The Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that govern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but, to quote a little pointy-eared green guy, beware the dark side… (FCI / Pony Canyon, 1990)
Memories: Where the NES edition of the third Ultima game took place in a compressed version of the original computer game’s expansive world. If the map of the world of Sosaria from the Apple II version of Exodus: Ultima III was printed on one of those squishy little stress balls, the NES version was what you’d see if the ball was squeezed: all the continents, while vaguely similar, were suddenly jammed up against each other. Ultima IV‘s even larger map is surprisingly intact on the NES.
Many of the other nuances of the game’s various computer incarnations are also translated more faithfully this time around – even those that were probably better suited to computer gaming than console gaming, such as having to collect specific raegants for specific spells. The computer version’s conversation engine is scaled back drastically, making NPCs seem much less interactive. Among the strangest alterations is the size of the adventuring party: where the computer editions of Quest Of The Avatar allowed the party to swell into small-army territory, topping out at the player’s character plus seven player-controlled NPCs (who must be recruited in various townd and locations), the NES version limits the party to four characters. Additional “recruits” end up hanging out at a hostel in Lord British’s castle, waiting to be swapped out. It also seems like NES Avatar ramps up the difficulty much more quickly than the computer versions, so the reduction of available fighters does actually matter.
Combat is blessedly fast-paced, and as close to twitch-game territory as this game gets. It still follows a button-powered menu system, but it quickly becomes second nature. Gamers who were too young to remember this game in its computer incarnation (and actually thought Zelda was a real RPG) might’ve had a steep learning curve, but the melees were fast and furious. As they should be.
Overall, it’s an impressive translation of a game that’s bigger and deeper than most NES adventure fare. It was a testament to the NES hardware that it could pull off Quest Of The Avatar‘s huge universe and, for the most part, do it faithfully.