharion tells me that after he was attacked by the Pirate of Mubrak, he hid a bunch of treasure on the island of Uyrp, but he can’t remember where the island is.
  • I can buy a boat in Worthal for 1,000 gold. I was hoping to capture one instead, but the one time I found a pirate ship on the waters, it was gone after I finished combat.
             
The next big stage awaits.
           
All of these items are added to the two quests I got last time: defeat the dragon so that Princess Sheila won’t have to be sacrificed, and defeat the thieving band in Mubrak. 

You really can’t do anything in towns. Outdoor commands like attack, inventory, ready weapon, wear armor, and cast a spell simply don’t work. You can only talk and search. Incidentally, I chose the “search” option in one town when I reached a dead-end in a long path (an obvious place to hide something), and I found a “clay tablet” with a “T” on it.
          
In Ultima IV, I found the Skull of Mondain the same way.
           
I have yet to cast a single magic spell, but I understand how it works. First, you have to get the mages in the Tower of the Black and White Circles to teach you the spells, but when I visited the Black Circle tower, they all told me that I was too dumb to learn their spells (my intelligence is only 5). You then have to have the right set of reagents in your pouch to cast the spell, and you also have to have enough spell points. I’ve been buying handfuls of reagents here and there (they’re cheap), so that I’m ready when I finally get smart enough to learn the spells.
            
May the schwarze be with you.
           
As for the reagents, the developer again mostly copied Ultima IV. There are eight reagents, and six of them are the same as their Britannian counterparts: schwefel (sulfur), knoblauch (garlic), ginseng (ginseng), blutflechte (blood moss), gift der nacht (nightshade), and alraunewurzel (mandrake). There is no spider silk or black pearl; instead, the game introduces zirbelkraut (“pine herb”?) and totenblume (“death flower”).
The copying from Ultima IV unfortunately goes beyond the list of reagents. Here’s how the manual describes ginseng, for instance (my translation):
        
Ginseng has long been praised for its invigorating and medicinal properties. The root of the ginseng plant is particularly notable for its bifurcated shape and its pink color. For a long time, the tea has been prepared to give strength to the sick. For magical purposes, only the particularly strong, black ginseng is used, which is found only in the mountains, but is almost everywhere to buy.
      
And here’s how it’s described in Ultima IV‘s documentation:
          

Long praised for its strength-giving and medicinal properties, the root of the ginseng plant is immediately recognizable for its forked shape, and to those initiated in the mystic ways, by its overpowering rose-coloured aura. It has been used for centuries by peasants who chew it or brew tea from a powdered preparation of the root in order to gain strength and stamina as they toil in the fields. While commonly found throughout Britannia, the Ginseng used as a component in the casting of spells is generally black in colour and found only on the slopes of the northern mountains.

          
The Dunkle Dimension one is shorter, but otherwise a near-direct translation. The descriptions of the other herbs are quite similar.

We see lots of other Ultima analogs in my descriptions above, including the need to find a ship and a sextant, and perhaps those clay tablets will turn out to be similar to Ultima IV‘s runes, of which you find one per town and they spell something. However, the game is starting to feel more notable for the things that it didn’t adapt, such as secret doors, multiple indoor levels, lockpicking, torches, gems, and joinable party members. I’m not even sure if it has dungeons. As I said at the beginning, Dunkle evokes some of the best of Ultima, but it lacks a lot of the features that gave its predecessor real character.

Still, I’m happy to see it to the end, and there’s lots left to do. When I was looking through my notes to compile this entry, I see that I missed acting on a clue. A bard in the king’s castle told me to ask the magicians of the two circles about EVIL to learn more about the name of the Evil One. I guess I’ll have to head back to the Black Circle, but maybe I’ll wait until I find an intelligence trainer first. Or perhaps I’ll grind for enough money for a ship next. Ultima clones always seems to kick to the next level once you have a ship.



Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2018/09/die-dunkle-dimension-quest-of.html