The Ultima series has long since been around, but the first Ultima game I played was Ulima VI. It was originally released by Origin Systems Inc in 1990. It's also the third and final game in the "Age of Enlightenment" trilogy. Ultima VI was then adapted from PC platforms to the SNES in 1993, which is when I stumbled across it.
The cover looked super snazzy, and that was why I bought the game to begin with, but the story really sucked me in.
You are the avatar, a pure warrior of the most honorable principles of truth, love, and courage, but you have been away from Britannia for a long time, so long, that you have begun to wonder if you will ever have more adventures. The game’s opening sequence has you awaiting the arrival of a moongate, so that you might travel from your home world back to Britannia….
Of course, every time you’re summoned to Britannia, it’s to save that world from a calamity so, in essence, you’re hoping that world has gone to shit once again, but it’s cool, because it has, and only you can save it, but the gate that rises to summon you is red, rather than blue as has always been the case before.
Nevertheless, you’re hog shit crazy, so you jump into a flashing red gate and appear before a bunch of gargoyles, who tie you to slab and try to kill you. For no reason at all, your old friends from previous adventures happen to be there, and they save you. Again, you all jump into the red gate and appear in Castle Britannia before Lord British, who informs you that once again you are on a quest.
Gargoyles have been coming up through the dungeons. They have assailed the shrines of virtue, and no one in Britannia can stand up to them…except you. Never mind that Lord British is one of those unstoppable, ultra powerful, immortal characters like Umos from Metroid Prime 2, but I digress. The old man wants you and your friends to find out how the gargoyles are attacking, and what can be done to stop them.
As was mentioned earlier, this game was also released for PCs, and while I played it on a PC afterwards, I had already played it on the SNES. My review is for the SNES version because that’s the version I currently own.
It’s an oddly relaxing game. You can spend hours just plodding through the world of Britannia, walking from town to town, and only occasionally coming across some bad guys. The fights are almost never difficult unless you run into a group of gargoyles, dragons, or daemons.
What’s relaxing is that there are so many people to speak to in the game. Often, they have little to say, but sometimes speaking to one person opens up a new dialogue for others. There’s almost never any need to follow through with this aspect of the game in the SNES version, but it’s still fun to learn how all the characters from around the world interact with each other.
The graphics are… nice? They’re not good; the SNES was capable of much more, but the overhead perspective works well, and the colors are vibrant. Everything pretty much looks like what it’s supposed to look like.
The music is great and is probably Ultima’s best feature. I like the dungeon music best, but dungeons can sometimes be a pain in the arse. It’s like a lot of them can tie into one another. You can be exploring the depths of Sutek’s Castle, and then, by going up and down a few levels, you find you’ve exited into Buccaneer’s Den. Of course, that means there’s a whole lot of dungeon to explore!
You also get to travel by land, sea, and air; you have to make your own hot air balloon in order to travel to a gargoyle shrine. I love flying over trees and mountains, just looking over the scenery. I mean, it’s kind of repetitive, but you can also wind up in places like this!
I don’t know, but I guess I just really like looking at the colors. While I mentioned that the graphics are less than spectacular, they’re somehow inspiring, creative.
The controls are real stiff, and they weren’t adapted properly from the PC version, so many of the SNES controller buttons remain unused, and you basically use one button for everything. You also have to move a cursor around all the time in order to “look”, “attack,” or “talk.”
The karma system gets on my nerves. You can gain or lose karma, but to beat the game, you have to have the max—100 karma. How do you get karma? Mostly by meditating at the shrines after you liberate them from the gargoyles, and since you start with 75 karma, having 100 by the end of the game isn’t difficult, but if you didn’t know that you had to have 100 karma, or that karma could go up or down, you’d be like me the first time I played.
I was 11 years old, and I had never played an RPG where you didn’t pick up everything in sight, much less attack everything in sight, so it took me a long time to realize I was “stealing” from people, killing animals, and losing karma. Now, when you “steal,” the game literally says, “you stole sword,” but I didn’t think it mattered. Well, it does.
There are only so many instances for you to build up your karma, and I think if you allow your karma to drop below something like 18 from the original 75, you’ll never be able to get it back up to 100, which is the max, and if you want to complete the game, you have to start a new journey in order to reach and maintain 100 karma. Also, if you get up to 100 karma, by getting all the possible increases, and accidentally steal something or kill a bunny later on, you’re screwed.
There could be more action, too. You rarely have to fight, but fighting is the only way to gain experience, which you need to level up, which you need to do to cast higher level spells, and just survive exploring the game in general. It’s just set up in a very odd way. It could have benefited from the ability to gain experience through other kinds of quests.
Ultimately, I attribute the game’s flaws to the poor adaptation from PC to console, but that doesn’t make the game crappy. I still like Ultima VI, and I wrote this review because I just finished playing it again for, like, the hundredth time. It’s a nostalgic game I pop in every year or so, and I recommend people give it a shot.
Not all games need to be balls to the walls, and while other RPGs, like Final Fantasy IV, are turn based, you’re still fighting bosses, and casting flashy spells, while desperately trying to keep your party alive. Sometimes, you’re even balls deep in a cave, fighting one monster after another, just praying that there’s a save spot nearby.
Ultima VI isn’t like that. Even in a worst case scenario, you can throw your moonstone out, hop into the gate, and find yourself safe from harm.
If you’re a PC gamer, play it on your PC. If you’re a console gamer, the SNES version is still good, still worth playing. I’ll have to score it a B- game. It’s good. I enjoy it, but it has its flaws.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to read my other reviews right here!