From The CRPG Addict
|Character creation occurs while you watch a sample party frolic around the screen.|
|This feels familiar.|
It’s a promising start, but some oddities become clear once we enter the castle and start poking around. Some games announce their names by telling you that you’re “Entering Trinsic” when you enter. Some have “M I N O C” written in the walls. A few, you have to determine the name from NPCs. Here, none of those strategies are in play. Maybe the towns just don’t have any names.
There are NPCs, and they give you a line of dialogue with hints and lore, but there aren’t many of them. There are a fair number of icons, sure, but most of them are just guards, who say “Move Along!,” and most of the rest just ignore you. (In particular, any NPC that moves around inevitably ignores you; only stationary NPCs have anything to say.) In the castle, there is no sign of King Edfax II, “the philosopher king,” nor his son Prince Ferdino.
|Buying at the weapon shop. I’ll need some NPC companions before I can use any of these.|
The castle does have a weapon shop, an armor shop, a healer, and a food shop. One advantage to creating a magic-user is that I can’t really upgrade from the cloth armor and dagger I started with, thus saving my gold for other things.
If there’s one aspect of Ultima you definitely don’t want cloned, it’s Ultima II‘s tyrannical attitude towards food. Unfortunately, that’s what we get here. My starting 100 meals didn’t last long enough to even explore the castle. The bakery sells meals for 1 gold piece each, and it appears that’s where most of my money (at least in the early game) is destined to go. Unfortunately, you can’t steal food the way you can in Ultima II.
|I feel like 100 cakes ought to last me the better part of a year.|
The Seventh Link takes an Ultima-esque approach to hiding key NPCs. To find the one who says “The magic user’s guild is below us,” you need to wander around the outside perimeter of the castle’s walls, around to the rear, taking care not to blunder out of the castle map and back to the world map. A lot of other NPCs are behind locked doors; it’s clear that I’m going to need a lot of keys to finish exploring the castle.
|This game adopts the simple NPC interactions of the pre-IV Ultimas.
I find my way in the castle’s wall network, where a sign alerts me to “DRINK at pools of Earth-sprung water.” I hope this will be a source of free healing, but every time I try it, including at the pool right next to the sign, the game just says, “Blech-Salt!” and nothing happens.
|“Not this Earth-sprung water. Other Earth-sprung water.”|
There’s a room full of chests, and after a momentary pause in which I remember that I’m not on the Quest of the Avatar, I plunder them. It helps my financial situation temporarily. But unlike Ultima III, this game remembers the state of its towns when you exit and return. Plundered chests remain plundered and unlocked doors remain unlocked.
|Ain’t no ankh cross in the middle of this screen.|
I find some ladders going down and explore a bit of the maze-like basement. I eventually find a hidden guild. If it’s the “mage’s guild,” it weirdly just sells torches and keys. I buy two keys–all I can really afford–and expend them opening a couple of doors to find an NPC who tells me to seek a wise knight in the hidden islands far to the southwest.
|Who’s manning that counter to the north of the usurious healer? That answer will have to wait until I have enough keys.|
By now, my food is running out again, and it’s clear I need a lot more money for keys. I decide to head outside and start grinding. There are several problems with this goal. First, random enemies are not copious. There’s no standing on bridges to make trolls appear every five turns. You can find skeletons, orcs, fighters, and “wolf dogs,” but you have to really hunt for them.
|Blasting some skeletons with “Ring of Fire.” Great, now I’m going to have that Johnny Cash song, which really isn’t that good when you think about it, stuck in my head for the rest of the day.|
The second problem is that my cloth-wearing mage isn’t really up to the challenge of grinding even if there were a lot of enemies. Some of those enemies attack in packs of six. Three seems to be the average. Now, my mage is capable of a few handy spells. “Ring of Fire” does minor damage to multiple enemies, “Magic Missile” does moderate damage to a single enemy, and “Shield” offers a little protection. The game manual only lists 15 spells, five each for the magic user, cleric, and druid. It promises that you will find more on scrolls. My magic user only started with three of the five listed in the manual, and you have to figure out which spells map to which keys.
Anyway, I can cast maybe four of these spells before my points are exhausted. Spell points and hit points regenerate as you walk around, but very slowly.
|Damned wolf-dogs don’t even leave any gold.|
The third problem is that grinding isn’t very rewarding. For the post-combat treasure system, The Seventh Link draws from Ultima V, which only came out the previous year. Enemies drop individual chests on the field of combat, and you walk around opening them before you leave combat. Most of the time, they leave only blood splatters (and unlike Ultima V, you can’t search those hoping to find sacks). When they do leave chests, the chests may contain items like torches instead of gold. When they have gold, they typically only contain 10-20 gold pieces, and they run a risk of damaging you with acid or poison traps. Poison traps are basically an instant reload at this stage because the condition costs 500 gold pieces to cure.
|Four skeletons, one chest.|
|Sure glad I opened that chest!|
I started poking around the map, thinking perhaps I’d find a dungeon with treasure chests and easier grinding. A map comes with the game, but it fails to depict a lot of features, particularly water. On the map below, you can basically only explore the top third at the outset. Mountains and rivers prevent you from moving south along the western isthmus. I found only one other town, far to the northeast, and no dungeons, but I have to mess around the mountains some more. I kept getting too far afield and dying. From what I explored, I suspect the overall world map is 150 x 300, and of course there are other worlds.
|The map of the world of Elira.|
Thus I leave you a few hours into The Seventh Link, on the brink of starving, desperately trying to find orcs so I can make money, usually dying even when I find them, and hardly making any money even when I survive. Something’s gotta give.
Time so far: 3 hours
I decided to reject Terradyne (1992), from Bit Brother software. The game is basically an updated version of Stone Mist (1991), which I tried to play but couldn’t get very far because of bugs. Terradyne itself is a little buggy, with an excruciating control scheme. It also seems to be the exact same game as Dragons Shard (yes, the official title omits an apostrophe) from the same year, to the extent that even the opening narrations are the same. Since Dragons Shard seems to be a more mature version, I’ll leave that on the list, but I don’t otherwise need to experience basically the same game three times.
|The opening of Terradyne . . .
|. . . versus the opening of Dragons Shard.
Morkin 2 (1992) was listed by MobyGames as an RPG when I first compiled my list, but it no longer is, and indeed I don’t see anything RPG about it. It’s a simple shareware strategy game where a couple of wizards duel with spells.
Crossfire (1992) turns out to be a MUD, which I’ve generally kept off the list. The commenter who first recommended it told me that I could set up my own server and play it like a single-player RPG, but as we’ve seen with other MUDs played that way (Neverwinter Nights, Operation: Overkill), this always produces an unsatisfying experience. The bigger problem is that the MUD has been in continuous development since 1992, and I don’t see any way from the site to experience the original version.
Finally, I moved TaskMaker (1989) to 1993. The 1993 version, by Storm Impact, is an update of the original version, by XOR. The update feels more like a 1993 game than a 1989 game, and it’s the only one I can find. My commenters are eager little beavers, and I suspect one of them will manage to dig up the 1989 version, so this change might not be permanent. Maybe if you have the 1989 version, you could wait until after I close the year to offer it to me, so it goes on the “clean up” list instead of forestalling the Great Reunification we’ve all been anticipating.