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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ultima: Warriors of Destiny (NES)

Ultima V was a game of considerable prestige in its day, serving as a shining milestone for the genre in terms of design and storytelling, and it still holds up today as one of the finest RPGs ever made. I myself even went so far as to declare it the best RPG of the 1980's, and have included it on my personal all-time favorite games list as well - not a decision I made lightly as I've been gaming for well over three decades now.  The NES version of Ultima V, on the other hand, is a downright disgraceful adaptation.  Rather than attempting to replicate the gameplay of the original game while making some accommodations for the hardware and controller (as the Ultima III, IV and VI console ports did, to considerable success), it instead attempted something foolhardy - remaking the game entirely in an NES conversion of their Ultima VI engine as part of a broader effort to recoup said engine's steep development costs.  The NES was clearly not suited to running such an advanced engine whatsoever, as the game is actively miserable to play; the UI is unbearably sluggish with constant dropped inputs, it runs at a blistering 3-6 frames per second at all times (even with only one character onscreen), and every action you take is accompanied by a long delay.  Even walking around the map is excruciatingly slow, to say nothing of managing one's inventory, searching the environment, taking part in combat or even just moving the cursor from space to space. Case in point, using an item from your inventory - something that would take about two seconds in the original versions of U5 - can now take upwards of ten, as you have to open your inventory, move the cursor to the item, put it in one of your character's hands, exit the menu, press the A button, then select the item in your hand to use it.  (And that's assuming you're not trying to cast a spell from your spellbook, which brings up another menu to painstakingly scroll through.)  Owing to space limitations on the cartridge Britannia is much smaller and virtually unrecognizable in design, with greatly simplified dungeons, far fewer NPCs to interact with and only a scant few lines of dialog when you do - a far cry from the original's densely detailed, oppressive world and rich character interactions that immersed you in the experience.  Ultima WoD is passable visually though far from impressive for a 1993 NES game, but the audio design is wretched, with virtually no sound effects and one constantly looping twenty-one second track (recycled from Runes of Virtue on the Game Boy) playing throughout the entire game, ensuring you'll get sick of it very quickly.  Basically, an ill-conceived experiment on every front that is just no fun to play.  The worst part is that I can't even blame this total misfire of design on a third party as Origin themselves developed it - you'd hope they of all people would handle their flagship IP with the care and respect it deserves, but apparently not.  So, do yourself a big favor - play one of the computer versions instead and leave this stinkbomb collecting dust on shelves in secondhand game shops, where it will share company with similarly late-to-the-party, overpriced and terrible NES games like Cliffhanger, Wayne's World and Swamp Thing for all time.

Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: FCI
Platform: NES
Released: 1993