A financially insecure student, I bought games cheap and/or in combination packs. How could I resist "Phantasie Bonus Edition, 3 great games for the price of one"? Make that: two addictive games and a bummer. Still not bad.
These games are so old that the worthless computer art is compensated for by the pretty art on the box and in the booklet. Take the bummer, Questron II, the only game with a booklet, full of line drawings of... interesting fauna (vipod? boll rot? nymph jelly?). "New state of the art graphics are stunning - Explore the dungeons and see the crowning glory; as they are shown as 3D displays" - I never made it as far as the dungeons. I'm on a coloured bubble-wrap map and tiny marks or signs say that this is a shop or that is a person I can talk to. Early choices of weapon and armour suck. On this bubbly but meaningless map, there are sudden "bip" sounds. I'm being attacked by a slasher boar. I don't see it, I just hear bips and see displayed messages. I attack with the appropriate keyboard keys. After a few times, no more bips. Wow. I go to a "town" where I can barely find my way around because it's displayed in such a vague way, and try to get money for better armour by gambling in casinos. My gambling skills are lousy, so now I'm skint. I go to a cathedral to, as the booklet says, discover its secrets. In a clumsy way, as these keyboard shortcuts are not intuitive. I believe a monster popped out of it and killed me, or maybe I just quit the game. Never played again. And to think that this is number II: there was another game like this.
The second game, Phantasie, was another matter. No booklet, so it had to be clear from the game itself what the controls were. It was all keyboard-driven, of course: these games required (oh nostalgia) MS-DOS 2.1. The supposed aim of the game: collecting the nine rings from the Dark Lord (yes, that does sound like a certain classic of fantasy fiction...) The real aim: playing for hours to collect insane amounts of money with which to buy bigger and badder armour, and keeping the party alive. This was played on my first ever computer, an Amstrad 512 with a B&W monitor; just as well, because once I installed it on a new computer with a colour monitor, I found the colour scheme to be garish reds and greens. The third game, Phantasie III: the Wrath of Nikodemus, had a colder but more aesthetic colour scheme of violet and cyan which went nicely with the more detailed pictures of the party members. Although I preferred the simpler appearance of the first game's dungeons. Each dungeon was a big blank square over which I moved the little square representing my band of adventurers with the cursor keys, drawing a trail of black that was "discovered terrain". The dungeons of part III were less appealing, and what I really didn't like: part III showed puppet shapes of the adventurers with limbs that went missing as they were broken or hacked off. In heavy battles, it was unsettling to see them turn into quadruple amputees one by one, and more unsettling to think that, in that situation, they were still capable of fighting; although not of casting spells, because you need two arms for that. Brr.
(Cue the fully de-limbed Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "I'll bite your legs off!")
Both Phantasie games first require the player to build up a pool of characters. A race and class is chosen, the dice are rolled and the stats presented. Not good enough? Re-roll until a better character comes out. Races include humans, elves, trolls, ogres, orcs ("hey, that's funny," I thought in my innocence, "isn't that from Lord of the Rings?"), pixies, lizard-men and a race of humanoid dogs called gnolls. I later found that orcs, lizard-humanoids and mammal-humanoids, in this case dogs but usually cats for the handy claws, are fairly standard ingredients of RPGs. From this pool, a party of six members (a fairly standard number) is put together, taking care to balance the fighter, thief and mage elements. I loved creating characters and giving them funny names like the ogre Stonewall, the pixie and sprite Pixel and Spright, and the enormously strong troll "Mrs Magoo" because I didn't see why all party members should be male, and I could imagine this living bulldozer crashing through the enemy ranks like the myopic cartoon character Mr Magoo ("Roadhog!!") driving through the barrier with the sign saying that the bridge ahead is broken. The makers of this game had not yet understood that party members can be female, because when pronouns were used, it was always "he" and "him".
The party assembled, it appeared as a square cursor on a blank playing field which was viewed from above and had to be explored square by square. Some squares were doors to dungeons, which was good because although there there monsters in the open, the real monsters, leaving the best loot, were in the dungeons. The idea was to locate the ten or so dungeons and clean them out; there was also an "ending", but I never got that far. As well as dungeons, there were "towns" with six buildings each for trading, healing and equipping. Fighting went like this: I moved my square cursor into a dungeon and got a message (possibly while the party was napping) that I'd run into enemies. The screen changed to a row of avatars representing my characters. I would be able to give some fighting instructions. Each avatar would then make a "swoosh" arm movement and a "chink" sound and a message would tell me how much damage they did and if any enemies were killed yet. Then it would be the enemy's turn. There was a "flee" option, but generally my side won, because I was very meticulous about outfitting my characters and letting them rest on time. I had to, because my prize archer, a pixie, started out with one (1) hit point! After a bit of levelling, it was safer to bring her into battles, and with my team of winners, I gathered an amount of gold that was in shrill contrast with my real-reality financial situation. A very memorable dungeon was the dungeon of the Bleebs, who, being very strong, were not meant to be fought, but who would present riddles to solve. What stopped me from ever finishing this game was that, in this game, characters can grow old, which lowers their stats, and through my slow and careful way of exploring, Mrs Magoo, proud bearer of a "god shield", suddenly reached retirement age in the middle of the game and became too weak to carry the shield! I saved the game and thought of continuing it some day when I'd overcome the blow. But that never happened.
Instead, I gave number III a chance. I don't remember whether it was in I or III that, attacking monsters in a temple, I found all my adventurers outclassed by the villain who turned out to be Zeus! That was another thing I learned about RPGs: the enemy can be anything, even a god, but, be it ever so mighty, any creature can be reduced to stats and thereby rendered beatable; and beat Zeus is what I did, after many restores, because I would quit if he killed even one member of my party (I can't live with the RPG principle that party members are dispensable). I did play game III right to the end, although the final dungeon was filled with lava or poisonous vapour or something else that brought the 40 HP of my elf mage to almost 0 each time I passed any of it - most of the playing time was spent healing him - and by the time we arrived at the den of Nikodemus, he'd skedaddled! "Buy the next game to see how it ends!" I might have, but this game was already from the bargain bin, so I never expected to find its sequel, meaning that this cliffhanger would be hanging from its cliff forever. What a bummer.
What remains is the happy memories of how, with loving care and attention, I
trained my bunch of raw recruits into formidable heroes. Which just goes to show
that I don't really like RPGs, and should stick with sims; sadly, sims don't
have half the adventure, or the loot!