Ultima IV - Quest of the Avatar (Origin, 1985)

To me, this is where the Ultima saga begins. I never played (and never will) the first three games, but in my humble opinion, Ultima really comes to its own when the concept of Avatar is introduced. And that is of course in Ultima IV: quest of the Avatar.
Ultima IV is the last game of the saga I played, however strange that may sound. And I played them all, from IV up to IX, including the Underworlds. Ultima V was the first title I played, followed by the others up to IX in chronological order. It was only when I completed the saga that I felt I needed to play Ultima IV too, to see with my own eyes where it all begun. Let's say it was for historical research reasons.

Ultima IV character creation Ultima IV character creation

Several conversions were made of this retrogame: Amiga, Apple II, Atari 800, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, FM Towns, MSX2, PC-88, PC-98, X68000, X1, FM-7, NES, Master System (thank you wikipedia). I played the PC version.

Right from the beginning it felt like an oversimplified Ultima V. Smaller world, less people around, less weapons, less things to do, less freedom. But it hardly seems fair to compare it to its sequels, it should be compared with what came before. And form this perspective, Ultima IV really shines bright.

The first thing that distinguishes Ultima IV from everything else is the main quest. No bad guy to beat, no damsel in distress, no treasure to be found. You just had to achieve enlightenment by pursuing the Eight Virtues. In other words, you just had to become a better person. That's pretty revolutionary in my book.

Lord British's throne room Lord British's throne room

That's probably quite limiting from a pure RPG point of view: you have much less freedom in your character development, being tied to do-gooder principles. You couldn't get to the end of the game if you played an evil, coward, egotistic character. But in the end, Role Playing really comes up to that, being capable of playing a role, whatever that may be. So stop complaining.

Getting to the end of the game was painful. The combat system is very limited and there are a lot of enemies to fight. Too many, if you ask me. After a while combat isn't fun any more, it becomes a nuisance. But this is probably the only annoying aspect I can find in the game (although arguably not a negligible one).
Everything else I already knew and loved about Ultima was there: the lore, the magic system, the mixing of reagents, the beautifully alive (if smaller) world.

Several years later I played the NES version on my cellphone for a while. Because yes, there is a NES (Famicom) version. And it's a surprisingly very good conversion. If you don't completely hate the japanese-RPG graphic style, the game is all there, even if with slightly simplified mechanics. No mixing reagents, multiple-choice dialogues and the likes. But that was inevitable due to the NES nature.
The problem with annoying fights is still present, so I couldn't find it in myself to finish the game. I suppose there's still hope for my sanity then.

The NES conversion The NES conversion

I recently tracked down a quite expensive Atari ST boxed version. In terms of feelies, I believe Ultima IV may be the best game in the saga. The quality of the materials is incredible.
This is the box content:

  • Cloth map, as usual.
  • Book of Mystic Wisdom, a.k.a the wizard handbook. Spells and reagents are described here.
  • The History of Britannia, to introduce you to the local lore.
  • Player reference card.
  • Two 3,5" floppy disks (too bad).
  • A metal Ankh talisman.
  • Registration Card.

box content