Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fate: Failure

Any experienced RPG player would make a save at this point and not save over it.
    
This post ends with another screw-up involving not being intelligent about save slots. I mention this in case my recent entry on Pools of Darkness enraged you, and you can't bear to read about yet another amateur mistake. Skip this one.

16 more hours invested in Fate and I still haven't solved the damned Cavetrain quest in the first city. Last time, I called the game and its dungeon maps "indecently large." That was before I knew the half of it. I had barely gotten started.

The overall structure became clear at some point. The City of Larvin is composed of three sections: the major part that I mapped a long time ago, a southeast island that I had to visit to find the druid Mulradin (recounted last time), and the "royal island" in the center of the map. The first set of catacomb maps leads from a stairway in the main part of Larvin to (ultimately) the southeast island. A second set of catacomb maps leads from an inn in the main part of Larvin to the royal island. A third set leads from the royal island to the end of the quest. 
    
Some banshees in the woods explain the geography.
    
A fourth set of (very small) maps serves as an "escape stair" and emerges in the northwest part of the main Larvin map. (For a while, much earlier in the game, I laughably thought that these small levels were the main catacomb maps.) As you explore the catacombs, you frequently come across teleporters that whisk you to the escape stairs so you can get out and try again. These are usually cued with signs that read "coward's path" or "exit this way."

At the end of my last adventure I had found the druid Mulradin, who informed me that to kill the evil wizard Miras Athran and free the "shade ghosts" so they can get the Cavetrain operating again, I would need "an innocent being without any hate in mind" to pierce Athran's "aura of evil" as well as a magical Staff of Gathalak. As we'll see, I spent far too much time worrying about the latter piece and not the former. I just assumed the solution to that would present itself at the appropriate time. As for the staff, some follow-up NPCs said that it was in the royal castle, and I should talk to Tinuis, head of the Royal Mage Guild.

Around this time, I had run out of places to explore, save for a set of levels called the Alarian Vaults, which I was warned I needed "royal permission" to enter. But a hint had alerted me to another way to enter the catacombs by staying at the "Lich's Inn," a dungeon in the northwest part of the town map.

Before I visited the inn, I took the time to straighten out the rest of my party. I dumped my fighter and searched around until I found an enchantress capable of casting the "Flare" spell, which saves me from (a) having to lug around a bunch of lanterns; and (b) having to bump into every wall to test for secret doors. (The spell takes nearly half her spell points, but is well worth it.) Little did I know that she would also come with "Location," which finally allowed me to assign coordinates to my maps and arrange them properly.
    
This was a god-send.
    
Then I kicked out my warlock and hunted around until I found a magician willing to join me. This took quite a while. I brought him to the pit in the middle of the woods, had him cast "Strength" repeatedly on Derek (who started with the highest) and went to send him into the pit. He refused to go. So I had to repeat the process on Winwood, who wasn't as scared as Derek, and sent him down. Winwood returned with the body. Or so the game said. I guess I was expecting it to show up as an inventory item, so I was confused when it didn't. Ultimately, I realized what I had to do was kick out the magician I'd spent so long acquiring, then "join" the dead body to the party.
    
Resurrecting the recovered skeleton.
    
After that, I was able to return to a chapel and pay for the body's resurrection. It was worth it indeed. The resulting warlock, Toronar, has the highest attributes in the game as well as three spell classes: warlock, banshee, and valkyrie. This means I could get rid of Dichara, my other banshee, if I need a slot.
   
Toronar is a reasonably powerful guy.
   
With my more-or-less permanent party (Winwood, enchantress, witch, priestess, banshee, assassin, warlock) in place, I went to the Lich's Inn to continue exploring the catacombs. I had to bumble about for a while before I realized that I needed to rent a specific room--the "suite"--to find the entrance. 
     
Do the citizens of Larvin have to pay for this room and explore 8 levels of catacombs every time they want to meet with their king?
   
Exploring this section of the catacombs was the longest part of this session. It was 7 levels down and back up again. Multiple staircases and one-way teleporters made comprehensive mapping difficult, and I ultimately had to run through the maps three times to make sure I'd mapped everything. The game tries to make the path somewhat easier by putting a couple of "blue crystals" on each level that, if a witch "listens" to them, will tell you the shortest path. But of course you have to map everything if you want to be comprehensive, and exploring every nook was worth it for the weapon and armor upgrades that they provided. (I'll have a comprehensive posting on equipment eventually.)
    
My witch "listens" to a blue crystal.
    
From my enchantress's spell, I figured out that the dungeon levels occupy 60 x 60 areas. Not all of the squares are used, but since there are no spaces between walls, they could potentially be used. This means that each of the levels to the catacombs--I've found 8 so far--is, at 3,600 squares, almost as large as the entire game of Wizardry (4,000 squares).
   
The various sections that make up "Level 3" of the catacombs.
   
Without recounting a blow-by-blow, here are some themes and encounters from this much longer catacomb exploration:

  • The game is fond of one-way teleporters that really mess up your progress if you don't save before trying them.
  • A couple of side-areas were specifically labeled with messages on the walls, like the "Crypt of Candor." It led to an encounter with an "ancient mage" and netted me a magic suit of armor.
    
One of the handful of fixed encounters in the catacombs.
   
  • WHAT is going on with all of these damned holes in the walls?! I'll take an explicit spoiler on this one. I've encountered about 12 of them, and in no case does anything I do have any effect except "close," which closes them permanently, which seems like a bad idea(?) 
     
I'm getting fed up with these.
    
  • A couple of places indicted that I found maps on the floor. These were clues to look at one of the maps in the game manual, which instructed me to dig in various places in a certain order and pull the levers found there, which in turn opened up the way through the dungeon level. This seems to be a copy-protection exercise.
    
A combination of a light puzzle and copy protection exercise.
    
  • In the chambers of the "Juggernaut," a high-level earth-elemental-like creature that was very tough to kill, I got a "Doomsword" for my assassin. There was a body of a warrior turned to stone in this area, but my party was full and I declined to pick him up. I fully expect someone to now tell me that he's absolutely essential.
  • Grues and a related monster called a "slimer" swiftly became my most hated foes. Each grue is capable of spraying a spore cloud which has a chance of causing disease or poison to each character. If you face a pack of 6 of them, particularly if they start out of melee range, it's almost a certainty that almost everyone is going to get both conditions. Poison and disease don't work in Fate like in other games, where they're binary conditions. Instead, you get them to varying degrees, and the "Cure" and "Cleanse" spells might only allay a portion of what you have. I can easily exhaust my priestess's spell points incrementally curing the poison of a single character. The only other options are to find a (rare) curing fountain or go back up to the surface for healing in a chapel.
   
This is not what I pictured a "grue" looking like.
    
  • Always happy to find these fountains, which seem to offer unlimited uses. But there are only 2 or 3 in the catacombs. More common fountains simply quench thirst. I found one that resurrects.
    
    
  • Almost 60 hours into the game, I suddenly encountered, for the first time, an explicit copy-protection  question. Even more strangely, there was nothing valuable in the area behind where I got the question.
    
    
  • You hear a heartbeat sometimes, and I don't fully know why. It's not when characters are low in health. It may be when a particularly difficult foe is nearby, but there are times I can't find anyone when the heartbeat is going. It's kind of annoying.
  • Once I entered the area past the stone guardian (below), the game upped the ambient noise complexity, with several eerie sounds and a frequent low voice going "woo-hoo-hoo-hoo!"

The catacombs eventually emerged on the "royal isle" in the center of Larvin. The complex contained a chapel, a guild, a tavern, and an inn--all far more expensive then their main island counterparts. Another set of stairs led to the final areas of the catacombs. A teleporter switch activated teleport fields between the royal island, the southeast island, and the main part of Larvin, meaning I don't have to go through the catacombs again to get to those areas.

More important, in a room next to the guild, I found Tinius. He "gave" me a package (a pointer to a diagram in the manual) that I would need to pass a "stone guardian." He also told me where the Staff of Gathalak was buried nearby. I soon had it in my possession.
    
I'm not sure what the "glowing gems" were about.
    
Oddly, there was no room on the island that seemed to have a throne room or the king's castle or anything. I'm not sure where I'm supposed to encounter him.

After my first visit to the royal island, I had to return to the same catacombs that got me there a few times to finish mapping them. Ultimately, when I was done, I descended into the new area. It wasn't long before I was face to face with the "stone guardian" who asked me 10 questions related to the diagram in the game manual. When I answered them successfully, he teleported me to the next dungeon level, with no way to return. It's important to note here that I wish I'd made a save just before the guardian.
     
The guardian asked questions of this diagram such as "what word is opposite BROG?"
     
Seven more dungeon levels down, and I came to an area cued with the message "you've entered the forgotten vaults!" A room here has 8 exits, each fill of high-level monsters, though one fortunately leads to a fountain that heals all damage and spell points. Unfortunately, I can't find a way to get out of here. The only possibility seems to be a small, dark "opening in the wall" that only my female characters will fit into (and some refuse to go). If I send one into it, she disappears from the party and never reappears no matter how long I hang around the hole, sleep, and so forth.
   
What are the odds of that?
    
There's also an inactive teleport field in the area, which suggests there ought to be some way to re-activate it, but I haven't found a mechanism. Light hints welcome for this.

While trying to find a light spoiler on how to get through this area, however, I came upon a more serious problem: I needed to have solved the entire "innocent being without any hate in mind" thing before passing the stone guardian. Apparently, I could have done this by resurrecting some bones of a child that I never found, or by regressing one of my own characters to a child-like age.

Either way, this means reloading the last save I made before passing the stone guardian, which was....all the way back in the catacombs before reaching the royal island for the first time. About 6 hours ago. When am I ever going to learn? At least I have the maps, which should make re-playing the areas much faster.
     
Miscellaneous notes:

  • In what is definitely a "first," Fate's publisher, reLINE, shoe-horned an advertisement for one of its other titles into Fate. Specifically, my party found a poker game on the ground. When we picked it up, it added a half-dressed woman to the party (with no stats or inventory) and said that if I wanted to see more, I should buy Hollywood Poker Pro, a strip poker game. 
    
See, we have something called the "Internet" nowadays...
    
  • One of the catacomb branches led me to a small island in the northwest of Larvin where there was a single smithy. It had better weapons and armor than some of my characters were carrying, so I spent liberally. 
    
Emerging onto a tiny island in the northwest corner. Note that as far as the jewel is concerned, the game map wraps around on itself.
    
  • Even so, my explorations left me with almost $1 million in cash. I'd better find someplace to spend all of this.
  • It took me a long time to learn to interpret the various meters around the character names. There are four bars representing the character's weapon quality, armor quality, dexterity, and skill. There's not much I can do about the latter two just yet, but I clearly need to find better weapons for a couple of characters. A series of square lights under the characters' names represent whether they're hungry, thirsty, tired, over-encumbered, sick, diseased, poisoned, or drunk, with green indicating "no," blue indicating "sort-of," and dark gray indicating "very."
  • Winwood is a bit of a spaz.
    
    
  • Several of my characters now have weapons capable of hitting an entire stack of enemies per round. My banshee, of all characters, seems capable of "critical hits" that can instantly kill high-level foes, but I don't know if this is because of her weapon (an "argondagger") or something innate to her class.
  • Other than specific creatures like grues, my real frustration with enemies is how far away some of them start in an encounter. Defeating 6 witches isn't hard. Defeating 6 witches that start 10 feet away is very hard. You have to advance on them 2 feet per round while each of them gets to fire off spells each round. For one group of monsters, this isn't a big deal because the witch spell "Pullnear" yanks them into melee range, but for multiple parties, advancing under fire is a disaster. 
   
I don't mind all the other dudes. It's the grues "in 6 yds." that bother me.
   
  • The distance between you and various foes in an encounter stack seem hard-coded. For instance, if you run into a group of archwizards at 12 yards, you can't say "hell no," run away, and then re-encounter them hoping for a closer distance. You'll get 12 yards again. Only by saving and reloading does this change.
  • But I've found that saving and reloading re-seeds the fixed encounters in the dungeons, so it's a bad idea.
  • Since some commenters noted that you can't just keep feeding characters rations--they need nutritious meals at a tavern now and then--I've been making sure to mix up their diets. I try to get some vegetables, meat, and carbs with every tavern outing.
   
We're having filets, dates, and potatoes.
   
Aside from its ridiculous length, I honestly like Fate. It offers a classic RPG experience with original monsters and complex twists. It was a perfect game to play for a long time on a rainy Saturday in Maine. But I'm not looking forward to replaying so much territory, so we'll have another title in between. 
 
Time so far: 61 hours



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Game 232: Moonstone: A Hard Days Knight (1991)

    
Moonstone: A Hard Days Knight
United Kingdom
Mindscape (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for Amiga, 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 19 October 2016
Date Ended: 22 October 2016
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 32
Ranking at Time of Posting: 141/230 (57%)

Moonstone took me a long time to get up and running, but once I did I had fun with it. It's an interesting fusion of light strategy, light action, and light RPG. A session can easily take 3-6 hours, and there's no saving. There won't be many more such "single session" RPGs on the list.

I ended up vacillating between the DOS and Amiga versions. I'm on an extended road trip, and I left my controller at home (which probably wouldn't have worked anyway), so I needed some way to emulate the joystick-only requirement on the keyboard. After a lot of effort setting up the diagonal controls, the Amiga turned out to be the only platform on which I could fully emulate the joystick. However, I had trouble with video and screen captures with WinUAE. For some reason, every time I try to take video, it just makes a 0KB .avi file but doesn't actually record anything. It also puts huge thick black borders around every static screen capture and saves them as bitmaps (yes, I know I can edit both, but that's a pain). Because so much in this game is rapid and difficult to capture with my usual Amiga screenshot method (Windows 10's clipping tool), I used DOSBox for some screen shots and all video. The drawback with the DOS version was that I couldn't figure out how to emulate diagonal controls on the joystick, so I didn't have my full set of combat actions.
    
How most of my early combats ended.
    
Action-oriented combat is the most important feature of Moonstone. It's relentless, hard, confusing, and increases in difficulty throughout the game. It's the type of mechanic that I absolutely suck at, and I had to spend about 90 minutes reloading a save state at the first combat I tried before I felt I finally had the controls...well, not "mastered," but at least "learned." I soon discovered that every enemy type requires a different approach to combat, so even the lessons of that long practice session didn't carry me through the entire game.
     
"Character creation" is really just selecting a color.
     
On the surface, combat seems easy. When you aren't holding down the "fire" button, the joystick moves you around the screen. When you are holding it down, it executes various attack and defense moves--one for each of the 8 points of the joystick. Sounds easy, but the problem is that the combat options associated with each direction aren't necessarily intuitive, and they also swap sides depending on which way the character is facing. So when you're facing right, upper-left throws daggers, straight up executes a powerful overhand attack, upper-right does an upward thrust, left does a backward thrust, right does a swing, lower-left is a block, straight down is a special block that counters enemies' special attacks, and lower-right is a lunge. Turn and face left, and the top and bottom options are the same but everything else reverses.
    
Battling some spear-wielding jackass.
    
Someone with better dexterity could figure it out, but I spent most of my practice sessions just bumbling around. It didn't get easier until I decided to just focus on movement and one or two attacks (primarily swings and overhead chops) that I could rely on. Enemies rarely stay far enough away to throw daggers and upward thrusts only work in a few places anyway.

Let's back up to the story. "The Druids sent their best knights to Stonehenge," the opening scenes of Moonstone tell us, "so they may be dubbed into the Quest for the MOONSTONE." I'm trying and failing to come up with a sentence of similar length that's even more guaranteed to send historians into fits of apoplexy. "When George Washington signed up to fight Nazis in the Boer War, he called upon every strategy he learned during the Crusades" might fit the bill. But it soon turns out that the "druids" and "Stonehenge" of Moonstone aren't meant to be in Britain. The terrain doesn't even come close to matching, and the closest cities are called "Highwood" and, oddly, "Waterdeep."
     
Visiting "Waterdeep," some distance from the Sword Coast.
    
Every thousand years, the manual tells us, the warriors of the realm have a special opportunity to win a "gift of ultimate power" from the gods. Fighting through "horrible demons of immense power and strength," the warrior must recover a Moonstone from the Valley of the Gods, then race to Stonehenge and present it to Danu, "the great Moon God."

The game supports up to 4 players. If playing alone, as I did, the other 3 players are computer-controlled. Each player explores the map in turn, trying to find 4 keys that will allow him to access the Valley of the Gods at the center of the map. There, if he defeats the Guardian, he'll be rewarded with a Moonstone. He takes the Moonstone back to Stonehenge to win the game.

A secondary goal during the player's exploration is to amass an inventory of magic items, experience, and gold, the latter of which he may use in the two towns to purchase equipment upgrades.
    
I and the other knights explore the map as a dragon swoops around menacingly.
    
Most of the exploration is done at a series of about 20 "lairs" that dot the map. Each has one or more monsters defending a chest, which may contain a combination of gold, magic items, and keys. As the knights acquire these items, the other knights might attack them hoping to acquire their spoils. Each knight starts with 5 lives and loses 1 life for each lost combat. Lives can be restored by paying healers in cities and by sacrificing magic items to Danu at Stonehenge. If you fall below 3 lives, you can get a couple more by returning to your "home village" (your starting location), but you can only do this three times.
    
After conquering one of the "lairs," I find one of the keys to the Valley of the Gods.
    
Playing with other human players would be an entirely different experience than playing with computer-controlled knights. The AI of the computer-controlled characters is pretty stupid. They basically just swarm the human player until you defeat them in enough combats that they lose their lives and die permanently, leaving little graves on the game map. They never return home to heal, nor visit towns to spend their money.

The role-playing elements of Moonstone are light but reasonably satisfying. You get 1 experience point for clearing a lair, 3 experience points for killing the dragon (below), and 3 for defeating the Guardian in the Valley of the Gods. Every time you amass 3 points, you can spend them on 1 point of strength (increases combat damage), endurance (increases movement per round), and constitution (increases hit points). Each of these attributes starts at 1 and might end the game at 3 or 4. Apparently, if you have 4 human players in the game, it only takes 1 experience point to increase an attribute, which again creates a very different game, with some players ending with minimal strength but a huge hit point reservoir and others favoring the opposite.
     
Raising my constitution with some of my experience. I've collected a few inventory items, including a claymore, a suit of chainmail, a healing potion, a Talisman of the Wyrm, and a key.
    
About half the ruins contain gold, which can be spent on healing and equipment upgrades, although the only one that you'd want to buy in a single-player game is "battle armor," since you can loot daggers from slain knights and you ultimately find a sword--the Sword of Sharpness--better than anything the shops sell. Other magic items include a Gem of Seeing, which lets you look in lairs and see what treasures they have, a Ring of Protection, and Talismans of the Wyrm, each of which halves the damage done to the character by the dragon.

There are a handful of delightfully devious items that, again, would only make sense in a game against other human players. Scrolls of Protection, for instance, allow you to avoid other players' attacks against you. A Scroll of Acquisition allows you to steal one item from any other player anywhere on the map. Scrolls of the Wyrm direct the dragon to attack another knight. Adding a twist, each of these items can be cursed. Thus, a player who accidentally reads a cursed Scroll of Protection will find that all the battle controls are backwards, and a cursed Scroll of the Wyrm naturally has the dragon attack the player who uses it.
  
In Waterdeep, you can supposedly donate your gold to Mythral the Mystic for a "chance" to increase your attributes. There's also a chance that visiting him will lower your attributes. I don't know what was going on with my game, but every time I visited Mythral, no matter how much I donated, my stats went down.
     
This cost me 100 gold pieces.
    
The game has a few other twists. After about half a dozen turns, a dragon appears and starts circling the map. If he passes over any knight, there's a chance he'll attack. In a game with other players, I'm not sure if I'd want the dragon attack or not. Chances of victory are low, but you do get 3 experience points and several magic items. The dragon breathes fire in combat, and it took me a long time to realize that the key to defeating him is to get under his head, so his fire goes over yours, and swipe at his neck from a close position.
      
     
There's also a mage's tower in the upper-right quadrant where the wizard Math might give you a magic item, or some gold, or an attribute increase, or might turn you into a toad for a few rounds.
    
One of the few special locations in the game.
     
But back to combat. The computer-controlled knights are pretty pathetic, so for a single player, the biggest challenge is figuring out how to defeat the other monsters in the game. Each has a different approach to regular attacks and special attacks. As a general strategy, darting north or south on the combat map, then executing an attack just in time for your opponent to walk into it, then darting away, works against almost everyone but takes a lot of patience.

Most lairs generally have more than one enemy. Towards the end, you might face upwards of a dozen. About mid-way through the game, they start attacking you 2 or 3 at a time, too. I don't know if the increased difficulty and numbers are based on how many lairs you've already cleared or on increases in your attributes, but either way the endgame combats are much, much harder.

The manual lists 5 monster types--troggs, ratmen, mudmen, baloks, and trolls--but I swear I faced more than that, and I can't quite reconcile any of the creatures on the screen with the descriptions in the manual. "Mudmen" are the most obvious--they're tall bastards who swing tree branches at you and have a much greater reach than you do, making it hard to hit them first.
     
Is this a trogg, a balok, or a troll? No idea.
     
But there are some undead-looking things that I can't match with any of the descriptions. As you kill one, a new one immediately comes erupting from the ground and kills you in one hit if you don't dart out of the way.
     
Does this look like anything in that list of foes?
    
In the upper-left quadrant, there are some boar-like creatures that gallop back and forth across the combat screen. You have to make a quick attack the moment you see them at the edge of the screen, or they'll bowl you over before your strike finishes executing. Then there are these spearmen, who might make my "most annoying enemies" list in a more consequential game. Their reach is far longer than yours, but they dart too quickly to catch them with daggers. If you face one on either side, they can catch you in a neverending succession of rapid thrusts, and you have no choice but to watch and die.
     
Two spear dudes skewer me.
    
One highlight of combat, particularly for the 1991 player, is the "gore" setting, which ensures that every character death is accompanied by copious on-screen blood loss, dismemberment, and decapitation. Knights in combat always execute a decapitating coup de grĂ¢ce on their defeated challengers. Almost every review or summary of the game mentions this aspect, but honestly it's pretty tame compared to what we're accustomed to in 2016.
     
My character is beheaded by another knight.
    
A few other notes:

  • The game mentions wandering "Black Knights" that you have to watch for, but I never encountered any, or didn't know what they were when I did.
  • This is the first game I can remember to offer hints on loading screens.
    
     
  • There's a gambling game in cities, but I lost every time I played.
     
It's well-animated, anyway.
    
  • Each knight can visit each "lair" only once, after which it disappears form the map. Sometimes, you fight an exhausting battle at a lair only to find that another knight has already been there and claimed the treasure.
  • The game features nice animation in the opening and closing screens. But if you can perceive a difference between the Amiga and DOS versions of these screens, I think you're making it up.
  • DOSBox either had problems emulating the sound, or the sound for the DOS version was just awful. But I didn't really experience the Amiga sound because I was mostly playing the game during a time when I had people around me and I was supposed to be working, so I had the sound off.
  • Technically, I guess there are multiple "Moonstones" that you can obtain in the Valley of the Gods, and you need to wait until yours corresponds with the right phase of the moon (shown between turns) before you enter Stonehenge to win the game. In a multi-player game, this would give other players a chance to defeat your character while you wait. In a single-player game, everything else on the map is probably dead by then, so you just end up passing a few turns until the moon aligns.
   
If I have the "new moon" Moonstone, I have a lot of waiting to do.
   
It took me about 5 false starts to finally win the game, even against the pathetic computer AI. Once I had the four keys, I went to the Valley of the Gods, where the Guardian--a whirling genie-like creature, was probably the easiest enemy in the game. (At that point, I had been used to fighting 3 creatures at once and 15 creatures total.)
    
It killed me here, but only because I stopped to take a screenshot.
     
After defeating the Guardian, I returned to Stonehenge with the Moonstone and got the endgame. "You have completed the quest," the end titles informed me, before taking me to the "ceremony of the Moonstone." In said ceremony, my warrior stood triumphant on a platform in the middle of Stonehenge while scantily-clad girls danced around him.
     
      
Then a portal opened up in the heavens...
    
    
...and my knight was sucked up into the night sky to become a constellation. I'm not sure how much of a "reward" that is. But the game deserves credit for a series of victory screens more interesting and complex than the typical RPG that takes dozens of hours.
    
I suspect this would actually kind of suck.
        
As I said, I had fun with the game once I got the hang of combat. The process of exploring the ruins and finding items is satisfying and relatively quick, and character improvements from both equipment and attributes is immediately noticeable in combat. (Without the extra enemies towards the end, the game would be far too easy.) Let's see how it does on a GIMLET:
    
  • 2 points for a fairly minimal game world.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. Creation is nothing special--you just select a name and a color--but as above, development is swift and satisfying.
  • 2 points for a couple of NPCs who help you out, but there's no interaction.
    
This guy just barely qualifies as an NPC.
     
  • 3 points for foes that act differently depending on type, forcing you to adapt. Alas, no role-playing encounters, but it's not that sort of game.
  • 3 points for an action-oriented combat that nonetheless makes you think and plan.
    
A "mudman" waits for me to recover.
     
  • 3 points for a decent set of equipment.
     
Purchasing items in town.
      
  • 4 points for an economy that never loses value (you always need to heal, if nothing else)
  • 2 points for a main quest.
     
The game's final screen.
   
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are fun, and what I heard of the sound in the Amiga version was serviceable, but I have no patience for joystick-only interfaces.
  • 6 points for gameplay. The game is meant to be replayed, and offers a slightly different game depending on what knight you choose (each knight has a different starting area). It's brisk and fun, and offers a satisfying challenge in its difficulty.

That gives us a final score of 32, which isn't too bad, particularly given that it's not really a classic RPG. Morever, it's the first British game to break the "weirdness" barrier that I talked about in my entry on Heavy on the Magick--although we have to note that the Brits still don't show any signs of understanding classic RPG conventions.
    
At least the tagline is accurate.
    
I had a feeling that our friends at the perpetually annoying Amiga Power would love this one. After all, it has virtually no RPG elements and spends nearly its entire wad on graphics and sound. So I was surprised to see reviewer Neil West rating it only a 73/100, basically saying that its not quite enough of an action game and not quite enough of an RPG. Overall, Moonstone was pretty controversial among reviewers, with ratings from a low of 48 (Power Play) to a high of 100 (Top Secret). American magazines tended to overlook this one.
    
An interview on a fan site credits Todd Prescott with the game's concept. He indicates he was inspired by "a combination of D&D and the board games Talisman and The Dark Tower." He approached a colleague, Rob Anderson, and Anderson handled most of the programming. For combat, the pair was heavily influenced by the action game Barbarian (1987). Prescott indicates that the game never had a U.S. release because Toys R Us thought it was too violent. The limited release unfortunately sank plans for a Moonstone 2. This was Prescott's only game; Anderson went on to a longer career at Mindscape, Electronic Arts, and Sega (among others), and currently lists himself as an independent video game developer. None are RPGs, so we won't be encountering him again.

Moonstone seems to have a lot of retro-fan love these days, and I understand why. It's not going to be part of my soul or anything, but it was a fun way to kill a couple of days in a hotel room. Let's see if the same can be said of another Mindscape title, Knightmare.

****

Alas, Fer & Flamme continues to give me trouble. A kind commenter sent along the French manual, which allowed me to advance through character creation. The problem is, when I get to the end of the creation process, the game insists on saving the party to disk. I insert a blank disk, give the party a name, and hit the "$" key as prompted, and then get this:
    
     
Unless there's an obvious workaround I'm missing, this game might not be playable after all.