On the other hand, it means leaving the familiar, and the memories associated with them, behind. Ultima IV wasn't just a turning point for the series, it was a turning point for me. It was the first RPG I'd ever played, let alone seen through to completion, and seeing the mechanics used, diving into the world of Britannia as the game laid it out for me, gathering clues and chasing down leads - Ultima IV taught me what games are able to do, the stories they're able to tell in ways that books or movies can't quite accomplish. So for me, there's something a little poignant in seeing the quest draw to a close once more. In a sense, this isn't just a time for me to reflect on the game and its place in the history of the series and gaming as a whole - it's a time for me to reflect on my own journey to this point.
|On top of the world, lookin' down on creation...|
A few other issues I had with Ultima III were fixed to some degree or another in its sequel as well. The interface feels a bit more streamlined, in that inventory and food and gold are all communal now, and I no longer have to use a bunch of semi-tedious keystrokes to move necessary items from one party member to another. Not having to pass all that gold around really was nice, and made it easier to focus on what I needed to get done rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae of who was holding what and who actually needed what.
|Combat feels more varied, with battlefields like this.|
|As one of the Magincian ghosts said: The world went on without me.|
I can't entirely move on from Ultima IV without some mention of its music, either. I didn't play with music this time around because I couldn't figure out how to get it to work properly without making the game zip at hyperspeed or else using a graphics path in conjunction with it, but I've done so in the past, and while I'm not overly fond of the overworld wandering tune, I love the rest of it. The town theme feels appropriately 'medieval domestic,' the dungeon theme is simple but ominous, a subtle reminder that danger could lurk around any corner. The music for the castles is bold and regal, the combat music just intense enough for a fight without being overbearing, and more triumphant than the minor-key bit used for Ultima III, to better reflect the honorable nature of it in this game. And the shrine music! Wispy and almost ethereal and reflective, just as it should be. None of it's terribly complex, but it's very well utilized.
|Oh, I will, but I'll be back again.|
The other thing that comes to mind is how very freeform the story's structure takes. Really, when it comes down to it, there's very little that has to occur in a set order in Ultima IV. There's a series of things you need to do, yes - gather the companions, find the eight stones, become an eight part avatar, get the three-part key, obtain the bell, book and candle - but what order you do all these in really has no bearing whatsoever, just so long as you have it all done before you dive into the Abyss. Stories of this freeform sort can be very hard to pull off properly without it feeling either forced or shallow, but I think it works in part because Ultima IV's story is so personal. I've nothing against linearity at all, I don't mind it in the slightest if it's the best way to tell the tale one intends to, but these two things coupled together, I think, make Ultima IV rather unique, and I honestly can't think of anything that pulls it off in quite the same manner.
And so we move back from the game's story to my story, and I think that's a good deal of what I love about the game - they're one and the same, in the end. My history as a gamer - and even a storyteller, to a degree - is inextricably linked to this game. Every time I fire it up again, some part of me is suddenly ten years old once more, wide-eyed as he explores not just the realm of Britannia, but what the medium is able to do, for the first time. Maybe it's just the nostalgia - I know the control scheme can be a bit cumbersome and clunky until you get used to it, the graphics aren't anything to look at, and I know there's some even among my own generation that just can't get past stumbling blocks like that. And small wonder, I guess - like I've said before, the game predates me by three years.
But in the end, I don't care. Ultima IV's story is undeniably a part of mine. And in the same manner that the Quest of the Avatar is forever, so too is there still a lot of my story yet to be written.
I suppose that's a good note to end on as I move into the next chapter, huh?
|Well, that's why I took the screenshot.|