Publisher: FCI (Designed by
Year of Release (NES Version): 1988
Date Reviewed: 5-24-98 ("Old Era")
It has been said that Dragon Warrior is the “father” of all similar Role-Playing Games. Following that logic, one might infer that Ultima is the grandfather. Though it did have two predecessors in the series, Ultima: Exodus is still a significantly older game than Dragon Warrior, and it was the first of its series to be translated for the NES. Thus, I will follow the assumption that this game is as much the grandfather of its genre as either of those that preceded it. And, much by the same token that Trevor’s quest was more involved than Simon’s first, Ultima: Exodus (hereafter to be referred to simply as “Exodus”) is a much bigger game than Dragon Warrior.
Set in the marginally vast kingdom of Sosaria, Exodus centers around four relatively ubiquitous heroes who are summoned by Lord British to seek out and kill a demon that is, in the words of British, “about to wake up in [the] region.” After British sets the stage, however, the plot of Exodus exists only on the periphery, and the game assumes a distinctly non-linear feeling.
Most of Sosaria can be explored at the player’s discretion, as enemies become stronger only as the player gains levels -- an act that requires a bit of red tape. There are essential artifacts that must be found for the game to be completed, but these are located mostly in protected regions (i.e. towns), and thus do not require extensive level gaining to be reached.
The aforementioned towns are fairly distinctive, considering the time in which this game was created. Many great later RPGs -- for example, every Final Fantasy game preceding number six -- suffered from the syndrome of making one or two exceedingly distinctive towns, and having the rest be almost identical. Exodus didn’t seem to have that problem. Perhaps that is simply because graphic capabilities were more primitive, and the public’s expectations of an RPG were significantly lower. However, I prefer to take the negative of that theory. I believe that Exodus rose above its primitive graphics, and personified each town by the people who occupied it, as well as the stores it contained. One must also remember that Sosaria is not a planet, and so locational/ethnic diversity is supposed to be limited.
Having spoken of the stores, I should note that there are quite a plethora available -- more than are used in some RPGs today. To begin, there are the standard issue “Weapon”, “Armor”, and “Item” shops. Nothing of these shops diverges from other RPGs. However, furthering the game’s non-linearity, each of these shops carries every weapon, piece of armor, or item that exists within the game. This facet of the game, I feel, allows for greater realism than those RPGs in which everything conveniently gets stronger as the player continues throughout the game -- which is not to say that I don’t see the logic behind such games.
Continuing with the stores, there are hospitals, in which one can be detoxified, cured of a cold, or, under certain circumstances, resurrected. In the stables, one may purchase a team of horses for a hefty sum of money. There are also pubs, in which, if the party gets sufficiently “boozed up”, the knowledgeable bartender will share some vital information. It is possible, however, that the party will hit a threshold where they are refused service before any particularly relevant information will be divulged. In casinos, one plays Rock-Paper-Scissors as a roulette-style game. To my knowledge, Sosaria contains only one casino, which is located in the Town of Gray. Also, there are grocery stores. In these stores, the party purchases food rations, without which they will all eventually die out. Finally, there are churches, in which one can meditate with the priest, or be revived. Incidentally, revival by faith has a significantly higher success rate than medical resurrection.
One thing to note of these stores is that no town contains all of them. Pubs and weapon, armor, and item stores are fairly common. However, the remainder of these services must be sought out. This is most displeasureable in the case of the hospital, as it is not impossible for a party member to die from poison affliction simply because the nearest hospital is too far to reach.
While the graphics of this game are very primitive, -- even for its relatively pre-revolution year of release -- much of the music is quite well-crafted (not the battle song, mind you.) The song that plays when one speaks to Lord British (currently playing) seems to tell the story of Exodus in some symphonic way, despite the fact that it doesn't exactly feature a bounty of instruments. The town music is also quite appealing, and suitable to its setting. These two songs serve as microcosms for much of the rest of the soundtrack, which is not all that much more extensive.
As an aside commentary, it is interesting to note that the Role-Playing Game industry is presently grappling with the controversy of religious overtones in certain games. Exodus, one of the first RPGs, contains numerous religious references, ranging from countless priests and churches to pools of water in the shapes of crosses to a command whereby the party can pray. Notwithstanding that, this game suffered no such scrutiny as certain games of the present day -- for example, Xenogears, which was originally going to be barred from US release because of such themes. I mean to make no postures by this point. I simply find it ironic, and, whether it would generate controversy in the present day or not, Exodus is an enjoyable play -- if your aim is not to complete it, that is.
My Score: 8.5
"My leige, I daresay I wouldst genuflect, had I only knees."
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