Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ultima VI: The Best of Both Worlds

Unconvinced of my understanding of the Gargish way of life, the Shrine of Singularity had sent me on a pilgrimage to each of the other Gargish shrines, one dedicated to each of the three principles around which their philosophy revolved. I still had a few matters to attend to back in Britannia, but I figured it was best for me to see through this insight into the Gargoyles to the very end, while I was here. My surrender and demonstration of submission to Draxinusom demanded nothing less of me, really - how could I truly act in their interest if I had not yet properly wrapped my mind around what defined their way of thinking?

It was... what, last June when I actually did that?
So it was to the west that I traveled next, in search of the Shrine of Control. Poking through the mountains on that side of the city eventually revealed an entrance, which led to a room absolutely filled with levers, along with a portcullis on the northern side. Some quick experimentation revealed a long corridor beyond the portcullis, blocked by several more, all controlled by various levers in the entry room. I pressed forward as far as my initial curious level-pulls allowed, fighting off a drake or two on the way, then left it to Dupre to fiddle with the rest of the levers, pushing forward when he pulled one that offered me the chance to do so. It was perhaps a little tedious, but not particularly difficult, and it was a relatively simple matter to reach the Shrine proper, where columns surrounded a single statue on a pedestal. I figured that this was the entity that the Shrine of Singularity had told me was the embodiment of Control, and so approached it - only to pause as I neared, as the statue was familiar.

Immediately my hand flew to my weapon, but then the statue spoke, which in and of itself was enough to give me pause. It was indeed with Mondain's voice, though something had... softened, about it. After assuring me that I had nothing to fear from him and that he was no threat in this particular state - assurances that I held a healthy degree of skepticism for, all things considered - he set about explaining his new task, enshrined here by the Gargoyles as the embodiment of Control. He expounded on Control itself and the Gargoyles' understanding of it, the importance of self-control, and implying the responsibility to guide that goes along with the power that accompanies control. After passing on the mantra of the principle, Mondain fell silent once more, and I spent the long walk back through the corridor musing on what all he had told me.

I suppose fire is appropriate for Passion.
Night fell as we exited the Shrine of Control and made our way to the east, where we expected to find the Shrine of Passion. It took us a while to find an opening through the twisted passageways in the mountains there, but eventually we found a cavern, marked by several of the explosive fumaroles that had dotted Hythloth. It proved a recurring motif once inside - though it was a simple path to the Shrine itself, short and direct, fire littered the pathway, whether it was the lava we had to walk over or the fire fields blocking our path - thankfully I had plenty of reagents to dispel them. Simple Dispel Field spells gave way to spells of a more forceful sort, however, as a horde of demons (what is the proper term for a group of demons? I was looking up ones for birds earlier this week, but I have no idea what it is for demons) swarmed us upon approach. The fighting was fervent, furious, and more than a little confusing. With that many charm spells flying around, it was sometimes difficult to keep track of just which of my allies were currently on my side proper. Aric favored slinging spells over his sword, between trying to de-charm allies and keep them in good fighting condition, and what little opportunities he did have to straight-out attack were spent with Chain Bolt and Explosion, trying to do as much damage as possible to as many demons as were in reach - which sometimes also necessitated a Reveal spell to keep track of them. I believe it was the first time I'd burned through enough spells to completely drain MP throughout the course of the game, and it was not a fight easily won - everyone was battered and scarred by the end of it. Once the dust settled, we limped before the statue in the center of the room, the dance of flaming fields surrounding it on all sides, and once again the image was familiar, even before the voice that accompanied it spoke.

This time it was the face and voice of Minax, Mondain's apprentice and lover, who had reached through time and space to confront me in the name of revenge. Well did I remember the chase she gave me throughout the castle she had claimed outside of Time itself, and like Mondain before her, she now found herself enshrined as the personification of Passion by the Gargoyles. She too assured me that she was no threat to me now, musing on her own passion and how it eventually consumed even herself in its fires. After a warning on the dangers of unbridled passion, she remarked on the Gargoyles' understanding of it, the passionate leading the directionless, giving them the will to survive, and passed on the mantra of the principle she represented. Then she too fell silent once more, and left me to my thoughts.

I needed it to get through all those demons!
Considering how battered we were after that last fight (not to mention that both Iolo and Blaine had run out of arrows in the process, entirely my fault for not checking their quivers recently), we used the Orb of the Moons to return to Britain, stocking up on ammunition and asking Lord British for healing. Then it was back to the Gargoyle lands, and off to the south to find the Shrine of Diligence there. In light of who I'd met in the first two, I had a good idea of who I'd find at the end as the embodiment of the principle, but I had to get there first. Room after room after room, each one nearly identical to the last save for the monsters we were forced to fight, on and on and on, until a few uses of the Wizard Eye spell to get my bearings revealed a ladder behind a secret door, and it was with relief that we broke free of the monotony to continue on. Yet sounds ahead in the corridor the ladder led to suggested another potentially harsh fight - I surmised it might be better to slip on an invisibility ring and scout ahead on my own.

Sure enough, demons hung around this shrine as well, and small wonder, because a statue depicting Exodus, the half-demon half-machine thing I'd caused to destroy itself awaited me, as I'd expected. And the voice that spoke to my mind was much the same, a strange sound that was distinctly inhuman in its tone. Yet Exodus too assured me of its focus on the task the Gargoyles had set for it now, and that I had nothing to fear from it now. Exodus expounded on Diligence, what little worth it had without a goal, that the means cannot replace the ends, and that it was the diligent of the Gargoyles who led the wayward and allowed them to maintain the rough life they had carved out for themselves. After passing on the mantra, Exodus left me to reflect upon the words I had just heard as I made my way back to my companions.

Tell that to those demons still hanging around...
We returned to the Shrine of Singularity, having completed the pilgrimages it had set for me, and after stringing the three mantras I had learned together into the mantra of Singularity, the Shrine glowed with a blue fire. I had come to understand the meaning of unity of purpose, and I knew my purpose now - to encourage unity between Britannia and the Gargoyles. The Codex awaited, and it was there that I would achieve my goal and both avert and fulfill the prophecy - not with the sacrifice of myself, but my sacrificing of the Codex itself, not to destroy the Gargoyles, but to rescue them, though it was perhaps already too late for their homeland.

I still had business to take care of back in Britannia before I could do so, however. I still needed a second lens of human make, according to Naxatilor, and there was still the Vortex Cube to find. It was to Moonglow that I went for the first, remembering a man there who was nearly always at his telescope. Sure enough, explaining the situation to Ephemerides was enough to pique his interest, and after giving him the Gargoyle lens as a pattern of sorts and a glass sword as material, he crafted me the concave lens that I would need to return the Codex to the Void.

I'll do my best!
The Vortex Cube had been stolen by a band last seen heading for Stonegate, and there I found a young boy raised by a pair of cyclopes, who had lost their own son and cared for the child as their own when he was shipwrecked near their home in the remains of the castle. Speaking with them suggested that I might find the Cube in their basement, which was kept under lock and key. The key was in the male cyclops' possession, and he was willing to exchange it for - a fish. So I spent some time on the coast nearby until I had a bite, and made the trade. The basement of the castle was difficult to navigate, mostly because of tight quarters and secret doors, but I found the Cube behind some energy fields and reclaimed it.

From there I used a summoned moongate to get to the Shrine of Humility, and then sailed from there to the Shrine of the Codex. The stone guardians allowed us to pass, thanks to the quest the Shrine of Singularity had bestowed upon us, and the Codex itself was open to the page I needed, detailing what I needed to do in order to send it back into the Void. I placed the lenses at just the right places to direct the light from the two flames near it, then placed the moonstones I'd collected at the very beginning of my adventure into the Vortex Cube and set it at the base of the Codex. This was enough to send it back into the Void, and though Lord British and Draxinusom both barged in through moongates of their own, exceedingly irate, once I pressed the lenses into their hands and let them read some wisdom of their own from the Codex, they looked at each other not with hatred, but with understanding, and I knew that my quest had been completed.


It sure took a lot of Diligence to find this.
There's a lot packed into these last few legs of Ultima VI, which I suppose isn't entirely surprising. This is the end of Act Three of the narrative, after all, and that's where you bring out all the good stuff in order to tie everything into a nice little package for the ending. Two things stood out to me in particular as I went through this portion of the game. First were the Gargish Shrines, and once again how they demonstrate contrast to the Britannian philosophy. While Britannia focused more on the Virtues, the result of the combination of the thee Principles, it was the Principles themselves that the Gargoyles place in the forefront of their philosophy, looking to them to guide, drive, and maintain their actions as they naturally extend into the eight virtues that derive from those principles. So too were the specific choices of those principles very well suited to tie in to the antagonists from the first three games - I don't know where in the creative process the decision to bring in Mondain, Minax and Exodus again came in, before or after the choice of Control, Passion and Diligence as the Gargish principles, but it's a very nice match when it comes down to it. Especially considering that each of their speeches mention how they went overboard with their respective principles - Mondain's desire for control led him to rule the world with an iron fist, Minax's passion sent her into a rage when her mentor and lover died, Exodus' mechanical nature brought about unwavering, disciplined diligence that could not understand nuance nor feeling. And this, too, is a contrast with the Britannian system - many of the anti-virtues are a lack of the counterpart, whereas the errors that the sort-of-reformed Triad of Evil mention stem from an excess.

Everything in its place once more
The second thing that caught my attention came at the very end, and it was just a very small detail when it comes down to it, but I felt it was the best way to go about the final scenes. And that's the fact that we don't see exactly what the Codex reveals to Lord British and Draxinusom at the very end. Negative space is a powerful thing in storytelling, and I think it works better here than any eloquent speech that could have been written in its place. It's already stated that the Codex is always open to exactly the page that's needed - all we really need know is that the Codex shows the two monarchs the precise bit of wisdom they need to hear in order to realize each other's standpoint. It's simple and elegant, calls back to a few tidbits about the Codex, and ultimately means that the instrument of division between the two races also ends up the instrument of healing. And I do have to admit I very much like stories that come full circle.

Well, that does it for Ultima VI, folks! As always, I'll have one more post about my closing thoughts on the game, and then it'll be time to take a detour for a few spinoffs! The Age of Enlightenment comes to a close, but the Age of Adventures calls my name...

That's all it needs to say, really.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your u6 play through very much, thank you! - Joseph