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Saturday, April 2, 2022

Ultima: The Black Gate (SNES)

How do you take a sprawling, expansive and massively interactive open world game like Ultima VII and port it to a console?  Well, you can't, really; you'd either need to invest in a massive amount of ROM space for your cartridges (which would probably be passed on to customers, resulting in low sales) or you need to basically make an entirely new game that only faintly resembles the original.  The Black Gate is a case of the latter, reimagining the experience as a top-down dungeon crawler slightly reminiscent of the Zelda titles.  The problem, though, is that it lacks any of the polish that make both Zelda and Ultima such brilliant franchises; dungeons are extremely samey and tedious, movement is stiff, hit detection is shoddy, and combat is nothing short of a chore.  The plot has been trimmed down to bare basics, there are no other party members to recruit or play as, and, owing to Nintendo's content policies of the time, violent and sexual content is scrubbed; enemies simply vanish when killed, and the murders that drove the plot are changed to "kidnappings".   Grinding is a huge part of the gameplay too; everything you need costs hundreds or even thousands of gold and enemies rarely drop more than one or two coins, so you spend the overwhelming majority of your time searching for items to steal and pawn off at the shops for pennies toward your next purchase; at least until their inventory inevitably fills up and you can't anymore, then it's back to farming for pennies in dungeons and endless monster brawls.  The world design doesn't have any logical sense to it, either - you can easily step into an innocuous basement in a village and meet gremlins who drop exploding powder kegs at your feet, killing you instantly.  They arbitrarily introduce elemental-themed weapons too, though there's no real point in using them as it just ensures that some enemies will be completely immune to your attacks and get free hits on you while you figure this out; something non-elemental weapons don't have any issue with.  Basically, it's a mostly linear action game with only light RPG elements now, and not even a particularly good one, especially when compared to Link to the Past or the Quintet offerings on the same platform.  The only passable carryovers from the PC version are the graphics and music, which made the transition across the hardware gap quite well and still effectively carry a somber mood.  Other than that, SNES Black Gate is a bastardization of an immortal classic that's only worth a look as a morbid curiosity.

Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: FCI/Pony Canyon, Electronic Arts
Released: 1994
Platforms: SNES, PSP (As part of the EA Replay compilation)