Title Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus Game Type RPG Company SSI/Westwood (1987) Author Winston D Wood (Original) Players 1 Compatibility ? HD Installable ? Submission Steve Hammond (Celebrity Reviewer) Review Way back at the beginning of the world (1987) there didn't exist teams of two dozen people slaving for three years to bring out a game. Graphics could be primitive, sound could be rudimentary and - whoops, hang on; just loading in from disk. None of that mattered because a game was defined by how well it played. Nowadays, it wouldn't bear thinking about to have the standard system menu and requesters in a game, or to only run in NTSC mode. But that is exactly what we have with Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademeus. I have no idea what happened in the first two instalments, but Nikademeus must have been pretty ticked off for us to face his wrath in the third one. Or perhaps he was just having a bad hair day. Phantasie III is a very different way of doing things than the games we seem to see nowadays. The game has a plot, but one that isn't entirely clear and isn't very intrusive. So much so that it's possible that my story-deprived mind invented it all by itself in the same way that going without sleep for three days forced the mind to invent all kinds of hallucinations involving Kim Basinger. I probably did play three days straight at some point. Indeed I was able to play for what seemed like months without ever having to face up to the fact that there was a point behind all this warmongering and I that was completely missing it. (Another thing that I was completely missing were classes at college because of it, but I don't think that was a deliberate design feature.) The game, you see, is open-ended which means that the characters can build up experience, skill and money almost indefinitely. Being a Role Playing Game, the player must create characters from scratch in a process known in the trade as "rolling up a character." What made this especially fun is that having chosen the character species, type and so forth, he could then be given a name of your choosing. This was no mere set of predefined nobodies, these were my people! And that was how I sent all my friends up against storm giants and miscellaneous demons. (For some bizarre reason, the characters I'd named after programming languages seemed to fare better in these battles; loading the disk after so long I saw basic, Pascal and Cobol not dead but merely resting. Cobol in particular was resurrected a dozen times. Must be a sign.) The main map allows the party to wander around the face of the world. Occasionally this would be interrupted by a requester declaring "An Encounter!" at which point the party would have to fight, or were sometimes given the chance to run. Recuperating, training and of course shopping would be allowed whenever the party entered a village or town. One of those points I made about Phantasie III being a different way of doing things is embodied in the way combat took place. Few of us could now imagine allowing the characters to battle the monsters without taking a direct hand in the action, yet that was how it worked here. After setting up the layout of the battle, who stood at the front, at the back, what spell or weapon to use this round, the go button was clicked and the battle would proceed without further intervention, at least until the next round. It worked superbly. Although there was not the feeling of being in the thick of the action, it was rather like watching your home team playing and hoping that the players would come through at the moment when it mattered. In this respect it was like managing a team, although in this case a team of swordfighters and magicians. It was immensely entertaining! As befits a fantasy game on a computer, the emphasis was definitely on the combat, perhaps to the detriment of the rest of the game. Even though the role-playing sections were simple and contained far too many numbers to think about, the atmosphere was somehow still kept whole. Let's walk through a typical game. We start off in the town of Pendragon, which is an entire lo-res screen in size, yet manages to contain a bank, an armoury, a training centre and a bar. Here is where we have to begin assembling the party by making characters. The game won't let you go to the bank or armoury until the party is assembled. Adding members to the party can only be done if there are members in the roster and for that to happen you have to start adding members. Once a character's creation is started, it can't be stopped! Life will not be denied! Option after option rolls by until he is fully formed. And no, there aren't any females, it's always a "he". Getting a leg eaten off by giant rats is man's work, evidently. Choosing "new member" sets this birth process in motion and from a choice of humans, dwarves, elves and so on, the party starts to take shape. These heroes can be warriors or wizards plus a few other choices that never seem to get a look in, such as thief and priest. The devil may have all the best tunes, but warriors have enormous battle tools. I always wondered why a thief was a specific option; the game is about killing monsters and looting their festering carcasses, at least when not making off with anything not nailed down, in the process of exploding, corrosive or on fire. Thievery goes with the job! A set of stats will be generated for them such as strength and so forth and all that's left to do is give the bits of fodder a name. Actually that's slightly unfair. Although they have no real personality to speak of, except for a few words of randomly generated background, it's surprisingly easy to get attached to them, especially by the time they have become veterans. The roster, separate from the party, is a kind of repository of characters which can seemingly get filled up with new people indefinitely. The player may go mad with the process of creating people and the game will take it all in its stride. When adding to the party for the first time, it is obvious that you have a little extra help already, in the form of three elementals, air, mist and... mud. Didn't you always want a mud elemental? An actual party which gets to slay, thieve, slay again then thieve and slay, slay, slay holds six characters plus any elementals at which point it is "fully assembled." You can even add dead characters to the party, although when there, they don't tend to do much... Starting a game from scratch is always frustrating, especially in the beginning, and mistakes are easy to make. Phantasie III is very unforgiving of error. Starting a game for the first time we have no idea what everything means. Oh sure, Mindflash sounds like something you'd rather be on the casting end of, but do you really want to send your newly minted character up against a Storm Giant with Mindflash I as his weapon? Will that do? Does it take Mindflash III? Or IV? Initial frustrations were quite high, I imagine, spending a considerable amount of time rolling up the characters only to have them toasted in the very first encounter. Lesson one is that the weak monsters are nearby the starting position in the map. Encounters with monsters are generated randomly and moving across the map is done by the cursor keys a block at a time. So if the random number generator is feeling a bit sadistic, the party will find itself halfway across the world by the time anything happens (and this will take about a dozen key presses and ten seconds of realtime!) at which point the beginning characters first action is against some of the most powerful monsters in the game. We can cast a spell to discover the monster level, but don't generally think of that to begin with. My first such encounter wiped out an entire two thirds of my warriors! Then I named one after my least favourite CEO in the world and sent him in to battle while all the others held back. This IS fun! It doesn't take long to get the hang of it and after the amount of restoring saved game from disk has dropped to a normal level, the true appeal of Phantasie III becomes clear. After a few successful battles it is possible to return to Pendragon, or indeed any of the cities dotted around the map, and spend experience to become stronger, more powerful and to increase all those skills that sorely need exercising. There is no set limit to this; you will get stronger and you will not stop! (Especially when changing a single value of the game code on disk gives you more gold than you can fill an oil tanker with. Arnold Rimmer would call this thinking around the problem. I saw it as myself merely saving a few weeks of sleep while I got there.) Characters do not remain static but grow through experience, which is to say that the numbers that make up their abilities grow larger. Experience gained doesn't take immediately but must first be "cashed in" at a training facility which only exist in cities. The party starts with some gold in the bank which can be used for equipment and weapons. In fact we even have to start by buying clothes! Having spent quite some time getting ready, it is only then time to go out in the wild. The Game - as you've guessed - doesn't happen in real time. Phantasie III has its flaws of course. A big one is that the party can be caught asleep. It is very easy to be cavalier and to be wiped out. Options for fighting are quite numerous. Characters can cast spells, adjust their positions, thrust, parry, lunge and indeed run away, though that doesn't always work. It is quite wise to only tackle monsters that you know you have a chance of beating. Attacking sleeping monsters and running away before they wake up isn't very sporting, but it is definitely effective! In lieu of advanced graphics whilst fighting, there are descriptions of what is happening as it takes place. This can be quite gruesome as it tells you what bit of your enemy, for example, you just broke! Wild dogs just bit Sean's leg off! It especially doesn't pay to attack without thinking things through because some monsters have the same graphics as other, weaker, monsters... told you some elements were rudimentary. But the gameplay... So is this objective? Memories get better with time. In those days, games were still finding their feet as entertainment and playability flaws a mile wide weren't even noticed as such. Phantasie III was a product born very much of its time and was wonderful for that time. Today it would feel amateurish, but that's really irrelevant. What mattered was that it was fun. When in college there were a number of us had the game and for weeks at a time the first thing we would say to each other in the morning was just how many gold pieces our lead characters had. I chose to review Phantasie III mainly because it used up so much of my time - and that has got to be the ultimate indicator of worth.