Back-Tracking: Dunjonquest: The Temple of Aphai (1979)

From CRPG Adventures

Temple of Apshai’s TRS-80 title screen.
I don’t have much of interest to write about Rogue right now (unless you’d like to read yet another list of my failures), and I haven’t gotten around to starting Space II yet, so for today’s post I’ll be back-tracking, I’m afraid.  The game I’m returning to is Dunjonquest: The Temple of Apshai, which I initially covered back here.  I wasn’t able to find a source for the TRS-80 version, so I played the port for Apple II.  The Digital Antiquarian made a copy available, though, so I went back to play the game in its original form.
The most obvious difference between the two versions is in the visuals.  The TRS-80 had very little in the way of graphics capabilities, and the Apple II port was a significant upgrade on that score.  On the TRS-80 the game is in black and white, and the character is represented by a symbol rather than the image of a person.  Likewise, all of the monsters are represented as + symbols, with no differentiation between them.  You need to keep an eye on the sidebar so that you know what you’re fighting.
Combat remains the same, with a focus on balancing your attacks and fatigue.  One thing the TRS-80 version has that wasn’t on the Apple II is a quick jolt of the screen when you take a hit, which is a nice visceral touch.
The only other mechanical difference I noticed between the two games is that the Apple II game saved your character between sessions.  That’s not the case on the TRS-80: you need to keep a record of your stats somewhere, and enter them in every you time you start.  It also requires you to look in the manual to see the value of the treasures you found, but that’s no different across ports.  The game crashed on TRS-80 when I tried to input more than 30,000 silver pieces as my total though (legitimately earned, might I add!).
Another reason that I wanted to back-track on Temple of Apshai is that I completely cheesed it the first time around, by abusing the character creation and making a super-strong character.  You might recall that I painstakingly took my first character through level 1 of the temple, only to find myself blocked at the entrance to level 2 by an Ant-Man that I was unable to defeat.  I must have tried to kill that Ant-Man twenty times before I finally lost that character.  I declared that the balance of the Apple II version was broken, and promptly blasted through the game with a character who had maximum stats, a magical sword and armour, and an absurd amount of experience.
I was determined not to do that on the TRS-80 version, if possible.  My one concession – for time-saving purposes – was that I considered my character to be “saved” once I left the dungeon.  I didn’t want to have to go back and grind a character up again, at least not for the purposes of back-tracking.  I was pleased to discover that I had a lot less trouble this time around.  The Giant Ants that took me so long to kill on Apple II went down in a few hits.  The Ant-Men on level 2 were a pushover.  I didn’t die at all on the first level of the dungeon, and on level 2 I was killed twice by traps.  Temple of Apshai has permadeath, but it’s quite forgiving about it: when you die you might be eaten by monsters, but it’s much more likely that one of three NPCs will find you and resurrect you at the cost of some treasure or magic items.
Fighting a skeleton on level 1 of the temple.
Things started to ramp up on level 3, where I died about half a dozen times.  None of those were permanent deaths, though, so I was feeling pretty good about the game difficulty.  On level 4, though, it got nasty, courtesy of my old friends the Ant-Men.
There are Ant-Men all over the Temple of Apshai; it is insect-themed after all.  They appear on every dungeon level, and I’m pretty sure that they’re the only monster that scales in difficulty.  So on level 2 they get a little bit stronger, and they get stronger still on level 3.  On level 4, they become incredibly deadly, with multiple attacks that hit very hard.  More than once I had a character on full health go down in a single round to a level 4 Ant-Man.  I died dozens of times trying to fully explore that level.  I get that the game should be harder in its final stages, but this was a little too much.
Eventually I got through it though, even though my character properly died three or four times.  The contents of the dungeons remains identical across versions, except for one thing: the mantis statue with the emeralds in its eyes doesn’t come to life and attack you.  On the TRS-80, you can just waltz up to it and take those emeralds no problem.  I’m not sure when the mantis trap was added to the game, but the Apple II port – released in 1980 – seems early enough in the game’s life to be a good candidate.
At that point I decided to do a quick return to the Apple II version, to check if it really did have balance issues.  I keyed in my character’s starting stats from the TRS-80, and entered the first dungeon.  Sure enough, the monsters went down pretty easily.  I progressed to level 2, and the Ant-Men there presented little difficulty.  I suspect that my initial foray on the Apple II was with a character who had a really low Strength score, and that the two versions are balanced pretty much identically.  The game being too hard for low-stat characters is a problem in itself, but it’s a problem that seems to be universal to every version of the game.
In terms of the RADNESS Index, the Apple II version has better graphics, so I’m downgrading the Aesthetics score for the TRS-80 version to 1.  That gives it a still-respectable RADNESS Index of 38.  It’s rated 6th overall for CRPGs, but if you’re going to play a  version of that’s not Temple of Apshai Trilogy, the Apple II port is a little better.
NEXT: I promise I’ll have a post up on Space II in the middle of the week.

Original URL: