Game 358: Ishar: Legend of the Fortress (1992)

From The CRPG Addict


            

Ishar: Legend of the Fortress

France

Silmarils (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST
Date Started: 22 February 2020
I’ve been wanting to play Ishar for a while now, partly because I bought the entire series in 2014, and partly because while I thought Crystals of Arborea (1990) was pretty awful, I also thought it had some lovely graphics. Until they reach a certain point, I don’t get excited about graphics. I mostly want them to be functional–show me where the enemies are and help me figure out what door I need to enter. If your graphics are just repeating textures, to me they’re not much better than wireframes.
             

Walking through some pretty beach trees.

      

When we get to the era in which graphics actually establish an ambiance and pull me into the setting, that’s when I get excited. And Ishar‘s are almost there. Like Arborea‘s, they border on impressionistic. The opening screen shows a field lush with grass and flowers, a tree filled with branches and leaves, wispy clouds on the horizon, and other trees, dimmer, further away, partly hidden in a mist. I’m not prepared to say that they’re the best graphics we’ve seen, but they certainly come close.
             

Some of the best water graphics we’ve seen so far. They don’t move or anything.

           

Ishar is first of a trilogy for which Arborea was a kind-of prologue. In that game, you play Jarel, Prince of the Elves, and your goal was to find four crystals and use them to raise the island of Arborea–the only land left after the gods destroyed the world. Along the way, you had to kill the fallen angel Morgoth. You were aided by five companions.
The backstory of Ishar tells us that Jarel renamed the land Kendoria. He ruled for a while but was killed in a hunting accident. After his death, the land fell into anarchy. A “shady and powerful figure” named Krogh took advantage of the chaos, gathered wealth and power, and built a temple on the borders of Kendoria. The temple’s name, Ishar, means “unknown” in Elvish. Your mission is, I guess, to stop Krogh. Honestly, the backstory took the bloom off the graphics almost immediately. Aside from being overly derivative of Tolkien (I don’t know what I expected from a developer called “Silmarils”), it explained essentially nothing, including who the main character is.
             

The starting character.

          

There is no character creation process. You start as a human warrior called Aramir, presumably the third son of Denethor. He carries a sword, 2000 gold, and has no other inventory. He has 16 strength, 14 constitution, 16 agility, 12 intelligence, 11 wisdom, and 12 vitality. Temporary statistics are physical power and mental power. Statistics for “level” and “experience” at least assure me there will be some character development. Clicking around, I find that I also have skills: lockpicking, orientation, first aid, one-handed weapons, two-handed weapons, throwing, shooting, and languages. Aramir is best at the two weapon categories and worst at “Languages.”
The game comes with no kind of map or even description of the world. Am I on an island? Are there towns? There’s a guy standing in front of me in the field, so I head towards him. He greets me with a nonsensical phrase (“Warm Tear!”) and tells me about a village to the south, “in Angarahn country,” where there’s a tavern called “The Thirsty Barbarian.” I try to recruit him and it works. His name is Borminh, and he comes with a dagger, single-digit attributes, and strong skill in lockpicking. The manual suggests that micromanaging the relationships among my NPC companions is a big part of the game. They can reject and dismiss each other and apparently murder each other.
           

The first NPC has a nonsensical greeting.

         

Following Borminh’s instructions, I head south and soon come to a town. In the first shop, my 2000 gold suddenly doesn’t seem all that much. A light helmet sells for 1,200 and a suit of leather armor sells for 1,800. Even a loaf of bread is 320, which makes me think the economy is really out of whack. The shopkeeper also bids me “warm tear” when I leave the shop. What the hell.
            

These prices don’t make a lot of sense in proportion.

          
Orcs attack as I explore the village, and I’m disappointed to see that the series has changed the flawed-but-intriguing tactical grid used in Arborea for real-time combat in the style of Dungeon Master. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Dungeon Master combat, I hasten to add, but it’s not well-adapted here. The spell menu is harder to get into than it should be, and cool-down periods are not made obvious by the graphics. I also soon find that the famous “combat waltz” doesn’t work at all; enemies don’t even appear if they’re not facing you.
             

First-person combat means hitting the “attack” buttons repeatedly.

             
Nonetheless, I successfully kill the orcs and loot their gold, spending some of it to rest at the tavern and recover some lost hit points. The tavern serves as a location for rumors; this one tells me that one of Jarel’s companions lives in the village. You can also recruit NPCs in taverns; this one offers only one, a warrior named Kyrian. When I select him, Aramir and Borminh both “vote” and agree to let him into the party.

The town has a place where I can train strength, and later I find another one where I can train agility. I also find a hut occupied by Akeer, who seems to give me the main quest:
          

My name is Akeer. I am one of Jarel’s mates, who once braved, then destroyed the evil dark lord Morgoth. But today, we have to face a brand new danger . . . This threat has a name: Krogh. He murdered our good prince Jarel [so much for him dying in a hunting accident] and sat on his throne in Ishar, an evil temple unleashing hordes of monsters all over our beloved land. Now the time has come for revenge. If you manage to destroy Krogh, you’ll be able to use Ishar’s tremendous powers, and soon you will reign over the whole kingdom . . . The companions are old, but they still may help you. In Lotharia, near the Four Birches, Azalghorm the Spirit could give you some advice . . . Warm tear, my friends . . .

            
When I’m king, I’m going to abolish that stupid phrase, whatever it’s supposed to mean.

I spend some time trying to get oriented. The “action” menu allows me to bring up a map of Kendoria, but it doesn’t show our current place on it. It does show the starting position, on the far west side of either an island or peninsula crisscrossed by rivers. It looks like the starting are has two bridges that cross an eastern river to new territories.

I soon find that one of the bridges leads to another town, and this one is guarded by a hulking barbarian. But my party of three manages to defeat him.
            

A tough enemy, but it was three-on-one.

            
The town consists of a bunch of building situated on docks. In the tavern, I learn that Krogh may be Morgoth’s son. As Morgoth was a withered skeletal creature, ick. This tavern has five NPCs to recruit. I first try a lizard-looking thing named Xylaz but everyone votes “no.” I’m not sure how I feel about my own characters overriding my orders. I try again and everyone agrees to a mage named Dorian and a warrior named Golnal. 
             

A bunch of damned racists, that’s what you guys are.

           
I explore the area a while longer, killing some orcs and bandits and bears, finding loose gold strewn in bushes and empty huts. I walk into a teleporter at one point, but it didn’t take me very far because I soon found myself in the same basic area. I lose some characters in a fight against werewolves and then I suffer a full-party death against some bandits.
            

Is that supposed to be Krogh? That’s messed up.

          
Dying has significant consequences in this game because you have to pay 1,000 gold pieces to save. We just left a game where it cost experience points to save (Blade of Destiny) and I’m concurrently playing another game with saving limited by turns (Ragnarok). It’s interesting to see three different approaches in three consecutive games. I’m all for making things more challenging in this way, but it cuts particular deep here where things cost so much and you start with comparatively so little gold. From what I can tell, monsters do seem to respawn, so at least there’s some way to keep earning money.
          

Ouch.

          
I can also report positive things about the interface. The developers clearly want you to use the mouse, but unlike Arborea, they’ve given an analogous keyboard command to every mouse click. The commands aren’t as intuitive as some games, but they’re there. I’ve complained repeatedly about having to click the buttons in Dungeon Master-style combat, and here finally is a game where you just have to hit a series of F-keys in quick succession if you prefer not to use the mouse.

Also, the sound complements the graphics superbly. I’m a sucker for a game that offers good ambient sound, and here we have it: the chirping of birds, the swell of water near the river, the croaks of frogs, the murmur of background conversation when I enter the tavern. Even if I don’t end up liking gameplay much, Ishar at least looks and sounds pretty.

I think I’ll start over and see about mapping the island. A rough estimate based on the map would put the island at around 100 x 400. That’s big but not unmappable. I want to be able to annotate what I find and what I don’t understand. After the first few hours, it’s clear that it’s more of a game than Arborea, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily a better one.

Time so far: 3 hours



Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2020/02/game-358-ishar-legend-of-fortress-1992.html