Game 328: The Kingdom of Syree (1992)

From The CRPG Addict


The game starts with an Ultima IV-like scene except that unlike Ultima IV, nothing happens in the view window.

             

The Kingdom of Syree
United States

Everlasting Software (developer and publisher)

Released in 1992 for DOS

Date Started: 20 May 2019
The moment I fire up a game and see that it’s an Ultima clone, I subject it to the “(Z)tats Test.” This involves hitting the “Z” key on the keyboard. If doing so produces a screen with the character statistics, I know I’m not dealing with some half-assed “inspired by the look and feel” title like Questron. Any game that passes the “(Z)tats Test” is a proper goddamned clone. There’s going to be a wizard with a freaking gem. There’s going to be boats with cannons. There’s going to be mantras.
          
The Kingdom of Syree is about as much of an Ultima clone as you can get. It not only passes the “(Z)tats Test” but the “(K)limb Test” besides. It’s so much of a clone that “T” stands for “Transact” rather than the more obvious “Talk.” It has a main menu command titled “Return to the View” even though the view doesn’t actually show anything happening. We’re dealing with a developer who took a desire to be unoriginal, doubled down on it, and then doubled down again.
            

A bunch of clerics chant a mantra around a fire. I think I’ve seen this before.

         

As for that developer, I spent a long time following a trail of breadcrumbs and eventually concluded that it is one Thomas Himinez, currently a writer, actor, and script editor for The Doctor Who Audio Dramas, an audio spinoff of the long-running television series. He would have been 25 when The Kingdom of Syree was published. There is no primary author credit in the game except for the company (Everlasting Software), but it is said to be based on three books called The Lost King of Syree, The Sword of Syree, and A Queen for Syree by “Lord Steven.” A simple Google search shows that these books never existed in published form, although the first one is quoted on, of all things, a legal discussion forum for landlords. The poster on the forum is named “Lighthope,” which is also the name of an NPC in The Kingdom of Syree. Meanwhile, the only publications I can find by “Lord Steven” are a series of books called Tigers’ Quest, which were turned into audio plays and films, directed by Thomas Himinez of “Everlasting Films,” who according to one magazine goes by the AKA “Lighthope.” Q.E.D., as they say. Sorry for the digression, but the authorial mystery was more interesting than the game.
            
The Kingdom of Syree takes place a few decades after the nation of Syree, in the Land of Sheol, threw off a tyrannical ruler named Rancit in favor of a good king named Telbor. Telbor has ruled for 30 years in wisdom and peace, but now the beat of war drums pulses over the hillsides, and monsters have been appearing across the land. This leads to my favorite paragraph in the backstory:
          
The court wise men soon discovered that the evil was not the work of some warmonger seeking to overthrow the kingdom, but rather the work of a powerful, malevolent wizard. The approaching storm marked his growing power. Secretly, this wizard worked his evil magic, growing in power every day. What his intentions were were obvious: the conquest of Syree.
          
Got that? It’s not a warmonger seeking to overthrow the kingdom; it’s a wizard seeking to conquer Syree! The distinction is clear. Anyway, no knights have gone off in pursuit of the wizard, although many heroes have embarked on quests to find him. These heroes have not all failed to return, although none of them have ever come back.
               

Not only do I start off with just a dagger and cloth armor, the dagger isn’t even christened.

          

Character creation consists only of a name. The character is assigned 20 points each in strength, agility, and stamina, and starts the game with 100 food, 100 gold, 100 hit points, a dagger, and cloth armor.  He starts next to the town of Ludden, which is apparently his home town, given the number of NPCs who say “welcome home” when he talks to them. There’s also a large house with his name written on it, which I admit is something I’ve never seen in Ultima or any other Ultima clone.
              

This is rather cool, if also a little ostentatious.

           

NPC interaction is a mix between the one-liners of Ultima II and III and the keyword-based dialogue of Ultima IV. When you find yourself talking to the latter type of NPC, he of course responds to NAME and JOB, and then you can usually pick up the rest of the keywords from those responses.
              
Shops in town sell weapons, armor, food, ale, and a night’s rest. Food is crazy expensive–like 15 gold pieces per ration, although rations admittedly deplete slowly.
          

It will be a long time before I can afford that plate mail.

        

The NPC discussions in Ludden centered around the attribute of agility. One NPC warned me that adventurers with low agility won’t survive long; another said that the guards are very agile people and I should ask them about it. It ultimately transpired that a cleric named Shalea was searching for a mantra, and if I could give it to him, he would give me a spell to raise my agility. I found some other clerics chanting the word–AHRHEM–and fed it to Shalea, who gave me a one-use spell word that raised my agility to 60.
           

That was a big boost.

         

Lacking anything else to do in my home town, I began exploring the continent. Like any good Ultima clone, Syree is a twisting landscape of peninsulas, islands, mountain ranges, and forests, with vision often obscured by terrain. Combat is relatively rare, and with the types of monsters you’re used to from Ultima, including skeletons, thieves, and evil clerics. Combat regresses to the original Ultima: you just hit (A)ttack and specify a direction. Presumably, once I learn how to cast spells, I’ll be able to do that, too.
            

Fighting a thief just north of a dungeon entrance.

         
There’s no inflation of experience here. A thief is worth 1 point, a cleric 2, a skeleton 3, and so forth. There doesn’t appear to be any fixed leveling. Instead, your experience points are continually added to your maximum hit points, although using a formula that I haven’t yet figured out. (Since the game began, I’ve earned 53 experience but only 21 additional max hit points, if that helps.) Hit points restore slowly as you move around, or you can pay healers and inns to restore them faster.

An NPC eventually told me that there are 5 towns, 3 villages, and 2 castles to explore, but only a few are accessible from the starting mainland: Ludden, Emara (“City of Kings”), and Barren Sheol. There’s a castle, but I’m unable to enter because apparently peasants just can’t go entering castles–which makes sense when you think about it. I always thought it was odd that just anyone could wander into Lord British’s throne room and bedchambers.
             

How rude.

         
Among my explorations, I learn that EIDO is some kind of mapping spell, I can learn about magic in the town of Lost (which is rumored to be just a rumor), and that I’ll need keys to jimmy locks.
        

An apprentice cartographer gives me a spell name.

        
There is one dungeon (Mysti) accessible on the opening mainland. Dungeons break the Ultima style by being top-down, but movement is a little different because dungeons track facing direction while the outdoor areas and towns do not. The facing direction determines who you’re attacking when you hit “A” and down which hallways you can see. It also creates a bit of a “stutter” as you move around, because when you change direction you have to hit the appropriate arrow key twice. It’s innovative but not terribly necessary.

Dungeons have both monsters and chests, and they respawn when you leave and return. Chests on Level 1 seem to have 0-10 gold pieces; those on Level 2 have 11-20, and so forth. It’s pretty easy, if time consuming, to enter, grab a lot of gold, leave, and get healed if necessary. Slowly, I upgraded from a dagger and cloth to a mace and leather, and soon I’ll have a sword and chainmail. This opening phase seems to be largely about improving weapons, armor, and maximum hit points, and then ultimately saving enough gold for a boat.
           

Fighting a cleric in a dungeon.

           
The Kingdom of Syree is hardly the worst Ultima clone, or even worst game, that we’ve seen, but it just happens to reach me at a time when I’m thoroughly exhausted with this particular sub-genre. At least, unlike The Seventh Link, it doesn’t appear this one is going to take very long. The game files themselves suggest about 10 towns and castles and a few dungeons. If I can wrap it up in two, that will be good.

 
Time so far: 3 hours
 


Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/05/game-328-kingdom-of-syree-1992.html