Friday, December 13, 2013

Akalabeth: Closing Remarks

And so my adventures in Akalabeth draw to a close. Despite the fact it's over thirty years old at this point, I find it's still an enjoyable little diversion. I had a better time this time around than I did when I first played it, too, now that I actually have some idea of what I'm doing - and the fact that pretty much everything I tried worked the first time helped, too, apparently sixteen really is my lucky number! I didn't even die once during my adventures this time. It's not particularly complicated once you understand how to work the system, but when it boils down to it, that's just it - that's pretty much all there is to it, figuring out how to work the system to your advantage. I suppose that's typical of games from that era, but it makes things either extremely difficult or extremely simple, depending on which side of the figuring you are.

As far as Akalabeth's story goes, I find it unique, in a manner of speaking. Rather than going off to slay the Big Evil, he's already been defeated - you're just there to help with the clean-up. Simplistic story, but fairly unorthodox for a game, and I appreciate it for that. Not terribly built up in the game itself, but then again, I rather like games that actually make use of the manual for things other than "here are the controls, here are some definitions." That's part of what I love about the Ultima series - the manuals don't just set the stage for the game itself, they help get a player into the proper immersive mindset. I rather miss that.

It's also easy to see how Akalabeth fits into the development of the Ultima series as a whole. There's a lot of Akalabeth that echo down far into the series - gremlins stealing food, the design of the 3D dungeons, the ladder-up ladder-down spells, the monsters, Lord British, Mondain... the list goes on. Some of the mechanics are perhaps a little unrefined (the fact the whole game can be broken by repeatedly turning into a lizardman comes to mind) but the seeds of Ultima are definitely here, and it's not hard to see them.

Fitting Akalabeth into the grand Ultima narrative, however, is a little difficult. There's not a whole lot to go off of, as far as the story goes, and I suppose it wasn't entirely meant to be a part of the Ultima series proper either, but still - it uses some of the same characters, and trying to match what we're told in Akalabeth's documentation to what the Ultima series present us can be a bit sketchy. Personally I tend to view it as a series of recurring dreams the Avatar-to-be has before his first adventure in Sosaria proper - after all, one does tend to die a lot and reply the same bits over and over and over in Akalabeth before finally getting the hang of it (I certainly did my first time playing!) Everything's nebulous and hazy and not necessarily matching up with reality, so this is how I reconcile it in my head.

Well, that closes out Akalabeth, I suppose. A fun jaunt, but I'm ready to dive into Ultima I. Into the First Age of Darkness!

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