Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Game 289: Seven Horror's (1988)

Or just one if you're a grammar nazi.
Seven Horror's
Motelsoft (developer and publisher)
Released in 1988 for Atari ST
Date Started: 24 May 2018
Date Ended: 28 May 2018 
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 19
Ranking at time of posting: 63/294 (21%)
Sometimes, when a commenter tells me about a game not on my list, I can pretend I didn't see the comment, and I therefore don't have to add it unless they get really insistent about it. But when a commenter says that I've missed about 20 games, all from the same publisher, as JarlFrank recently did, I can't just ignore it.

The company is the still-extant Motelsoft of Stuttgart, Germany, and the first of its RPG titles is the unfortunately-named Seven Horror's. It is called Seven Little Horrors on the publisher's site, but it drops the "Little" (and adds an unnecessary apostrophe) on its title screen. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any documentation for the game, but the backstory summarized in a magazine indicates that the land is called Timor, evil threatens, and it's up to the party to find seven artifacts and a mysterious key, then confront the purveyor of evil in the Black City.
The Black City explains what I need to enter.
The twist (and the magazine article doesn't explain this) is that the party is composed of monsters, and if Seven Horror's does one thing well, it's introducing a variety of bizarre character and enemy portraits.
Nice of Motelsoft to preload the scoreboard.
The game begins with a roster of 10 characters, from which you select 3 to go adventuring. (I don't know if the default roster came with the game or if it's just what's saved on this particular disk image.) You can delete existing characters to create your own.

Races, I'm guessing, were mostly made up by authors of the game rather than reflections of German high fantasy. They are Orge, Thauma, Hunch, Waxor, Gnome, and Megrim. "Orge" is probably a misspelling of "Ogre," "Thauma" perhaps a back-formation from "Thaumaturge" (Thauma itself meaning "miracle" in the original Greek). No idea on "Hunch" or "Waxor." "Gnome" is the only thing recognizable from normal fantasy. "Megrim" means a kind of funk or depression in English, so I have no idea how it translated to a race in a German game.

Gathering a party of my own creation: an Orge magician, a Gnome vampire, and a Thauma devil.

Classes are less bizarre: magician, banshee, devil, vampire, voodooca, and psychic. Each race/class combination gets scores in "vitality" (basically strength, or the damage they do to enemies) and hit points as well as starting values in each of the game's six magic powers, which are the same as the classes (roughly: devils use the "hell" magic power). Magicians naturally start with the most points in magician magic, but they also have some values in psychic, vampire, devil, and voodooca magic. My Thauma devil started with at least some points in all magic.

The game begins on a small overland map dotted with towns and dungeons. It's impossible to distinguish them, so I made some annotations. There are 4 towns, each of which offers a single service: one town to heal, one to save the game, one to level-up, one to swap out characters for others on the roster. The healing town is called "Sandor," which is the name of the next two RPGs from this developer.
My annotations of the game map.
There are 14 dungeons, 10 of them displaying a level from 1-10 before you enter. This is presumably to help guide the explorations and prevent inexperienced parties from tackling the toughest dungeons.
Combat comes randomly as you explore, always against individual enemies. It took some getting used to. When it begins, the third character always activates by default, but you can activate the other two by clicking on the "rollers" under their portraits. You can switch characters throughout combat, but you only get one attack per round no matter who makes it.
Combat begins with one of the game's inventive enemies.
Attacking is all done by magic. Every foe is susceptible to one of the six types of magic, so you have to do a little experimentation the first time you encounter an enemy (and the game doesn't have very many of them), but after that it's just a matter of consulting your notes. Using a type of magic drains your points in that magic type, but you can still use the magic even if you have 0 points. You do a lot less damage than if you have points, but the foes' vulnerabilities are so imbalanced that it's better to attack with 0 points using the right skill than with many points in the wrong one. I'm not sure if the character race or class makes any difference beyond the starting vitality and magic points.
Babayaga tries an ineffective attack. An effective one does like 100 points instead of 2.
The character who scores the kill gets most of the experience from the combat, while others get 100 experience points for combats in which they didn't participate. The party also gets gold from the encounters, and the amounts are laughably variable. One might deliver 34 gold pieces while the next provides 25,089.

Alas, there's no town that restores magic points. To do that, you have to enter the dungeons. The dungeons are all one level, 29 x 19. The numbered dungeons offer an automap and use the "worm tunnel" convention by which there's always wall space around corridors, and every potential space is filled. Every wall has some kind of monster portrait on it, and a lot of them have buttons underneath that open doors. There are occasional spinners and teleporters. Combats are about as frequent as in the outdoor areas.
Slowly filling in the automap. There's a treasure in the lower-left corner.
As you explore, you periodically come across containers in the lower-left corner. Opening them may provide you with healing or a boost in a particular magic score.
The game lets you check your current levels before deciding who to apply the increase to.
Combats only get more difficult, and longer, the higher the dungeon level that you explore. I soon discovered a few important tips. First, the damage you do is based on both your vitality and your current point level with the associated magic type. The spell points aren't just a reservoir of power; they also indicate a current skill level. Thus, it makes sense to give point boosts in a particular category to a single character, getting his skills as high as possible, rather than spread them out evenly. It makes sense for each character to specialize in two magic skills.

Second, combats in the dungeon eventually get so long and deadly that it makes sense to flee from most of them and do your grinding later, in the outdoors, where you have easy access to the healing town.
A mid-game combat. Note that my third character is specializing in magician and banshee magic.
When the treasure canisters don't provide skill boosts, they provide one of the game's 20 inventory items, or I guess potions, which you can use as-needed. These various items heal individual (or all) characters, resurrect, provide boosts to vitality and experience, and increase points in the different magic skills for everybody at once. A couple are mysteries. For instance, one says that when used, feinde sterben, which means "enemies die." But you can't use the items in combat, so I'm not sure how that works. Another is labeled "Protons I" and simply lists "?????" for the description.
My inventory items after finding one artifact.
The spaces at the top of the inventory screen are reserved for the 7 artifacts. I found the first in Kalos, the "Level 1" dungeon, then slowly assembled the remaining ones from among the other 9 leveled dungeons.  I have no idea what any of them are depicting. Three of the numbered dungeons, of course, have no artifacts.
All the artifacts assembled.
The four unnumbered dungeons are a bit odd. They have no enemies within them and hardly any walls. Instead, they have about half a dozen squares that offer copious treasure--and one square where you encounter a mage who wants that treasure in exchange for a hint. "The miserable creature cannot be defeated without the magic word," the magician told me in the first of these dungeons that I explored. The other three offered single words--"XORA," "NADA," and "LOR"--which perhaps together equal the magic word.
This gives me a lot of gold, but what is it? A cash register? An ornate treasure chest?

I said "a mage," but honestly, I have no idea what this guy is.
Leveling up, which only increases your maximum hit points, takes a long time. In eight hours, I was only able to get to Level 3.
It's going to be a long time between levels.
After eight hours, I've explored every dungeon and found the seven artifacts, but I have no idea how to find the schlüssel I need to enter the Black City. Dungeon exploration isn't exciting enough for me to go through them all again, and I think I was pretty thorough the first time anyway. Thus, I'm going to prematurely offer a GIMLET for what I experienced but hold the game open a few days in hopes that someone comes along and offers a hint. I'd also like to know more about the backstory. Are my characters evil? Or is the game inverting usual tropes and suggesting that vampires and devils can be heroes?

Seven Horror's earns:
  • 2 points for the game world, maybe more if someone can show that the documentation provided a more interesting backstory. As it is, a land of monsters is pretty interesting on its own.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. The races and classes don't seem to mean much since anyone can use and develop in any type of magic. Leveling is too rare to be very rewarding.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. Once you learn their weaknesses, there's not much to the enemies.
  • 2 points for magic and combat, which are identical. Again, there aren't many choices to make during combat itself.
  • 2 points for equipment, a small but useful set of enhancements.
  • 2 points for economy, which almost all goes to healing. It would have been cool if one of the towns had a shop to buy the various potions or other magical enhancements.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 2 points for its fun, bizarre graphics, but none for its sparse sound and annoying, mouse-only interface.
  • 3 points for gameplay, mostly for what seems like a modest length and a decent challenge.
That gives us a preliminary final score of 19, but I'll hold out the possibility of amending it if I'm ever able to continue and win.

According to Motelsoft's web site, Seven Horror's was based on an earlier Atari 8-bit game called Labyrinth (1986), which no longer exists. Neither game seems to have attracted much notice or press, but that didn't slow them down. We'll soon encounter them again with Sandor (1989) and Sandor II (1991), top-down games with first-person dungeon exploration and tactical combat on a grid; there seems to be some Ultima inspiration here. The company offered 20 more RPGs through 2006, ending with Arcan - Der Schatz des Hexenmeisters.

© and test by Chester Bolingbroke.      Link: to the original report of The CRPG Addict

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