Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Sword of Aragon", 1989.

It's been a while. Things have been hairy. But I had to rouse myself from my radio silence, as my blogstar favorite the CRPG Addict has been covering one of my all-time favorite underdog video games, SSI's 1989 fantasy strategy-RPG hybrid Sword of Aragon, which took up more than a few of my high school afternoons. This ad is scanned from an issue of Dragon magazine, which, boasted a comic strip section ("Dragonmirth") as well as great mini-comics like Wormy and Phil Foglio's awesome What's New? with Phil and Dixie.

SWORD OF
ARAGON
AN EPIC FANTASY STRATEGY GAME

  • Lead an army of warriors, knights, and mages to conquer the mystical land of Aragon.
  • Move across the strategic map and zoom into highly detailed tactical combat against deadly foes such as evil humans, orcs, trolls, giants, cyclops, dragons, and minotaurs.
  • You must also deal with the problems of medieval economics and resource allocation.
[screenshot]
Strategic map showing a knight scouting the road to Paritan.

[screenshot]
Tactical map showing an assault on the fortified city of Marinia.

[screenshot]
Deadly combat between your forces and a dragon.

  • IBM PC
  • COMING SOON FOR:
  • COMMODORE 64/128
  • AMIGA
Why do your fantasy games require place names from the real world? This game does not take place in Spain. Ultima and the Bard's Tale do not elapse in the Orkney Islands. OK, let's proceed.

The text plays it pretty straight. "[W]arriors, knights, and mages" -- I like the nominal mage in the picture. "Hello, fighting men -- I am participating in this photo shoot to help indicate that this game is not only medieval, but also fantasy." The land of Aragon does have the standard Tolkien roster of demihumans (orcs, elves, dwarves, etc.) but I don't know that I'd go so far as to call it mystical, mired down as it is in commerce development and variable taxation. That stuff is the kiss of death to mysticism. The tactical combat is indeed highly detailed, especially for 1989, and it's funny how they stress the morality of the game's manifest destiny of military conquest by emphasizing how the humans players will fight are evil. Well then! It is also possible to conduct combat against good humans, but we won't put that in the ad. The list of foes is actually pretty exhaustive, though strangely they omit the goblins and titans which constitute a certain bread and butter of seasonal random encounters, while overstating a couple species of opponents which are basically one-off bosses. Bonus points also for unintended hilarity with "You must also deal with the problems of medieval economics and resource allocation." Well now my fantasy simulation is complete! The Santa Paravia factor wouldn't exactly be selling games into the '90s, but they may not have realised it at the time.

The ad artwork is relatively beyond reproach, with just a few curiosities. Mace man at the bottom right, trying to use that unbalanced weapon in combat would tear off your own arm, though the studs are a nice touch. The warhorse has just received a formidable punch from off-screen. Mage, stop flirting with your sexy footwear. Those screen shots won't exactly sell the game, though I played it in monochrome and found the graphics perfectly serviceable.

Players wouldn't really see anything else like this until 1994's Master of Magic from Simtex and Microprose, which thrives on two factors that SoA could have benefited from: multiplayer gaming and map randomization. All the same, this game's scripted campaign yields some very satisfying canned narrative on top of occasionally-bemusing emergent storytelling. As I noted at the CRPG Addict's site, anyone interested in this title should know that one of SoA's original devs has revisited the territory with a browser game.

Two parting notes: SSI received a license TSR to make D&D games back in 1987, so why was this set in a roll-your-own fantasy world which was merely... very similar to any number of D&D settings? Also: I am highly confident that the Commodore 64 version mentioned in this ad never made it to market. That's it! I'll try not to stay away for so long before the next post!