Game 307: Legends of the Lost Realm (1989)

From The CRPG Addict


Legends of the Lost Realm
United States
Avalon Hill (developer and publisher)
Released in 1989 for Macintosh
Date Started: 26 October 2018
A few hours in to Legends of the Lost Realm, I’m trying to decide if the creators were just clueless or actually sadistic. Given that the developers never seem to have worked on another RPG before or after, I’m inclined towards the former, but I think I would find deliberate cruelty more forgivable. They basically started with the difficulty level of Wizardry, which featured permadeath, and then decided to make it harder.

Wizardry, for all its difficulty, did a good job balancing that difficulty with the occasional ray of hope. Sure, Level 1 characters got slaughtered so often that you had to replace your party about six times before you achieved any stability, but at least when you lost a combat, you only lost by a little. One fewer orc would have made the difference. The game didn’t pit you against three vampires and a basilisk right out of the main gate. It didn’t make you slowly die of hunger, thirst, and fatigue. When a character died, you probably couldn’t afford to resurrect him, but you didn’t have to pay extra gold for his burial. You didn’t have to go into debt to buy your starting equipment. There wasn’t a “tax man” roaming around who took a random percentage of your hard-earned gold. And Level 2 was maybe 5 battles away, not 50. All of those latter things are true of Legends of the Lost Realm.

Legends (subtitled A Gathering of Heroes in some places but not the title screen) takes place in the land of Tagor-Dal, a formerly peaceful kingdom that was conquered by neighboring Malakor 300 years ago. The characters are given as part of a Tagor-Dalian resistance, tasked with learning the forgotten ways of sword and sorcery, and with finding the last known remaining Staff of Power, which will hopefully throw off the Malakorian yoke. Legends of the Lost Realm II: Wilderlands, released the same year, is not a sequel but rather an expansion that requires the original game files. In it, the characters are able to explore an outdoor area to find two additional Staves of Power.

Exploring the hallways of the king’s citadel.

The developers clearly played both Wizardry and The Bard’s Tale, both of which featured permadeath and a clear distinction between saving the characters (back at a central location) and saving the party. The use of base and prestige classes comes from Wizardry, but the specific terms for the attributes, the spell names, the “review board,” and the use of spell points rather than slots seem more inspired by The Bard’s Tale. In either case, the developers deserve some credit for adding a lot of elements–the manual boasts that the game is “the most complete and accurate fantasy role-playing game every written”–although most of those elements just make the game more difficult and frustrating rather than adding enjoyment.

The player begins by creating a party of six characters (from a roster that can hold up to 30) from four base classes: fighter, thief, shaman, and magician. Later, they can switch to prestige classes of barbarian, samurai, blade master, monk, ninja, healer, enchanter, witch, and wizard. Attributes are strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, and luck, and although the values are technically from 3 to 18, the rolls are very generous and it’s easy to get two or three attributes at 18 and the others only a few points lower. Characters start with one weapon, one piece of armor, and 25 gold pieces. The roster is seeded with an existing Level 4 fighter named “Pete” that a player like me is determined not to use he actually starts playing and experiences the difficulty of early-game combat.

Character creation. Don’t be fooled by the equipment–that’s still showing from when I clicked on “Pete.”

The game starts in the barracks of the Citadel, the only place to save characters and store excess goods. Elsewhere on the main floor of the Citadel are a supply shop, an armory, a bank, a magic shop, several temples, and a “review board” for leveling and changing classes. In an interesting addition, you can buy items from the shops on credit, which is tracked in a “debt” statistic. You can pay off the debt at the bank, and if you don’t do so within a reasonable amount of time, you start getting attacked by thugs hired by the stores to collect. (Theoretically, anyway; I haven’t had it happen yet.)

Buying items in the armory. Apparently, it’s not a problem if I don’t have enough money.

Simply getting to these various locations is almost impossible at the first level because you keep running into enemies. “Retreat” almost always works when you do, but the game remembers the position and composition of enemy parties, so retreating doesn’t help much. You’ll still face the same party if you try to continue in that direction. It’s easy to get boxed in a corridor by two parties at either end that you cannot defeat.

Enemies on the first level include wild dogs, thieves, fighters, archers, and magicians, and they almost always seem to attack in multiple groups with at least 9 total foes. Combat uses a Wizardry base but is a bit different overall. Using radial buttons, each character chooses whether to attack, hide, cast a spell, or use an item. Only the first three characters can attack with regular weapons. You click “Attack” to begin the round. Your attacks are threaded with the enemies’ based on initiative rolls. But unlike Wizardry, you don’t specify what enemy to attack or cast spells against until the action executes in the combat.

Setting combat options against a group I have no chance of defeating.

I tried just about every combination of spells and moves available. I went into debt to buy shields and helms. And I still couldn’t survive even a single battle against any of the enemy parties that attack me on the first level. There are no easy combats with single fighters or three dogs. They’re all overwhelmingly deadly.

I finally gave in and added Pete to the party, and this allowed me to defeat a few groups, but my non-Pete characters were still vulnerable. I spent all of my money healing them at temples until I had no more money (you can’t heal or raise on credit), and one by one they died, and then finally Pete died.

It’s tempting to clear dead characters off your roster, but here the game introduces a new level of sadism: you have to pay to get rid of a dead character, with the cost shared among the characters who have money. And if that isn’t enough, every once in a while a “tax man” approaches the party, and if he thinks a particular character has too much gold, he takes something like 20%. Why would anyone add such an obnoxious element to a game? Did they not think it was “complete and accurate” without him?

With the corridors so deadly, I haven’t even been able to map the first level yet, but a map provided in the manual helps me fill in the holes. In addition to the shops I’ve described, there are four towers: the Magicians’ Keep, the Tower of War, the Thieves’ Tower, and the Tower of Pain. Each presumably has multiple levels. Each has a courtyard guarded by one high-level foe who gives you a chance to turn back when you enter. A message in a hallway on Level 1 tells me that “sixteen may be found, four in each corner tower.” However, there’s at least one more area accessible via the magic shop, and perhaps others beyond that.

Every major square has something fierce guarding it.

If I can survive for more than 15 minutes, the game promises some interesting elements to come. It supports dual- and multi-classing as well as completely changing classes. The prestige classes sound a lot cooler than their Wizardry counterparts, each with special abilities, such as berserking for the barbarian, critical and dual-wielding for the samurai and ninja, and the ability to cure poison and disease without spells for the healer. Blade masters can sharpen everyone’s weapons for extra damage. Thieves can try to pilfer enemy gold during combat. NPCs can join the party and assist in combat.

No first-person blobber would be complete without messages scrawled on the walls.

A lot of character types have special skills, both combat and non-combat, that can be “cast” like spells; for instance, the samurai can “cast” ARROW to make arrows, barbarians can HUNT for food, and thieves can CLIMB walls. Sorcerers can create their own spells by combining effects from the included spells. You can add modifiers to spell names to double their effects (and cost) or to force the character to wait until the end of the round to cast it.

But enjoying all of this requires that I get my characters to at least Level 4 or 5, and with Level 2 requiring 1,000 experience points, each successful battle delivering about 50 points, and my losing almost every battle, that seems like a long way off. I will be happy to take liberal hints from any player who has successfully gotten anywhere in this game.

Time so far: 3 hours

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