Review by Black_Crusher
This is it, the hardest game there ever was.
Back in my formative years I was very much into RPG games for the Apple IIe computer system. Titles like Bard's Tale, Might & Magic, Curse of the Azure Bonds, and Ultima kept me interested and pale-skinned for months and months. There was one game my friend Rich had though, that was much different than the others. It just had this certain look to it that maybe I too could make a game that looked like this. The graphical layout was nice, the colors bold and clear (for an Apple IIe game, anyway). You could even name your own adventuring party, how cool is that? And so the hook was set. Enter the nightmare that is Deathlord.
Oh man, you've got me. Like a lot of games from that time period, players learned of the story from talking to about 500 NPCs scattered around the GIGANTIC world that Deathlord takes place in. Some people you talked to in other games like Ultima had some insightful tips and hints. In Deathlord you get grand responses like "KOBUTO HIDE GOLD". This wouldn't be so bad if there weren't 20 of these same people in every town you visit. What's worse is that the game forces you to hear such wisdom-filled verse a thousand times during your adventure because somewhere in that pack is one guy who will tell you something different or / and helpful. Every time I thought I got pretty far in this game I would get killed off and have to start again, so I'm no Deathlord storyline expert that's for sure.
I really liked them myself. The main screen is mostly black with different colored outlined boxes that contain either the main display screen or vital information like your character's names, levels, or hitpoints. Whichever of your guys is the party leader (i.e. decision maker) will also have his little icon shown while you walk around. A really cool thing about Deathlord is that each of the many classes have their own little picture to go with them. Enemies also have their own little icons, and unlike your guys they can be shown in colors other than white. The terrain of the world is very simple but effective- Water, poison marshes, forests, and cities each have their own distinctive tiles.
SOUND / MUSIC: 2/10
Well, there is no music to speak of, which was pretty much the norm for back then. Sound effects are nothing more than blips and beeps. I suppose the best sound effect this game has going for it would be when you step onto a tile with poison marsh on it and you all get injured. It's a pleasing high beep for each member to enjoy!
The controls for this game are very strange too. Instead of using, what do you call them, oh yeah ARROW KEYS to move your troupe around you need to move them by pressing the I,J,K, and M keys. Why? Beats me. Almost every key on the keyboard has some sort of meaning in Deathlord, even making use of some little-used jobs like the "$" key for monetary commands. I didn't really get why you had to "E"nter a town from different directions at first but learned later that this is because some towns have riddles and shops that can only be accessed by entering them from another side.
Frustratingly near-impossible to play due to the high degree of insane difficulty. And this is from someone who most likely never even got close to the game's end. I don't even know where to start, but for now let's go over the basics. You begin the game and can create a character from scratch to add to a large pool of other characters. You can pick from a surprisingly high amount of classes (jobs), but good luck figuring out what more than 4 of them actually are and what special skills they might hold. I recognized "ninja", and that was pretty much it. There was always a ninja in my party, because I knew from past experience that ninjas pretty much rule all. For my other guys, I just chose what class's little picture looked cool since I had no idea what a "Kichigai" was or did.
But it gets way better! After assembling my newly-named adventuring group (a common name I used was "Lifelords" ahahahaha...) it was time to take them on the town and buy them the best gear I could afford. There was a huge problem though right off the bat when I went to "B"uy stuff from the merchant: No localisation to speak of! Just like the character classes, most of the weapons and armor in the game had Japanese names. Was a yori better than a naginata? Who the hell knows? What was worse is that you could actually purchase weapons and armor for guys that couldn't end up wearing it when you tried to afterwards. Oh, did I mention that each guy has exactly ONE slot for a weapon, armor, and the like? So it'd ask you something like this: "REPLACE? (Y/N)" What!? No hint as to which is the better gear? Should I dump my hard-earned Katana I know I can use for some mystery product that could be Japanese for flower pot? If you do replace your equipment, the old one is gone forever too! A lot of trial and error, a lot of trial and error..
Gold! Ah, gold rules in Deathlord as one might expect it would, and in order to buy anything you must first make sure to "P"ool your gold to the guy who's doing the shopping. Each guy can only hold a maximum of 10,000 gold pieces. The most expensive thing you can buy also costs 10,000 gold and that's a ship. And after you spend all your money on this ship you can easily get it stolen or lost at sea, forcing you to buy another later. And gold is also how you pay for training for your guys to level up and stand a chance of surviving past an hour or so. Top that off with the fact that money is not easy to get in this game either, as trying to take basically anything most places will only get the town's entire guard army after you. If you think that you can escape and come back later to try again, you're wrong because these guards will NEVER FORGET YOUR FACES EVER. Each time you attempt to enter that town for any reason at all, the guard army will charge you and attempt to kill you (usually pretty easily too). Why couldn't it have been like Ultima: Exodus where they hired stupid guards to protect the populace? Maybe it's more realistic, but it makes for a pain to get by.
Battles! Oh yes, you will be up to your armpits in the blood of yourselves many, many times while playing Deathlord. While walking around using the awkward I,J,K,M setup you will see many monsters and assassins moving to intercept you. To make sure that they do, the designers made it so that the enemies could also move diagonally. This cheap tactics leads to many unintentional fights in cramped hallways where enemies on the other side of brick walls can lay some smackdown on your party when they hit a corner in a hallway. So, what did the programmers do to make your battles even harder? They made it so that only the first 3 people of your 6 people team can actually HIT the monsters! So if you were unlucky guessing the class names and put 3 barbarians in your back row they were rendered useless. The only kinds of attacks the last 3 people in your party can make are magic spells...
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Magic spells.. In this game, you can attempt to cast magic spells provided the class you guessed at in the beginning: 1.) was a magic-user, 2.) was the right KIND of magic user, and 3.) you spelled each one of the giant, confusing foreign spells exactly right or no spell for j00! To make matters even worse, if for some reason you didn't have the giant booklet that came with the game (like me, it was lost) you could never hope to guess what the spells' names were because they are never mentioned in the context of the game at all! No drop down list to pick from. No NPC wizard to remind you to speak of. You are on your own, buddy!
I wish I could say the disasterous features (and lack of) end here but they don't. To rub salt into your wounds, when your characters get killed- and they will be dying aplenty- they are snuffed out forever on your save game file as the game IMMEDIATELY overwrites your save file with your character's new deceased status. And if they all die? Too bad, start over! You will be constantly restarting the game because every time you start to figure it out and do pretty well and get a ship and sail about 20 minutes some new giant incredibly powerful monster will kill you all dead. Or you'll land on some tiny island to explore a deadly poison-filled cave just to return to find out your ship's been stolen. Or your precious supply of food could run out because you can't return to town to buy more (the guards hate you, remember?) OR you'll finally get to the bottom of a 16-level dungeon filled with traps and tricks and have some creep hop out of a coffin and level drain your asses! I have never played a game where the odds are so heavily stacked against you, even from the very beginning. 7th Saga has nothing on this, and man is that saying something.
CHALLENGE / REPLAYABILITY: Impossible
Make your interpetations from the texts above for the challenge, and add 4 or 5 points to that. And for some ungodly reason, I actually replayed this game quite a bit as a teenager, even though I'd always get squashed a few hours in and had to restart.
+ Looks good
+ Lots of classes
+ The world is huge, something like 12 or 16 continents to explore
+ Sailing is great for the 20 minutes you have your boat before you get killed off
- If Ghosts n' Goblins and 7th Saga had a baby, this would still be harder
- Everything in the U.S. released game is in Japanese!
- Cryptic, sparse storyline, you'll have no idea of what you need to do
- Nothing in the game tells you what anything is (classes / equipment / spells)
- Enemies outmaneuver, outmatch, and outnumber you in every way for most of the game
- NPCs mostly say the same thing, and the one who doesn't looks just like the others!
- The computer rewrites your save file when anybody dies as soon as they get killed
- You can only have one of each type of equipment per character, and picking up something new is a crapshoot as to if it's better or even usable to your character
- Dungeons are giant and filled with acid floors, poison marshes, lava pools and other things you can't avoid while exploring them
- Taking anything from most anywhere will sick the guards on you immediately
- These guards will always harass you whenever you return to town for any reason whatsoever for the rest of the entire game!
OVERALL: 5 / 10
And the worst part is I'm sure I've forgotten some other of the game's headaches too. As a fledgling game designer in the ancient BASIC language, this game awed and inspired me as to what could be made on the Apple IIe. It looked great, your little warriors could kill some lowly skeletons pretty easily, there sure were a lot of these little warriors to choose from.. But it all goes downhill from there in terms of most everything else. And still, for some unknown reason I continued to play this game, trying another new shot in the dark party from scratch and having that one meet the same fate as the last did. Some may say that with the book I would have had much more of a chance, and you'd probably be right, but that's no excuse why they couldn't have made the game more user-friendly itself. I'd say this game must have given would-be software pirates nightmares back then. Fortunately, there is a great walkthrough for this game right here up on GameFAQs. It just came 16 years too late!
Product Release: Deathlord (US, 12/31/87)
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