Ultima: Exodus

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North American NES box.

Ultima: Exodus, known in Japan as ウルティマ 恐怖のエクソダス Urutima Kyofu no Ekusodasu, "Ultima: Fear of Exodus", is a role-playing game and a port of Ultima III: Exodus, but I have a history with it different enough to warrant its own page. This version was created by Newtopia Planning and first released in Japan by Pony Canyon on the Famicom in 1987, then for the MSX2 in 1988, and later in 1989 in North America on the NES by FCI. The MSX 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 audience.

I first played this game after renting it from a video store 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 and 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 without the manual. 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. The hint book contains everything I needed to beat the game, and I got about two thirds of the way through it, but I didn't beat it then. Years later, having gotten tired of it being a game that I really loved, and sunk hundreds of hours in, 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), and then finally beat it on 2017-07-08.

Status

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

Review

  • Overall: 4/10
  • Best Version: NES

Good

  • For the time, the graphics are pretty good, certainly better than any of the PC-based Ultima ports.
  • The game music is very well composed.
  • 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.
  • There is a large variety to the towns; each focuses on a particular terrain, and it's impressive to see varying age groups among the NPCs.
  • 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.
  • Having wind that affects how fast the ship can move in various directions was a cool idea.
  • The amount of effort Pony Canyon put into marketing the game was amazing. Multiple professionally made hint books, a manga, a vinyl soundtrack, etc.

Bad

  • The game engine moves too slowly. I found the game to be much more playable when run at double speed in an emulator.
  • The towns are very redundant. Most of them have the same shops as each other, so they could be removed altogether. Also, most of the NPC dialogue is useless. Much of it is banter: "it's a good day for washing," "it's too late to play Ultima," etc. Some of the dialogue contains clues, but the majority of the clues are either unhelpful: "find the shrines," or incorrect: "dig here!"
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • If you pick the wrong menu item in combat, you have to forfeit your turn, you can't undo the menu option.
  • 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, and their layout is ridiculous. Like the towns, they're mostly redundant and half of them could be eliminated.
  • Turning on a trapped square in a dungeon makes you hit the same trap over again.
  • There are a couple game breaking bugs, but mercifully, they're rarely encountered.

Ugly

  • The game requires an obscene amount of grinding. You have to grind monsters to get XP to raise levels, but levels only increase your 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. But before you can tackle that, you have to equip your party with about 10,000 GP in weapons and armor, and buy food and healing along the way. All that grinding takes literal days to do.
  • The vast majority of the game is combat and aimless wandering.
  • Recovering HP after major combat takes forever. Inns don't heal your characters, they only save your game. Characters max out at 2550 HP. There is only one healing spell which gives a paltry 25-50 HP and affects only a single character. A tent heals 100 HP per character, but has a 100 GP price tag. Some hospitals will heal a character to full, but it costs 200 GP each, and there are only a couple in the game.

Box Art

Documentation

Maps

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

Graphics

Links