An RPG that doesn't end with the rescue of a princess or the decimation of an evil lord!"
When Ultima: Exodus came out for the , I quickly bought it and had mixed feelings about the game. It wasn't completely awful like some have said here before, but was far from an excellent game. Later, I saw that a sequel had come out and was a bit skeptical about buying it, but did anyway. Ultima: Quest of the Avatar (UQotA from here on) not only improves upon most aspects of Exodus, it also has a very unique story. Let the review begin!
You are summoned from the darkness by Lord British, the king and ruler of all, and asked a series of interesting moral questions to answer. Depending on how you answer will determine which character "class" you will play as in the game. You then set out upon the world from one of the eight starting cities to enlighten yourself, find the runes of virtue, and eventually find a book, the Codex of Wisdom, read it, and poof! You're the Avatar and you've won the game! I like how this game does not take the easy way out by pitting you against some evil force (Exodus, numerous others) in order to win. There are still plenty of monsters though, don't make that mistake. You see, you'll have to battle different challenges in order to win. Walk into a house and see a few treasure chests. should you take them? Well, you CAN but it's stealing and that's not behavior for the Avatar, now is it? Another example would be giving the spell reagent merchants the correct amount of money when you pay them. You COULD rip them off, but again, it's dishonest.. Run from too many battles and it's not too Valorous, is it? Break your word with someone and your Honor goes out the window! What a great game, and it's challenging in a whole new way!
For it's time it has basic, but well-done graphics. The colors are just exactly right too, from the lush greens of the overworld to the dirty pits of the dungeons everything meshes well. If you compare it to Exodus, it's leaps and bounds above it. Each character you can control / employ has it's own unique look and all are discernible from each other. My only complaint would be that the Tinker doesn't look too great, but aside from that the rest are done well.
Sound effects aside, because nothing was too memorable for me to be honest, this game has some great tunes in it. The opening theme, filled with a flurry of high pitched notes before settling in to a mid tempo romp through the game select screen is fantastic, as is the music that plays when you are answering the questions in the character creation process. Most of the music uses nice, mellow songs with synthesized (or whatever the does that is) flutes and etc. It ties the great graphics in with the gameplay and really completes the package.
Well, as with most RPGs it's kind of hard to mess up the control and UQotA handles nicely. As with most of this genre, it's mostly menu driven in and outside of battle. Your character walks around the screen nicely, albeit a BIT too slow for my taste, but nothing compared to the awkward control of Dragon Warrior's hero. In battle, use the control pad to move each character around space by space to engage the enemy forces, select magic, or move out of the play area to retreat altogether. no big complaints here.
Simply put, it's complexity disguised as simplicity. (WTF did I say? LOL) What I mean is, if you were to just look at its simple sprites and nice, easy-going music you'd think that it'd be overtly easy and could blow through it in a hour. And you'd be wrong, because aside from the basic stuff you also have to worry about a lot of unseen character traits, these being the 8 virtues of Avatarhood. As the aspiring Avatar, you must master these and they are: Honesty, Humility, Honor, Compassion, Valor, Spirituality, Justice, and Sacrifice. Each and every thing you do in the game might have some effect on one of these virtues so you have to try your best to be the best! One thing I can think of is there is a skull of an evil wizard that you find later on in the game. If you decide to use it, you UNLEASH DESTRUCTION UPON THE WORLD! Whoops! Yeah, you won't get to Avatarhood that way I've tried.
Okay, so now that you've made your character you start off in that classes' home city. For example, if you're a mage (who represent honesty), you'll start off in Moonglow, the city of honesty. From here you can explore the world freely, as the game is pretty non linear, which is nice. If you happen upon another city that represents a virtue you can recruit another member of your team up to a total of four to help you on your quest. You will probably want a well balanced party, so try to have 2 magic users and 2 melee characters.
Battles are turn based, where you move your characters around one space at a time, attack, or cast a spell at the enemy. If you have a melee weapon like a sword or axe, you have to be right next to the enemy in order to hit it, which leads me to my first beef with the game. You are usually several turns away from your foes when the battle starts and if all of your guys have only melee weapons (not recommended), you must all walk up to your enemies in order to kill them. This can especially suck if the enemies have bows or spells and are picking you off left and right. You can buy both melee and missile (bows, slings, etc.) weapons, but honestly why would you want to use a non ranged weapon?
Incidentally, when you get treasure chests from enemies, these are okay to take freely without worry of any virtue loss.
Magic spells are handled in UQotA by way of the MP, or Magic Points. Each spell costs a certain amount of MP to cast, and if you're out, you need to rest at an inn to restore your power before you can cast spells again. In addition to MP, you'll also need reagents (spell components) in order to cast magic spells. There are all sorts of reagents in the game that you can buy (most) or find in the wilderness. Personally, I like this aspect as it makes it more "realistic". Well, as realistic as a game like this can possibly be I guess.
Travel throughout the land can be handled in a variety of ways. First, there's the tried and true method of walking. You'll do this for the most part. If you see a pirate ship near land you can attempt to defeat the crew and take their ship to use for yourself to travel the high seas. You can also use the natural transporters of the land called Moongates. By entering these gates, you can transport yourself and party to various faraway points located near the virtue cities. Lastly, you can also get your hands on a hot air balloon and fly over everything to get where you need to be.
*CHALLENGE / REPLAYABILITY: 6/10
I'd say the hardest part of this game might be trying to find the runes of virtue themselves, as there are a couple that are difficult to find. This game uses the old school search rules, which means that a hidden item might be located on a plain looking patch of grass in the middle of a field, whereas a lot of games nowadays like to keep the hidden stuff in barrels / drawers / etc. to make it easier. If you are constantly ripping off merchants, not giving to beggars, running from fights, and stealing chests you'll have a hard time winning this game, but otherwise it's a lot of fun but not incredibly hard.
When you win, you may not want to jump right back into another game but if you do, you can always start off as another character type to try to gain Avatarhood as. Some classes are hard to win with, the worst of which would be the Shepard (humility virtue).
+Good colorful graphics done well and aren't muddled together and crappy.
+Some of the music is real cool, you'll want to keep the volume up on this one.
+Unique story that doesn't involve saving a princess!
+Interesting challenges to keep your character a balanced moral person.
+Up to four party members will help you become the Avatar!
+Spells require ingredients to cast.
+Many different modes of travel to choose from.
-The tinker could have looked a bit better.
-Why use melee weapons when you can just use missile weapons to pick your enemies off from afar?
*FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Ultima: Quest of the Avatar is a very fun game, and it can't be blown through in a few hours, which is nice. It has a unique story and different objectives from most games like this. Furthermore, you can always replay as a different class for more challenge. (Like the Shepard.. that's tough!)