RPG Journal – Nature of the Beast

I almost feel that Ultima VII is cursed for me. Over the years, I’ve started it numerous times, but never got very far before stopping. On my current playthrough, which I thought was going pretty well, I suddenly realized that a bug had been triggered that prevented me from continuing the storyline. I do keep multiple save files in the event that I need to restore to a previous part of the game, but all of them seemed to be affected. Regardless, if I had to go back that far anyway, I might as well start from scratch.

Ultima VII: The Black Gate
“Avatar! Know that your game is royally screwed. Know that if my hand were visible, it would be extending a big, red middle finger! You will never defeat me, Avatar. NEVER! BWA-HA-HA-HA!”

If you fall off a horse, you get right back on, otherwise you’ll never ride again. So, I’ve swallowed my discouragement, and completely started over. But it’s not as bad as it seems. Considering the two-week break I took, I haven’t actually lost quite as much progress as it feels like (though it was still several hours). Also, I have a better handle on the game now, so it’s been a pretty brisk replay. I did rush a little to get to the area where the aforementioned bug triggered just to make sure it wouldn’t be a problem again, but I’m safely past it now.

The incident reminded me of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and all the glitches and patches (with new glitches) that were reported in the media last year. It seems not much has changed in the last two decades. But any large, complex piece of software will be more prone to bugs and glitches than something small and streamlined. RPGs are supposed to be large and complex, giving the player a lot of free reign to experiment and customize, and it’s near impossible to anticipate every scenario and permutation of elements that the player may concoct. Thus, bugs and glitches, even of the disastrous game-stopping variety, are simply the nature of the beast. (Case in point, the fan-made Exult engine that runs Ultima VII natively in Windows fixes many of the bugs from the original DOS version, but still has an unresolved game-crashing bug of its own.)

Eliminating these problems would require the developers to take more control of the player’s experience, and be stricter with what the player is allowed to do. JRPGs seem to take this approach, as they are characteristically more linear and restrictive than Western RPGs. But take it too far, and you would start to lose the core elements of an RPG.

I have opted to keep playing Ultima VII via DOSBox rather than Exult, bugs and all. I suppose it’s because I’ve gotten used to the way it works, but it also feels a little more “pure.”

And I will continue to keep multiple save files.

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