Saturday, June 27, 2015

Elvira II: Gonna Search and Find that Preacher Man

This dead cleric might be a good candidate for a "Resurrect" when I'm able to cast it.

I liked the first one better. Elvira, aside from being about Elvira, was a decent adventure game that offered some sensible, moderately-challenging puzzles, cool graphics, and an interesting setting. Its RPG elements were introduced a bit ham-handedly, but it seemed to understand that and it didn't overemphasize them. Elvira II tries to go too far as an RPG for a game that isn't an RPG. One section, in which I'm currently mired, has a six-level dungeon crawl, which would normally be a nice RPG nod in an adventure/RPG hybrid, but not when you're so restricted in combat tactics and afraid to cast most of your spells.

That doesn't sound very much like someone who wants to be rescued.

Since the last post, I've explored most of Set #2 (the House of Horror) and I think most of Set #3 (It Came from Beyond the Grave). I haven't been able to fully explore anything, because inevitably I run up against some puzzle I need (or think I need) a higher level or some unfound reagent to solve.

My favorite puzzle was in the haunted house. In a basement room, I found a mad scientist who yelled that I wasn't his assistant and ordered me out. Since the game offered the dialogue button in the room, I figured there must be some way to talk with him. Later, in the hands of a corpse, I found some stills of the various movie characters, and I realized their costumes and makeup were identical to the items I found in the second-floor offices. I chose the one that looked most like a lab assistant and applied the right set of facial hair, a wig, teeth, and a lab coat.

Pictures of the cast of the various films.

Checking myself in the mirror as I apply the items. Looks like I still need eyebrows and teeth.

When I was wearing the "disguise" of the film character, the mad scientist talked to me, though the only thing I got out of it was a poison potion that I don't have a particular use for.

Maybe I was supposed to choose one of the others. I only had a recipe for a poison.

This dynamic became my least favorite puzzle in Set #3. I battled all the way down six flights of catacombs (more on that in a minute) only to find a wizard who attacked me (and turned me into a frog) after noting that I didn't "look anything like his assistant." Clearly, I have to dress up as another character again--the only problem being that I left all the costumes and makeup six long levels above me. I have to drag myself all the way back to the top and all the way back to the bottom again.

 
That's the major problem with this game. For every satisfying puzzle, there's one that grossly tests your patience. Most involve dying in some horrific manner before you even know there's a puzzle to be solved. To take one of many examples, there's a series of rooms among the 6 levels in the catacombs on Stage 3. Each of the rooms has a chest, and most of the chests are trapped in some way. Until you try to open the chest (or, in some cases, leave the room), there's no way to tell that there's a trap to be solved (I couldn't get the "Detect Trap" spell to do anything). You just have to let it kill you, then reload, and then try various things to keep the trap from going off. In some rooms, that means closing the chest after you open it; in others, you have to move some ornamental weapon on the wall or move the chest itself.

Another example: simply entering one room causes you to fall asleep and wake up to some buxom ghost leaning over your bed:



But the ghost soon turns into D. W. Bradley's worst nightmare and kills you:


The only way to survive this, that I could find, was to have "Courage" spell active before entering the room, but of course you'd need to die at least once to know that you had to do anything before entering the room.

And yet another: Stage 2 culminates in a vampire attack in the house's attic. There's no way to anticipate it; you just walk up a ladder and within seconds you're dead with a couple of puncture wounds in the neck. Once you know the vampire is there, you can plan for it (the solution involves using a tuning fork to vibrate and shatter a window, letting in sunlight and killing the vampire--I had to look it up), but it takes at least one death to know it's there.

A satisfying animation accompanies the vampire's immolation.
         
I like that a lot of the puzzle solutions depend on the right spell; I don't like that you face such draconian limits on some spells. It's much better than the first game (although the first game, being short, could be restarted without a lot of pain), but still problematic. There are only a few spells you don't have to worry about running out of; for instance, "Ice Dart" and "Healing Hands" require no ingredients and there are dozens of ingredients to use for "Fireball," so you're mostly set there. "Fire Resistance," on the other hand, requires fire extinguishers, and I've only found two. Together, they made 4 spells. "Mindlock" requires a padlock; I've only found one, and it only made 1 spell. I counted at least half a dozen locations in the catacombs in which both of these spells would have come in handy, and not being able to cast them ("Mindlock," in particular) meant I had to leave a lot of potentially-useful items behind.

(Someone's going to say that "Brain Boost" allows you to mix more spells than normal and I should have used that more often. Great, but I only found a couple of items capable of mixing "Brain Boost" in the first place, so I couldn't use it every time I mixed spells.)

As the witch dies, her eyeball comes popping towards me. I need it for the "Fear" spell. This has been the only witch in the game so far, so I hope I don't need more than one "Fear" spell.
       
The limited availability of some spells isn't the only problem with the magic system; another has to do with the amount of time it takes spell points to regenerate. In an earlier post, I said it was 22 seconds per point, but I must have mistimed it then, because it turns out to be closer to a minute. When I was exploring the catacombs, my spell point maximum was around 42, and I could easily burn them all in 3 or 4 combats. That meant I had to let my character stand still, twiddling his thumbs, for almost an hour sometimes. There were a few potions that allowed me to bypass the waiting period, but not many. It was like playing Bard's Tale III again.

Combat never got any more interesting, although I did learn that a status bar to the right tells you how much damage you're doing. This allows you to experiment with different areas of a foe and figure out where he's most vulnerable. Skeletons, for whatever reason, are most vulnerable on the legs.

A skeleton hacks at my weakened character while I click on his legs.

The catacombs in Stage 3 offered the most RPG-like experience of the game so far. There are six levels, mapped on roughly a 20 x 20 grid, full of skeletons, rats, ghosts, and little troll-like creatures. I haven't made a determination as to whether there is a fixed number of these enemies or if they respawn. Between killing them and finding various treasures (healing potions, attribute-boosting potions, weapons), this area has offered the most character development of the game.

Attacking some little troll thing.

Ghosts come screaming along the corridor, do a ton of damage as they pass through you, and move too fast to attack. Only having the "Courage" spell active keeps them from hurting you.

It still isn't good. The limited combat system isn't fun enough to support as many combats as the game throws at you. Like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, there's no information about the relative damage levels of weapons, so I don't know which of the many items I've found--two swords, an axe, a hatchet, daggers of different descriptions--do the most damage. And there's an incredible amount of randomness in combat; a skeleton that kills me in one blow might miss me four times in a row on a reload.

The dungeon is full of traps that you have to click on and "avoid." Otherwise, this happens.

I made it to the bottom level without having to map, but now I need to go all the way back up to the top level and get the various makeup items to impersonate the wizard's apprentice. I can't seem to find my way out without mapping, so I'm settling in with some graph paper. I always get irrationally angry when adventure games want me to map corridors. I have no problem doing it for RPGs, but RPGs are what I'm addicted to. Having to map in an adventure game feels like someone who isn't your boss telling you that you have to work late.

Lots of other miscellaneous notes and encounters.

  • The haunted house had a library with about 15 readable books making up almost 50 pages of text. I dutifully screenshotted every one. It's a lot to read, but there are clues to defeating various monsters, as well as a process for binding and killing Cerberus in there.

One of the many, many book pages.

  • One of the books had a long screed about the "Resurrection" spell, which I won't get until Level 10 (I'm currently Level 8). I've found a couple of bodies that I might want to cast it on; the most likely candidate is a slain preacher in the Stage 3 chapel.
  • I'm wearing a hodgepodge of armor right now: the security guard's jacket from the beginning of the game, a helmet and gauntlet from a suit of armor (I couldn't take the breastplate, alas); a pair of boots found on one of the bodies in the pantry; and a shield taken from a chest in the catacombs. The game does a poor job indicating what's currently equipped.
  • The game is inconsistent as to how items are used. For instance, there are a lot of keys in the game, and you might use one by clicking on it and choosing "Use," but in another place, you use it by physically dragging it to the lock, and in still another, you use it by clicking on the thing you want to open and choosing "Unlock." To fill a test tube with water, I had to click on the water and drag it to the tube.
  • Choosing AdLib for sound did indeed provide some basic sound effects, but there's no way I can play with that jarring music score playing incessantly.
  • I keep encountering a bug where my icon gets stuck on the "attack" icon permanently. This wasn't so bad at first, but then it got stuck on "inactive attack" permanently, and I couldn't fight anything. I had to reload an earlier save.
  • This game is going to suffer in my GIMLET for not allowing any keyboard controls. Navigating 6 levels of catacombs by clicking the navigation buttons with a mouse gets old very fast.
  • Nudity in several places in the game--just not anything that anyone would want to see. I believe TVTropes calls this "Fan Disservice."


  • I still can't figure out how to get this key. You wouldn't think it would be too hard to outsmart a fish. Can't I just smash the tank? (Apparently not.)



At this point, I really have no sense of the endgame. I guess I'm supposed to be recovering those magic items for the janitor, but I haven't found any of the three so far. The various puzzles in the three stages aren't manifestly leading to anything yet, or opening up any clear plot points. Then again, I haven't finished fully exploring any of the stages yet.

As much as I'm ready for the game to be over, I can't stomach the thought of two more runs through the catacombs just now, so you might see me start on Antares before wrapping up this one.

Hours so far: 12
Reload count: 29

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Game 192: Dragon Slayer (1984)


Dragon Slayer
Nihon Falcom (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for PC-88 and FM-7; 1985 for MSX and Sharp X1; 1986 for Epoch Super Cassette Vision; 1990 for Game Boy
Date Started: 23 June 2015
Date Ended: 23 June 2015
Total Hours: 5
Reload Count: 8 characters; 7 reloads with final character
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

You'd think it would be hard to play things out of order if they all occurred in the same year, but I seem to have done so. Hydlide, which I covered earlier this month, appears to be the last of the three Japanese, top-down, arcade-like, bash-headlong-into-creatures-to-fight-them games released in 1984. The first, an actual arcade game, was The Tower of Druaga. It doesn't appear on my list because it makes no pretense to RPG elements. The character doesn't get stronger as he collects treasure and fights enemies; he just achieves a higher score. Nonetheless, it was enormously popular, was translated to several Japanese PCs, and influenced both Dragon Slayer and Hydlide.

A screenshot from the FM-7 version of The Tower of Druaga, courtesy of MobyGames.

Dragon Slayer was the second of the two games, and its debt to Druaga is obvious, including the arrangement of the screen and the use of a maze-like dungeon as the game world. The difference is a broader series of statistics on the right-hand side of the screen. Instead of lives, time, and a high score, we get hit points, strength, experience, gold, magic power, and crowns (the last one is important only at the end of the game). The introduction of these elements is the only thing that gives this game some slight RPG credentials that Druaga didn't have. It's still not really an RPG under my rules, given the lack of a traditional RPG inventory.


Hydlide is arguably the best of the three games, offering outdoor areas to explore in addition to indoor mazes, featuring a greater selection of inventory items to acquire, and not being as obnoxious on the mechanisms of carrying things. Did Hydlide take inspiration from Dragon Slayer, or was it independently influenced by Druaga? It's hard to say. The inclusion of your enemy's hit point level in the lower-right corner is something that both later games have and Druaga doesn't, which provides some suggestion that Hydlide owes its lineage to both previous games. On the other hand, the combat mechanism is a bit different.

A comparable shot from Hydlide.

Like Hydlide, Dragon Slayer is mysteriously in English. Unlike Hydlide, it lacks any kind of introductory screen that explains what you're doing in the dungeon. Presumably, you're there to slay a dragon, but there's no back story in the game itself. I don't know if it came with a manual that offered anything more specific.

The player starts outside a house, presumably the character's (living in a dungeon must suck), and he can return to it at any time to get hit points restored to the same number as his current experience (until his experience exceeds 1,000, the restoration is to 1,000). He starts with no weapons, meaning he can only damage enemies to the tune of 10 hit points--and the lowest-leveled enemy starts with 1,500. Finding a sword is top priority. One nearby, but behind a wall, is no help.

The beginning of the game. I could really use that stuff.

You're a bit faster than the monsters, but they can move diagonally and you can't (at least, not at the beginning). They can also gang up on you and trap you. Overall, the game is horribly, frustratingly difficult in the beginning stages. Most of my characters died before they ever even got a sword. It seems to have been designed with an arcade dynamic in mind--kill the player fast so he puts in more quarters.

My player literally one second before death.

As you explore, you watch out for the following items:

  • Gold coins, which, when returned to your house, give you 500 extra hit points above your maximum.
  • Rings, which, when equipped, let you push wall blocks around as long as they have a free space to go.

Pushing a block around after picking up a ring. One of three "warp" locations, which teleport you to other areas of the level, is to my left.


  • Bottles, which store magic power, needed for the various navigation spells.
  • Crosses, which prevent you from taking or dealing damage while equipped (enemies can still trap you and leave you nowhere to go)
  • Keys, which unlock chests.
  • Power stones, which, when returned to your house, increase your strength.
  • Warp portals, which take you to other areas of the dungeon or dungeon levels.

Enemies line up to attack, but they can't hurt me with my cross. Of course, I can't hurt them, either.

The particularly annoying thing is that, with the exception of gold coins and magic power potions, you can only carry one item at a time. If you want to grab that power stone to take back to the house, you have to drop the cross first. And since ghosts fly through the dungeon randomly redistributing things, you might not be able to get it back.

Once you have a sword, you can deal normal damage to enemies and start killing them for experience. Whether the enemy is attacking you or you're attacking the enemy, the damage dealt is the difference between the attacker's strength and the defender's experience. (This is tempered for the PC, however, who never loses more than half his hit points in a single attack.) If the attacker's strength is lower than the defender's experience, the attacker does only 10 damage, which essentially makes it impossible to win a combat because it takes too long.

Fighting a foot while some bucktoothed head with sunglasses waits to attack next. Since I have 84,000 strength to his 11,000 experience, I'll kill him in a single blow. His 13,000 strength against my 19,400 experience means he's not really capable of hurting me.

This system horribly unbalances the game. At the beginning, with your starting 200 experience and 1,000 hit points, you're vulnerable to every enemy in the dungeon, since they start with between 300 and a couple thousand experience. But once you kill just a few of them and tip the scales the other way, they only do 10 damage per attack. Once you start finding power stones, each one gives you a 2,500 strength boost (from a starting strength of 1,500), more than enough to kill the first few levels of enemies nearly instantly. Basically, every time you meet an enemy in the game, you either don't stand a chance against him or you slaughter him instantly.

Returning to my abode with a power stone, some fuzzy monster hot on my tail.

The other weird quirk of the game is that killing an enemy causes another enemy of the next level to respawn at one of the game's many tombstones. The enemies don't have names, but the first three levels of foes seemed to be skeletons, some kind of bird, and dinosaurs. All were present in the dungeon at the beginning. As I killed the skeletons and birds, dinosaurs replaced them. As I killed the dinosaurs, they were replaced by some insectoid-looking creature. I lost count, but there ended up being several dozen "levels" of creature in the game.

As I said, most of my characters were lucky if they managed to get a sword. Eventually, I found that a teleporter near the entrance took me to a sword (and two rings). If I loaded up on coins near the entrance, jacked up my hit points, and dragged a cross along with me, I could usually make it to the teleporter. I then picked up the sword, grabbed the cross again, and made it back to the house. But by then, the dungeon was swarming with enemies, and any time I dropped the cross to grab a ring or a power stone, I usually died.

Just as I was about to give up in disgust, the game got strangely easy. It turns out that once your strength exceeds theirs, enemies start to run from you. (At least, they did for a while. I'm frankly not sure how this works, because they stopped running at some point during the game even when I was well above their levels.) At that point, I was able to explore without getting swarmed. A bizarre strategy emerged: study the patterns of enemies as they appear, so you know their relative levels. Then study who's currently fleeing from you, and only attack enemies of a level below the highest enemy who's running away from you. That way, no enemy who's willing to attack you will ever spawn.

Late in the game. Monsters include a fuzzy guy with a spear, a foot, a deer, and some kind of ninja dude.

As I said, eventually everyone started attacking again, so I'm not sure what the actual rules were, but even the brief respite was enough. I found enough power stones to jack my character's strength way up, then killed enough enemies that my experience kept me from taking too much damage. As I amassed potions, safety was as easy as a "Return" spell, but I hardly ever even needed one of those.

The dungeon is about 80 squares east-west and 108 squares north-south. It wraps on itself on the east-west axis but not the north-south one. Early in the game, navigation is hard because you can't move diagonally and you have no way to get past walls. Eventually, when you hit 30,000 experience points, you can use diagonal movement. Spells become available at various experience levels (I generally missed exactly when), plus one ability that lets you smash a wall to pieces. Eventually, navigation is trivial because you can just blast your way wherever you want to go.

The "Map" spell helps a little with navigation.

The hardest part of the game is keeping hold of one of the very small number of keys. I think there might only be 3 or 4 in the entire game. When you have one, you can open chests, but if you stop to pick up some of the treasure, or leave the key behind while you run back to the house with a power stone, there's a decent chance that a ghost will come along, steal the key, and drag it somewhere else in the dungeon.

Note the house at the bottom of the screen. I moved it to take advantage of these chests.

The middle section of the game was extremely boring. I found the enemies unchallenging, and the biggest difficulty was opening all the chests and dragging all the power stones back to the house, one by one. Eventually, I realized that the ring would allow me to push my house as well as a wall, so I started dragging the house with me to major treasure chest areas, making it much easier to return "home" with my loot.

Some of the chests held skeletons that would immediately start following me around. They would ditch me when I got back to my house, but if I walked into an adjacent square, they started following me again. I never figured out what they were supposed to do. They didn't seem to protect me or do any extra damage. Because they prevented "Return" from working, they were mostly an annoyance. But I'd love to hear from anyone who knows what they were supposed to accomplish.

An area full of loot. Fortunately, I have a key. An unwelcome skeleton follows me.

Enemies cycled through fuzzy things, disembodied feet, records, disembodied heads wearing sunglasses, penguins, aliens, floppy disks, deer, reapers, vampires, and maybe a few others before reaching some kind of cross between an alligator and a boot. This guy was so much more difficult than the previous enemies that I assumed it must be a dragon, and killing him would end the game. I spent a lot of time building up my strength and experience before I could defeat him. When I did, it turned out he was just another generic enemy and there were still many levels above him.

The creature that I amusingly thought was the dragon.

Some of the enemies are capable of special attacks, such as stealing gold, stealing magic, or (worst of all) stealing strength. Fortunately, only the vampire-looking creatures do that, and I learned to attack first and finish them in one blow before they had a chance to hit me.

Enemies finally culminated in some kind of armored character who, I'm convinced, is impossible to beat. There simply aren't enough power stones in the game to get your strength high enough. The highest strength I achieved, after opening every chest in the game and finding every stone (albeit with a few drains from vampires) was 445,000. The warriors have an experience level of 520,000. Unless I missed 32 power stones, the only way to defeat them would be to whittle them down 10 hit points at a time. Since they start with 650,000 hit points, I estimate that would take over 9 hours at 2 hits a second. And for all I know, there's an even tougher creature above that.

Gingerly approaching the dragon. Note all the potions. You don't need THAT much magic in the game.

The real dragon turned out to be nestled within a maze in the southern part of the dungeon. He had three heads. If I approached from the tail, his tail flicked and knocked me back to the starting area. Each of the heads could breathe fire. Oddly, they only had 10 hit points, but with a strength of 600,000, I'd need at least that many experience points to avoid taking catastrophic damage.

After a long period of grinding, I finally achieved that level, returned to the dragon, and killed its three heads. At that point, three treasure chests that surrounded him burst open, revealing four crowns, which immediately scattered to points unknown throughout the dungeon.

Slicing off the dragon's three heads.

My house was returned to its starting location and was surrounded by spawning gravestones. The character icon never lost his "charred" look after having suffered dragon fire. The "Return" spell stopped working.

About this time, I noticed that I started taking heavy damage from every foe again. I realized that after 650,000 experience points, my total had rolled over to 0 again! Not willing to just suck that up, I reloaded an earlier save and made sure not to kill any more creatures.

"Fly" temporarily transforms you to a bird. There's the crown!
     
Finding the crowns wasn't hard. I used the "Fly" spell to quickly traverse the dungeon, find the crowns, and manually schlep them back. After I had returned all four, the game noted "Phase 1 Clear!!"

Until I got this, I had forgotten that the game started by saying something about "Phase 1."
      
At that point, I was taken to a new dungeon, with all my hit points, strength, experience, and other stats returned to their starting points, and given a screen that said "Phase 2 start!"

As it had taken almost 5 hours to get through Phase 1, I wasn't particularly eager to start all over with a new "phase." I don't know how many phases are in the game, but I'm going to count this a "win" for getting through the first one.

I won't tell you what I screamed here, but it ended in "....THAT!"
       
The game does poorly in a GIMLET, mostly because it's not a good example of an RPG. It scores an 11, nothing scoring higher than a 2, and with 0s in "game world" and "NPCs." (If anyone can demonstrate that the game came with a true back story, I'll bump it up a point or two in the former.) But of course a game doesn't have to be good to be influential. Nihon Falcom eventually published a couple dozen titles in the Dragon Slayer line, starting with Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II (1985), which judging by screenshots appears to be an entirely different type of game. MobyGames claims that the series goes all the way through 2007, with The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean, but I'm a bit confused as to how all the games it lists as part of the "Dragon Slayer series" are actually related to Dragon Slayer at all.


I have to thank Marc "Lord Karnov" Campbell for providing me the PC-88 version of the game. He actually provided several versions, and I'm not entirely sure about the history of their release. I played the original, 1.1. Version 2.0 looks exactly the same to me, including the layout of the dungeon. Another pair of disks marked "re-release" offer a different dungeon and character icon; it actually looks more primitive than the original.

The opening stage of the "re-release" doesn't look appreciably different except for the character icon, which looks worse.

Kurt Kalata has a good article on the game at Hardcore Gaming 101, from almost 10 years ago. It's worth checking out for the variety of screen shots across different platforms.

I'm sure I'll hear from plenty of people who loved Dragon Slayer in its day, or who want to defend it as a game, if not necessarily an RPG. For me, neither side of the Pacific is impressing me much in 1984. A Spectrum game called Out of the Shadows is unlikely to turn that around, but maybe Questron will after that. For now, let's get back to 1991 and see if we can finish Elvira II.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Elvira II: A Funny Feeling Up and Down My Spine

Indeed. Who garnishes a head with cucumber slices?

One thing that adventure games do better than the typical RPG (at least in this era) is to create a greater sense of place. Where RPGs might offer hundreds of squares of repetitive, featureless corridors, culminating in an encounter that is more likely to be presented textually than graphically, almost every screen in an adventure game is carefully-composed, thoughtfully placed, and somehow important to the plot. When you find an exception--the western courtyard with the guard barracks in Quest for Glory comes to mind--it's a bit jarring.

Elvira's office. As you might expect from the character, it's a bit of a mess--and there are at least three bottles of hairspray visible.
          
This means that finding and unlocking new areas in an adventure game is more exciting than in an RPG. You know that each new area is going to reveal a bit of plot, or a key item that you need to solve a puzzle in an earlier area. The problem is, it's also a little exhausting. It's a bit like watching a frame-by-frame shot of a complicated film, having to study the mise-en-scène for several minutes to make sure you picked up each important element. I'm ready to call it quits after three or four new screens.

Especially when so many end up like this.
          
If you were to describe a typical RPG to someone with no experience--miles of featureless corridors or landscape, filled with dozens of meaningless combats and loot-collecting, punctuated by some key encounter or battle every 30-60 minutes--it would probably sound terribly boring. And yet, it's what I'm addicted to. Adventure games are nearly the opposite of this--every screen important, some puzzle constantly on your mind. To me, a good hybrid strikes a balance between the two. Again, I think of Quest for Glory with its tracts of forest or sand, full of random combats, in between puzzle locations. Elvira II is satisfying what little adventure game craving I possess but not my RPG craving.

After last time, I started over from the beginning and replayed up to the basement, where this time I saved before going into the boiler room. The demonic hand seems to be unavoidable, but there's a "copper rod" in the basement that I presume I'll need later, so finding some way to block it must be a puzzle.

The guy sitting on the floor in the basement turned out to be a Native American janitor who greeted me by saying, "I warn them not to build studios here. Now great Evil will befall." He went on to explain that a Mighty Evil spirit has stole his magic and captured Elvira, and he will sacrifice Elvira to gain her power and ultimately take over the world. To defeat the spirit, I somehow have to recover the janitor's spear, tomahawk, and magic bag--and maybe a peace pipe, although that might just be a metaphor.


The dialogue system isn't bad. We're not seeing dialogue choices like this in most other RPGs of the time. But it has a way of killing dialogue after a couple of trees, forcing you to start from the beginning. Also, if you say something to insult the janitor, like "you need a good shrink," he refuses to talk to you, which I assume is a bad thing.

Up on the second floor, the elevator took me to the studio offices, which consisted of a set of rooms that you might find in a typical movie studio: a computer room, a makeup room, Elvira's office, a director's office, and a personnel office. Each room had just a ton of items to view and collect, which I'll talk about in a second, but not much in the way of the main plot.

Perhaps the most fun room was the makeup room, where a series of mirrors allowed me to view myself, with the appearance changing depending on what I was wearing. A makeup kit nearby had an assortment of fake mustaches, beards, wigs, hats, glasses, and other accessories, and it was briefly fun putting on a variety of items and watching how the portrait changed.

The PC stops to play dress-up before remembering he's on a quest to save his girlfriend.

During this period, I figured out the game's approach to inventory. Basically, as you click around a room and identify objects, they appear, one-by-one, in the "room's" inventory, accessible from the icon in the upper-right of the screen. Next to it is your own inventory. By dragging items to either of the buttons, you can change what the room contains versus what you're carrying.

This room has a plant, some books, a picture of Elvira, a couple of coffee mugs, a spoon, a water bottle, a stool, and a book.

As you pull items from the room, they disappear from the screen. If you remove items from your inventory, they'll re-appear on screen as long as you're putting them back in the original room. If you drop items picked up in other locations, they won't appear on the screen--just in the room's inventory.

Since many of the spells (more on that anon) use random items picked up in the environment, I adopted the expedient of grabbing everything, hauling it down to the first floor, and dumping it in the room that splits into three studios. This required multiple trips, as you do have a weight limit. But I figured it would be best to have everything in a central place where I might need it.

During the explorations, I did find one reference to the first game: "a postcard with a picture of Elvira's castle in England on it." Since the image of my character in the mirror (and on the death screens) looks a little bit like the PC in Elvira, I can only conclude that the PC from the first game became Elvira's boyfriend and accompanied her back to the states.

Good choice

The office area also delivered the game's first combat, against a witch. I couldn't win it the first few times, but at least it introduced me to the system--which is worse than in the original game. In Elvira, you would wait to see the direction of the attack, parry, and then make your own thrust or slash depending on your assessment of how the enemy was defending. In this one, there's no defense at all. You just click on an enemy's body part with the sword icon, wait for a cooling-off period, and click again. Meanwhile, the enemy is attacking you and you have no way to dodge.

A witch attacks me while I shoot "Ice Darts" at her.

I guess the specific body part targeted makes a difference, although I wasn't able to find a weakness for the witch. And since you get no feedback on how much damage you're doing, it must just be a matter of trial and error. The only thing you can adjust is your overall approach to combat in four categories: "Normal," "Defense," "Fierce," and "Berserk." From the manual's explanation, this setting not only affects your own attack speed but also the enemy's, so all it seems to do is to make your victory or death more rapid. I guess I have to experiment more to be sure.

A later fight against a giant mosquito. When the sword icon is white, I can attack. When it's black, I have to wait.

After a few deaths at the hands of the witch, I decided to explore the spell system in more detail. It's similar to Elvira in that you have to "mix" spells before casting them, and the spells appear as inventory items once mixed. Unlike the first game, you can mix spells yourself, and the spellbook uses a variety of items found in the environment rather than just herbs. You cast them with your own "power points" (which regenerate slowly between castings, about 1 every 22 seconds), and your character level limits what spells you can mix and cast.

Some of the components required to mix spells are obvious. "Summon Storm" requires a barometer, for instance, and "Resist Fire" requires a fire extinguisher. Others are open to interpretation. "Protection" requires a "metal band," which I took to mean a ring, but it turned out that a soda can worked okay. "Detect Trap" requires "any shaped glass"--I had success with an ashtray. A couple of Level 1 spells--"Ice Dart" and "Healing Hands"--require no ingredients; you can keep casting as long as your spell points hold out. A few spells require two reagents, such as "Lightning Bolt," which requires "an amethyst and anything fork-shaped."

The first game has me a bit paranoid. There, it was possible to get into a "walking dead" situation by using items for some spells that you really needed for others, or by wasting spells in some combats when you needed to save them for different ones. Here, for instance, I sacrificed a silver four-leaf clover charm for a "Luck" spell, but now I'm worried that I really needed to save that item for its silver.

Mixing the "Courage" spell with a bottle of gin. Shame to waste the gin. Note that I have "Brain Boost," "Breathe Underwater," "Luck," "Unseen Shield," "Protection," and "Healing Hands" already mixed and in my inventory.

There are an awful lot of spells--37!--and I assume some are needed to solve puzzles, so I'm probably going to adopt a conservative stance on casting. Since "Healing Hands" doesn't require any ingredients--just waiting for points to recharge--I'd rather take damage in combat and heal it later than cast a "Fireball" that I really needed to save for a puzzle.

Back to the plot. The only place to go having explored the office was one of three studio doors. I started with #1. When I opened it, a vision of Elvira paid me a visit.

That's worded so badly I can't even tell if it's a double entendre.

The area led me into a series of tunnels in which I was attacked by giant insects. I didn't last very long. It was a bit traumatic watching a mosquito slowly drain my blood while I futilely attacked him with a knife.

I decided to briefly explore Studio #2. Here, the cameras were pointed at a "screen" of a haunted house.


Only at this point did the game's schtick become clear. In the manual, Elvira's letter mentioned that the studio was shooting three films: Kiss of the Spider, House of Horror, and It Came from Beyond the Grave. Clearly, what's happened is that the sets have come to life, allowing me to walk beyond the screen and experience their plots and perils. As I said in the last posting, this is a much better thematic use of the Elvira character than the first game's castle.

As I entered the House of Horror, Elvira's image appeared and told me that I'd need my brain more than my weapon here, which was welcome news. I figured I could build up some more experience levels on this set before attempting set #1 and the witch again.

The mansion was a stereotypical haunted house. A dining room contained a head on a platter, another head in a cupboard, both of which kept causing me to faint. I took a clue from the presence of wine bottles everywhere and cast "Courage," which worked on the head on the platter but not the one in the cupboard. (I spent some time fiddling with my knife to see if I could cut the head to get the brain, a spell component, to no avail.) From the latter fainting, I kept waking up in a pantry full of dead bodies and no way out. An image from Elvira said I would have to "warm up" before I could leave, but any spell that could have accomplished that was above my current level.

Gruesome.

A study off the first floor held two suits of armor holding halberds. I expected to get attacked by them, but they just stood there and let me take the helmet off one of them. A second exit was blocked by a "ghostly figure" holding the door shut; I assume I need "Turn Undead" for him, but that requires a brain, which I have not yet found.

How?

In a small room off the study, a desk drawer held a prayer book, which I need for the "Unholy Barrier" spell, or perhaps as the solution to a puzzle. This is harder to tell than with generic items like bottles of wine and shaped glass. A second drawer held a padlock, needed for "Mindlock," which "protects the spells already memorized from being destroyed." I assume I'll need that at a specific point later in the game where something wipes my spells.

Behind a picture in the room was a wall safe which requires a key to open. The key seems to be at the bottom of a nearby fish tank, but I can't find a way to break into the fish tank and get the key. "Ice Dart" doesn't break the tank and "Underwater Breathing" doesn't help in any way. I'll think on it some more.

Maybe I need another rock to smash this glass.

A variety of rooms on the second level. One was on fire when I entered and burned me to death. I have the fire extinguishers needed for "Resist Fire" but not the necessary level (5).

You'd think I would have sensed this from the outside.

A bathroom had a sink full of blood and a bunch of toiletries to pick up, but no puzzles that I could see. A room with a couple of tea chests held a book of matches, which I reasoned were the "combustibles" I need for "Fireball." I hit Level 4 right about this time, so I mixed up a couple, returned to the pantry, and cast it. The resulting rise in temperature summoned a guard who killed me. I'm kind of sick of losing every combat in the game. I could try casting "Protection" before more of them, but I haven't found any more of the required "metal bands," and I don't want to waste a spell I might need later.


That's where I leave off, with plenty of the mansion and the other two sets left to explore, and the unsolved puzzles piling up in my notepad.

A few other notes:

  • Unless I have something configured incorrectly, the only sound in the game is a relentlessly up-tempo soundtrack that I can't tolerate for more than a few minutes. I quickly checked out versions of both DOS and Amiga gameplay on YouTube and didn't hear any sound effects there, either. This is a major step back from the first game, where there were neat combat sounds and other assorted effects.
  • The game's approach to rewarding experience is a bit odd. You gain 4 points for every new square you step on, plus varied points for picking up certain items and interacting with the environment. But you get at least 10 points for every spell that you cast. A smart player would mix up some "Ice Darts" right away when the game starts and cast one every time the power points get back to their maximum. Leveling up gives you an increase of 1 or 2 points in a bunch of attributes, plus more hit points and power points.
  • A "motion tracker" in the lower-left corner is supposed to warn you about nearby enemies, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't do anything at all.
  • The beating heart in the upper-left was a good idea that really has no purpose given that there's no sound and the hit points tell you everything you need to know.

I'm finding Elvira II to be quite a bit harder than the first game, both in combat and puzzles, and I may take a break for a more classic RPG before my next post. Fortunately, readers came through on all my conundrums last time, and I now have working versions of Antares, Dragon Slayer for the PC-88, and Quest for Tanda. In the meantime, no hints on this game, please, unless I've obviously done something wrong or made an incorrect assumption.

Hours so far: 4
Reload count: 9