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Video Game / Ultima IV

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The beginning of something truly excellent.

A new age is upon Britannia. The great evil Lords are gone but our people lack direction and purpose in their lives. A champion of Virtue is called for. Thou may be this champion, but only time shall tell.
Lord British

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar was a 1985 video game, the fourth installment of the legendary Ultima series by Origin Systems. No one can deny that Ultima IV was a masterpiece (even if modern gamers are likely to wrestle, at best, with the interface) that took the still-nascent concept of the "role-playing video game" and turned it completely on its ear in a way that, even three decades later, still hasn't really been replicated, but has informed virtually every Western-made role-playing game that came after it.

In the Magical Land of Britannia... all of the Big Bads are dead. The evil wizard Mondain is dead. His apprentice Minax is dead. Their child/demon/computer... thing, Exodus... was destroyed. While there are still dungeons and Random Encounters, there is No Antagonist to fight. Nothing for the people to hope for; no more heroes for them to emulate.


Can there be Good without an external Evil to fight? The magical ruler of Britannia, Lord British, summons the Stranger of old who defeated those evils with a very new, very different task. Become the Champion of Virtue for people to have a goal to achieve. Master the Eight Virtues and find the Answer to this postmodern dilemma in The Codex of Wisdom, located in The Great Stygian Abyss. Fulfill the Quest of The Avatar.

A freeware version was distributed on the Internet in 1997. In 2011 Electronic Arts began issuing C&D orders to people distributing it after 14 years of salutary neglect. This has caused some concern in the community, but the game remains legally free on Good Old Games and should be played by anyone with even a passing interest in role-playing games.

In 2013, EA released Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar, a free-to-play MMORPG re-imagining of the game on iOS mobile devices, shut down in August, 2014.


The game provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Actually Four Mooks:
    • Multiple enemies can be packed into a single NPC icon, typical for the series or genre.
    • Normally, it's not possible for combatants to move into an occupied square. Dungeon rooms are an exception, such as Great Stygian Abyss level 3, where multiple daemons are stacked into a single square and pour out into a line of enemies once the party gets close.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Most (but not all) of the creatures you will encounter in the wilderness and dungeons are this. Feel free slaughtering the evil creatures, but let the non-evil ones flee.
    • Sadly, played straight in the NES remake. No monster you encounter in the game will run from you, forcing you to kill any monster you randomly encounter.
  • Arbitrary Equipment Restriction: Standard due to the old-school method of preventing classes from being too powerful, mage being most restricted. However, the odd case in the weapon table is that the Fighter can use an axe, but not a magic axe.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Averted, because headcount is strictly defined by specific rules: you can have one party member for each level you gain (meaning that at level 1 you only have one slot, for yourself). And the level cap is eight, which is exactly the number of recruitable Companions that are in the game (minus the 1 whose class the Avatar is and thus the one they replace).
  • Arc Number:
    • 8. The game revolves around 8 virtues. Each virtue corresponds to one of 8 shrines, one of 8 cities and one of 8 stones. Each shrine has one of 8 mantras and one of 8 runes. Each city has one of 8 companions (party members) and one of 8 moon gates. Each moon gate corresponds to one of 8 moon phases. Each stone is found in one of 8 dungeons. Furthermore, since party size is determined by the experience level of the hero and there are 8 possible party members, the maximum experience level is 8.
      • Independently from the above system, there are 8 armors, 8 long-range weapons and 8 short-range weapons (in the NES remake: 11 armors, 6 long-range weapons and 9 short-range weapons). There are also 8 reagents used to cast spells (the total number of spells is 26, though).
    • 3. The 8 virtues are based on 3 principles. Each principle corresponds to one of 3 strongholds and to one of 3 underground altar rooms. Each stronghold has a lord who knows one of 3 syllables of the "Word of Passage" and an inhabitant who knows one of 3 artifacts. Each altar room holds one of 3 parts of a key.
      • Additionally, all characters the Avatar can chat with answer to at least three words: name, health ("How are you?"), and job.
    • Also, subtly, 1. This is the first game with Lord British ruling uncontested (prior games had feuding city-states or continent-shattering events preventing this), a return to having only one protagonist from Ultima III having four, a greater emphasis on the unique nature of the Stranger (now the Avatar), and all the dungeons ultimately leading to the Abyss.
  • Artifact of Doom: Mondain's Skull (remember, the villain from Ultima I). Using it would instantly wipe out every living thing in the player's current location, except for Lord British (even Lord British in the NES remake). It also drove your Karma Meter (all of them!) to 0. The warnings about its evil tend to be pretty explicit, especially in the PC versions where the person who directs you to it tells you it is an artifact of pure evil, so it ends up doubling as Schmuck Bait to tempt players.
  • Beef Gate: In some versions of the game, it was possible to simply fight ones way through the Legions of Hell guarding the Shrine of Humility, without the Silver Horn, faster than they can spawn.
  • Big Bad: One of the first aversions in gaming history, as part of the point is that there is no villain.
  • Broad Strokes: Looking back at the first three games, the events of them weren't...quite as described by Ultima IV. Time Travel may explain some of it, but by this time the general rules and definitions have solidified.
  • Denial of Diagonal Attack: You cannot fire projectiles diagonally, but your enemies can.
    • In the NES and Master Systems ports, you can.
  • Dialogue Tree: One of the earliest examples of the concept; in PC versions of Ultima IV one could have limited conversations with everyone in the towns. Later games would make it easier to come up with topics; this one made you type each one out. "Name" and "Job" were the common opening lines; and then later Arc Words tended to be important. The only three words that all characters were guaranteed to respond to were "Name" "Job" and "Health". Occasionally a character in his/her dialog would let slip a subject that you could then bring up to another character. Since this could lead to Sequence Breaking, later games made them spell out the conversation topics depending on what information flags you encountered.
  • Doing In the Wizard / Doing In the Scientist: The elves, dwarves, halflings, and Ewoks (fuzzies) that were playable races in the previous three games have been retroactively corrected out of existence. Time travel, too, ceased to be, and subsequently did the spaceships and other anachronistic elements that traveled in from the future.
  • Dungeon: There is still fighting in this game; and 8 dungeons with various Plot Coupon (8 stones and 3 keys).
  • Faux First-Person 3D: Used in the dungeons.
  • Dungeon Bypass: The white stone is hidden up in the mountains north of Britain and to get to it you need to descend to the bottom level of a dungeon via a hidden entrance behind Lord British's castle, climb your way back up to an exit on the other side of the world, board a hot air balloon, and guide yourself to a landing space the size of a single tile with the wind-change spell. You can also just use the Blink spell (warp a distance on the world surface) in the right spot and warp to it.
  • Egopolis: After uniting all of Sosaria, Lord British renames the world Britannia. A rare example when it's a good guy who does this.
    • However, "Lord British" is not his original name, as it is told in the manual to an earlier game how he arrived from Earth, and people started calling him "British" after he said he is from Britannia (the British Isles) on Earth.
  • Embodiment of Vice: There are eight sins or vices that are the opposite of the eight Virtues. While the Virtues are represented by eight shrines throughout the land (except one in the Ethereal Void), the Vices are represented by eight dungeons.
    • Deceit is the dungeon opposing Honesty
    • Despise is the dungeon opposing Compassion
    • Destard is the dungeon opposing Valor
    • Wrong is the dungeon opposing Justice
    • Covetous is the dungeon opposing Sacrifice
    • Shame is the dungeon opposing Honor
    • Hythloth is the dungeon opposing Spirituality
    • The Great Stygian Abyss, the game's final dungeon, opposes Humility
  • Embodiment of Virtue: The main protagonist's companions, each one representing one of the Sacred Virtues of Avatarhood:
    • Mariah the mage of Moonglow represents Honesty
    • Iolo the bard of Britain represents Compassion
    • Geoffrey the fighter of Jhelom represents Valor
    • Jaana the druid of Yew represents Justice
    • Julia the tinker of Minoc represents Sacrifice
    • Dupré the paladin of Trinsic represents Honor
    • Shamino the ranger of Skara Brae represents Spirituality
    • Katrina the shepherd of Magincia represents Humility
  • Final-Exam Boss: The final dungeon requires answering questions to each virtue introduced throughout the course of the game, and the final opponent flings 13 of those questions in a row, as the challenge is based on mastering virtues rather than being powerful characters. There's a few attempts to answer each question, but failing to answer them flings you outside of the difficult gauntlet.
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: The first three character classes are called Mage, Bard, and Fighter, though the Bard class doesn't have any abilities related to music, and is actually a generic role-playing "thief" character in all but name. According to the Word of God, the class was called "Bard" because "Thief" implied dishonorable behavior, and therefore didn't fit the game's theme of becoming virtuous. The other classes are variants of the first three, except the Shepherd, which has the strengths of none of the other classes.
    • Amusingly, Iolo did steal from you in Ultima I.
  • Fission Mailed: Many players Rage Quit and reloaded when their boat was sucked into the whirlpool, since the game went black and you got the same initial text that you got when you died. Except... it's one of the only two ways to get to a town with a Plot Coupon. D'oh!
  • Functional Magic: Like traditional games, required the correct Magic Points, skill levels, and such; but also required you to have the right combination of magic ingredients. You were expected to know and remember each recipe; whether by instruction manual or in-game characters.
  • Gender Flip: in the NES remake, Julia, a woman companion, was replaced for some odd reason with Julius, a burly looking male.
  • Genre Shift: The NES remake (developed in Japan) plays much more closely to a Japanese role-playing game than a western one, streamlining much of the gameplay and introducing Random Encounters.
  • Guide Dang It!: This game was very different at the time. There was no GameFAQs.
    • The items required to complete the game can only be found through the "search" command. Their location can be hinted at by friendly characters, but otherwise the spot where the item is supposed to be appears perfectly normal and featureless (not always, though)note .
    • The dialog file of a character who was supposed to give you a hint to the final riddle was mistakenly removed from the game, leading to a number of people struggling through the game only to find themselves stuck on the last puzzle (although the answer is spelled out for you by praying at the eight shrines, which is required to complete the game). This gave rise to the Ascended Glitch character Smith the talking horse, who appeared in several later Ultima games, always giving you important hints about the *previous* game.
    • On the NES remake, you will probably wonder why some of your virtues such as honesty keeps going down despite answering to the best of your ability to be virtuous. Answers are about humility, more than honesty. It takes a bit of trial and error to identify which conversations hold this trap.
  • Joke Character: If after taking the intro quiz your highest virtue is humility then you get the shepherd class. Leather armor, a marginally better weapon selection than the mage, no magic, a poor trap disarming ability (though no worse than that of over half the other classes), and you start the game at a lower level than the other classes, stranded on an island infested by demons with no shops and no clear way out.
    • On the other hand, there is a Magikarp Power potential here, but only in the NES remake. If you know what you're doing it's fairly easy to level up quickly. Once you do master the powers of the Avatar, you can equip anything and cast any spell, even if you're a Shepherd.
  • Karma Meter: The Trope Namer, and one of the overwhelming influences the game's had on everything that followed. "Karma" was how well the character acted in the 8 Virtues. Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Sacrifice, Justice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility. Each of the 8 were determined by actions you made. Run from a fight, and lose points in Valor. Unless you're running from a natural animal who is just hungry; such as a common serpent; and then you're adding Compassion. It gets complicated.
  • Lighter and Softer: According to The Official (Spoiler) Book of Ultima. The concept for the game came about when Garriott noted Moral Guardians' response to the first 3 games. He realized that while they were wrong for the most part, the Strawman Has a Point, and so the concept for the fourth game was born.
  • Magic Music: The Silver Horn drives devils away when played. Also, Katrina can play the flute in the NES remake to put enemies to sleep.
  • Magikarp Power: The Shepherd class for the main character, but only in the NES remake. While it has no special powers itself, the main character eventually gains access to all capabilities regardless of his/her starting class... Hence, if you start as a Shepherd your final party will be stronger, since you won't have to bring a useless non-Avatar Shepherd to the final dungeon. note 
  • Magic Wand: The strongest ranged weapon, equippable by Mariah, Jaana and Iolo.
  • Merging the Branches: You have eight possible party members but you can never recruit the one of the same class as yourself. Nevertheless, all eight are regarded as the Companions of the Avatar in later installments.
  • Mirror Boss: The second-to-last combat encounter in the game is against a party of 8 adventurers that perfectly mirrors your own party of 8 (the absolute last encounter being a Balron and several Wyverns).
  • Monster Town: Magincia has become this since its location has become so uninhabitable that every human except for Katrina is either dead or has moved away. The monsters will only attack you if you attack them first, though ...except for Nate the Snake.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Averted in-universe for the protagonist. Even if your virtue scores drop so low that even Hawkwind himself will tell you that "Thou may [sic] not ever become an Avatar", you can, in fact, redeem yourself and go to the other extreme, though that would take a lot of work.
  • The Moral Substitute: Richard Garriot, after receiving complaints from Moral Guardians, made a game where the intent was to encourage moral values in the Avatar (and by extension, the player).
  • Nintendo Hard: Of all the playtesters, only Richard Garriott himself actually finished the game before it was released. If you can complete the game without using internet spoilers, you deserve a medal. Also, ironically, the remake released on the NES itself is a lot easier than the original.
  • No Antagonist: Your quest is simply to prove yourself worthy of each of the eight virtues, something that's actually a lot harder without a villain to contrast yourself against.
  • Not-So-Safe Harbor/Outlaw Town: Buccaneer's Den, which houses pirates, orcs, mages, and many other types of enemies.
  • The Paragon: The main reason you have to become the Avatar is so you can serve as an example for the rest of the world to follow by living virtuously.
  • Player Personality Quiz: Quite possibly the Trope Maker. Unlike the previous games where you specified your characters' class and attributes directly, you now have to answer seven simple questions on how you would act in certain dilemmas. This determines your character class, starting location and your initial standing on the game's eight Karma Meters.
  • Potion-Brewing Mechanic: Mixing up alchemical ingredients is required to prepare spells, which, much like consumable potions, come in a limited supply and are expended with every use.
  • Random Encounter: The NES remake does this in a sneaky way, as they aren't step based; they are time based. Meaning if you wait long enough on the overworld surface in one spot, a battle will start. Averted in the PC version as the encounters are not random at all, and in fact you can actually see enemies coming toward you. Still somewhat meaningless, as unless you have a method of transportation such as a ship or horse, the terrain will inevitably slow you down until the monster catches up and attacks you (though non-evil animals will wander more randomly).
  • Read the Freaking Manual: The game directly tells you to read the included The History of Britannia in the intro (you should read The Book of Mystic Wisdom as well, despite your character not daring to open it).
  • Retcon: It's revealed in later games and Word of God that Hawkwind is an incarnation of the Time Lord.
  • Schrödinger's Player Character: Whichever class you choose; the same character of that class will still exist in his/her corresponding town; but will not join the party. Similar to Superhero Speciation.
  • Secret Test of Character: Some of the puzzles of the game involve displaying the virtues at hand. Finding the Rune of Sacrifice involves climbing into a lit furnace in Minoc, for instance.
  • Shoehorned First Letter: The games has both a command and a spell for each letter of the keyboard, leading to some oddities like (x)-it, (k)limb and (z)tatus.
  • Small Steps Hero: Justified in that it will eventually make you into The Avatar.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: An entire game made of this trope. What do you do when evil has been defeated? Become a messiah!
  • Three-Stat System: Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence, each tied to one of the Principles (Courage, Love, and Truth, respectively).
  • To Be Lawful or Good: The Player Personality Quiz determines your strongest virtue by presenting you with hypothetical situations where one virtue clashes with another and forcing you to choose which one to uphold. The game proper, on the other hand, is all about defying this trope and finding ways to uphold all virtues at once.
  • Virtue/Vice Codification: The Eight Sacred Virtues of Avatarhood form a simple model of virtue ethics.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: One of the first.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Iolo and any other bard in the NES remake.

Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar provides examples of the following tropes:

Alternative Title(s): Ultima Forever Quest For The Avatar, Ultima 4


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