Retro Review: Mega Man 6 (NES)

Even many Mega Man fans skipped Mega Man 6 back in the day, released as it was well into the SNES era and shortly after the superlative Mega Man X. It’s too bad, because this is a bit of a hidden gem in the series that went back to basics (though not nearly as much so as Mega Man 9 would, years later). It does suffer from some pretty lazy boss design, but the game works rather well.

The most jarring change in Mega Man 6 is the removal of all the usual utility items. For the first time since Mega Man 2, you don’t start with the Rush Coil. Instead, you can pick up two Rush upgrades that don’t use energy and change how Mega Man plays. Both prevent sliding and charged shots, with the Rush Power compensating with a powerful (though short-range) shot and the Rush Jet allowing you to fly with a jet pack. If that doesn’t sound cool to you, well, maybe skip Mega Man 6. The Rush Jet can only fly so long at a time, but it’s super fun to use and my biggest series regret is that they never did something quite like it again. (Much like Mega Man 3’s Rush Jet, I guess giving the player that much control just causes too many game design problems.)

The bosses in this game are lame beyond belief. Not only do they cover heavily-treaded ground by having Flame Man, Blizzard Man, and Wind Man, three of the bosses are just variations on (actual historical weapon) Man. The weapons are nothing to write home about either, and the game suffers from the same problem as the other later NES games where the Mega Buster is as good a choice as anything. The main choice you’ll make is whether to give up the charge shot for a Rush attachment.

While the bosses are lame in concept, they do at least look cool, and the stages have stronger thematic elements than many other Mega Man games. Tomahawk Man has an old west feel, Yamato Man feels very Japanese, and so on. There are a number of memorable stage design elements in play here, from the “flower” energy pellets in Plant Man’s stage to the super-cool upside-down waves in Centaur Man’s stage. (Side note: “Centaur Man”? So he’s half horse, half man, another half man, but also a robot, I guess?) These stages also branch quite frequently with the use of Rush attachments, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s cool, but it also leads to alternate bosses, which are how you get Beat.

Most Mega Man games have an agreed-upon “best order” but Mega Man 6 takes that to a new level. You’ll want to fight the four Beat-related bosses later so you can get to the proper alternate rooms to fight them, which basically means that not only is the order set, the starting point is as well. Which is fine, I guess, but it’s kind of going against the whole concept of Mega Man. Fortunately, Beat isn’t quite as ridiculous here as he was in his debut.

It’s easy to tell that Capcom was on the right track with Mega Man 6, and I think Mega Man X (which came out after Mega Man 6 in Japan) proved beyond any doubt that they still had it. The basic Mega Man series took a strange turn once it got off of the NES, though, which is probably why we eventually ended up with Mega Man 9 and 10. Still, this is a very fun game, and not as laughably easy as its predecessor, so it’s worth checking out. Though like its predecessor, it’s quite expensive to pick up in NES cartridge form, so maybe stick with one of the dozen collections that have been released.

Review Score: B

Retro Review: Ultima VII Part 2: The Silver Seed

Making an expansion to an RPG that doesn’t simply continue the plot after the end is tricky business. Ultima VII’s Forge of Virtue did a clunky job solving this problem, by making you super-powerful as a reward. The Silver Seed does a much better job as an expansion to Serpent Isle, though. Not only have the rewards been toned down while still being worth it, there’s actually a story this time, and it’s not completely lame!

The Silver Seed takes place hundreds of years before the events of Serpent Isle, during the Ophidian conflict that eventually led to their disappearance from the land. While involving time travel is not inherently problematic, the fact that you’re stymied by minions of the Guardian and speak to a Monk from modern day Serpent Isle are both head-scratchers. Those strange events aside, the Silver Seed is interesting because you get a look at the Order side of the War of Imbalance through more than just books. It does a good job fleshing out how the war actually went on and why it ended as it did.

Of course, the actual plot of the expansion is pretty basic. You need to delve four dungeons searching for magic items so you can plant the Silver Seed, yadda yadda yadda. Not the most amazing stuff. But those four dungeons, and the treasures within them, are what make this expansion shine.

While Forge of Virtue rewarded you with a super-powered Avatar, the Silver Seed instead gives a series of items that improve your combat statistics. This is great because anyone can use them, which has the effect of making your training point expenditures more interesting instead of completely irrelevant. You also get a magic keyring at the start of the expansion, which is basically an apology from Origin for having way too many keys in Serpent Isle. The keyring effectively combines every key you ever find into one, and adds a hotkey for it to boot. It’s good stuff.

There is one ridiculously overpowered reward to be found here, though it’s also the toughest find in the expansion. The ring of reagents completely nullifies the need to use reagents to cast spells. In any previous Ultima game, this would be amazing but not game-breaking. However, Serpent Isle not only introduces new reagents, but several reagents are in very limited supply. One of them is even somewhat plot important. By adding the ring of reagents, they’ve turned every reagent cache from potentially exciting treasure to useless garbage. Not that I don’t mind not having to carry a bag full of reagents, but it does sort of feel like cheating. Of course, nothing’s stopping you from not using it.

On the upside, the dungeons you must clear in the Silver Seed are quite challenging, so you won’t be getting any of your rewards without a fight (at least, not any of the combat-related ones). You can visit this expansion quite early in Serpent Isle if you want to, and doing so many be worth it just for the keyring, but actually clearing the dungeons is no trivial matter. It pays to wait until you at least have a spellbook to take on these dangers.

The Silver Seed is fun, informs Serpent Isle’s plot without interfering with it, and has great rewards. And it doesn’t introduce any huge islands that interfere with sailing, unlike some other expansions. What more could you want? (You know, aside from 60 Strength.)

Review Score: A

Retro Review: Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle

The only game in the main Ultima series to share an engine with one of its predecessors, Serpent Isle is a bit of an enigma in the series. Engine re-use was not unprecedented for Ultima games, as the two Ultima VI spinoffs were similar in some ways to Serpent Isle, but those games are not relevant to the greater series plot, while Serpent Isle very much is. The engine improvements lead to significantly better gameplay than Ultima VII, but despite the two games looking so similar, they are quite different.

Ultima VII (part one) was notable as the Ultima game that best nailed the feeling of a living world. Serpent Isle, on the other hand, is a very linear and story-driven game that stops feeling like a real world less than halfway through. It doesn’t help that SI was rushed to market, and the cracks in U7’s world are outright chasms here. Even major plot points are often ignored by characters who by all rights should be central to them, and quest flags can be set at seemingly random times. The net result is that the “immersion” that makes me so fond of its predecessor falls apart quickly in Serpent Isle.

That said, Serpent Isle isn’t a bad game by any means. The Ultima VII engine was already good, and the advances made in Serpent Isle are fantastic. The obvious additions like hotkeys and the awesome paperdoll equipment system are nice, but even more subtle improvements in game scripting and conversation flow really help Serpent Isle work. The game also features a smaller party, which helps inventory management and combat both flow better.

The real strength of Serpent Isle, being the first highly linear Ultima game, is the storyline. Like any video game story, it won’t be winning any writing awards, but it definitely keeps you interested and wanting more. Not to spoil anything, but events play out quite a bit differently than you might expect. Where in the Black Gate the actual plot involved less than half the world and could be resolved fairly quickly, here practically everything on the map is important in some way. Whether this is a strength or a weakness depends on what you like in your RPGs.

Serpent Isle really shines in large part because it does not take place in Britannia. Without the burden of a dozen towns that must exist, Serpent Isle keeps things simple with only three major cities. The ruins of a lost civilization are scattered across the island, and discovering their secrets is a large part of the game. There are important references here to both Ultima I and Ultima III, but the world stands well on its own.

As good as it is, Serpent Isle is a flawed game. Many of these flaws probably would have been fixed had the game gotten more development time, but that doesn’t make them any less game-breaking. There are quite a few events that, if done out of order, can result in an unwinnable game. There are even a few bugs you’re relatively likely to run into unless you specifically avoid them. If you go off exploring too much, you risk causing problems – for best results, stick to what people tell you to do.

And therein lies the problem, for me. One could certainly argue that Serpent Isle is a better overall game than the Black Gate, but the forced linearity really ruins it for me. The game is chock-full of events that clearly only happen to steer you towards a given event, and the game’s final quests require a whole lot of hunting for random items for no particularly good reason. If thereare any notable optional sidequests, I don’t remember them.

But don’t let me steer you away from Serpent Isle. If Ultima isn’t really your “thing,” Serpent Isle just might be, because it’s a very different type of game (at least, outside of the opening few quests). It’s certainly excellent, but it is unfortunately a harbinger of things to come – both of its sequels are even more restrictively linear (perhaps partially because of how poorly Serpent Isle handles things when you do go out of order). It’s just too bad neither of those sequels could live up to Serpent Isle’s story.

Review Score: A−

Retro Review: ActRaiser

ActRaiser is a unique game, part of the SNES launch lineup that would never be duplicated on that system. It is part action game, part town simulator. It’s an eclectic mix that works surprisingly well.

The action sequences of ActRaiser are definitely the weaker part of the game. In each of the six areas, there is an introductory stage and a final stage. In these, you play as a hero with a sword and, if you’ve found any in the simulation part of the game, a limited-use magic spell. Beyond the spells, there’s no real variation in your abilities as the game progresses. You are able to take a lot of hits, and the game is generous with health items before boss fights. The stages are littered with secrets, but none are particularly vital. Your goal, aside from completing the stage in general, is to get a high score, which influences each area’s maximum population.

The sim mode is what makes ActRaiser unique and great. Each area is under constant attack by monsters, and you have to hold them off with your little angel helper while directing the townspeople to expand the town. Your goal in the early going is to help the townspeople destroy the monster lairs. Once that’s done, the simulation becomes much more relaxed, and the focus is on optimization and exploration. In addition to the basic simulation gameplay, you can earn items from your followers, and these items are often useful in other areas to help the townspeople with unique problems they have. It’s a relatively simple mode, but it works beautifully. Your long-term goal is to maximize your population, which in turn will increase your level (and therefore health) during action sequences.

The mix of action and simulation ensures that ActRaiser doesn’t get stale, and never overstays its welcome. It’s a beautiful game with great atmospheric music, all the more impressive considering it was one of the first SNES games released. It’s unique and fun, and well worth checking out. There isn’t much else like it.

Review Score: A−

Retro Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Castlevania II is one of several direct sequels for the NES that dramatically changes the formula compared to its predecessor. However, unlike most of those sequels, the basic gameplay hasn’t actually changed much. Instead, the genre has shifted, from an action game to a slower-paced adventure.

You once again play as Simon Belmont, armed with a whip, some sub-weapons, and the inability to change your trajectory mid-jump. However, this time around, Simon can level up to dramatically increase his survivability, and most of your upgrades are permanent. Several sub-weapons are now free to use, as well, which changes the dynamic of the game. Rather than being tools to defeat tough enemies, your sub-weapons now have varied uses. In particular, the holy water is a staple weapon for its ability to open passages and identify false floors.

The world of Simon’s Quest is laid out mostly horizontally. You adventure across a wilderness dotted with a number of towns. There are several alternate paths, but the world layout is pretty straightforward. Not that it’s simple to find everything. The game focuses heavily on puzzle elements, and the primary challenge is locating all the secret nooks and crannies you’ll need to collect Dracula’s parts and finish the game. The clues to these puzzle elements can be a bit obtuse, and the game even offers a number of false hints to throw you off the scent.

While there are five mansions to explore, and each is superficially similar to a typical level from the original Castlevania, action is not the focus here. If you die, you re-appear in the same spot you died in. Even continuing doesn’t set you back in terms of location, though it does reset your current experience and money. But as a result, you can power through basically anything, given time.

While Castlevania II features many interesting gameplay concepts, they don’t mesh together as well as they might have. Trying to figure out where some of the mansions are is more frustrating than interesting, and the lack of real action-oriented challenge result in limited replay value. (Though the game does offer three different endings, depending on how long it takes you to complete.) It’s interesting to note that the game actually plays like a more forgiving, and less complicated, Metroid.

Castlevania II is worth playing, though it helps to have a guide handy for when you get stuck. It adds a lot to the Castlevania mythos, and is an interesting examination of how to apply the same gameplay to a different genre. And of course, it has great music.

Review Score: B

My Gaming Philosophy

I’ve been playing Stormblood, the new FFXIV expansion (and before anyone asks, no, I will not be making a guide for it; sorry), and there has been a lot of consternation among the player base based on combat and job action changes. I main a White Mage, the job most commonly referred to as broken or useless based on the early released changes, but so far my experience (through level 66) has been nothing but positive. Indeed, the more I read, the less I understand where these complaints are coming from. It’s important to note that I’m not a raider: I have no interest in playing on a schedule, nor am I the sort of competitive that would make me care about things like world firsts or even completing the most difficult challenges. I just want to see all the content, so I’m content (for example) to have completed Alexander (normal) in Heavensward and never set foot in Alexander (savage).

The more I read about these complaints, the more I think they have a much more fundamental basis than I originally assumed. I don’t think the core problem here is people’s jobs being nerfed (or not made good enough to keep up), particularly since there is no Stormblood raid to actually test jobs against yet anyway. I think the problem is that Square Enix’s intent with the combat system redesign was to pull players back towards playing the game they way the creators intended. (Most obviously in making massive pulls harder to pull off.)

That brings my to my gaming philosophy, which has a heavy influence on the guides I’ve made. I’m not looking to find the best exploit, or determine the absolute best path towards a goal. Rather, I like to gather all the information I can on a game and use it to answer a different question: how did the creators mean for this game to be played? That’s also how I tend to play games, especially single-player games. But I’m starting to realize it even affects how I play FFXIV. I seem to be much less inconvenienced by these changes than the most vocal complainers simply because I already played the game the way Square Enix seems to want people to now.

None of this is to say that my way is any better than another, of course. But it is to say that my guides are generally not focused on exploits. They won’t be much use to the guys doing AGDQ, for instance. But I’d like to think they’ll be useful to anyone trying to understand the design of these games at a fundamental level.

Retro Review: Mega Man II (Gameboy)

Mega Man II uses the same structure as its Gameboy predecessor, using four bosses each from Mega Man 2 and 3 on the NES. A few significant changes to the formula result in a much smoother experience, though not one without some significant flaws.

Once again, you find yourself choosing from among four bosses to start with, in relatively classic Mega Man style. None of these stages is particularly difficult, in contrast to the previous game. However, the balance is somehow very off. Many enemies take way more firepower than you would expect to defeat: for example, bats take multiple shots. The stages also have several areas where the enemy placement results in a pretty unfair situation no matter what you do. However, you have energy tanks this time around, and with the exception of some obstacles, nothing seems to do all that much damage to Mega Man. The result is stages that don’t feel unfair, but don’t entirely feel like Mega Man, either.

The bosses are well translated to the smaller screen, using similar patterns to their NES predecessors but scaled appropriately. There are several valid starting points in the rotation, and no stage acts as a major barrier without a given weapon. The weapons are strangely limited, often using a lot of power per shot, but you don’t really need them in most cases. If anything, it’s a bit too easy.

After a short cutscene following the initial bosses, you’ll be introduced to the next four. Here is where the game kind of loses its way. Compared to Dr. Wily’s Revenge, these bosses at least have their own stages now. However, the game considers all four one single stage, so your weapons don’t get refilled between them. Worst of all, the game again gives no indication of which boss is which. As a result, these second four stages are necessarily pretty easy.

The new elements added to the game are generally well done, though the special boss and his unique weapon are decidedly odd this time around. The game is longer than its predecessor, but much easier, to the point where you’re likely to complete it much faster. Still, it has a respectable number of stages for a Gameboy game of the time.

How you feel about Mega Man II will rest heavily on why you like Mega Man games. If you’re in it for the tight play control and high challenge, this will not be the game for you. It’s a bit sloppy and easy to power your way though. But if you just enjoy the general Mega Man gameplay and collecting weapons, this isn’t a bad game at all.

Review Score: C+

Blaster Master Zero

Blaster Master Zero is a re-imagining of the original Blaster Master for the NES. It follows the same basic structure of the original, and keeps many of its gameplay themes, while changing the core gameplay loop considerably, and for the better. While it features retro graphics, this isn’t the kind of game designed to mimic what people think the original game was like through nostalgia-tinted memories. This is something new, an expansion of a good game idea into something much more modern and interesting.

The core idea of Blaster Master was that you adventured through eight areas, earning an upgrade for your jumping tank vehicle in each of the first seven. These upgrades opened new paths in a semblance of what would come to be known as the Metroidvania style. Even though the areas are not connected in direct order, the game still plays out in a linear fashion. Blaster Master Zero does not change this, but it does expand on it by giving you a variety of new upgrades. Further embracing the genre it foresaw, many upgrades take the form of selectable weapons or powers, giving the game a touch of a Super Metroid feel.

In addition to expanding on Blaster Master’s basic ideas, Blaster Master Zero refines a number of the issues that game had. Instead of having three sub-weapons with limited and independent ammo, your vehicle now has one auto-regenerating power meter that powers all sub-weapons as well as its flight powers. This mechanic works wonderfully well, and the weapons are well-tuned and will find a lot of use. Hovering (and the alternative multi-jumping) are easier than ever, and gone are the days of scouring the map for a powerup if you run out of energy at the wrong time.

Perhaps more importantly in terms of correcting its predecessor’s flaws, the gun power system has been reworked. There are still eight levels of gun power, and you still lose a level each time you are hit in one of the overhead sections, but now each level corresponds to a different weapon, and you can find a device early on that lets you ignore one hit to your gun power every few seconds. The result is that the top-down combat is much more tactical, rather than being frustrating. In addition, grenades have been expanded to a set of sub-weapons. Each is limited in use, though refills are quite common, and they all have their own purpose. Combined with save points in these areas, the top-down sections are no longer the part of the game the player will learn to dread.

By correcting the flaws of a game with such a great core concept, Blaster Master Zero emerges as a great little game. It’s fairly short, and the save system makes it far easier than the NES game was, but there are several modes to tackle once you’re done. Whether you want an extra challenge or just want to blow by everything, you can do that. There is even DLC for alternate characters to change things up.

If you were a fan of Blaster Master, I highly recommend picking up Blaster Master Zero. This goes double if you could never actually finish the original. This is basically the perfect modern version of that game. It even added much more story, notable because it somehow managed to combine the mythologies of several totally distinct versions of the original game. (Which is to say, it’s not an amazing story, but its existence is worthy of praise.) If you’ve never played Blaster Master, you should still give this a shot. Playing as a rolling, jumping tank is just fun.

Review Score: A−

Retro Review: Ultima VII: Forge of Virtue

Ultima VII’s expansion is great in many ways, but it has an unfortunate tendency to ruin the challenge of the main game. It is an old-school expansion, with its content accessible almost immediately, and the rewards are far too powerful to be available so early in the game. Complete Forge of Virtue, and your Avatar will be an unstoppable wrecking machine even if he’s still level 3.

On the upside, Forge of Virtue does fix one problem with the leveling system of Ultima VII – since the Avatar is the only party member who can use magic, he is the only party member who needs Intelligence and Magic training, thus splitting his limited training points among five stats instead of everyone else’s 3. As a result, you are either going to be generally underpowered, or very bad at certain things. Forge of Virtue, however, makes training irrelevant by giving you max stats. For this reason, and the balance issues I mentioned earlier, the whole expansion works a lot better if you do it at the end of the game rather than the beginning.

As for the content itself, this is very much an expansion you’ll only fully enjoy the first time. There are major puzzle aspects to all three of the Tests of Principles which make up the bulk of the expansion, as well as the final quest, and figuring out what to do is most of the fun. One test is a simple puzzle involving conversation, a bit of reading, and a tiny bit of exploration. Another involves a huge and complicated maze with many false finishes. The only puzzle that involves much beyond simple reasoning skills is the aptly named Test of Courage.

The only reason you may not be able to complete the expansion early in the game is because of the Test of Courage, a dungeon whose denizens are only rivaled by a handful of dungeons in the main game. You’ll have quite a bit of fighting to do, along with a little simple puzzle solving (find the switch, find the key, etc.), but the main appeal of this test is the real prize of the Forge of Virtue: the Black Sword.

I won’t spoil what the Black Sword is if you haven’t played the game (well, it’s a sword, duh), but suffice it to say, it’s a fun weapon. In addition to being quite powerful, it has special powers, and you even get to forge it yourself (to a degree) using the instructions available in the main game, which don’t actually work anywhere but here.

As far as the story of the Forge of Virtue goes, there isn’t much plot, but what’s there is kind of interesting, especially if you’ve played Ultima III. The only human NPC in the expansion is quite amusing, and has a lot to say about all of the interesting (albeit evil) artifact you’ve destroyed in your career as the Avatar. And the daemon in the mirror is quite fun as well. But this is a story wholly detached from the main plot of Ultima VII – you come to power yourself up, not to expand the story, which is a bit disappointing.

All in all, the Forge of Virtue is a pretty good expansion, which is a good thing since it’s almost impossible to find a version of the game without it these days. The only downside is that the Isle of Fire it adds to the world map takes up quite a bit of space on the open seas, and can be a pain to sail around. If you’re looking to play the game in “easy mode,” this is a good way to do it, and if you’re not, it’s simple enough to put off your adventures here until later. Just don’t expect much of an RPG experience.

Review Score: B+

Retro Review: Ultima VII: The Black Gate

The Ultima series began as nonlinear, almost open world RPGs. It ended with a series of linear, story-driven games. In the happy middle, a few games in the series – starting with Warriors of Destiny and ending with The Black Gate – managed to really nail both the open-world and story aspects of this evolution. But Ultima VII is special because not only was the design in nearly perfect balance, for the first time the technology was advanced enough to offer really immersive gameplay – and not yet so advanced that the illusion of the truly open world was shattered.

Truth be told, taken as a story compared with your typical novel, Ultima VII isn’t all that special. It is 200 Britannian years after the events of Ultima VI, and the world has for the most part moved on the Eight Virtues. A new organization called the Fellowship hopes to unite the people of the world, but it quickly becomes clear that they are not so benevolent as they would have you believe. But the story works not because of its originality or narrative strength, but because it really involves you (as the Avatar) in the world. Sure it’s obvious the Fellowship is up to no good, but even within the context of the game, there isn’t much you can do about it aside from figuring out what they’re up to and putting a stop to it. You do it because you care, not because someone tells you to.

And therein lies Ultima VII’s single greatest flaw. If you don’t care, either about the story or about your role as the Avatar, the game loses focus quickly. The immersion of this game is built on a house of cards. If you’re not particularly interested in tracking down those responsible for the gruesome murder that starts the game, and aren’t very good at The Game, it may be quite some time before you stumble on to the actual plot. It’s all there, and it’s spelled out quite explicitly if you look for it, but you do have to look for it. This is a game where very nearly the entire world is open to you from the start (and you’re only an easily accessed flying carpet from opening the rest), and aside from the starting plotline, there is no handholding here. The game requires you to buy in, but pays off in spades if you do so.

So far all I’ve really done is criticize the game, which may make my score seem surprising. Flaws aside, Ultima VII is the best western RPG I’ve ever played. I enjoyed it when it came out and had no contextual background in the series, I loved it in college when I played through with a better understanding, and loved it even more when I played it again, for the first time having played every previous game in the series. The game just keeps getting better.

So what’s so great? Well, I’ve mentioned how immersive the game is. The engine, despite being old enough to vote, is still great at what it does. For the first time in the series, the game is entirely mouse-driven, with no static on-screen UI at all. You can poke and prod things, and most behave as you would expect. Hell, you can even bake bread. (Just don’t try to forge a sword…) People react to what you say and do, and if you kill someone, they stay dead. Of course, the game is not great at reacting if you do something unexpected. Aside from calling the guards if they are a witness, NPCs won’t react if you kill a random townsperson. (Though they usually react if you kill someone for plot reasons.) Not that you should be killing random townspeople. That’s not very virtuous!

Combat is a relatively weak point of the game, but it’s also not really the point. You’re only forced into one dungeon with especially tough enemies, and all you need to do while there is walk in and walk out. You’ll gain the majority of your experience points through (non-violent) quests. But the combat isn’t actually bad per se, it just has a number of annoying flaws. The biggest of these is that ranged weapons are terribly inaccurate and if you give a party member a powerful weapon like a juggernaut hammer, they will likely kill you more often than the monsters. This is greatly alleviated by using the “flank” attack mode, but that encourages your party to stray far afield and possibly get themselves killed without you noticing. They will also drop items when fleeing from combat, which is annoying at best, and game-breaking at worst. The general rule of thumbs is never to give your companions plot items. And the game is stingy with information on how combat actually works, which isn’t helpful if you, like me, are used to the twinked out character customization that makes JRPG’s so enjoyable.

That said, if you’re prepared to deal with its flaws, combat can be a lot of fun. There are numerous dungeons and treasure caves across the world which have no plot relevance, but are great places to earn experience and treasure. There is a wide variety of spells which are quite a lot of fun to play with. Many dungeons feature devious traps and puzzles (though I’m not sure if “infinitely respawning dragons” counts as a trap per se). Areas off the beaten path are filled with interesting tidbits about the world, and there’s more Ultima fan service than you can shake an ankh at.

But all in all, Ultima VII is just good. It’s not easy to put the exact reasons into words, but this game has everything I want from a western RPG. You can as easily follow the plot with gusto as spend an afternoon reading books in the Lycaeum. Sure, the game is dated, and modern RPGs handle many aspects of it with more technical proficiency, but as games have grown more complex, worlds have become less interactive. Ultima VII predates the times of generic townspeople you can’t speak to – everyone in U7 not only has a place of work, they also have individual homes, eat dinner at the local pub, and so on. The world exists without you, but you can still interact with it, and that’s a feeling I haven’t had in a game since. Well, since Ultima VII Part 2, at least.

Review Score: A+