Ultima: Exodus

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North American NES box.

Ultima: Exodus is a role-playing game originally developed by Origin Systems. This port was developed by Newtopia Planning and first released in Japan by Pony Canyon on the Famicom on 1987-10-09, then for the MSX2 in 1988, and later in February 1989 in North America on the NES by FCI. This is a port of Ultima III: Exodus, and while the game is similar enough that it should be on the original game's page, I have such a history with it, it warrants its own page. The MSX2 port is nearly the same as the Famicom version, just with a slightly different color palette and sound due to the different hardware. This game was heavily advertised in Japan; the soundtrack was composed by a pop musician and released on vinyl, cassette, and CD, a single was released featuring the vocals of a pop singer who had an in-game cameo, several extensive hint books were made, and even comics and game books were written to introduce the Ultima series to the Japanese console audience.

I first played this game after renting it from a video store around 1989 and loved it. I remember reading the poorly printed replacement manual that came with the game and seeing that there was "dragon armor," which I thought was so cool. Later, my step-brother brought his copy when he visited, and I played it more. I accidentally erased his save game file, and my brother and I tried to rush through the game to get back all the stuff he had, but were unable to, he was very mad. But we kept playing, and I amassed a lot of gold and raised each of the characters to level 5. This unleashed the pirates, and we made it to Ambrosia. I found a shrine, and, teasingly, my step-brother told me to try and donate all my gold to see what happened. I obeyed, but since I didn't see any benefit, I felt betrayed by him. Only later did I realize I was on the right path.

That winter, I asked for the game for Christmas, and got it. It was a used copy which didn't have the manual, but it did come with a nice transparent purple plastic case, which fit with the game's graphic art. I played it a lot, but didn't get very far into the story because the game has very little in-game direction. Later, my brother and I found a copy of the hint book at a Toys 'R Us, and he bought it for me. With it, I was able to get a lot farther and even max out the level of my party. However, as the hint book reveals, you have to grind like crazy to get far into the game, and after getting about two thirds through the story, I got sick of grinding and gave up. Years later, having gotten tired of it being a game that I really loved, and sunk hundreds of hours into, but couldn't beat, I sat down and spent even more hours grinding out gold and buying my stats (I ran the game at 2x speed in an emulator), and then finally beat it on 2017-07-08.


I own a complete-in-box copy of the game and a loose copy. I have beaten it.


  • Overall: 4/10
  • Best Version: NES

— This section contains spoilers! —


  • For the time, the graphics by Atsushi Fujimori are quite good, certainly better than any of the other ports until this point.
  • The game music is extremely well composed, having been written by professional, Tsugutoshi Goto.
  • Hiding portions of the map that your character's can't see, while not very attractive to look at, is certainly more realistic than seeing through walls and roofs, which was common in most RPGs of the day.
  • The amount of effort Pony Canyon put into marketing the game was amazing. Multiple professionally made hint books, a manga, a game book, a soundtrack (on CD, cassette, and record), and more.
  • There is a wide variety of classes and races which make it very easy to customize a party to your play style.
  • The spell list has a good amount of variation. There are attack spells for singular and multiple targets, spells for getting around in the dungeons, disarming traps, healing, resurrection, and so forth.
  • There is nice variety to the layout of the towns; each focuses on a particular terrain, and it's impressive to see varying age groups among the NPCs.
  • Having wind that affects how fast the ship can move in various directions was a nice touch.


  • The game engine moves too slowly. Characters walk slowly, monsters move slowly, projectiles in combat are slow, etc. I found the game to be much more playable when run at double speed in an emulator.
  • The content of the towns are very redundant. Most of them have duplicate shops all selling the same stuff, and most of the NPC dialogue is useless banter: "it's a good day for washing," "it's too late to play Ultima," etc. Occasionally the dialogue contains useful clues, but the majority of the clues are either unhelpful: "find the shrines," or incorrect: "dig here!" Sometimes, even the hidden or out-of-the way NPCs offer pointless dialogue. I would estimate that half of the towns could be eliminated.
  • Experience is poorly correlated to the difficulty of the monster. A full mob of skeletons can be defeated in a single round with a free Undead spell, yielding 32 XP, while a full mob of demons, who will leave your whole party injured and poisoned, only gives 64 XP. Also, the amount of XP needed to level up isn't exponential; it always take 100 XP to get to the next level, so you reach your level cap at only 2500 XP.
  • Gold is entirely random, and far too little is rewarded for difficult battles. There is a 50/50 chance that a single goblin will be carrying more gold than a pair of dragons!
  • Combat, though tactically superior to most RPGs of the time, is dreadfully slow, and you have to fight thousands of them to beat the game.
  • Weapons are poorly factored. Weapons of a higher power level only do marginally better damage. Ranged weapons usually do the same amount of damage as melee weapons, but you have many chances to hit before the monsters can hit back, so the only reason to use a melee weapon is if the class can't use a ranged one.
  • Enemies can attack diagonally, but you cannot, even if your character is wielding a pole-arm and the enemy is weaponless.
  • If you pick the wrong menu item in combat, you have to forfeit your turn, you can't undo the menu option. While this is more realistic, it's annoying to deal with in a game.
  • While most of the monsters in a group have different sprites, they're essentially clones of each other. For example, titans, giants, and golems are all identical in combat.
  • I don't care for the 3D dungeons because you can't tell where the enemies are, there are WAY too many traps, the layouts are ridiculous. And, like towns, their content is mostly redundant and half of them could be eliminated.
  • Turning on a trapped square in a dungeon makes you hit the same trap again.
  • The manual does a good job describing the mechanics of the game, but it doesn't explain the story very well. It does a strange ret-conning where it tries to merge Britannia and Sosaria while at the same time keeping Sosaria. It also doesn't outline your goal very well, or even give you the means necessary to understand how to beat the game.
  • There are a couple game breaking bugs, but mercifully, they're rarely encountered.


  • The game requires an obscene amount of grinding. You have to grind monsters to get XP to raise levels, but levels only increase your maximum HP, not your stats. To raise stats, you must grind gold and donate 100 GP for a single stat increase at a shrine. Getting a single character to their optimal stats costs about 20,000 GP (about 800 battles). But before you can tackle that, you have to equip your party with about 10,000 GP in weapons and armor (400 more battles), and buy food and healing along the way. All that grinding takes literal days to do.
  • Recovering HP after major combat takes forever. There are four ways to heal and they're all slow: walking, casting the Heal spell, using a tent, or at a hospital. Walking heals 1 HP every 40 steps in a town and 1 HP every 10 steps outside. The heal spell requires 10 MP (recovers at 1 MP per step outside and 1 MP per four steps inside) and only gives a paltry 25-50 HP to a single character per casting. A tent heals 100 HP per character, but has a 100 GP price tag and you'll always be strapped for gold. Some hospitals will heal a character to full, for a cost 200 GP each, but there are only a couple in the game. Still, this is the fastest way to heal, especially when you near the 2250 HP cap. Unlike most RPGs, inns don't heal your characters, they only save your game.
  • Although the manual gives detailed instructions for how to play the game, neither it nor the in-game characters give you useful direction for how to progress the story which causes a lot of aimless wandering


Box Art



Maps with details can be found here: mikesrpgcenter.com/ultima3.




The best strategy I have found to limit the endless grinding as much as possible is to form a party where each character has at least some magic (preferably so half can cast Repel and the other half Undead). Then, keep your party at level 2 for most of the game. As long as you're level 2, only the weakest enemies will spawn, and you can easily kill them with the free spells to amass gold. Buy the best weapon for each character, but don't bother buying armor as you can get all four characters the magic armor for free with the gold pick.

When you need a ship, create a disposable fifth character and swap out one of your party members. Raise the disposable character to level 5, and go in and out of the castle until a pirate ship spawns in the bay. Kill the pirates, and take their ship, then save and swap back to your low-level character. The ship will remain, and you can now explore the sea without encountering monsters.

Get all the simple stuff at this point (items, prayer/bribe commands, horn, etc.), then, take your low-level party to Ambrosia and raise all your stats. You'll frequently have to fight a demon-type monster on the way out, but, if you get flowers for each party member and give them to Sherry, you can get compass hearts to avoid it in the future. If you ever lose your ship, just use your disposable character to get another.

Once all your characters have maxed out stats, get the mark of kings for each character, then, level up (you'll surely have earned enough XP to reach level 25 for each character). Get the remaining marks, and the silver pick, and you're ready to assault Exodus' castle. It will still take a -long- time to beat the game, but this will greatly speed up the process.


The original Apple II game doesn't have credits.

Role Staff
Original Designer Richard Garriott
Producers Masaichiro Hirano, Yasuo Hattori
Directors Kunihiko Kagawa, Junichi Ishii
Coordinators Kouji Ichikawa, Masuko Mori
Chief Programmer (NES) Takaaki Ushiki
Programmers (NES) Yoshihiko Nakazawa, Tomohiro Hori, Naoki Koga, Saeko Suda
Programmers (MSX2) Hiroyuki Fujiwara, Satoru Miki
Character Designer Atsushi Fujimori
Words Arrangement (Dialogue?) Yasushi Akimoto
Music Composer Tsugutoshi Goto
Illustrator Tadashi Tsukada
Sales Promotion Mutsuko Arata
Special Thanks Aya Nishitani, Saburo Yamada, Yasuhiro Kawashima, Kono Production


Language Native Transliteration Translation
English Ultima: Exodus
Japanese ウルティマ 恐怖のエクソダス Urutima: Kyofu no Ekusodasu Ultima: Fear of Exodus


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