Game 369: Mythos (1985)

From The CRPG Addict

Maybe “Axis” isn’t a great name for a German game company? I’m just putting it out there.


Independently developed; published by Axis Komputerkunst
Released 1985 for Commodore 64 and Atari 800
Date Started: 7 June 2020
Date Ended: 8 June 2020
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)
I wonder if Richard Garriott ever truly understood the number of copycats and clones that spawned from Ultima. We’ve all heard about how he got upset at Deathlord (1987), but did he know about Gates of Delirium, Hera, Legends, and Skariten, all released the same year? He required SSI to license the “look and feel” of Ultima for Questron (1984), but did he realize that plenty of other titles were copying not only the look and feel but also the precise keyboard commands? Did he know that the United Kingdom’s first RPG, 1982’s The Ring of Darkness, had everything including its plot points plagiarized from Ultima? This is my 369th game. Of them, twelve have been actual Ultimas, about 28 of them have been so close that I’d call them “clones,” and another four dozen took direct inspiration from the series for one or more of their elements. I know Lord British hasn’t exactly been overlooked in the history books, but as well-known as he is, he may still get too little credit.
The influence of the series was particularly felt in Germany. The U.K. had The Ring of Darkness but mostly went their own way after that; France went its own way from pretty much the beginning, derivatives like 1984’s Tyrann aside. Germany would get there, but at the outset they always seemed to be cloning something, whether Ultima, The Bard’s Tale, or Dungeon Master. Nippon (1988), Seven Horror’s (1988), Die Dunkle Dimension (1989), Kayden Garth (1989), Dragonflight (1990), and The Ormus Saga (1991) all owed something to Ultima, and now we find that the country’s first RPG (unless something else surfaces) is a direct clone.

The game is noted for full-screen graphics during key encounters and transitions between areas.


To what extent is Mythos a clone? To the extent of using mostly the same races, classes, attributes, and spells. To the extent of having you purchase hit points from the king. To the extent of needing to find a key to free someone from the king’s jail so that you can travel through space. But it also strips away a lot of what makes Ultima tolerable. You can’t talk to guards and random NPCs, for instance. There are only four levels of weapons and armor (three of which you will probably never possess), only three spells, and only half a dozen keyboard commands.
But Mythos does add a couple of features, the most prominent of which is a number of full-screen illustrations to accompany key encounters and transitions between areas. I wouldn’t say they’re beautiful, even accounting for the graphical limitations of the era, but they’re clearly made with a lot of care, and they liven what would otherwise be a terribly fast, easy clone. There are also a couple of other twists that I’ll cover anon.

Approaching the endgame castle.


The backstory sets the game in the world of Vandor, once peaceful, plunged into chaos when the Isle of Evil emerged from the depths of the sea of Pasmes. King Aphnaton disappeared from his castle, Talamith, and the land is now ruled by his sister, Zenobia, and her husband Alexander. The light of the sun has dimmed, monsters roam the land, formerly lush valleys are now barren, cities deserted, forests full of perils. You’ve heard it before. A prophecy tells of a hero who will set things right.

Character creation.


You create this hero by allocating 60 points to strength, speed, intelligence, and wisdom and then selecting a class (warrior, thief, magician, monk) and race (man, elf, dwarf, hobbit). Just like Ultima, these selections have no effect on the game at all except by modifying your attributes. Any character can wield any weapon and cast any spell (with one exception). The game doesn’t give you the option to name your character.

The game begins at the southern end of the land.


Gameplay begins at the southern end of a continent that turns out to be shaped something like a cross, or maybe a bird with its wings expanded. It consists of maybe 10 game screens with a castle, five cities, and a few other special locations. A castle and a city are waiting for the player at the beginning of the game. Before you can enter either, you’ll probably be attacked by an orc, giant, dragon, zombie, or some other evil denizen. If you’re not surprised, you’ll have options to fight or flee. If you fight, your only options each round are to attack or cast a spell.

The game world, from an in-game map.


Like many early RPGs, success in the game comes down to simple math. You start with 300 hit points and can purchase more from the king at a rate of 100 hit points for 50 gold pieces. You also need food to keep from starving, which can be bought at the same 2:1 rate. You need about 4,000 food and 3,000 hit points to last the game, which together cost 3,500 gold pieces. You maybe need another 2,500 gold for purchases, so that’s 6,000 gold total. At a rate of about 50 gold pieces per combat, you need about 120 random combats throughout the game. You encounter far more than that in the course of exploring the world, so there’s not much need to grind except at the very beginning, when you want to build up your hit point reserve so you can comfortably explore away from the castle.

Combat options in the middle of the map.


Ultima made things harder by offering fewer gold pieces and making enemies do more damage. Here, even dragons and giants, fighting against characters with fists and no armor, do damage in the single digits. Your opening pool of 300 hit points goes a long way by itself. There’s no reason to use the S)teal command (unlike, say, Ultima II) unless you’re just incredibly impatient.

An early game “stat sheet” for the character.


There’s not much to do in the castle. There are signs saying, “weapons, “armor,” and “food,” but there isn’t actually anything there, and you can’t even open the doors to get into the locations. All you can do is visit the king, who sells hit points, and the queen, who tells you to seek her brother for his magic ring. You can also mark the location of one guy locked behind a door, as you’ll need to free him later.
The five cities are all set up the same. Weapon shops sell maces, machetes, battle axes, and swords. Armor shops sell four levels of armor. In both cases, the gap in price between the first level and second is so extreme that you’re unlikely to even buy the second level (let alone the third or fourth) before you find the magic sword and magic armor as part of the quest. I’m not sure they’d even help; enemies barely scratch you when you’re unarmed and naked.

The four types of weapons for sale.


There are three spells, each treated like inventory items that you purchase and equip. “Sanctu” heals a few hit points but is a far worse deal that just spending what it costs on extra hit points in the first place. “Exitus” lets you flee combat, but never in the game should you be in a position where you have to flee to survive. I have no idea what “Goldazium” does; every time I try to cast it, the game says “you need more intelligence or wisdom” despite my trying it with characters with scores of 35 or higher in both. There’s no way to increase attributes after creation.
Each city also has an oracle, which gives you hints, and a pub where you can often buy special items. One of these is a map of the land. Another is a special key, of which you ultimately need two.

The oracle gives me the coordinates to the old king.


Winning the game means visiting each location and piecing together the various oracle hints. It starts by purchasing the key in one of the northern cities. You use it to free a mage from the small room in the castle. As a reward, he opens a “space gate” in the northwestern “arm” of the land.

At least I don’t have to kill a bunch of guards.


To use the space gate, you need the coordinates of the planet where King Aphnaton fled. You get those from one of the oracles. The Master of Space accepts your coordinates and flings you to a one-screen planet where the only thing to do is enter a tomb. There, you encounter the ghost of King Aphnaton, who had exiled himself and was then killed by the same evil being who took over Vandor.

The master of the space gate.

This other planet looks a lot like the one i just came from.

The former king poses a riddle.


Aphnaton poses a riddle, which for me was the hardest part of the game. In German, it was:
Wie der orbis ist seine form
Und das ist seine norm
Er ist klein
Aber fein
Und gross wird dir sein nutzen sein
I translated this as:
Its shape is like the globe
And this is its norm
It is small but fine
And will be of great benefit to you

The answer was RING, which should have been obvious if I’d remembered why I needed to see the old king in the first place. But by the time I encountered him, I had forgotten that I was supposed to get a ring from him, so I was stumped on the riddle. I tried things like “egg” and “seed” before it dawned on me. The key word is orbis, which most dictionaries don’t even have as a German word. I guess maybe they were going more for “orbit” than “globe”? I have plenty of German readers, and I’m sure someone will comment. Anyway, when I finally got it right, the ghost gave me the ring and sent me back to Vandor. 
The second key is needed to enter the ice caves of Madra, a relatively unusual puzzle in which you have to find your way through a series of rooms, arranged in a 5 x 5 grid, in 24 turns or you freeze to death. It’s presented in first-person wireframe form like early Ultima dungeons, although there are no monsters and otherwise nothing to do but figure out the right order through trial and error.

Navigating the ice caves.


Getting through the ice caves dumps you into a hidden valley where there’s a hidden town. In the town, the only thing to do is grab the magic sword and armor.

Don’t be fooled by the signs–the city is abandoned.


Once you have these items, you go to the far north of the map and summon the ferryman, who requires the ring and his name (CHARON), the latter also provided by an oracle. Charon ferries you to the Isle of Evil, where you enter the one-screen castle of the game’s antagonist, Irata, who helpfully has a sign in her castle announcing her intention to be evil and rule Vandor.

I think I might have been able to guess CHARON even without the oracle.
Irata’s castle. She’s in the upper-left.

So few evil enchantresses announce their intentions in contractual language.


Although there are things in the castle that look like enemies or NPCs, you can’t interact with them. You are, however, attacked by random monsters as you walk through, as if it were an outdoor map. When you reach Irata, you don’t even have to attack. The moment you approach her square, the game tells you that she catches fire and burns with a single blow from the magic sword.

That was easy!


After that, you get a final congratulations screen that says the king makes you a baron and the land is restored to peace, at least until Mythos II.

Some online rumors suggest that Köper finished Mythos II but never released it.


Other than its claim as the first German CRPG, Mythos‘s legacy rests on its creator, Karsten Köper. Just 17 when he wrote Mythos, Köper would soon begin work on a more ambitious project, Amberstar, which he brought to Thalion Software in 1991 and saw published in 1992. Thalion had previously issued Dragonflight (1990) without Köper’s influence, although that game also had a lot of references to Ultima, including a statue paying tribute to Lord British.

Who do you suppose that is?

Mythos is generally called Mythos 1 online. I guess that’s what appeared on the package. But the in-game title screen omits the number even though Köper reportedly intended the game as a trilogy. A Thalion fan site has a page dedicated to Mythos. They’ve collected a number of contemporary reviews. German magazines seemed delighted to finally have a CRPG in German and thus tended to be complimentary. One of them claimed to have spent 11 hours on it and suggested that “beginners will have fun for weeks.” What a time. As for me, I don’t need to spend a lot of time criticizing a teenager’s first game. I gave it a 17 on the GIMLET–mostly 1s and 2s, although I gave at a 3 for graphics, sound, and interface, recognizing the attention to full-screen graphics and the ease of the keyboard shortcuts.

Given that depiction of a cave entrance, I might have been too generous on the graphics.

I want to thank commenter Jan for alerting me to this title’s pedigree before I started Amberstar, which will be soon. But I’m pretty confident that after another visit to The Legacy, we can finally pick up Ultima VII where we left off.


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