'Ultima VII, the Black Gate'

by Aaron Dennis 2 months ago in rpg

A Retro Review

'Ultima VII, the Black Gate'

Ultima VII, the Black Gate, was originally released in April of 1992 by FCI/Pony Canyon. I don't know why, but I love the name Pony Canyon. The SNES port was released in 1994. Evidently, due to a lack of available memory—the SNES is limited to one megabyte of memory—many features were changed or scrapped.

The original port was hailed as the greatest RPG of all time shortly after its release. The SNES version gets a bad rap... and I get it, but if you've never played the original version, it's still a good game....

A few hundred years have passed in Britannia, but the Avatar has been summoned once again. An evil presence calling itself the Guardian has threatened the land. It is a conqueror of worlds, and it has set its sights on Britannia.

The Avatar, having upheld the Godliest principles of Truth, Love, and Courage, decides to find a way to defeat the Guardian, but how can a man even as valorous as the Avatar do battle with a creature outside of the world?

A great many events have taken place all over Britannia, and none of them pleasant. The Fellowship has come together to convince men and gargoyles alike to abandon their respective ideologies, and they will murder and kidnap anyone who stands against them.

I genuinely wonder if this is a play on Scientology. Fallout 2 made fun of Scientology as well.

Anyway, like most of the Ultima games, this an overhead RPG. Rather than entering into a battle mode like the previous game, this one plays a little more like The Legend of Zelda; you see the baddies, run up to ‘em, and give ‘em a few whacks.

As you kill monsters, you gain experience, and then level up, which grants more health, magic, and the ability to cast higher level spells like levitate and tremor. There’s also some puzzle solving involved, so it’s a lot like A Link to the Past.

You also need to speak to people to gather information.

Sometimes, they aren't people at all....

You need to buy equipment as well if you wish to survive.

The Good–

The graphics and animation are awesome. Like Ultima VI, it’s very visually appealing and stimulating. The music is also great and just a little spooky. The over world theme is my favorite, which is only one theme in this game rather than a few different themes like its predecessor.

The story line is pretty neat. I don’t know that it’s unique or innovative; a dark cult has begun to brainwash people, and all in the service of some mighty, otherworldly force. The people you meet and talk to can be pretty cool, and you do see your old friends; Iolo, Dupré, Shamino, and of course Lord British. The gargoyles have begun to mix in with the humans as well; this is a result of the proper ending in Ultima VI, during which the Avatar restores the codex of ultimate wisdom.

One other thing worth mentioning is that the controls are far more responsive than they were in Ultima VI. You also use all the buttons on the SNES controller. Overall, it’s a fun game, and that’s what important—that I like playing it.

The Bad–

Like all the other Ultima ports from PC to console, a lot of features have been cut. The most notable loss from the PC version is the inability to recruit an entire crew. You’re left to play as the Avatar, which can often be a pain in the ass, because it really limits your inventory.

The inventory limit isn’t a big deal in and of itself, but there are so many cool pieces of equipment like the elemental blades and various pieces of armor that just go to waste. Holding golden keys can also become cumbersome. If you were equipping numerous characters, it would be nice to hand off those keys, and give one of them the magic bow while another equips a morning star. Then, the Avatar could just cast spells.

The spells, those are an annoying mess, and mostly because of the inventory. See, in this picture, I’m just standing there with my thumb in my butt, waiting for the little ankh symbols to replenish—that’s the magic.

The higher level spells cost quite a few ankhs, so unless you’re carrying a ton of magic potions all you can do is wait around, and, as was mentioned, with a limited inventory, there’s a limit to the potions you’ll be able to carry.

I really don’t know why they couldn’t port that feature to the SNES version—the ability to command a full crew—but even more disconcerting was the lack of side quests. Some of them are still present, but they’re completely immaterial, and have no bearing on the story. This happened in Ultima VI as well.

I know I mentioned that the SNES has only one meg of memory available for programming. Due to this fact, a team actually wrote the game from scratch using a different code from the original. That being the case, and comparing Black Gate to Final Fantasy 3 (6 in Japan), which was released in April of 1994, another game, which only had one meg of memory, I'm truly unable to wrap my brain around all the changes made to the SNES port.

I'd also like to add that the Nintendo 64 was released in America only two years later, and a revised edition of Black Gate for the N64 would have been very well received. Unfortunately, 1996 seemed to be the year that all games had to go "3D," relegating overhead RPGs to obscurity.

At any rate, and despite all the BS I just mentioned, my biggest pet peeve regarding Black Gate is how the monsters appear on the screen. I can’t recall if they pop up unexpectedly on PC, but on the SNES version, you never see the monsters until you’re like two steps away, and then, BAM, they’re on you. When first starting your game, this is a real problem; you’ll die a lot. A LOT. As you gain levels and find better armor this feature goes from detrimental to just a nuisance, and eventually, you’ll barely even try to fight the monsters.

The funny thing is that some people absolutely abhor the console version of Black Gate. I don’t know why. It’s a lesser game in comparison to the original on PC—no doubt about it—but it’s far from a bad game. I’d even say it’s as good as A Link to the Past.

If you’ve never played an Ultima game, Black Gate is not a terrible game to try first. I’d probably recommend False Prophet first, or maybe even Runes of Virtue, but Black Gate holds up. If you have the option, play it on PC. If you’re more of a console gamer like myself, the SNES version is just fine.

It’s a B- game with a touch of nostalgia for me. Thanks for reading, and if you’d like to read more of my reviews, swing by my Video Game Reviews tab.

I might begin to review some Sega games in the future, but I just don’t know how well that’ll go over; I hate so many Sega games… They’re not good. They’re just… they’re not good.

Thanks again for reading!

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Aaron Dennis

Creator of the Lokians SciFi series, The Adventures of Larson and Garrett, The Dragon of Time series, and more.

See all posts by Aaron Dennis