From The CRPG Addict
|The land of Elira, as provided recently by the author.|
In appearance and mechanics, The Seventh Link owes so much to Ultima III and IV that it takes a while for the divergences in its approach to sink in. When the game began, I felt that I was in such familiar territory–I can no longer keep track of all the Ultima clones that we’ve covered–that I immediately adopted a rote approach to playing the game. I was thus thrown for a loop when my approach didn’t work, and I insisted in forcing it rather than playing in a more organic way.
Specifics: The Ultima titles encourage thorough exploration of towns with attendant taking of notes and creation of task lists. You wouldn’t dream of popping into Yew for the first time, speaking only to one character, and then leaving. That would just limit the amount of intelligence you take on the road to other towns, plus ensure that you’d have to visit each town multiple times. Instead, you wring every bit of content out of each city before moving on to the next. In the meantime, you rely on incidental combats between towns to provide most of your character development and wealth.
Link stymies this approach in several ways. First, it offers rather enormous cities; each is larger than the entirety of Sosaria in Ultima III. The cities are full of locked doors that require special keys, dark forests, twisty mountain passages, and ladders to lower levels. The Ultima games had these, too, but the size of the cities was so much smaller that you never felt lost. In Link, I honestly forget sometimes whether I’m inside or outside.
Because of this approach, I spent the first 10 hours of gameplay stubbornly hanging around the opening city, grinding in combats for enough money to buy keys, because I insisted on fully exploring the city before I moved on. That, I see now, was absurd. Another thing I didn’t realize when I started playing was the importance of treasure rooms. In Link, you don’t get most of your fortune from combat; you get it from huge rooms of treasure chests that most towns feature, somewhere, if you can find them and get past the locked doors.
|Just when I thought I was done with the need for keys.|
A much better comparison to The Seventh Link in gameplay is the first two Might and Magic titles. (The comparison is particularly apt in the way that each town has a single-level dungeon beneath it.) In those games, you didn’t try to fully explore each new location when you found it. Instead, you explored as far as you could, annotated places where you had to return once you got a key, solved a puzzle, or just got stronger, and then moved on to the next place. You expected to return to both cities and dungeons dozens of times, and you regarded every new explored square as palpable progress.
Unfortunately, recognizing that perhaps the game follows a different paradigm didn’t lead to an immediate shift in my enjoyment of it. There are several problems. First, a game like Might and Magic absolutely requires careful mapping, something I simply can’t countenance with iconographic games. I am willing to map first-person titles. I am not willing to map top-down titles. They’re too large, for one thing: a single 60 x 60 town level in Link is larger than all of the towns and their dungeons in Might and Magic. But beyond that, there’s just some ineffable feeling that I shouldn’t have to map top-down games. It’s not a position I’m prepared to defend in the CRPG Supreme Court, but I hold it nonetheless.
|An NPC found at the end of a mountain pass in a dark forest. In a town.|
As a result, my notepad for The Seventh Link is full of vague things like, “Return to door in SW corner past mountains on second level with large key” and “find a way to talk to guy on island in south-central part of level,” with about half a dozen such entries per city. There are theoretically Gems of Seeing and a “View Surroundings” spell that should help with indoor mapping, but I haven’t found either yet.
The bigger problem with Link, as I covered in “Breadth, Depth, and Immersion,” is there just isn’t enough to find within all this territory. For the most part, the cities have the same shops and services. Each has maybe a couple of NPCs that offer a single line, none of which seem really necessary the way they do in the Ultima titles. Each class has guilds in different locations, but it’s much easier just to pay 100 gold pieces to level up at another class’s guild than to hunt around for yours. The only real rewards for all the exploration are the few NPCs who will join your party and the occasional treasure vault.
|More than combat, these occasional treasure rooms really drive the game’s economy.|
The relative emptiness of the cities somewhat ruins the creativity that the author invested in their geography. For instance, there’s a mountainous island in the northwest of the game world whose various approaches look like a maze. A town is found at the end of one of these waterways, and given how much trouble it takes to get there, you might expect something monumental will be found there. Instead, it was one of the more useless towns on the map. I don’t even think I got an NPC companion there.
|Wouldn’t you expect to find something important in here?|
A similar situation surrounds a pair of towns on the main continent. “Southcure” (a town with a rare explicit name) is unique in having two entrances, one on the north side of the map and one on the south side. The interior is, I think, larger than the standard town, and to get to the south end of the map, you have to pay $1,500 to purchase a flying disk to take you over the water. The disk only lands on grass, and the southern exit has no adjacent grass squares, so to use it, you have to land the disk on some grass in the south-central area, then find a boat, then sail it to the southern exit. Once you leave the city by this exit, you find yourself amidst a circle mountains, an area only accessible from Southcure’s south exit. Nearby is another town. Again, after all this effort, you’d think this “hidden” town would be something extraordinary. But it’s just a generic town without a single joinable NPC.
|Crossing water in Southcure with on a flying disk.|
Since I last wrote, I’ve finished exploring (I’m pretty sure) all of the towns on Elira. I picked up two additional NPC companions, so my overall current party consists of:
- Chester, a giant male magic user
- Hagromil, a human male thief
- Tharon, an elder male cleric
- Diriala, a giant female fighter
- Juliano, a dwarf male sage
I can’t quite tell if there’s room for a sixth character or not. If there is, I don’t know where he or she is found. It’s possible I missed someone in a hidden nook or maybe he’s on another planet.
|The last character (at least for now) joins the party.|
One town in an archipelago in the southwest had a shop that sold more than the standard weapons and armor. There were selections like enchanted armor, “reflect mail,” magic bows, and rods of curing and healing. I had enough for a magic sword for my new fighter companion but nothing else. It’s nice to know I’ll have some place to spend riches in the future, although I suspect only one or two of my characters can wield them.
|Expensive enchanted armor and “reflect mail.”|
- One thing that keeps messing me up is the commands for (R)ecord game and (Q)uit and reload. In most Ultima clones, these are reversed as (R)estore and (Q)uit and save.
- Healing is so expensive, and hit points regenerate so slowly, that noting the locations of healing wells becomes particularly important.
|The party finds a healing fountain in the middle of a town.|
- In addition to having more traditionally-outdoor features (like mountains) in the middle of towns, the game has some traditionally-indoor features on the main world map. Occasionally, you’ll find locked doors in the midst of mountain ranges, for instance, and chests in the middle of forests. There’s one place in the south-central part of the map where two non-hostile dudes are hanging around a campfire. Neither has anything to say.
|What’s the story with these guys?|
- The lack of names is particularly frustrating. I don’t know if the author intended it. Occasionally, you get a hint of a name. One town has a sign that explicitly says “Welcome to Southcure,” and there are NPC dialogues that refer to “Castle Thoro,” although you don’t find that word anywhere within the castle itself. It’s possible that the author had names for all the towns –perhaps Jeff can comment–and just forgot to program the usual “Welcome to . . .” or “Now entering . . .” message when you choose to enter them.
|The only clue that the castle is called “Thoro.”|
With Elira’s overland explored, it’s now time to delve into the land’s 8 dungeon entrances (which I think lead to fewer actual dungeons). Somewhere at the bottom of some of these dungeons, I’m going to find transporters to other planets, hopefully smaller. At the bottoms of others (I think), I’m going to find the energy packs capable of maintaining the stasis field of the black hole in the planet’s core.
|The party takes on some demons in one of the dungeons.|
I hope I also find spells. I’m not sure where I’m supposed to acquire new ones, but none of my spellcasters have more than the first two or three spells in their books. My magic user has “Ring of Fire” (damages everyone a little), “Magic Missile” (damages one enemy a lot), and “Shield.” I particularly want to find “View Surroundings” and both “Descend” and “Climb Dungeon Level.” My cleric only has “Find Traps” and “Malediction”; it would be relaly nice if he could find “Call Light,” “Heal,” and “Cure Poison.” I don’t have a druid, but the sage is capable of casting spells from all three spellcasting classes. From the druid book, he only has “Drain Life” and “Heal Minor Wound.” Presumably, when he has “Create Food,” that’s one less thing I’ll have to worry about.
Sorry for the slow down this last week. I had some big work deadlines. March and April are looking like relaxing months, though, and I hope to make a lot of progress:
Time so far: 18 hours