Monday, September 18, 2017

Game 262: Inquisitor: Shade of Swords (1987)

I could be wrong, but that just looks like the regular shade of trees.
        
Inquisitor: Shade of Swords is another title from the "Golden Age" of French RPGs, which tends to mean that it offers a plagiarized story, an interface made by someone who once saw an American CRPG but never played it, and a few random weird elements that the genre never saw before or after. I suppose the weirdness starts with the fact that the title is for some reason in English while everything else in the game is in French. The in-game title also lacks the Inquisitor part, although it's found on the manual and game box.

I say "plagiarized story" because every time I recount the backstory of a French RPG, commenters come along to tell me that the same story appeared in Conan, or some obscure British sci-fi novel, or The Adventures of Tintin. Perhaps that isn't the case here, and if so I owe the developer an apology for even suggesting it. But the backstory seems a little too elaborate to have been developed for an RPG of such limited mechanics.

The setting is the planet Astul, a formerly high-tech world on which civilization has collapsed and people have entered a dark age, isolated for centuries from the rest of the galaxy, ignorant of even their own history. Men fell into warlike tribes (called "Hellus Angelus"), modeled after ancient Sparta, and nearly wiped each other out.
      
The manual cover suggests a depth of story and gameplay that isn't quite present in the game.
     
Then suddenly came a warlord in electronic armor named Crassus Laurantus who brought and end to anarchy and united everyone under his tyrannical rule. He has taken over a citadel in the city of New-Cythere (which he renamed as New-Sparta). The citadal used to be a temple to the old gods (beings of great technological achievement), whose departure from Astul caused or was coincidental to the collapse. Great secrets are rumored to reside in a room at the bottom of the temple, and of course Crassus's wealth is scattered throughout. Four adventurers arrive at the temple's door, seeking wealth and answers. 
       
I would appreciate if any native French speakers could help me with nuances I might have missed. I have no idea what the bits about "Ephore" or the whole phrase "ze zouis vautre lit d'air" means.
        
The game starts you with pre-created characters named Alton, Elisabeth, Jofil, and Eddy. Each has statistics in intelligence, observation, constitution, agility, dexterity, mysticism, ego, sensitivity, "aura," and mental ability. They are all set to 7 by default. You can increase some by lowering others; the maximum range is 5 to 15. I tried to make each character good in 3 statistics, but I suspecct I should have invested in agility, dexterity, and constitution for everyone.
     
Trading agility for intelligence.
      
After you set these attributes, you begin in a 3D textured dungeon. The goal seems to be to reach the last room of the temple's crypt and then return to the entrance. Four character portraits reflect current weapons and armor. The interface is meant to be played with a joystick, just as we saw with Fer & Flamme (1986) and L'Anneau de Zengara (1987). While the compass is selected, the joystick moves the party. Pressing the button releases the compass and allows selection of one of the other on-screen commands: search the area, check the compass, mark the current position, have a character attempt to determine in which direction the "mark" lies, manage inventory (with subcommands for picking up , trading, using, and dropping items), check character statistics, and save/quit the game.

The first level was 13 x 24. It had staircases going both up and down. There were a handful of one-way doors but no secret doors.
       
The game's first level.
      
A lot of the rooms have objects in them that look like they should be interactable but are not. They include a statue, urns, totem poles, and skeletons. For some reason, you can't turn right or left in the rooms that hold these objects, only progress forward (if there's a door on the other side), or back out the door you came in. There otherwise haven't been any special encounters or text within the game.
      
If there's anything special to do here, I'm missing it.
       
Combats occurred at mostly-fixed locations, with enemies like decurions, pretoriens, bandits, and in one case a lion. Combat uses a basic Wizardry template: specify an action for each character and watch them execute in turn, along with the enemies' attacks. Actions in combat are parry, thrust, swing, flee, use a potion, and something that translates as "try to influence the person" and has an image of a brain. Maybe this is some kind of Jedi mind-trick? It hasn't worked once. There otherwise appears to be no "magic" in the game.
      
Watching the combat actions scroll by.
     
I found combat relatively hard in the opening stages, at least until I got better equipment. Some of the fixed enemies are harder than others. A couple of my characters, with low dexterity and strength, hardly ever seem to do any damage. I do find that some enemies concentrate attacks on a single character, and if I just have that character parry every round, he hardly ever takes damage and the other characters can kill the enemies.
          
My characters hit a lot, but enemies are just "scratched."
       
Post-combat, you have the option to loot the enemy corpses for equipment, including weapons, armor, shields, helms, and (rare) potions. I don't know if there's a way to tell what items are better than others except by assuming those with the cooler icon are better. For instance, I assume the helmets with horns sticking out from the sides outperform simple caps. Characters are limited in what they can carry by strength. Once I got everyone with blades (some started with sticks) and what looks like studded leather armor, combat on the first level became much easier.
      
Looting a helm after combat.
      
I haven't been able to figure out how to interpret the grid of numbers under the character portraits. Each column is clearly a character, but I don't know what the three letters ("E," "P," and "M") stand for. The numbers seem to be a combination of armor class and hit points but don't respond in predictable ways. All I can say is that when they get down to 0, characters tend to die.

I'm also a bit confused about how health regenerates. It always seems to happen when I'm not looking, and it may have something to do with those urns, totem poles, and so on.

Occasionally, you encounter enemies who greet you with a "salut!" instead of attacking. For these encounters, you have a separate set of menu options to greet them back (which just makes them go away), attack them, barter with them, or question them. That last option always produces the same question: "Where can we find Crassus?" To that question, I always get the same answer: "I don't know."
        
Based on the backstory, I wasn't even aware that I was looking for Crassus.
        
Several of the combat encounters on Level 1 were with named enemies, and these generally produced a key at the end of combat. These keys opened a succession of locked doors, culminating in a treasure room in which I found 7,899 gold pieces. I have no idea what gold does for you except make you more susceptible to bandit attacks. There was one encounter on the level with a "gladiator" that I couldn't defeat. 
       
I suppose part of our mission is complete.
       
I went one level up from the starting area and found a small level that ended in a keyed door for which I didn't have the key. There was another stairway up, which led to an even smaller area with another keyed door. Each level has a different color tint.
      
Finding all that gold made me a bandit target. This one has a name.
    
There were no combats on the upper levels, but there were friendly encounters with some figures that looked like they might have been enemies before. I began to wonder if finding the treasure was causing former enemies to treat me fondly. (The manual suggests something like this.) I tried hitting "barter" a few times and discovered that I could buy keys from a couple of NPCs who I probably would have had to kill before the treasure haul. Unfortunately, the purchased keys didn't allow me to progress much more on the upper levels.
      
Apparently, finding the emperor's treasure elevated me to a new caste.
     
I turned around and went into the basement but also hit a dead end. A keyed door opened into a prison area with some cells and skeletons, but I didn't find anything there.
The summary on MobyGames suggests that there's five total levels, but I don't know where that comes from.

Speaking of levels, my characters don't seem to be going anywhere. There is a "level" variable in the character statistics, but Alton started at 1 and the others started at 0, and none have budged. Two different web sites covering the game say explicitly that there is no character leveling at all, and the manual doesn't mention anything about it, so perhaps this is just a placeholder statistic.
      
Despite all the battles, Elisabeth remains at Level 0.
     
At this point, I'm a bit stuck. The only encounter I haven't completed is with the gladiator on Level 1, but I can't even hit him. I don't expect to find much help online or via any commenters who have played this game, but perhaps I'm wrong. I'll take hints while enjoying another session of Might and Magic III.

Time so far: 5 hours
Reload count: 3

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Might and Magic III: Machinations and Mind-Teasers

     
The second king doesn't even pretend to have noble goals.
          
Lots accomplished in this last session. I explored the second half of columns A and B, a new town, and several dungeons I'd previously bypassed.

Area A3 was mostly forest (called the "Evil Eye Forest" in Corak's notes), dominated by "screamers"--floating heads capable of causing insanity, a condition that increases might and speed but lowers intelligence and personality. I think I need the temple to cure it, but occasionally it just seems to go away on its own. As usual there was a "spawn point," a wagon full of screamer pods, destroying which delivered far more gold and experience than individual screamers.
       
You can always count on New World to throw in a few original enemies.
     
Wagons belonging to gypsy-like travelers called "Zingara" (drawn from one of many exonyms for Romani) were evenly spaced throughout the forest, mostly offering scams. For instance, a supposed artifact ring that a Zingara named Povorka sold me for $1,000 turned out to be regular iron ring worth about a tenth of that, and a "protection aura" did nothing. One of the Zingara did teach the "Arms Master" skill to my knight, however, and another cured insanity.
     
I don't remember if this was a scam or not. I also don't remember how Allan Bow died. I didn't notice for a long time.
      
There was a southwest square in the middle of a bay with a single mountain tile. It held a shack, and inside the shack was a gold card engraved with a pyramid. It was in a glass case that none of my characters were strong enough to break I made a note to return later, but I'm sure this is the way into the pyramid in A2.
            
           
Only about half of B3 was visitable at first, owing to Piranha Bay taking up much of the northern half. Corak's notes called it the "Land of Gargoyles." It was perhaps the hardest outdoor map so far, full of vampire bats and ghouls, the latter of which were particularly tough. I eventually cleared them out. The mountains in the area held a lot of buried treasure, plus a locked dungeon that I saved for later.
      
Checking out the stats for my ghoul foes.
     
Two of the graves offered simple riddles, the answers to which gave me clues about Greywind's and Blackwind's wedding days (per the last entry, on those days their thrones confer some kind of special power). The riddles and answers were:
        
  • "What is too much for one, enough for two, but nothing for three?" (SECRET). The phrasing is a little weird, but I recognize it as a variant of a riddle I've heard dozens of times before.
  • "The more there is of it, the less you see." (DARKNESS). I got it only after trying and failing with FOG and MIST.
             
My reward for a correct answer.
      
There were two encounters--a shack and a gargoyle altar--that seemed to do nothing but severely damage my party with no reward. A peninsula south of Baywatch held a ship that offered travel to "Swamp Town" on one of the other islands.

Area A4 transitioned to the southern part of the starting island via a washed-out bridge; everyone needs the "Swimming" skill to proceed, but I got it ages ago. The upper island reached a peninsula called "Poison Point," swarming with spiders. I found the "Cure Poison" spell after I'd defeated most of them. The lower island held "Thorn Blossom Orchard," with evenly-spaced trees. It was full of "magic mantises" and more "oh no bugs," neither of which was too hard.
     
A typical combat in the area.
     
Useful fountains generally stopped appearing after the first two maps (that's where you need them most, I guess) so I was surprised to find one in the western part of the orchard. But drinking from it didn't give me a bonus--it teleported me to a square in map E4. Surrounded by enemies, I declined to explore the area for the time being and immediately returned.
       
Thankfully, these guys either didn't know how to use the well or didn't care to follow us.
       
The last map was B4, representing the eastern end of the southern island plus the southern end of the "Land of Gargoyles." In the eastern Orchard there was an entry to "Arachnid Cavern," which I saved for later. I have a note to expect some skill upgrades in there.

The centerpiece of the area was Castle Blood Reign, oddly enough the "neutral" castle despite its name. There, "Tumult, King Chaotic" asked me to tip the balance in neither the direction of King Righteous or King Malefactor, but to give the Ultimate Power Orbs to him instead. At first it sounded tempting. After all, the "good" king is presented as a "zealot." Perhaps balance is the way to go. Then Tumult ruined it by saying that he wanted to maintain balance between the other kings so "my schemes can be executed unhindered." It doesn't sound like any of these kings are really admirable, and I frankly don't know which I'll support with Orbs if I ever find them. Like Righteous, Tumult had an advisor who wanted me to return with "Ancient Artifacts of Neutrality."
       
My map of the world at the end of this session.
     
I've been mentioning the "spawn points" but not the creativity with which the authors described each one. The ghouls in B3, for instance, are explained by some kind of "lamprey" biting corpses in a graveyard and bringing them to life. "Bugaboos" are apparently grown from larvae that the party burned. Orc and goblin outposts (which we burn) are described as having beds, maps, and notes on the area. Spiders spawn from a shack with a "suffocating mass of webs."
       
Magic mantises apparently also grow from larvae.
       
By the time I was done with the four maps, I had a ton of new useful spells, mostly found in mountain caches. They included "Teleport," "Etherealize," "Water Walk," and "Lloyd's Beacon," the combination of which means I can travel just about anywhere. I set "Lloyd's Beacon" for Baywatch so that I can instantly return to town from a dungeon. Side note: Lloyd was from CRON and died there, so how does the name of his spell carry over to Terra? Is this perhaps a sign that the Isles of Terra were populated by the beings whose CRON crashed into it at the end of Might and Magic II?
      
Setting the beacon to a convenient location.
      
Thanks to poison, I was in pretty bad shape when I limped into the city of Wildabar on the southeast coast, so I was somewhat chagrined to find it swarming with hostile ninjas. I managed to get through the initial battles. Corak's notes indicated that the "Wildabar Ninja Clan" had been hired by King Chaotic to take the town from the native dwarves. I ended up having to fight both ninjas and dwarves to clear the town. Wildabar had the usual services plus NPCs who taught "Navigator," "Body Building," and "Arms Master."
      
The party wanders into a bad 1980s movie.
      
I should mention that my routine includes frequent stops in the cities to check whether I'm ready to level up, and to identify and sell equipment. I've managed to settle into a quick process for the latter, and I rather enjoy distributing upgrades to my characters after every few hours of adventuring. Some of my items include a "pearl marksman pike" (4-18 damage and +10 accuracy) held by my paladin, "poisonous ebony charisma chain mail" (+10 armor class, +20 resistance to acid and poison, +12 personality) worn by my cleric, and a "venomous bronze health hammer" (0-8 damage, +2 to hit modifier, +4 acid/poison damage, +15 resistance to acid/poison, +6 hit points) wielded by my druid. Most of my characters have two-handed weapons, but each one keeps a shield on standby in case I find good one-handed weapons later.

Broken items are the bane of my existence. Repairing an item costs half it's sale value, and the worst suit of armor in the party is worth at least $5,000. The aforementioned ebony chain is worth $18,000, so it costs $9,000 to repair. I've noticed that armor only seems to break when a character is knocked unconscious, so I've been dedicating a lot of effort to preventing that from happening. I guess some enemies have an attack that breaks armor no matter what, but I haven't encountered them yet.

After Wildabar, I had a long list of places to revisit and fully explore, including 12 dungeons. I began by using "Water Walk" to map the previously-unexplored water areas. I only found one new encounter in this process--an island in the southwest corner where a nymph named Althea lived. I didn't have anything for her, so she took off, but not before making all my male characters fall "in love" with her. A couple of days later, their condition unaddressed, it changed to "heartbroken." I had to get it healed a the temple.
        
My party, the men appropriately looking like men in love.
   
I returned to the Cyclops Caverns to finally finish them. The damned dungeon seemed like it would never end, opening vast new areas every time I thought I was almost done. But it was worth it. After I killed the Cyclops King, most of the tough enemies were gone. I found my first Ancient Artifacts--one good, one neutral--plus a chest with 500,000 gold.

It turns out that the Ancient Artifacts, when delivered to their respective kings' seneschals, convey a tremendous amount of experience. Several hundred thousand. That's enough for at least one level at my character's current levels (12-14). Their experience was also bolstered by a number of dungeon pools that say "you're a more experienced adventurer!" when you wade in them.
        
Prythos accepts an Ancient Artifact of Good.
       
I next cleared Slithercult Stronghold, a much easier dungeon populated by "cobra fiends," evil rangers, and living candles. Like most dungeons, the greater danger was in the traps, including a large cavern with multiple guillotine traps and teleporters interspersed among them. "Jump" helped me get through it.
      
Well, this looks inviting.

      
In a pool, I found a "Precious Pearl of Youth and Beauty," which vaguely rings a bell. I think there are more of these.
     
Do I give these to someone on the sea?
       
At one point, I reached a talking head who demanded to know who sent me. A message on a wall had given me a clue:
        
        
I didn't know the answer, but I was sure that the clue was referring to the NPC brothers I encountered in Baywatch, including Brother Alpha and Brother Beta. I assumed the rest of the clan used Greek letters for their names, so I just tried the sequence, starting with GAMMA and DELTA, before hitting the answer with EPSILON.

On the other side of that riddle was a chamber where magic mouths took "Quatloo Coins" in exchange for 5-point bumps in attributes. I'd been finding these coins in odd chests lately, so I spent a few.

The final area I explored this session was the dungeon of Castle Whiteshield (the good castle). It pissed me off. There were about a dozen doors with this configuration . . .
       
        
. . . meaning that I had to walk into the blade and kick the door, taking damage twice, before getting into the rooms beyond.

Some of the rooms held elixirs that increased all attributes by 10 points for a character, so that was nice.
    
That's not sudden. I've felt that way my whole life.
     
In the others, notes hidden on skeletons spelled out the following verse:

The good king Zealot was quite a knave
To his wife and her lover a box he gave
The wife's young lover was an orc named Smello
With hell-hound's breath and hair of yellow
Smello's box sent him reeling
And wooden planks were his last feeling
The Queen was shocked by her pine box
For the open end had golden locks
     
That's a bit of a paradox.
     
A further note said that "the countersign lies in the queen's box," which I interpreted from the poem as SMELLO'S HEAD, though it turns out that it's just SMELLO. The "countersign" is necessary to open certain chests on the main floor of Whiteshield, but even with it, guards swam you, and those guards are not defeatable by my characters. ("Lloyd's Beacon" doesn't work in the castle, either.) I saved its use for later.
     
My party soon reloaded.
     
Miscellaneous notes:

  • As my NPCs' levels increase, so do their daily fees. I'm currently paying more than $2,000 per day for each of them. That's a drop in the bucket, granted, compared to what I have after Cyclops Caverns, but I still wonder if it will reach the point where they're not worth it.
    
This number keeps creeping up.
     
  • The game doesn't allow you to stand on water and shoot at creatures on land. Your shots are blocked or just miss.
      
Wasting time shooting at spiders.
    
  • There were a lot of random signs in the lower maps, something that did not appear in the upper ones.
      
I thought this was warning me about sea creatures, but I didn't find any.
      
  • Giant spiders seem to keep respawning in A4 despite my having destroyed their spawn points.
  • I still keep finding silver skulls that the guy back in Fountain Head buys for $1,000.
  • In the Cyclops Caverns, I searched a pool and found something called an "Ancient Fizbin of Misfortune." The search resulted in the eradication--permanent death--of my ninja. I think this still might be recoverable by a temple, but I couldn't remember for sure, so I reloaded and marked the location in case I need the Fizbin later.
       
     
  • It appears that enemies can't fire ranged weapons at you unless you can see them. That means you can turn your backs to them and "pass" until they come into melee range. This was an effective strategy against the "evil rangers," who did more damage to me at a distance than I was doing to them.
  • The game world does not wrap. Trying to head west from column A is just like walking into an invisible wall.
  • The whirlpools out in Piranha Bay don't seem to do anything but transport you to the nearest bit of land, canceling your "Water Walk" spell in the process.
  • I've grown to hate dungeon encounters like this. You just know that you have to search the pool. Probably something good will come of it. But at the unavoidable cost of all the searcher's hit points or something.
       
And there's about 20 of them per dungeon.
     
I've mapped 33% of the overworld, but I still have a lot of dungeons in that area to explore, so I suspect I'm no more than 25% of the way through the game. I seems likely that the next entry or two will be devoted to my clearing up the stuff I bypassed between A1 and B4 before moving on to new areas.

I hope this level of detail is working out for everyone. Next time, I'll try to cover magic and combat in-depth. I'm feeling good right now because I'm writing this on 5 September 2017 but not scheduling it to post until 16 September, and I have other posts evenly-spaced in between. I'm going to be at a conference for the next 10 days with no time to play or write, but for the first time since I started the blog, I've scheduled enough material in advance that we won't have a gap like we usually do. By the time I write about Might and Magic III again, we'll be back in "real time."

Time so far: 21 hours
Reload count: 10


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Heimdall: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

I think I've rather done my part.
     
Heimdall
United Kingdom
The 8th Day (developer); Core Design (U.K. publisher); Virgin (U.S. publisher)
Released in 1991 for Amiga; 1992 for Atari ST and DOS; 1993 for Acorn; 1994 for Sega CD
Date Started:  1 September 2017
Date Ended: 4 September 2017
Total Hours: 13
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

Heimdall got neither better nor much harder. The three segments of the game were exactly the same: sail from island to island, fight easy enemies, replenish hit points with scrolls and food, juggle inventory, solve a series of inventory puzzles, and retrieve one of the three stolen weapons.

Three of my six party members never left the boat and thus never leveled up. Of the three that actually adventured, Heimdall fought 95% of the combats and completed 90% of the actions. Except for their inventory slots, the other party members were essentially useless.

My three lead characters ended at Level 7, Heimdall with all his attributes at or near 99, thanks to both leveling and potions. I frankly think he could have completed the game even if he'd never leveled up. 

Combats also never got harder--in fact, the toughest enemies were mostly on the first map. Although the effects of some of the spell scrolls were potent, like "Giant's Bane," "Hand of Loki" and "Wrath of Odin," they were mostly unnecessary, as Heimdall did as much damage with his weapon. Indeed, the very act of switching from melee attacks to spells creates a gap of a few seconds in which they enemy is likely to damage Heimdall, making it wiser to stick to attacks. I realized late in the game that you can also throw daggers at opponents, but they do less damage than regular melee attacks and thus take longer.
      
I swing my "Storm Blade" at an ogre or hobgoblin or something. Note that I could also use my fist, a silver dagger, or "Fire" and "Ice" scrolls.
      
"Resurrection" scrolls were so plentiful on the second and third map that I ended up dropping most of them. I used one, once, after I died taking a screen shot. Otherwise, there was plenty of food and "energy" scrolls to keep Heimdall at full strength.

In the middle of the second map, I started getting this message when sailing between islands:
      
     
I don't think the first map did, but the second and third required each character to have a ration of food between islands; otherwise, they lost hit points during travel, to a minimum of 10. (Hunger never killed them.) Again, this really didn't pose any problems. Half the time, Heimdall was capable of killing enemies even if at near-death himself; the other half, we found scrolls and food immediately upon entering a new island and were able to restore his hit points.

It's not even really worth recounting the inventory puzzles. There were times I reached a particular island too soon and had to wait until I found a particular item or scroll on a different island to complete it.
     
Looks like I'll have to come back with a "Water" scroll.
      
I suppose the most interesting series of puzzles was on the second map, where I had to find three items--an apple, a necklace, and dragons' eggs--to give to the three muses. But half an hour after winning the game, I can't honestly remember what they gave me that was so important.
     
One of the muses thanks me. The artwork for the muses seems to have a slightly different (less comic) style than the rest of the game.
    
I had to look up a hint on the final map. It wasn't clear to me that the way to find the third of three silver rings was to use a pouch of pepper to get the masthead on a ship to sneeze, thus ejecting its own ring. I probably would have eventually figured it out through trial and error, but I was impatient for the game to be over.
      
The scene, post-sneeze.
     
I also made one puzzle a lot harder for myself by failing to realize that using runestones briefly showed an invisible path over an area of water. I just felt my way across.
     
I could have accomplished this level much faster, but how would you guess that something called a "runestone" would reveal hidden paths across water?
     
The maps in the book indicate that the first session takes place on Midgard (Earth), the second on Utgard (the land of giants), and the third in Asgard (the land of gods), contradicting the backstory that had Loki bringing all the weapons to Midgard. Anyway, the scenarios aren't different enough to truly make you feel that you're in different worlds, although the second does have a memorable moment when you realize that you're walking on the oversized bookcase of a giant. The combat that follows, however, plays out like a regular fight with no indication that it's more difficult because your opponent is 20 feet tall.
     
Something seems intimidating about these walls...

But the giant is just a regular foe.
      
The third map was oddly the shortest and easiest of all of them. It culminates when Heimdall brings three silver rings to a statue of Odin, which holds the Sword of Odin. One would think that Loki, in "hiding" the three weapons, might have come up with a better idea than to give the Sword of Odin to a sentient statue of Odin, but who am I to question the machinations of the divine?
      
Putting the silver rings in place so I can activate the statue of Odin (offscreen).
     
In any event, the statue gave me the sword, and I set sail for the final island. The brief endgame animation shows Heimdall crossing a bridge. Then, for some reason, his body disappears and his disembodied head floats over the bridge for a few seconds, and then you get the final screen at the top of this entry.
     
Is this supposed to depict Heimdall taking his place as guardian of the bifrost? That's not a very rainbow-y bridge.
      
In the end, Heimdall was an attractive but empty game with poor RPG mechanics, probably destined for the high 20s on the GIMLET. Let's see:
      
  • 2 points for the game world. I wish I could praise it for the Norse theme, but it hardly makes use of it. None of the little inventory quests that Heimdall has to solve draw from Norse mythology, and the backstory isn't really referenced during the game. What's there is mostly a little goofy, starting with naming the main character "Heimdall" in the first place, since his story has nothing to do with the god's official bio.
     
I guess this game map is supposed to be Asgard, but it's just a bunch of islands like the previous two maps. It's not even clear how I'm transitioning from one world to the next.
     
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There is no creation. There are a couple of methods of development (increasing attributes), but it doesn't have a measurable effect on the game. 83% of the party members don't matter since Heimdall is capable of achieving all tasks.
      
My character levels and attributes towards the end of the game.
     
  • 1 point for NPC interaction. "NPCs" are occasional characters who you give things to let you pass. You don't really learn anything about the world from them.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. There are maybe 8 different enemy types in the game, some harder than others, but you don't really adopt different strategies against them. Other "encounters" are mostly about solving inventory puzzles, which the game at least does competently, if not memorably.
      
Despite the game's rhetoric, the sorcerer wasn't notably hard.
     
  • 2 points for magic and combat. "Magic" is just the use of spell scrolls. Combat only has a few options and no real tactics.
  • 4 points for equipment. You find a series of weapon upgrades throughout the game. There is no armor and no wearable items. Almost everything else that isn't a puzzle item is a spell scroll or something to sell. I give the game credit for a nice text description of each item, making it clear (among other things) which weapons are the best. But managing inventory with limited slots was a pain, and it was too hard to tell when I could safely get rid of something. I ended the game with about 20 excess keys, plus a handful of charms, circlets, and rings that I guess were supposed to be sold.
      
In-game textual descriptions of items are still rare in the era, so I have to applaud any game that includes them.
      
  • 2 points for the economy. The game might as well have not had one. Except for a single potion and some occasional food, there's hardly anything useful to buy, and stores are too few and far between to be convenient anyway.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no branches, options, or alternatives.
     
A step on the main quest.
     
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. It gets all of those for reasonably good graphics and competent sound effects. The interface is clunky and joyless throughout. Those who appreciate music more than I do might add a couple points for the rock soundtrack.
     
The game's graphical vignettes are a definite strength. It just needed better RPG mechanics.
      
  • 3 points for gameplay. Though there would be no reason to replay it, and it's far too easy, it at least ends quickly and offers some minor nonlinearity in the order you explore the islands.

That gives us a final score of 26 to which I will begrudgingly add 2 points for the entertaining minigames during the introduction. These were more interesting than anything else in the game.
      
      
Probably because of delayed distribution in the U.S., Computer Gaming World didn't get around to reviewing it until January 1993. The title of the review, by Allen Greenberg, is "The God's Namesake Must Be Crazy: Virgin's Heimdall." I call this out because CGW is attributing the game to it's U.S. distributor rather than its developer (The 8th Day) or the U.K. publisher (Core Design) that presumably had some input into its creation. I haven't paid enough attention to similar titles to know if this was common practice, ignorance on CGW's part in this one case, or evidence of a systematic confusion between developer, publisher, and foreign distributor. I was similarly confused myself earlier in my career, but I'm not a for-profit game magazine that should know better.

Greenberg agrees with me on the game's quality. He notes that whatever controller you use, it's hard to keep Heimdall on track, especially when around the copious pits. He remarks that most of the "party" is useless and lambasts the limited number of inventory slots. He did seem to find the combat "entertaining," which I suppose depends upon  your basis of comparison. He concludes the review with a paragraph I could have easily written myself:
       
A player who has never before experienced a computer role-playing game may find some enjoyable hours with Heimdall. While the program is by no means a flawed or unplayable product, its uninspiring appearance and simple gameplay will fail to earn it a place alongside the more sophisticated role-playing games which are now popular.
           
For a more amusing-but-baffling set of opinions, we must turn (as we always do) to British Amiga magazines of the period, which thought that the Gold Box titles were the worst games ever, but that Heimdall was--this from Daniel Whitehead's January 1992 Amiga Computing review--"a vast throbbing epic of a game." Whitehead wastes several paragraphs lamenting how far the Scandinavians fell between the Vikings and "Abba [sic] and Roxette." "Did some horrendous twist appear in the DNA of the Norse warriors?," he honestly questions before calling Heimdall "a game of truly trouser-rending magnitude." Mr. Whitehead went on to a long and respected career as a game journalist, and I have to wonder if on sleepless nights, he ever recalls the fact that he once deemed that a minor title from a short-lived developer was so good that it gave him an erection so massive that it threatened to damage his trousers.

The December 1991 Amiga Action agreed in spirit with a 91% rating, although with no particular language that I can poke fun at. It does start with a few paragraphs about the Vikings, making me wonder if any of these players realized that, after the backstory, the game isn't really in any way "about" Norse mythology. Any kind of framing story could have wrapped around these dungeon walls.
     
This is just a random shot of a "Detect Traps" scroll making some pit traps visible.
    
I read several other positive reviews from CU Amiga (96%), The One for Amiga Games (92%), and Zero (92%), and the common theme, as I noted in my first entry on this game, is a stunning lack of awareness about anything happening in the RPG market outside the U.K.--where nothing much at all was happening. The CU Amiga ends by calling it "the most ground-breaking game since Ultimate released Knight Lore and Epyx completed work on Impossible Mission and Pitstop II," an utterly baffling set of comparisons. But these are magazines that managed to review Knightmare without mentioning Dungeon Master, so I suppose we can't be surprised.

The comparison with German Amiga magazine reviews is interesting to note. Germany had a growing RPG tradition of its own in the early 1990s and had long admired American exports like The Bard's Tale. They weren't as impressed. Amiga Joker offered the worst review at 46%, ASM probably the best at 83%. In between, were Play Time at 81% and Power Play at 68% respectively.

Whatever the case, reviews were good enough to prompt Heimdall 2: Into the Hall of Worlds in 1992. From the screenshots, there are signs that they improved the gameplay with more traditional RPG mechanics and NPC dialogues, while not sacrificing the enticing visuals, so I look forward to trying it. The 8th Day published only two more titles--Premiere (1992) and Gender Wars (1996), both action games of more explicit comedy. Following the dissolution of the company, lead designers Jerr O'Carroll and Ged Keaveney went on to programming jobs at larger developers, with credits into the 2010s. O'Carroll became a graphic artist and animator on a number of Tomb Raider and Alien Breed titles.

Other than this game and its sequel, neither the lead designers, nor The 8th Day, nor Core Design ever published another RPG, a statement that you find at the bottom of a lot of reviews in the mid-20s.

As we continue with Might and Magic III, the next "secondary" game is supposed to be Inquisitor: Shade of Swords, a French game from 1987. I'm toying with rejecting it on grounds of not having character development (there's no evidence of experience and leveling), but the real reason is that it's just weird in that French way. (I'm really nailing the national stereotypes today!) If I do reject it, I won't be saving myself much because the 1987 game after that is also a French title: Karma, the sequel to Tera. So either way, I'd better sharpen my poignard and get to it.