Uncharted Waters (originally known as Age of the Great Voyages) is a series of Japanese privateer/trader video games set in The Cavalier Years. The first game was developed by Koei in 1991 (for PC-88, MSX and NES, and later for Sega Genesis, Super NES, and the PC).
Gameplay-wise, the series is a Wide-Open Sandbox with RPG Elements in it. You play as an owner of a small fleet (up to 5 ships in the first game, up to 10 in the second) and are free to engage in any kind of activity on the high seas: trade, gambling, ship building, piracy, treasure hunting, exploration, even global politics, once you have the money (and firepower) to. What set the first game apart from its nearest Western equivalent, Sid Meier's Pirates!, was the sheer size of the game world: instead of being confined to the Carribbean, you have the entire world to explore. The exploration gameplay was further enhanced in the second game, where you could sell the maps of your voyages, find natural and cultural wonders around the world, and look for even more treasures. The underlying gameplay mechanics involve ship management (crew, supplies, captains, repairs), character evolution (both the PC and the captains you hire), port development (trade balance, investments), and maneuvering between the major factions (Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and pirates in the first game; England, Holland, and Italy join the club in the second). It's pretty complex but not excessively so.
The story of the original game follows Leon Franco, a young Portuguese sailor whose father invested all his money into a voyage to India, hoping to make a fortune selling spices, but died on the way back. Only his trusted First Mate Rocco Alemkel made it back to Portugal with a small boat to tell the tale. And thus, young Leon has to assume command and to take on the rough seas of the Wooden Ships and Iron Men era. Starting with small errands for the local merchants and collectors, Leon's fame eventually reaches the King of Portugal, who becomes his exclusive Quest Giver. The final mission, of course, involves saving the King's only daughter, whom Leon had the chance to woo earlier.
The series currently consists of following installments:
- Uncharted Waters (1991): The Original Game.
- Uncharted Waters: New Horizons (1994): A.k.a. Uncharted Waters II; a direct sequel to the first game.
- Mobile Daikoukai Jidai 2 (2007): A UWNH port for mobile phones.
- Daikoukai Jidai III: Costa del Sol (1996)
- Daikoukai Jidai Gaiden (1997): A Gaiden Game.
- Daikoukai Jidai IV: Porto Estado (2000)
- Daikoukai Jidai IV: Rota Nova (2006): A remake of Porto Estado for portable devices.
- Uncharted Waters Online (2009)
The first two games can be downloaded from various internet sites like Abandonia.com, and run perfectly smoothly in DOSBox on modern systems. The series has nothing to do with the Uncharted franchise.
The original game provides examples of following tropes:
- Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: Inverted. All the good stuffs found near your home city are expensive, you must boldly go to faraway ports to buy them where they are cheap.
- Alliance Meter: The relationships between the major naval powers are tracked on separate meters. If your relationship with a country is good, you will be given free entry into their ports and their fleets will offer you helpful advice when met out at sea. Hostile relationships will result in you being denied entry and attacked on sight by enemy war fleets. And if it gets really bad, they will come after you in force.
- Artistic License History: The King of Portugal around 1503 was Manuel I (ruled 1495-1521). His first (surviving) child was a son, who succeeded him as King John III. His first daughter Isabella was born in 1503, so there is no way Leon could have wooed her in the first game. Besides, Princess Isabella went on to marry the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1526.
- Boarding Party: The two basic means to attack another ship in a sea battle is either shooting them from afar with your cannons or "rushing" them, that is, going into hand to hand combat.
- But Thou Must!: Regardless of how you play, at some point, you will be asked to buy "14 lots of Coral", which can only be accomplished by traveling to the New World. Also, to achieve the highest nobility ranks, the King of Portugal will inevitably ask you to defeat powerful pirates or opposing factions' captains, even if you were going a pure merchant route before. Finally, the last mission is always a battle against a pirate fleet for the princess.
- The Captain: You.
- The Cavalier Years: The games are set in the beginning of the 16th century.
- Character Level: There are actually two character levels for each character: the Sailing Level (gained by spending time at sea and affecting Intelligence and Wisdom) and the Battle Level (gained by winning naval battles and affecting Strength and Courage).
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Good luck waiting for the pursuing AI fleets to run out of supplies and go home.
- Cool Boat: Quite a few, especially in the second game, but very few compare to the Heavy Galleons from the first one. Those are so awesome, no port in the world builds them in the beginning of the game and you first need to invest LOTS of money to even get a shot at building one of those brutes.
- Design-It-Yourself Equipment: You can buy used ships and remodel them, but for a really Cool Boat, you need to commission one yourself.
- Distressed Damsel: The princess in the end of the game.
- Do You Want to Haggle?: It's not even a question of wanting, it's a question of how good you can do it.
- An Entrepreneur Is You: In the first game, you will most likely begin by making the relatively simple sugar-porcelain runs between Lisbon and Bordeaux and go on from there until you have five carracks full of gold.
- Fame Gate: The King of Portugal only hands out missions after you raise your Fame to certain levels by doing sidequests for merchants and guild halls (or by buying over ports, or by defeating pirates and Portugal's enemies, or by discovering new lands, or...). However, massive Sequence Breaking can ensue if your fame rises too fast, to the point where you can be sent to Save the Princess while still a lowly Squire (instead of the intended endgame Duke).
- Global Currency: Gold pieces. It's different from gold bullions, which are goods (roughly, 1 bar of gold bullion = 1000 gold pieces).
- Hard-Coded Hostility: The pirates. There are three other factions (Portugal, Spain, and Turkey) and while you always remain a Portuguese subject, you can normalize the relationships with Turkey and avoid screwing up the relationship with Portugal and Spain to avoid their war fleets attacking you. Pirates, on the other hand, are always hostile.
- Infinite Supplies: Averted. Ports can run out of the goods that you keep buying. It's especially obvious in Sakai where silver is very cheap. To the point that the game revolves around denying your rivals supplies to goods. Ports will only sell goods to guilds that hold a percentage of the port's Share, and the amount of Share you have is based on how much money the guild have dumped to the port as investments or defense funds.
- Karl Marx Hates Your Guts: Averted with a vengeance. Price are different everywhere, even if only by 1 or 2 gold pieces. You can even make a profit out of goods with minimal price fluctuation, if you have patience.
- Market-Based Title: The original Japanese title of the game series was Dai-kōkai jidai (Age of the Great Voyages) but "Uncharted Waters" does sound better in English.
- Merchant Prince: While some of the playable characters had main careers as merchants and some did not, any character with enough gold could invest in the markets and shipyards of foreign ports, and with enough investment over time could bring the port into their home country's "sphere of influence" which would afford them a favorable market there as well as expand the power and influence of their home country. Such influence-buying helps the character enter the nobility and advance upward in noble rank, which implies increased political power.
- Number Two: Rocco Alemkel, a bearded Boisterous Bruiser who cannot navigate his own ship but always follows Leon (as opposed to hired navigators who can desert you with their ships if their loyalty wavers).
- Only Shop in Town: In any big port you will have exactly one shop to trade in common goods, one to trade items and treasures (optional), and one to build and sell ships.
- The Original Series: The first game was titled simply Uncharted Waters.
- Pirate: Where do we start?
- Pirate Booty:
- The loot from destroying an enemy fleet usually consists of a large sum of money (how large depends on the level of its captain), some water, food, and lumber (essential if you go on a killing spree because large warship crews consume supplies like no tomorrow), and either a stockpile of goods or some valuable jewerly (depending on whether the victim is a merchant or a battle fleet, respectively). Jewelry is especially useful in the first game, since you can present it to the princess and receive 10k gold the next day from her dad. The only problem was that you could only carry one piece of each jewelry type at once, but that was fixed in the second installment.
- The most lucrative booty, though, may be the enemy ships themselves. You need enough surplus crew to man both them and your own ships, extra navigators to command them, and the ability to defeat the enemy fleet without sinking all their ships. Still, they can wind up getting you a small fortune.
- Player Party: To steer more than one ship, you need to hire a mate to serve as her captain.
- Point-and-Click Map: Only in ports.
- Politically Correct History: You can't engage in slave trade, at all. The worst you can do is plundering remote villages for food and fresh water.
- Rank Up: In addition to leveling up that is typical of role-playing games, you can rise from being a commoner to a duke. In one ending, you even become the King of Portugal.
- Relationship Values: All hired navigators have a Loyalty score, which can be increased by distributing spare cash but decreases sharply if your fleet falls onto hard times.
- Romance Sidequest: Romancing the princess is optional but brings you considerable material gain if you do so consistently.
- A Round of Drinks for the House: Ordering a round of drinks for the entire tavern gives a temporary bonus to how many sailors you can hire there afterwards. The more money you spend on the drinks, the larger the bonus.
- RPG Elements: Actually, the games have enough customization to be considered full RPG: you and your mates have stats, levels, and skills; your ships come in different types, configurations, and upgrades; there are items that greatly affect the gameplay, etc.
- The Smurfette Principle: The female presence in the games is mostly limited to various waitresses (each with her unique appearance), but there are a handful of plot-relevant women, as well, e.g. the Princess in the first game.
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Gear: If you hit a particularly hard luck, you will notice that your navigator's loyalty is dropping, and when it falls all the way down to 30-40%, one of them (if not more) will certainly desert you, taking his ship (as well as whatever cargo and crew it was carrying) with him, never to be seen again.
- Stat Grinding: You improve your and your mates' seamanship skills by undertaking long sea voyages (preferably in unfamiliar waters), and your combat skills, by winning sea battles.
- Straight for the Commander: This is a viable tactic in the series: rushing for the enemy flagship and taking it out (with cannons or by boarding) is an instant-win condition, which helps preserve own forces and the cargo carried by other enemy ships (on the downside, you get less XP). In the second game, you can additionally challenge the enemy captain to a Combat by Champion by boarding his flagship with your own.
- Timed Mission: The game begins on February 21, 1502 and will permanently end after December 31, 1521. Meaning that you have 20 years to complete the game.
- Treasure Map: In a particularly nice touch, a treasure map appears just like your own global map so if your visual memory (or geography knowledge) is good enough, you can find the location of the treasure just by looking at it. Otherwise, you can ask around in bars (first game) or cartographer guilds (second game) for approximate coordinates of the location.
- Wide-Open Sandbox: Really wide. Like, the entire world wide.
- Wizard Needs Food Badly: Always check your supplies before leaving ports.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Given the era that inspired the games, it makes perfect sense.
- You Lose at Zero Trust: If your navigator's Loyalty drops to 40% or lower, you are running a high risk of them pulling a So Long, and Thanks for All the Gear on you.