Video Game / Archon

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Archon: The Light and the Dark is a strategy game designed by Paul Reiche III and Jon Freeman and programmed by Anne Westfall (whose production company was Freefall Software), originally released in 1983 for Atari 8-Bit Computers and later ported to other computer systems (as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System). The game is very similar to chess, but instead of piece capturing being automatic, when two pieces meet on the same square, they are transported into a two-dimensional arena where they have to fight for survival.

Each side is given eighteen units - seventeen fighters and one spell-casting piece. The game ends when one side eliminates the other side's fighters, or if one side takes control of all five designated "power points" (flashing squares on the board that can't be targeted by magic). There are also light and dark squares on both sides of the board, as well as color-neutral squares that cycle between light and dark as the game goes on. Units that are fought on squares of their color get a HP advantage, while units on opposite colors (e.g. a dark unit on a light square) have their hit points reduced. Careful unit placement and type matching are essential to claiming victory over your opponent.

If you want to see the numbers behind the monsters, a great technical analysis of the game and the pieces is here.

The sequel, Archon II: Adept, was more complex and focused on the four elements rather than light and dark. Each side (Order and Chaos) starts with four Adepts each, and all other pieces must be summoned to the board. Each side has its own selection of Elementals, but the same four Demons. Order's Elementals are relatively straightforward - the Giant, the Kraken, the Thunderbird, and the Salamander all just shoot things at their opponent (approximately equal in power and speed to the first game's Golem, Water Elemental, Unicorn, and Basilisk, respectively). Chaos's Elementals are harder to use - the Behemoth has a powerful but short-range punch, the Siren has a singing attack that affects the enemy regardless of where it is (but leaves the Siren herself immobile and vulnerable while she's singing), the Firebird is essentially the same as Archon's Phoenix (but can cut its flame animation short), and the Ifrit is the only straightforward piece, a clone of Archon's Genie. The four demons all have unusual mechanics - Juggernauts attack by hurling themselves at their enemy (acting as their own projectile), Wraiths have an aura that steals heath and adds it to their own, Gorgons slow and eventually petrify their enemies instead of damaging them, and Chimeras cycle through three attacks (a long-range fire blast, a mid-range gas blast, and a melee tail sting). The game did not fare nearly as well as its predecessor, possibly due to the increased complexity and brutal AI difficulty.

Archon III: Exciter was a Commodore64 Fan Sequel that tweaked Adept, and was fairly slow-paced and buggy. All the pieces had the same attack, an aura resembling that of the Banshee from the original game, with the only difference being their health.

Finally, in 1994, Archon Ultra was released. It turned the board on its side (so the pieces started at the top and bottom), gave the game a pseudo-3D view of the playfield, classified characters and attacks as Ground or Flying (Ground attacks generally can't hit Flying pieces), improved some character attacks (most have a new effect by holding in the attack button, like the Wizard's expanding shots and the Valkyrie's controllable javelins), and, most dramatically, added a second combat ability to each piece (some offensive, some defensive, some adding mobility).

Not to be confused with Achron.

This game contains examples of:

  • Anti-Magic: Any unit standing on a "power point" cannot be targeted by magic spells.
  • Cast from Hit Points:
    • The Wizard and Sorceress start with seven spells each. Every time they use one, it takes a little bit away from their maximum HP when they enter combat.
    • In Adept, spells can be cast as many times as the player likes, but casting spells takes away from the health of their side's base. Spending a turn on a power point without casting will restore some health, however.
  • Creator Couple: Jon Freeman and Anne Westfall. invoked
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: While very difficult, killing a high-level piece with a Knight or Goblin is immensely satisfying.
  • Ditto Fighter: The Shapeshifter takes on the form and attributes of whatever Light-side piece it is fighting against.
    • Which can result in some stunningly dull fights, especially a Light Phoenix vs. Dark Phoenix battle. Archon Ultra alleviates this somewhat, by giving the Phoenix a ranged homing feather as a secondary attack.
  • The Dragon: The Dark forces have a literal Dragon, who is more powerful in every way (except for shot recharge speed) than any of the other Dark pieces, including their leader, the Sorceress. The equivalent for the Light forces is the Djinni, which has faster but far less powerful shots. The Shapeshifter for Dark and the Phoenix for Light could also qualify as their respective side's Dragons, but the Phoenix's lack of attack range and the fact that the Shapeshifter is only ever as strong as its opponent made them just a little too quirky to be real mobile slaughterhouses.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: In Compute!'s Gazette November 1984 page 54, Jon Freeman states that there was a difficulty factor that is not visible to the user. However, it's not noticeable because it adjusts in little increments.
    • In extreme cases some aspects of this are noticeable. For example, load up the sequel, lose one initial game to the AI badly enough, play Chaos in a rematch, and for your first fight attack a high-end piece with the tough but far too slow Behemoth; you'll find your enemy freezing to telegraph each attack, hopefully letting you dodge and get in close.
  • Elemental Powers:
    • In Archon, the "Summon Elemental" spell randomly calls forth a fire, water, wind, or earth elemental to fight the enemy.
    • In Adept, summoning elementals into their respective elemental fields is a key strategy of the game.
  • Geo Effects:
    • In Archon, one side has more health when the battle square is light and the other has more when it's dark.
    • The sequel added actual geological effects on the four elemental playfields: rocks block movement and shots, water slows pieces that pass through it, wind deflects and redirects shots, and fire is dangerous to move through. Elementals are also more powerful in their respective elemental playfield.
    • In Archon Ultra, combat zones become more dangerous as the square gets darker, and combat zones on power point squares have a healing point in the center.
  • The Goomba: Knights and Goblins have the lowest HP and shortest attack range of all pieces, and are generally at the mercy of any unit with a ranged attack.
  • Glass Cannon: The Light Side's Unicorn and the Dark Side's Basilisk. Both pieces are fast and shoot fast and powerful bullets, but have relatively low hit points for a high level unit. The Basilisk fits this even better than the Unicorn, with larger and more powerful shots but even less health, barely more than the Knight/Goblin/Archer. The Thunderbird and Salamander play this role in the sequel.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: The banshee can use its voice to attack while moving around.
  • Mirror Match: In Archon, any fight involving the Shapeshifter. In Adept, both sides have access to the same demons, so Juggernaut vs. Juggernaut, Wraith vs. Wraith, Gorgon vs. Gorgon, and Chimera vs. Chimera matches are possible.
  • Mighty Glacier:
    • The Golems, Trolls and Earth Elementals are the slowest-moving pieces in the first game, but they also have some of the highest HP ratings and damage.
    • Similarly, in Adept, the Behemoths and Giants are this. The Juggernauts subvert this by having slow movement speed, but their attack consists of turning invulnerable and zooming in a straight line until they hit the edge of the playfield (or their opponent).
  • No "Arc" in "Archery": The Archer's arrows fire straight and true. The Archer's secondary attack in Archon Ultra is even weirder - it's a zig-zagging arrow that veers ever-so-slightly towards the opponent.
  • Padded Sumo Gameplay: In Archon, Banshee vs. Phoenix or Dark Phoenix vs. Light Phoenix. In Adept, Wraith vs. Wraith.
  • Shout-Out: From the manual, "...in the words of a certain orange-skinned monster of comic-book fame, 'IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!!!'"
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Mail Order Monsters was co-created by Paul Reiche III, and re-used Archon's combat system in a very different setting.
    • Wrath Unleashed, released in 2004 for PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
    • A 1994 DOS game called Dark Legions was basically hailed as a much improved Archon
  • Teleporters and Transporters: The "Teleport" spell allows a character to move one unit on top of another, while the "Exchange" spell allows them to swap two units' positions (they have to be on opposing sides for it to work). The Wizard and Sorceress themselves move about by teleporting instead of walking or flying like most other pieces. In Archon Ultra, the Wizard and Sorceress can randomly teleport in combat as well.
  • Video Game Remake: Archon Classic, an independently-developed revival released in 2010 which includes a Conquest mode (story mode), power-ups, and the ability for your units to level up after victories.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: In Archon Ultra, the Dragon can't hit any piece directly under it, making it easy prey for the normally-useless Knight (which was faster than the Dragon, so it can't get far enough away to hit the Knight).

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