Friday, June 15, 2012

Returning to Dungeon Master, Pt. 6: All Tales Must End

This is a series about my recent attempt to play the classic CRPG Dungeon Master, and it will contain minor spoilers regarding this game.  I can't imagine they won't be common knowledge to anyone who cares--the game is 25 years old, after all--but consider yourself forewarned.  You also might want to first read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.

Zed and his intrepid companions were clearly staring down the barrel of the end game, and as such we knew it was time to get any remaining affairs in order--stock up on potions, fill our waterskins, sign each others' yearbooks, that sort of things.

I also decided to take a break and finally reread the backstory that came with the original manual.  I summarized it back in part two, but I figured now was the time to fully get back up to speed so that I was launching into the final battles with a full perspective on what was at stake.  Plus, the story had captivated my imagination as a kid to such a degree that I spent an afternoon drawing a comic book adaptation, complete with "EXCITING FIRST ISSUE" cover art.

Yes, you read that correctly: creating comic book adaptations of video games is what I did instead of actually making progress in said video games.

So I now found the backstory online.  I settled into a comfortable position and opened the first page, ready to be transported to an imaginary world of magic and mystery.

This didn't really happen.  The story wasn't very good.

I lamented the poor choices I made as a kid and reloaded Dungeon Master.

It took me 25 years to see these words firsthand.
Grim with firsthand knowledge of the foe we faced, Zed and company trekked back up to level seven--the Tomb of the Firestaff--and unlocked the last sealed RA door blocking access to the inner chambers. We used our one blue key to gain a fourth pair of boots of speed--thus giving my party a complete set, as the tale of acquiring the other three pairs met the "Returning to Dungeon Master" cutting room floor--and we opened some other doors to meet the guardians of the Firestaff: massive, dead-eyed stone golems.

"Now that's a whole lot of gravel," said Zed.

In a lot of ways Dungeon Master is the perfect stat-based RPG. Use skills and they improve. Use skills and stats go up. Use skills and better attacks and spell powers are unlocked.  Use skills and your party is able to take and deal more damage.  All from using skills.

When I first stumbled across level seven, had I somehow managed get past the locked barriers the stone golems would no doubt have whack-a-moled my party clear through the stone floor, but returning now meant that my party could stand face-to-face with these hulking beasts and emerge victorious.

Well, as long as there was a door handy to slam against them repeatedly and no shortage of healing potions, but the point still stands: Zed and company were getting powerful, and it was very satisfying.

Once all the stone golems were dispatched I liberated the Firestaff from its resting place, pausing first to catch up on the required reading left sitting around that revealed the late game plot twist.  As common knowledge as this twist is--I've known it since my buddy spilled the beans during that fateful aborted playthrough 25 years ago--it's still ridiculously cool.

See, the manual is essentially one big overwritten fake-out, and various notes around the Firestaff chambers drop hints that you might want to think twice before completing the stated goal of the game and returning the Firestaff to the order half of fantasy world Jesus.  Instead, the scattered notes indicate that something called a power gem can be fused to the Firestaff and then used to defeat a being of pure alignment (i.e., Chaos).

It's actually a pretty cool idea, and I can only imagine what is was like to uncover all this back when the game was an unexplored frontier.  As is, Zed was confused, Elija let out a dumbfounded "whoooaaah, mon," and Boris just tossed the Firestaff in his backpack so that we could start the long slog back to level one.

That's right, why miss out on an opportunity to witness some crazy shit?  A journey through Dungeon Master isn't complete until you've returned to the front doors to present the Firestaff to law dude from the overwritten backstory, so return we did.

This is what happens if you play Dungeon Master as
outlined in the manual.
Sure enough, the front doors flew open to reveal Captain Order with his arms spread like a sheet-wearing ghost in a community haunted house, and after a few terse words the asshole incinerated my party and urinated on the ashes.

(the urination part was implied via the words "The End")

"There is no way I'm going out with my last meal being a cross section of dead worm," thought Boris the dead wizard, and so he whipped up a quick Reload Save Game spell and we were back in the Tomb of the Firestaff, everyone shaken but very much alive.

Our party cleared out the remainder of the Tomb of the Firestaff, and Zed snagged the most powerful sword available for his skill set, a gleaming beauty named Inquisitor that ended up never seeing so much as one second of battle.

"I can probably use this to slice grapefruit," Zed said.

Anyway, my four champions were now armed with the Firestaff and, crucially, a key that unlocked level fourteen, the deepest level of the dungeon that contained the power gem needed to convert the Firestaff into a utensil of Chaos defeat.

You can technically avoid fighting the dragon if
you want, but who could walk away from this face?
Level fourteen also contained a dragon.

Dragons are murder on security deposits.
Facing off against the dragon was a somewhat tense skirmish in which the entire party finally used some of the time-freezing magic boxes that they had spent the rest of the game hoarding.  Each champion member tossed poison cloud spells and ven bombs at the dragon, until we finally just said "fuck it" and launched a shitload of cranked fireballs up its wingless reptilian ass. You wouldn't think a monster that launches fire from within would be vulnerable to fire from without, but before long there was nothing more than a smoking crater where once was a giant lizard nursing impossible dreams of flight.

"Dragon steak time, everyone!" Zed shouted, and then everyone ate dragon steak.

After a brief break to crack the window open in my computer room and turn on a fan because Christ it was getting hot in here, I fused the power gem to the Firestaff and headed up the stairs to take on Lord Chaos.

We stood in that familiar hallway again, steeling out nerves.

"This is it, the moment of truth," said Zed.  "Time to find out if we are men.  Or ladies, like Wu Tse."

"I guess I'll take that," said Wu Tse.

 We headed into the chamber for our one final rematch with Chaos.

Pictured: Lord Chaos.  Not pictured: the surrounding
demons, my soiled shorts.
Well, I wouldn't exactly say "one final rematch," as Lord Chaos was one slippery fucker. The climactic battle of Dungeon Master doesn't involve the slow whittling away of hitpoints from some enormous boss like most games, but instead a reflex-heavy attempt to trap the guy via the Firestaff and then "fuse" him once cornered. It's a somewhat inspired design choice, but it played out a bit like Elmer Fudd vs. Bugs Bunny, with us most definitely not representing long eared wiseacre.

Remember me calling the dragon battle somewhat tense? Squaring off against Lord Chaos was incredibly tense, and as I loaded and reloaded the battle I found myself wishing my computer room had more windows to open. This was due partially to the fact that this evil-herding end fight was the culmination of fourteen tough levels of dungeon, but the weight of 25 years' worth of gaming baggage also hung hot and heavy as my heart rolled like a machine gun and I pounded on the keyboard. My fiancée yelled upstairs at me to call my mother about our impending wedding, which had FUCK ALL to do with SAVING THE GODDAMN WORLD.

And then, suddenly, me and my four Elmer Fudds apparently did things just right and Chaos unexpectedly exploded in a prism of pride parade fireworks. He wobbled back and forth between various forms before suddenly turning into a beaming white-bearded old man, whom Elija no doubt recognized as a fellow reluctant super-warrior and ganja enthusiast.

Thanks, fantasy world Jesus!
Then some text scrolled by slowly--all of which was more succinct than the miserable backstory--and the game reduced my four champions to their final stats before proceeded to hang on this final screen.  Maybe there was a non-obvious way to exit out of it, or maybe the developers just figured winners of the game would want their monitors permanently rendered a Dungeon Master victory trophy, but whatever the case I force closed the program and sat there staring at my desktop, drinking in the adrenaline rush of victory.

Dungeon Master was the big, bad, unbeatable game of my youth, and it now lay sprawled out at my feet in defeat.

I picked up the phone and called my mom to talk about the wedding.

Final party stats:

Zed Duke of Banville
  • << Master Fighter
  • Craftsman Ninja
  • Expert Priest
  • Expert Wizard

Wu Tse Son of Heaven
  • Artisan Fighter
  • Artisan Ninja
  • Expert Priest
  • << Master Wizard

Elija Lion of Yaitopya
  • << Master Fighter
  • Craftsman Ninja
  • Expert Priest
  • Expert Wizard

Boris Wizard of Baldor
  • Artisan Fighter
  • Artisan Ninja
  • Adept Priest
  • Expert Wizard

No comments: