One of the most frustrating combat systems I've played. At least there's an auto option so you can blame the poor AI instead of the lack of control. That's my major complaint here. The player only controls which skill to use. Who to use it on, how to move, and where to retreat are all decided by the game. So, on to the minor complaints: random battles with enchanters are deadly, there aren't many options, and half the spells don't work as described. That last point is the only thing that makes the game playable. Early on paralyzing spells prove most useful, and the enemies never used them.
In a general sense, the combat is challenging, but for the wrong reasons. That's okay though, because unlike other RPGs combat is mostly optional. Run from most combat and save often is my advice. Most experience comes from completing quests, and the rewards from combat are miniscule in comparison. There isn't a large selection of enemies, but the spell animations keep things interesting as the game progresses. Stats are used to determine results in combat, and they do increase with level-ups, but they're all completely hidden.
Overall, combat seemed more like an after thought, or something thrown together when earlier ideas didn't pan out. Combat offers the most bugs in the game with a potential soft-lock (make sure not to press start too quickly at the start of combat) and spell animations that either don't show up, get stuck on screen, or multiply the spell strength for some unknown reason. Somehow, despite all the negative things to say about it, it was rarely a chore (probably due to the lowest encounter rate of any game to date).
|I never did find out whether Buc's version summons Thalmus or Nexus|
Control over the characters is the main criteria for this section, so it should come as no surprise this is the lowest scoring. Appearance of the characters differs only slightly from others in their class, and is static over the course of the game. Skills are bought, but not interchangeable. It's nice that's it's possible to learn spells before they can be used. As the characters level up, the lower level spells continue to do the same damage, so collecting the spells is necessary in the end to stay competitive in combat. It would be nice to be able to cast healing and revive spells outside of combat, but magic is only useable in battle. Movement is slow and clunky with a lot of slowdown in some areas. Even with slowdown the game executes all commands, which causes many mistaken inputs and overshooting areas on the map.
|After I got the whip, no black priest would speak to me, but I found the clues this refers to in a volcano|
So, if combat was such a pain and the controls so abysmal, then why in the world did I enjoy the game so much? Must be its charm. While we'll get to the story in a bit, the way it's pieced together with interconnecting plot points, clues, and hints is where the game really shines. Figuring out how each piece of new information relates to each other is where the fun lies. I was most impressed that the party was rewarded experience for completing quest steps, and that some steps can be skipped with some foreknowledge. There are no side quests though. Don't get fooled into thinking there are because everything relates to the main quest. You're either searching for a ring, searching for information on a ring, or recruiting party members to find the rings. The non-linear structure allows the story to flow in way that breathes life into the idea that it's an open world with a multitude of possibilities.
|This is one thing I never bothered to solve, but I figured they were some coordinates|
The story is completely focused on the rings, but unlike most games the NPCs have more than one thing to say. The same topics are available for everyone, and a character can give either a stock response based on their class or city, or will actually contribute to the quest. There are plenty of clues that no one should ever be lost, except for the sheer size of the world and possibly missing a key character. The main idea of roaming the world collecting items until the end isn't exactly original, and it's strange that these rings have little actual power. I give it credit for not being about fighting a big bad guy... oh wait.
|What evidence is there that the rings actually have any power?|
There's no way to really know if all the clues have been collected, but most are stored in papers the party will carry around forever. Unfortunately they're all named similarly. Finding which of the six notes is actually the one just picked up is a bit of a challenge. There are trade goods, which is the main source of income for the party. Getting the hang of buying low and selling high is essential to making it anywhere in the world. Food and water are a constant necessity. While there's no equipment per se, spells act as weapons to use in combat. Once the major spells have been purchased there's no reason to get gold, except to feed and hydrate the party. The caps on both money and food/water are necessary to keep a sense of urgency, and aren't quite enough to max out and forget about (especially while flying a dragon). As much as the game is a collect-athon, there's nothing really to do with the collection and no way to examine individual items beyond reading the papers.
|After a while, opening a chest just isn't the same, except for the locked ones|
This world is grand in size. Seriously, it took me the majority of my game time just to traverse it (although that may have something to do with the slow walking speed). Graphics are reasonably acceptable, even delightfully colorful. The music I just couldn't get into. It was grating, loud, scratchy. I thought it was my system, but I popped Super Hydlide back in and was glad to hear clear crisp notes. Still, it sounded a bit different from the videos on YouTube, which I assume comes from emulator, so maybe it's partially my system and the specific music in Rings of Power. Luckily there's a way in the menu to switch it off.
Exploration is the key. There are plenty of places to discover, delve, and dig up many treasures. The world is wide open from nearly the beginning. Once Thalmus is dead Buc is released into the world in a town that has a ship for sale, which is the key to getting (nearly) anywhere. Discovering key locations is always fun, and if it weren't for the wandering random merchants necessary to finish the game, then I would have given it a 9. Not since Ultima: Quest of the Avatar (so many months ago... hehe) have I enjoyed interacting with a world. I have little hope of it continuing into future games, but it's nice to find a game like this. I can always hope it becomes more commonplace.
|I didn't find anyone that mentioned this place, but if you show up black priests attack the paty and guard some additional clues|
It's not a perfect game, but it's very enjoyable in its own way. Look past the blemishes and give it a chance is all I suggest. It takes some time to make progress. Save often and eventually luck will take the party's side. If piecing together a series of clues and exploring a vast world sounds good, then this game is for you. Combat is downplayed quite a bit, and once you reach a certain level it becomes little more than a nuisance.
Next up I'll cut King's Bounty, an easy game to discount. Then we'll get on to Magician. I remember getting this as a kid and trying to figure it out, but I don't think I got very far on my own. I did watch my brother complete it a number of times. I recently learned the real challenge is to beat the game completely three times to unlock the true ending; each successive playthrough increases in difficulty. Magician is a short game when you know what to do (about 30 minutes), but I expect it'll take a few hours to figure out all the puzzles.