The player takes the role of the original Heroes of the Lance: Tanis Half-Elven, Goldmoon, Caramon Majere, Raistlin Majere, Sturm Brightblade, Tasslehoff Burrfoot, Riverwind, and Flint Fireforge. Your mission is to explore Xak Tsaroth and retrieve the Disks of Mishakal from Kisanth, the black dragon who holds them. Much of the game's plot is adapted from the first Dragonlance module, Dragons of Despair.
At the start of the game, the player's party consists of all eight heroes, controlling one at a time. Each hero has different attacks, spells, attributes, and abilities; for example, Raistlin is ridiculously fragile, but floats for a fairly long distance when he jumps, which means the player can only circumvent certain traps if Raistlin is the main character.
Heroes of the Lance is notorious among modern gamers for two reasons. The first is that it's ridiculously difficult, as any character that dies is permanently dead unless resurrected by means of Goldmoon's crystal staff. If you abandon a dead character's body or they fall down a pit, you can't raise them and they're gone for good. This is combined with slightly awkward gameplay.
The second, and more famous, reason is that the NES port of Heroes of the Lance is terrible. The MS-DOS version has a modest fan following, received positive reviews upon its release, and actually led to two similar sequels, but the NES cartridge is a glitchy, nearly-unplayable mess.
Many later writers on the subject, particularly Seanbaby, have labeled Heroes of the Lance as one of the worst games on the NES, with many lists placing it comfortably in the bottom three. As a result, it attracted a mostly-ironic fandom in the 2000s.
Tropes in Heroes of the Lance include:
- Adaptation Distillation: It's an abbreviated version of one of the original Dragonlance modules, and uses as much of the information from those modules as possible. This includes the characters' attributes, abilities, alignments, and starting health.
- Cast from Hit Points: The most powerful attack in the game is Raistlin's Final Strike, which apparently involves him snapping the Staff of Magius over his knee. This will kill any enemies on the screen, but also permanently kills Raistlin.
- Nintendo Hard: As above. Additionally, the game forces you to manage your characters' inventories and scrounge for equipment and ammunition. Goldmoon's healing spells all run off of charges in her blue crystal staff, and if you run out of charges, you have no way to gain more. If Goldmoon dies, other lawful good characters like Sturm can use the staff, but only have access to a couple of the spells.
- Pretty in Mink: Goldmoon's fur-trimmed cape and dress are rendered pretty well, at least in the pictures.
- Squishy Wizard: Raistlin, at least in the NES version, dies in one hit.
- Unwinnable by Design: If you manage to get to the final boss of the game without Goldmoon's blue crystal staff, most likely because she died and you didn't pick it up from her body, the boss cannot be defeated and you'll have to start over.