Ultima III is the first Ultima that was published by Origin Systems. First released in 1983, finally quests and dungeons started fitting together better and with more explanation, and the out-of-place science-fiction elements like laser guns and time travel stopped figuring in. The game style would later inspire games such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.
The Stranger killed the Big Bads of the previous two games, Mondain and Minax; but the waves and waves of monsters keep coming. They're organized; they're taking orders from someone or some thing; but nobody knows what. A "remnant" left over from the times of Mondain and Minax has survived. The game mentions they had an "unholy union". Did they have a child? Did they have some kind of demon servant that was overlooked? Was something left from all of that Schizo Tech from mucking around with Time Travel? Yes.
In the midst of this, an Isle of Fire has arisen in the ocean. Some people have claimed that there is a castle in the middle, but the only way into the island is blocked by the Immortal Earth Serpent that can not be moved.
This Evil has a name. One of the ships that got too close to the Isle of Fire was found drifting offshore with its crew missing and a word written in blood on the deck. Exodus.
This game had examples of:
- Alternate World Map: Ambrosia, which is technically the underworld, is a smaller world map with palette swapped world map tiles and tiny buildings to enter.
- Art-Shifted Sequel: The original American version uses top-down tile-based sprites with no animation and realistically-proportioned characters, while the Japan-developed NES port of this game and Ultima IV used super-deformed Animesque artwork - in fact, this went on to inspire Dragon Quest.
- Beneath the Earth: The Underworld (referred to as Ambrosia) first appeared in this installment.
- Black and White Magic: Magic Power and Will Power, respectively, which the different classes can use to various extents. Note that this is the only Ultima game with this split.
- Cards of Power: The cards that defeat Exodus.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The cover of Ultima III showed this demon looking thing that is presumably Exodus. The truth was a bit more complicated.
- Computer Equals Tape Drive: It is revealed that Exodus is a computer. Evidently an older one too, as it is defeated when the player inserts a series of punch cards.
- Deader than Dead: III is the only Ultima game to feature such a condition. A failed resurrection will turn a dead character to ashes. The only way to bring a character back from that is through the Recalling spell (Anju Sermani), which is extremely expensive and literally Powered by a Forsaken Child.
- Disc-One Nuke: The most powerful weapons and armor in the entire game are available as soon as you get a ship; and you know that you have to special command: dig on the tiny islands just off the coast. They're free.
- Dungeon Crawling: You actually have to enter most of them now; usually to get "Marks" which grant special abilities or get past a Broken Bridge.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: In Exodus' lair, floor panels actually attack you, as does the grass outside! Richard Garriott explained in an interview that this was because he had run out of space on the disk by this point, and realized that turning the floor and grass tiles into enemies actually made for a very difficult, strategically demanding battle worthy of the story's endgame.
- Fission Mailed: Do not Rage Quit when your boat gets sucked into the whirlpool and you get the GAME OVER text. You survived and entered a new world.
- The fake Game Over was removed from the NES port, replaced with the screen simply going black for a moment and placing the party in Ambrosia.
- Game-Breaking Bug: The PC version has elements that run based on CPU speed instead of time (correctable with DOSBox). As such, the whirlpool will destroy pirates before they're visible to the player, and you need a ship in order to easily reach one of the islands.
- Heavy Equipment Class: While the Barbarian, Paladin and Lark were capable of using all weapons and the Ranger was capable of using all armour, only the Fighter is capable of using all weapons and armour.
- Human Resources: You can sell your blood (hit points) for money in this game. See Video Game Cruelty Potential, below.
- Level Scaling:
- In the NES version, the higher your level, the greater the monster variety. Since leveling is not automatic, you could conceivably stay low level and grind on monsters that can be killed by 0 MP spells while looting treasure that can't be trapped.
- Similarly, lower dungeon depths in all versions add more monsters to potential encounters on all ports. Aside from the final dungeon, every dungeon has the same encounter list on the same basement level.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Exodus certain sounds scary. Never mind it's just a fancy way of saying "to leave." Richard Garriot didn't even know what it meant, he just thought it sounded like a really cool name for a scary villain.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Exodus turns out to be a computer that Mondain and Minax used to coordinate their power. Later games state that it's a demon/computer hybrid, and that the demon part "was elsewhere" when the Stranger crashed the server.
- One Stat to Rule Them All: Dexterity: it determines the success rate of both schools of spells, hit rates on weapons, and probability of succeeding in disarming or detecting a trap. In other words, literally everything in the game. This leads to the weird case where an Elf Cleric, who can only have 75 Wisdom, is noticeably better than a Bobbit Cleric, who can have a Wisdom of 99, but whose Dexterity is capped at 50.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: Regular resurrection spells do not work if the corpse has been reduced to ashes. The manual gives the explanation that this is because in such a case the soul immediately moves on to be reincarnated. However, a greater spell can restore life to ashes by tearing the life and soul away from the baby where it moved on to.
- Quirky Bard: Who found any reason to play as an alchemist or illusionist? Any?
- Recursive Translation: Played With in the NES version. The core dialogue was translated from English to Japanese and back again, though the NES port had considerable amounts of added dialogue.
- Schizo Tech: Not nearly as oddly mixed as the first two games, but it is revealed that Exodus is a computer.
- Sequence Breaking:
- Normally, you need the mark of the snake (requires visiting a dungeon) and to learn a password to get past a snake. In the PC version, you can use the teleport spell for a small chance to teleport behind the great snake.
- In the NES version, it's possible to have a pirate ship spawn in the little body of water past the aforementioned snake, as demonstrated by this speedrun.
- Time Travel: In a different way from the previous two games. You are not the one who does it, but rather the "Time Lord" (no, not that one) gives you instructions on how to use the Cards which are revealed to be Punch Cards.
- Unintentionally Unwinnable: The whirlpool moves in real-time rather than being turn-based. In the PC version, it also increases to extreme speeds if played on a fast computer (unless emulated), and can destroy pirate ships before the player is aware of them, and therefore prevents players from entering the whirlpool. This isn't strictly unwinnable as there may be a ship that remains unscathed as it approaches the player, but becomes increasingly rare as PCs become faster.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential:
- You can drum up some quick, easy cash by creating new characters for the party with the express intent of selling all of their equipment. But that's not all! There's a place in a town where you can donate blood (reduction of hit points) and you get payment for it! So before you delete those naked characters you can sell almost all of their blood for cash!
- There is also a town populated entirely by priests with no guards. If you murder them all for gold and experience, they respawn upon leaving and re-entering. Murdering them over and over is the quickest way to powerlevel your group.
- Video Game Remake: The NES version is less a port and more a full remake in the mold of a JRPG.
- Villain-Beating Artifact: The "Exotic" Weapons and Armor are the only things that work in Exodus's Castle. But even they don't work against Exodus.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Villainous example: The Undead spell instantly kills the undead; and Dispel instantly kills orcs. (Both weaknesses no longer exist in later games, "Turn Undead" merely causes them to flee, and Orcs apparently stabilize.)
- A Winner Is You: "Report Thy Victory!"note