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Video Game / Ultima I

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"Thou hast saved the princess. She giveth thee 500 hit points, pence and experience points. She informs thee that thou art now ready for time travel, and that there is a time machine far to the northwest!"

The first game in the Ultima series, later subtitled The First Age of Darkness. Released in 1981, it is largely a Video Game Remake of Akalabeth, a simplistic Dungeon Crawler game generally considered to be "Ultima 0". The evil wizard Mondain, using the aptly-named Gem of Immortality, has terrorized the land of Sosaria for over 1000 years. His monsters roam the lands freely, and none, not even the mighty Lord British, can hope to oppose him. It seems as if the bad guy has already won.

In desperation, a lone hero, known as "The Stranger", is summoned from another world. He must gain favor with the kings and princesses of the land, defeat Mondain's hordes, and travel from darkest dungeons to deepest space, and even through time itself, to defeat a seemingly unstoppable threat. Will he succeed?

Though the game is simplistic by modern standards, it's an important stepping stone not only in the development of the (better-known) later games in the series, but for western RPGs in general.

This game has examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: Even for a fantasy world.
  • The Bard: Iolo, found in towns, sings "Ho eyo he hum". That's about it. Don't let Iolo get next to you, or "something" may get stolen and you'll need a pretty good memory to see what.
  • Complete Immortality: Mondain's Gem of Immortality means he cannot be killed. You can go back in time to keep the Gem from being completed in the first place, though.
  • Damsels in Distress: The princesses found in each castle, which are implied to be kept as leverage over rulers of other lands. Rescuing one will make the time machine available.
  • Dungeon Bypass: There are fairly easily acquired spells that let you descend or ascend 1 dungeon level without needing to find the stairs, allowing you to skip straight to the level of whatever monster you're hunting, kill it, and ascend back to the surface immediately without having to do any of that maze navigation a dungeon typically requires.
  • Dungeon Crawling: Interestingly, there's no such thing as completing a dungeon; all you're required to do is to kill specific monsters that can be only be found on certain levels of a dungeon. And any dungeon will do: they're all the same save for the placement of some walls and tunnels. It's the clearest legacy of Akalabeth, with many enemy graphics and some of the mechanics left intact.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: There is Schizo Tech, Time Travel and space flight. Completing the game requires a hostile action within a castle (rescuing a princess requires murder). Race was also present but wasn't relevant outside of stats. Iolo stole from the main player. Overall, most of these concepts and other oddities in this game were kept for one sequel at the most (aside from a musket and earth books leaking into the setting in VII.)
  • Easily Forgiven: The player. Steal something or kill someone in a town or castle? Death penalty. Leave and come back right immediately? Suddenly nobody cares.
  • Expy: A lot of the names and monsters were lifted wholesale from The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Faux First Person 3D: The dungeons, and perhaps the space shooting segments count as well.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Hyperjump lets you travel between sectors in space.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: The original Apple version used "illegal" opcodes to help render the space flight scene. This makes the game incompatible with later versions of the Apple II because it used a compatible microprocessor that behaved differently with those opcodes.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Numerous signs have arbitrary Latin phrases on them that sound cool but are Ultimately useless, such as "ultima thule" and "omnia mutantur".
  • Hit Points: These are purchased from a king by giving money, or obtained by finishing a visit to the dungeon where you killed a large number of monsters.
  • Immortality Inducer: The problem with Mondain. In fact, when you finally do fight Mondain; you have to destroy his partially created Gem of Immortality first. Otherwise he'll keep coming Back from the Dead. Pity you don't think of destroying the Shards.
  • Law of Cartographical Elegance: There's four islands, all which fit in one of four sections in the map. These four sections appear in an east-west loop, while going north or south goes two sections.
  • Level Grinding: Averted. Levels only really determine how many enemies are on the overworld and what shops will have in stock. The bulk of the time it takes to win the game practically is spent on raising your stats. But it's not quite Stat Grinding, either, as using a skill doesn't do anything to improve it directly; the conventional method of stat raising will require you to travel continental distances over and over to collect quest rewards and visit signposts that cast spells on you. (The unconventional method is to throw lots of money into certain ponds.)
  • Market-Based Title: Richard Garriot originally intended the title of the game to be Ultimatum, but the publisher wanted something that could be trademarked.
  • Random Events Plot: You got to kill an evil wizard, find his immortality gem that does exactly what it's supposed to do and makes him immortal, and so you have to travel back in time to kill him before he's immortal. Doing so, among other things, involves flying a space shuttle into space and become a Space Ace by shooting TIE Fighters. No joke.
  • Repeatable Quest: Just talk to a king again after receiving your reward.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The ultimate goal of the player is to travel back through time and smash the Gem of Immortality before it can be completed, thus preventing Mondain's millennium-long reign.
  • Schizo Tech: Best weapon in the game? Laser blaster. Superior to pistols, phazors, and light swords.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: As is noted in The Official Book of Ultima, the pistol can kill every enemy except Mondain in one hit, therefore there is no point in wasting time or money to get a more powerful weapon.
  • Time Travel: The goal of the game is level up and do enough quests to show the local rulers that you are tough enough to go back in time and kill Mondain before he becomes immortal.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: In order to prove your worthiness, you have to buy a space shuttle; fly into space, rent a fighter, and shoot down enough... TIE Fighters... to gain the title "Space Ace." No, really. All There in the Manual.
  • Video Game Geography: Ultima I is... weird with how its overworld map works. There are four large continents separated by oceans each occupying their own square-shaped map. If you travel in a straight line in any cardinal direction, you will pass through each continent and then end up where you started. You will also pass through each continent if you make a 90 degree turn at each. It's probably just best to say it's magic.
  • Video Game Stealing: To steal, walk behind a counter and use the "S"teal command. You either succeed or fail based on a random chance. If you get caught, the guards will start to attack, but will forget about you if you leave and re-enter town.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: Every step you take in a dungeon or the overworld will eat into your stash of sacks of food. Fortunately, they're pretty cheap and you can carry thousands.