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Video Game / Ultima VIII

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"You have been a thorn in my side for far too long, Avatar. Your two worlds will be crushed. Britannia first, then Earth. I shall parade you before their conquered peoples as the fallen idol of a pathetic ideal. I banish you to the world of Pagan. No one here knows of the Avatar!"
-The Guardian

Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994) is the eighth official installment in the classic Ultima series of Role-Playing Games by Origin Systems. After The Guardian captures the Avatar, he banishes him to Pagan, a world of eternal twilight very different from the usual series setting of Britannia. Here, the Avatar is forced to find his bearings and learn in a strange new environment. The Virtues of the previous games are gone, and despite being a messianic paragon in Britannia, no one knows of him here. None of his old companions appear in the game, nor does Lord British. Instead, most of the story deals with the Avatar's interactions with the four Titans, powerful demi-gods whose worshippers are capable of different forms of magic. The Avatar travels this world learning the different forms of Elemental Powers, before ultimately facing off the Titans themselves. After this, he hopes to return to Britannia to deal with the Guardian.

Pagan occupies an interesting place in the Ultima series. Executive Meddling meant its production ended up being quite rushed, and many of the original planned elements were left out. The removal of party-based gameplay and the addition of various platform game features also got a mixed reception among fans of the previous games. Combined with the change in setting and lack of relation to the series' story arc, the gameplay changes left it with little in common with the other Ultima games. It is still, however, much more fondly remembered than the Obvious Beta that was Ultima IX, and is quite fun when judged in its own right rather than in comparison with the rest of the series.

An expansion pack called The Lost Vale was announced and apparently completed, but the release was cancelled when Pagan didn't sell as well as was hoped. A full version is confirmed to have existed, but it was not archived and the game is thus lost for good. The only information we have on it are a bunch of screenshots and whatever can be reconstructed from previews and statements by the developers. A single, completed box for The Lost Vale (without the actual game) surfaced in 2005, and was sold on eBay for $1,923.

This game has examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: There are a number of plot threads that are hinted at or begun that never lead to any satisfying conclusion, due to the game being released before they were completed.
  • Accidental Public Confession: The Avatar and his friend Devon the fisherman are about to be executed for treason when the Avatar reveals information that he found in a book that was locked away in the dungeon and whose author was killed for writing it. Said book states that Devon is an illegitimate son of the previous Tempest and, being older than his sister, the rightful heir to the throne. Mordea's toadying seneschal Salkind reacts not by denying the existence of the book or claiming it is fake, but by saying that no-one could have read the book since he hid it too well. Cue a sheepish reaction once he realises his mistake and Mordea killing him in epic fashion for his idiocy.
  • After the End: the world of Pagan was devastated before the events of the game in an apocalypse orchestrated by the Guardian; centuries on, recovery has been very limited.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: In Tenebrae, the punishment for all crimes, from minor theft to murder, is death by combustion, or via a lightning bolt if you attack/offend the Tempest personally.
  • Cain and Abel: Queen Mordea of Tenebrae ends up fighting a magic/elemental duel with her older brother Devon for the throne. Let's say it doesn't end well for her. View a video of the whole "Fall of Mordea" scene here, the action starts at about the 4.45 mark.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: You can go as close as you like to molten lava, as long as you don't touch it without casting a heat protection spell first.
  • Crapsack World: Oh boy, where to begin. Pagan is a world the Guardian has conquered, and the results are not pretty. The skies are constantly covered with dark clouds (or perhaps ash) and the sun is merely an obscure myth. Human life manages to continue only by the people worshiping elemental Titans who constantly lend their power to help the people, and the Titans are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. The largest (and only) human city is ruled by a petty tyrant. And the Avatar over the course of his efforts to find a way home arguably makes things worse.
  • Darker and Edgier: Certainly compared to the earlier Ultima games. There are no Virtues, few truly good characters, some (for the time) pretty graphic violence and the world itself is literally immersed in eternal gloom.
  • Downer Ending: The Avatar absorbs the essence of all four Titans, becoming the Titan of Ether, and constructs his own Black Gate, using it to leave Pagan... Only to be greeted by an absolutely gargantuan statue of the Guardian's head looming over the hellscape that is now Britannia. And then Ultima IX happened.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The necromancer Vividos is one of the most pleasant and helpful people in the game.
  • Elemental Plane: Each of the four Titans lives in a separate region of the world, which is themed around the element associated with that Titan. Each region includes relevant supernatural occurrences (floating rock platforms in the Air region, undead roaming the Earth region, etc.). Furthermore, there's the Aether region which is an actual Elemental Plane outside the world of Pagan.
  • Elemental Powers: The different types of magic featured in the game are all tied to the traditional western elements.
    • Necromancy involves manipulating Earth and, by extension, the dead.
    • Theurgy deals with Air and has several healing spells.
    • Sorcery is the magic of Fire and fire-related creatures such as demons.
    • Tempestry is the power affecting Water, as well as the weather. The Avatar never learns this branch of magic, so all that we see of it is based on demonstrations by other characters.
    • Thaumaturgy encompasses a diverse series of spells, apparently all related to the mysterious element of Aether.
  • Element No. 5: Aether, and its magical school of Thaumaturgy.
  • Fungus Humongous: Mushrooms the size of trees are a common sight on Pagan.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The old Zealan gods are apparently heavily weakened by the fact that no one worships them any more.
  • Gorn: The opening sets the mood for a really Darker and Edgier Ultima tale.
  • Guide Dang It!: After you free Hydros, the Avatar needs to find a way to stop her from flooding the island and killing everyone on Pagan. Devon suggests you go talk to the Sorcerers about it, however there are no dialogue options to ask any of them about it. What you need to do is free Pyros, since he'll act as a counter-balance to Hydros and stop the flooding. Where do you find this out? In the last line of a book you find on the corpse of the head sorcerer who you inadvertently end up killing at the very end of the Daemon Crag segment. No one in the game even acknowledges that the flood waters have receded, the only indication that there's still something you need to do is that the Ethereal Travel book can't be enchanted (even if you have the Tongue of Flame) until Pyros is free.
  • I Shall Taunt You: The Guardian will not shut up about Britannia burning while you're mucking about Pagan.
  • Informed Equipment: Even when wearing no equipment at all, the Avatar's in-game sprite depicts him wearing a full suit of armour (complete with a face-obscuring helmet).
  • Lord British Postulate: While Lord British himself doesn't turn up, various techniques can be used to get rid of Beren, the normally invincible town sorcerer, by exploiting the game's Super Drowning Skills against him.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The Avatar says this in the brief moment between casting the Armageddon spell and being blown to shreds (Pagan's version of the spell kills the caster as well).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Avatar comes within a hair of utterly destroying Pagan in the process of trying to leave it. The entire point of the game is that sometimes, you must do terrible things to accomplish greater good, even if those things contradict your virtues (or the Virtues, in this case).
  • Nintendo Hard: Many of the platforming sections involve jumping between series of rocks over a body of water. If the fact that missing your target means instant death (thanks to Super Drowning Skills) wasn't bad enough, in the unpatched version many of the rocks will periodically sink underwater, meaning you have to be damn fast. The only saving grace (no pun intended) is your ability to save after reaching every new platform, although the length of time it takes to save/load games on the hardware of the time makes this less useful than you'd like.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: One journal is by a troll that has woken up from a long slumber due to a magical accident to find his once advanced people have degenerated into mindless monsters now hunted by the humans they once allied with. The last entry has him about to take an injured child to humans, hoping it will clear things up a bit. A separate guard captain's journal indicates one of his recruits "bravely" chopped apart the troll as he begged for his life. And the little girl, but of course "She was only a peasant however, and of no import."
  • Power Glows: The Avatar's hands glow blue when he is casting a spell. Other characters' hands change to different colours when performing magic, such as red or orange. Enchanted weapons, armour, scrolls and other magic items have a blue glow around them.
  • Real Is Brown: Or grey, when exploring underground cavern areas.
  • Reverse Grip: This is how the Avatar wields daggers in this game, both in combat and in the picture of him in the status window.
  • Shoplift and Die: Get caught committing theft, bodily harm or murder in Tenebrae, and Beren, the town sorcerer, will immediately teleport to where you are and graphically blow you up.
  • Small Steps Hero: Deconstructed and averted like crazy. If you want to get off Pagan, you will have to make sacrifices and do morally reprehensible things.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Super Drowning Skills: Falling into even the tiniest body of water means instant death. This includes water fountains in Tenebrae. To destroy any item or character, just drop it into water. What makes this especially invokedhilarious is that the Avatar starts the game being fished out of the sea.
  • Title Drop: In the history of the world of Pagan, conflict arose between the followers of the old Zealan gods and those who started following the Guardian and the elemental Titans. The latter group came to be called Pagans.
  • Towers of Hanoi: Turn up as part of a puzzle to get into the Zealan Shrine, although you can find another way to enter the place if you wish.
  • Walk on Water: Devon has this ability. After defeating his royal sister in an elemental duel, he takes a walk out to sea.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Given the central Aesop of the story is that sometimes you have to commit evil acts in pursuit of greater good, the Avatar gets some very deserved ones. Some of the biggest are the Theurgists after the Avatar steals the magical artifact that gives them the connection to their Titan and allows their healing magic to function. Another is after the Avatar frees Hydros, the Titan of Water, on empty promises of gaining the powers of Tempestry, and the Titan then goes on to cause constant rain with the intent of drowning everyone.
  • Your Magic's No Good Here: Pagan has five different magic systems, none of them compatible with Britannia's.