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September 1, 2012

Legend of Faerghail - Revisited

In christmas 1990 I saw a new game on the local gameshop shelf. A huge dragon on the frontcover was challenged by a group of adventurers. I asked for a closer look on the box.


I read on  the backside and looked at the screenshots. It looked awesome. Great graphics for being an RPG. But was it any good ? No magazines in Sweden had yet to review it and foreign magazines was too expensive to buy so I took a chance. I really wanted this game and it went to my christmas wish list. A few weeks later I eagerly opened up the package at christmas time and begun installing it. Since then hundreds of hours have been ploughed into this game and while I know I was at the last levels I never managed to solve the last riddles.

I am easily grasped by boxes like this


This turned out to be one of the RPGs in which I have invested most time. Well over 100 hours on my beloved Amiga. It is remarkable how little is written about this game on the net. I really think this game was under the radar for a long, long time and hard to get by at the time. It´s like Ambermoon and Amberstar. Those games where also hard to get by. This time it is my intention of completing the game once and for all and let it rest in the hall of fame of good RPGs. 

It is obvious I am biased towards the game right from the start. The question is, how has it aged and stand up to the test of time ? Will it fail so miserably in being playable today as Bard´s tale III ? Well, we´ll see. The competition is fierce and I know by experience that your first love could have it hard to stand the test of time. Two good examples is Bard´s Tale and the first good fantasy book I read (in my case a dragonlance novel called Legends of Huma).

So what can this game offer ? I think the developers was kind of humble in their feature list, so I´ll add some more things here. 
  • 8 graphically different dungeons with several levels each. 
  • Over 80 monsters (many with its unique graphics)
  • 6 races and 12 classes
  • Over 300 spells
  • Day and Night cycles
  • Morale
  • Food consumption
  • Equipment degradation
The game is contained on three discs and I used WinUae Amiga 500 v 1.3 version as configuration. I first tested with Amiga 1200 and kickstart 3.1 but I noticed a bug further into the game that the enter key did not work. Fortunately that was solved when reverting to the original specification for the game.

So how will my approach to the game be ? I still have most of my hand-drawn maps from the game, having saved them for over 20 years! I will use them during my playthrough. I don't consider it cheating because I have experienced everything firsthand at one time anyway.

Story

This game came with a thick ring-bound manual that are among the best I have seen for an RPG. Easy going and entertaining to read. The first pages contains the story of the game.

You start in an inn and during the evening you overhear the guests complaining about the war with the elves that are draining the land Thyn of soldiers. But most of the time prominent guests speaks of strange creatures that have been seen in the lands, far stronger and more dangerous than the orcs. When the Inn is about to close and most guests are about to go home, a wanderer introducing himself as Sarian tells you that the king of Thyn is aware that the war is not going well and needs help. He is looking for men to carry out a mission to the neighbouring land of Cyldane to call for supporting troops. Riches and fame will come to the ones who succeeds in that. Since you are a poor farmer you listen in. He continues saying that you of course will have to recruit a few companions. Go to the palace and mention my name and the King will surely help you out to look for the companions you need. The next morning you turn up at the palace and the count asks you for help. He says his blacksmith will provide your companions with equipment and suggests you start to look out for your companions and get away as soon as possible. And he adds that if you could find out why the elves are being so strangely aggressive and find a way to stop that, it would be of great help. Time is running short for the count could not hold on for much longer.

A pretty average story but with two distinct goals. From here you are on your own and start up in the first inn you have come to in order to recruit your followers.


Party Creation

One of my most joyful tasks in an RPG is to create the party. It took one or two hours before I was satisfied with my party. It is quite easy to re-roll your stats with just a few keystrokes. The hard part is to find out the best composition for the party. I don´t remember anything from my old party so I had to start from scratch here.

At the starting inn you have the opportunity to look for new adventurers by selecting sex, race and trade. Sex actually matters since female characters have higher wisdom and constitution while males have higher strength. The races are Human, Half-Elf, Elf, Halfling, Dwarf and Half-Orc. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. The five attributes are strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence and wisdom.

The inn where you could find any companion you are looking for

You could choose up to 6 characters. If you leave the last slot you could recruit wandering monsters on your way. Also, the fewer party members the more experience to share from combats so this requires some thoughts. 

The trades are Paladin (could cast a few spells), Blacksmith (could repair equipment and cast spells), Warrior, Barbarian, Thief (backstabbing ability), Ranger, Cleric, Druid, Mage, Illusionist, Healer and Monk. I opted for one Paladin, a blacksmith (I think that is mandatory because repairing things costs much money), a cleric, mage, thief and a female healer (healers must be female). The party is a little weak on the fighting side but has strong healing abilities and I hope, later on, will catch up with spells. So I am prepared for a tough start.

When the party were assembled we got out from the inn and found ourselves out in the wilderness. The real manual gives you a map of Thynn but I only found the real manual in german. You start out right outside the town in the middle right.

The map of your county




You don´t need to take many steps before you notice the random encounters. They are not always hostile and if you negotiate with them you will even be able to trade items or recruit people. Since I have filled all my six slots I will not have more rooms for any recruitment. What differs random encounters in this game from others in this genre is that you could always - yes ALWAYS - run from combat. This makes you pick your fights since they span from easy rats and ants to Grizzlys or Ogres which are very hard - if not impossible - to defeat at this stage. But remember, in order to progress to more dangerous areas of the game you have too be of sufficient level even though I imagine you could run from most fights. We´ll see how it develops further on in the game.

My own goal would be to run around in the wilderness to get acquainted with the land and to build up my characters to at least level 2 before making longer trips. Every character starts with some initial equipment and gold but you will very quickly want to get better armour and weapons. The number of items in the game is huge. There are hundreds of weapons, armours and miscellaneous items scattered around and most of them could be bought in the starting city. You will soon discover that gold is a precious commodity that you must try to gather as much as possible of to be able to afford your training into higher levels or learn new spells and languages.

The first few hours was spent on gaining experience, gold, equipment and rations from the foes. Depending on creature you could get equipment (only humanoids), rations (animals mostly), gold (thieves, bandits and the like) or a combination of all. Equipment could be sold at the town. Rations is used when you are resting your party or when the blacksmith is repairing equipment. If you run out of rations you will starve and the morale will degrade which affects your combat effectiveness. I don´t know yet if you could starve but you could surely not be able to rest and heal.

My priestess Werca

Before proceeding it could be a good idea to go through the character sheet.

Above is the character sheet for my priestess Werca. Hitpoints and magic points are shown together with the characters health status (could be stunned, paralysed, poisoned etc), experience points and weight. Every item has a weight and though there is no limit in how many items you could carry, you could not exceed your weight maximum which depends on your strength.

The percentage of each character at the top represents the armour rating (higher is better)

The next page show the characters items. E indicates the item is equipped and a + sign that the item is prohibited for this class. Also on the same row is the items condition and weight. When you parry or fumble attacks you take damage to your equipped weapons and armours. If their condition decreases too low they run the risk of breaking. As items got weared down they loose value as well. That´s why it is - in my opinion - so important in bringing an blacksmith to the party. The drawback with the smith is that he could only wear leather armour but he gain spells later on and quite powerful spells that is.


The last page show the skillvalues of the character. Negotiating ability is used when selling items. The higher the better prices you could get. Attack and defence ability is self-explanatory and could increase during levelling up. Concentrating ability is used by spellcasters to determine if they succeed in casting spells. That is a very important skill that could be improved during level ups and increased by learning new languages. The other five skills are mostly thieving skills.

When we left the starting town I was given an amulet but nothing was said about its intention or power. It was soon forgotten since I started to grind up to level 2 as soon as possible. I moved around within 20 hexes of the starting city. I died a lot - or at least some characters like my mages so it took some time before we where ready to progress. When you are eligible for training you go to the city  to train. They will tell you how many XP you lack if you are not ready yet. The problem is that you will need quite a lot of money to train one character. You are therefore dependent of selling items in the beginning and also pick your fights for those who carry gold.

At one place in the east I found a priestess who stood waiting for something. I had no idea what to do but since I only had one special item I used it. By pure luck it did have effect. She begun to talk and gave me a healing staff. That staff went directly to my healer in the group. Which brings me to my next comment. You could not determine which weapon is better than another except for checking with the shop how much worth it has. I believe the healing staff is better than to fight with an ordinary quarter staff though.




After some time you see the night approaches. The view gets darker, the sound of birds are replaced by that of grasshoppers. At night the fauna is different and you could run across even greater evils. If you need to heal your characters or recover spell points you could take a rest. You will be given the choice of having a watch. That character will not recover anything but will prevent the group from being ambushed. The amount of time resting also affects your store of rations. Personally I have not had to buy any rations yet, but depend of getting them through killing animals. 

After a while I notice that my characters are earning more experience than what I have gold to train them with so I begin to look farther and farther away, trying to take on more and more dangerous creatures in order to get more gold. I have to prioritize which ones to level up first and choose my spellcasters. In the southeast side of the map I found a healing fountain. Its power are unlimited and with that as base I stayed for awhile to gather experience. 

Combats in the game are fast and fun. Everything you do with the interface has some key as shortcut and most things are very well implemented to give a smooth gameplay. There are no slowdowns or awkward things like handling the inventory and such. I will return to how combats are performed later on, but it is turn based and remembers each characters previous action in the current turn which minimises the micromanagement. You also have the option of using quick combat and skip all animations and information texts.

One single catchpole could be dealt with quite easily, but not a party of them

When you level up you gain more hitpoints and spellpoints. Both are random but based on your attributes. You also have a chance to improve in any skill but that is also random. If you are lucky one of your attributes might be increased as well. This makes levelling up very fun. New spells will be available for spell casters now and then but must be bought. You are never sure when the spells will be available or how many so it is always an exciting moment. Your warriors could gain more attacks per round also but not at level 2 as far as I have discovered. 

When half of my group was up to level 2 I decided to be more courageous and entered the lizards temple in the south. It took not many steps inside before I decided I was not ready for the creatures over there and soon I returned back to the wasteland again. I explored most of the wilderness and found a graveyard with different elves names, a derelict castle in the northwest which I could enter but the exit was then sealed so I decided not to at this stage. There are more inns scattered in the land but they only offer you to recruit more adventurers or sleep for the night so I have not found any use for them. Resting is not a major problem as long as you have a watch. Just keep track of the rations.

In the west I found an entrance leading down to the dwarven mines. I knew this was the most easy place to start with so I descended even though the whole group was not at level 2 yet.

What happens down there will be covered in my next post. So far I have had a good time creating and developing my party. I know it will be even more fun when I pass level 3-4 and could manage tougher challenges. The motivation to gather gold in order to pay for the training is great.

Many people has compared this game with the Bard´s Tale series. I think that is kind of unfair because this game is really more advanced and has more depths. The combat is the only thing which has some similarities with Bard´s tale but it is more fun here and easier to administer.

Ok, now its time for me to go into the depths of the mines....more of that in the next post.

But before that, the title music deserves mention. It is a very melancholic, beautiful song with good sounded instruments from the Amiga version. The song really represents the game.






















13 comments:

  1. This was a game I considered for my chronological play list, but eventually I decided against it. On my list I have commented Legend of Faerghail thusly: "CONSTANT AND UTTERLY MIND-NUMBING RANDOM ENCOUNTERS". In other words, it looked and sounded like Bard's Tale.
    Are the random encounter rate that frequent in your experience? And are the encounters totally random, so that you risk facing Elves, Undead and Grizzly Bears all in the same party? Or is there a logic to the encounters?

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    1. Firstly this game features much less random encounters than, say Bards Tale III which made me crazy. Yes, there are frequent random encounters in the wilderness perhaps every 10 steps but you could always run from them and still remain in the same spot.

      In dungeons you see ghost shapes representing the monsters. You could either defeat them or drop a bait to stop them from chasing you. Afterwards they don´t respawn unless you revisit - and therefore reload - the dungeon.

      Both these factors contributes to my view that this game is not as bad as you might think regarding random encounters. I would say that the SSI Goldbox games easily match this game.

      You should definetely try this game out. I don´t think you will get disappointed in this respect.

      Regarding monster types encountered, you very, very seldom meet more than one type of monsters and they are picked from the fauna of the area you are visiting. The only way in which you meet more than one party of monsters at once are when the ghost shapes moves to the same spot at the same time where you are, then you have to face more than one group at once. But that happens seldom and never in the wilderness where you never see those ghost shapes representing monsters.

      This game has more depth than what first meets the eye and I hope to clarify some of this in my later posts.

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  2. I'm interested to see some more about this game - might give it a try on WinUAE myself. From your comments and the screenshots it does look like an expanded Bards Tale so I might enjoy it. I noticed a couple of the portraits (Cleric and Dwarf) are copied directly from artwork from the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Players Manual though :)

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  3. That was a fun read... This is one of my old favorites... still have the original box and everything in it(with over 100 other original RPGs... I'm a nut). Looking forward to your further posts on this one.

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  4. I am trying to find more videos of this game in action so I can see what traveling looks like. Seems to be a lot of full-screens that you really dont travel around in.

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    1. Travelling is done stepwise without scrolling inbetween.

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    2. Ah! I see. I also found a video of someone exploring the outside world. Looks very interesting. great article and can't wait until you go into the mines!

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  5. still own my copy, although i never got much far in it, cleared the dwarf mines iirc.

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  6. Och att fler svenskar än jag har spelat det är inte heller fel ;)

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  7. Great game, still own my copy. Thanks for article, great job.

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  8. Concerning random encounters: You will find these only in the wilderness, but not in the dungeons. Your party will need provisions in order to keep marching on, and the only constant source of food is the wilderness, in which you can hunt and which therefore provide an inexhaustible source of food. The dungeons, however, sport a finite number of enemies on each level. If you see a monster (or non-hostile denizen) roaming the halls, and you end up killing it, it will be gone until return to this level lateron.

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    1. A special welcome to my blog. I suppose you are the creator of the game ?

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    2. Affirmative :-)

      I found your play-through by way of the "The CRPG Addict" blog (into which I had stumbled after reading Chester's play-through of "Ultima IV"), which mentioned that you had a very hard time beating the end-game, comparing the difficulty level and the apparent unfairness to "Wizardry IV".

      I thought I could try comment on what the intention was behind the game design. At the time when we created the game, we certainly were not aware of "Wizardry". We did not even know that "Wizardry" was to "The Bard's tale" what "The Bard's tale" was to "Legend of Faerghail".

      I any case, I salute you for playing through the English language version of the game. Along with Chester's playthrough, that makes two recent playthroughs in less than two years. I am amazed and astounded ;-)

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