Monday, June 9, 2014

Ultima I: Closing Thoughts

My stats, as I went into the final battle.
As I wrapped up Ultima I yesterday, I found myself musing on what exactly it is about the game that appeals to me even in the face of its age (even the remake is older than I am, after all). I come back to the game fairly often, after all, it's one of my go-tos when I need to unwind and want to just smack around a few pixelated monsters, rather than lose myself in an in-depth story. It's a fairly grind-y game, yes, what with shuttling back and forth between stat-raising signposts, whacking monsters for gold and experience... yet even with all that, I don't really find the game boring at any point. I think a good deal of that is that the early grinding feels tense enough to be engaging, and by the time you reach a point where you're not biting your nails when three enemies come crawling inexorably toward you, the game's opened up enough that you can grind in a few different ways - if you get tired of increasing stats, you can go dungeon delving, and if you get tired of that, you can go exploring the continent and slay monsters there. Or go poking around space and shooting aliens. There's enough variety to keep one occupied, and even if it does get rather repetitive after a while, there's just enough to keep it interesting in some manner or another, whether that's changing up what you're doing or changing up how you approach it - spells versus weapons, and so forth.

Ow! My brain!
So with my previously mentioned intent of looking at the games from a storyteller's perspective, how does the tale of the First Age of Darkness hold up? Well, it's a simplistic story, to be sure, but I think for a game of its time, it holds up pretty well. The general premise is laid out decently enough (evil wizard makes monsters that threatens the land, slay them and figure out how to slay him in the process), and the story, such as it is, is well paced. There are three crucial plot points that move things forward in the game - that you need four gems, that you need to travel through time, and that a princess will help a Space Ace accomplish such - and each one of these points comes as part of the reward for finishing a needed quest. More than that comes as flavor text from taverns, which are plentiful enough that they're not too obscure to find. It's a very compact story, of course, necessitating leaving more to the imagination than the game itself, but then again, that's what really caught me about the Ultima games to begin with - they leave a lot open for the player's interpretation. Ultima I sets a good precedent for the games to come in that respect.

As for Ultima I's role in the larger story, coming off Akalabeth's prologue, Ultima I makes for a good first chapter, starting things out strong. We've established a main villain, and though it's not Mondain himself we find ourselves fighting against as the series goes on, we do feel the effects of the legacy he leaves behind at least through Ultima VI, and perhaps even beyond, depending on how one wants to interpret events. Whether it's his comrades or the remnants of his magic, Mondain's role in the events of the Ultima games resound through the series, and it's here that we first lay down what he's capable of. It makes for a fine opening to the tale of Ultima as a whole.

All in all, every time I play Ultima I, I find it to be an absorbing and enjoyable romp, and this time around was no exception. It's simple, but it works so well, and that's the beauty of it.

If only I could say the same for the next game... but that's for another post.

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