Dive into epic RPG adventure with this acclaimed series of four classics. They will take you back to a time when RPG’s were truly challenging and, because of this, very rewarding games. By finishing one, you felt like you have really accomplished something. Those were the times where games didn’t lead you by hand with a big, red dot on your minimap or a huge arrow above your head. Many have failed in completing those games without help from a guide or a walkthrough, but those who accomplished this quest can be proud of it because here, being a hero really means something.
Each part of the series features very interesting and well told story. The combat is intuitive and fast, and the game mechanics are very easy to get into. So, if you want to test your cRPG skills or find out how they made games back then, this series is an excellent place to start your journey.
Language Notice: Crystals of Arborea is available only in English.
Minimum system requirements: Windows XP or Windows Vista, 1 GHz Processor (1.4 GHz recommended), 512MB RAM (1 GB recommended), 3D graphics card compatible with DirectX 7 (compatible with DirectX 9 recommended), Mouse, Keyboard.
Posted on 2009-05-02 18:24:13 byethanpd:
Ishar was a pretty neat game series. Nice graphics (for the time), immersive environments, good story, and some unique aspects in the gameplay. Party psychology was probably my favorite aspect, especially when you decided that someone in your party had to go. You could try to dismiss them and possibly be overruled by the other party members voting against you (who's in chargeread more here?). Or you could just simply murder them, which can have the unfortunate consequence of starting a party civil war as the victim's friend may want revenge.
While the the interface fairly simple and easy-to-use, it still follows the "real-time" aspect that you see in many other games of the time like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder. Basically, this means that combat will happen in real-time with monsters slashing at you every few seconds, sometimes faster. In turn, you fight back by clicking on the different icons to attack, cast spells, etc. and each character has their own sets of icons, so you'll be constantly clicking back and forth between the different characters for each seperate action they do. This has quite the love/hate relationship with people. Some love the control it gives and the fast pace of it. Others, like myself, find it very tedious and annoying, especially when you misclick and waste an action. Or worse, when you forget about one of your party members as you've been focusing on the ones with the faster speed and you realize you've just lost the battle because that one party member was just sitting around watching everyone else die. I always wished there was some sort of "fire at will" option that I could put on some of the characters. This is probably why I played a lot more of the turn-based games like Might and Magic back in the day...
Ranting about the combat aside, Ishar is still one of those great role-playing experiences from the past that you should definitely try.
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Posted on 2011-01-16 05:39:54 byCurunauth:
This compilation includes not only the three tightly related and similar Ishar games, but also the earlier "Crystals of Arborea", an entirely different beast that is much more of a mini-strategy game, related only in that it provides a tiny bit of the backstory. The rating is reserved for the Ishar games.
Also, I experienced some intermittent crashing, but that really didn'tread more factor into the score.
Um, it's a 320x200, grid-based "first person" RPG. Don't expect miracles. That said, it looks good for what it is. The interface is well designed, clearly displays critical information, and has attractive, distinguishable graphics for items. The 256x113 view window always clearly shows what you're seeing, and enemies are instantly distinguishable even at maximum distance. Character portraits are actually fairly nice, and the enemies in 2&3 look pretty good. There are only a couple frames of sprite animation, but it's certainly clear who is attacking or casting spells. Dungeons, cities, forests, etc each have only a few different wall tiles, but forests and the like DO have transparency, meaning that you can tell if you're skirting a walled-off clearing, particularly helpful in the jungles mazes of Ishar 3.
The visual quality does improve in each game, with environments, static scenes, and enemies all increasing in number, variation, and detail. The icy cliffs in Ishar 2 actually looked pretty decent, and Ishar 3 may be as good as you can get in this format, with textures, characters, and enemies that look photo-based.
In Ishar 2 and 3, the textual spell lists are replaced with symbols, which is both prettier and more usable, but they seem to have left a key to spell symbols out of the Ishar 2 manual - fortunately the same spells are available in Ishar 3, so use that manual.
CONTROLS and GAMEPLAY:
Movement is standard grid-based "first-person" fare: 4 directions to step, and turning left or right. this can be done with the handy buttons on the screen, or with keyboard shortcuts. You arrange party members in a 5x5 grid, and those on the front line can melee attack - this can again be done by clicking (on buttons helpfully displaying the active weapon and darkening when cooling down between strikes) or with hotkeys. Changing the casting system in Ishar 2 allowed them to improve the hotkey layout by grouping the 5 attack keys. Nothing much to say, it's pretty straightforward. Missile weapons and targeted spells require clicking on a target; since there is no spell cooldown, this makes "target everything" spells even more powerful than they already are because you can spam about 7 in the time it takes to swing a sword once. You will like this feature, I guarantee it!
Combat is realtime, with different weapons having different cooldown periods. Movement is as well, so in open spaces you can dodge past enemies. Ishar 2 introduces a day-night cycle whose main effect is the closure of shops, and there are a large number of time-dependent events and behaviors in Ishar 3. Sleeping is never required, but it replenishes mental energy, and a bit of physical energy and health. Eating replenishes physical energy, which determines the miss rate of attacks and spells. You can carry food, and once you acquire the flask or cauldron of alchemy, you can brew restorative potions for each.
Movement is quite responsive: you can zip around the landscape in short order using the keyboard. Equipping characters is managed by dragging items to bodies in the small inventory screens, and you can move stacks by clicking on the number (I missed this tip at first!). Gold and other large-quantity items are transferred with counters which start flipping progressively higher digits as you hold them, so it won't take an hour to move 10,000 gold. Life readouts are always present, and a tactical readout with the two types of fatigue, XP, and gold can replace character portraits. You can also show the contents of each character's hands and any status effects currently active, which allows you to make a virtual item hotbar by having non-fighter characters carry keys or other items you expect to use.
In Ishar 1, you have to buy spell training for each party member that can cast them; this is the primary money sink in that game. In 2 and 3, spells arrive automatically as characters level up, and a variety of new, improved equipment appears to provide a place to spend your hard-earned cash. Ishar 2 and 3 also involve a lot more mission-specific gear, including cold weather clothes, safety ropes, and the occasional disguise. Once you're geared up, money goes into building a stock of potion components. Ishar 1 has a lot of special-use potions, and Ishar 2 has a few, but in Ishar 3 you'll probably only need to worry about restoratives.
A final thing worth noting is that Ishar 2 introduces a map of the major city, which is handy, but Ishar 3 expands this to not only show where you are, but also label all shops and inns you have found, as well as quest-important locations. This is a huge upgrade, and it makes the wide array of vendors a pleasant surprise rather than a pain.
There really isn't much story to speak of in the first two games; the worlds have backstories to explain how they ended up in their current state, who the bad guys are, and what needs to be done to stop them . . . but it's all just framing for a classic combat RPG. You don't really interact with NPCs - some give you hints, some give quests, and some ask to join you, but that is achieved in a few lines of non-interactive text. The world of Ishar 3 is much more active, and figuring out where to go and what to do requires a bit of attention to what is going on. You still don't do any actual conversing, but it feels like you're interacting with the characters more, and they have more to say and do.
Your party composition does matter, and how characters relate to each other has a few important effects. A hated party member may leave in the night with all his or her gear (not really a problem in the late game, when you can simply replace sleep with potions as I did to retain the party I wanted), and party members who like each other will attack anyone else who kills them (of course, death in combat is always an option). Less subtly, PCs that really hate each other (eg due to racial or alignment mismatch) will vote against each other joining, which can make assembling a misfit party a bit of an ordering puzzle. Ishar 2 and 3 have a "team spirit" stat that tracks party discord and may have an impact on combat effectiveness, so it is worth paying more attention to it. Still, this is a mostly hidden mechanic that is more of a neat touch than a real role-playing element.
All communication is text, so there isn't any acting, and NPCs are either static or have a couple frames of animation, so there's not much to say beyond noting that while you finally get some actual characterization in Ishar 3, it's often a bit silly.
As is often the case with older RPGs, most of the difficulty is in the early game, where you're weak enough to be vulnerable to a few bad-luck hits or misses, you're too short on cash to heal a lot, and you're undergeared. Fortunately, there's always a healer to recruit somewhere near the start, although in Ishar 3 you'll probably have one fight before you reach the first inn, which will hurt a single character quite a bit, although it's certainly survivable. In Ishar 2 and 3 you can start out with all the spellcasters you need if you choose to import a party from a previous game (they'll be stripped of equipment but keep their levels . . . without XP though).
In Ishar 1, spell costs are likely to require a lot of grinding for cash, which will probably bring your party to level 30 (max) along the way; once you reach this point in the game, you're probably nigh-invincible, able to defeat enemies that drop more than enough cash to pay for the food and rest you need between strings of fights. Hanging out near city gates and repeatedly re-entering (which spawns all the city's patrols, as does loading a save in town) will let you grind to your heart's content. If you stock enough potion components, you can absolutely spam spells at any enemy that poses a real threat, and the only real threats are enemies with long-range area of attack spells that could take out your squishier casters faster than you can keep everyone healed. Enemies that charm are also an obvious issue if you have no way to reverse a corrupted fighter, but again, you'll have a deep tank of offensive spells and I think you can reverse charm by letting a character die and resurrecting them [not sure though]. The final string of bosses includes a couple who will probably hurt you pretty well, but mostly it's an endurance contest, and you have energy-restoring potions that you drink from the game-pausing inventory screen, so you're gonna win. The hardest part of Ishar 2 is probably the "rescue the princess" quest, at least if you do it fairly early (as I did because I switched my party afterward, so I wanted not to waste much leveling or spell buying), because you have to fight through a city full of enemies, and if you re-loaded at any point, you have to fight them again on the way out, only with one less party member and many of your consumables probably spent. (Common to all three games is the irritating theme of picking up temporary characters, which requires you to (permanently) dismiss or kill party members.) I ended up using a rather abusive tactic for that mission: all enemies have a limited range, and if you can go beyond that range and still see them, you can hit them with spells and arrows until you run out. Around corners this usually only exposes half of a group, but it's a rather powerful way to get past fixed guardians in particular.
Ishar 2 has a few fairly tough fights on the first island, but you can recruit plenty of throw-away PCs if you're having trouble keeping everyone alive. When you first reach the big city, fighting robbers may be a near-break-even proposition in terms of cash earned and cahs required for recovery. You also won't be strong enough to venture too deep into the next dungeon, but some initial exploration will earn you some spending money to gear up. The automatic spells mechanic simplifies leveling up and really improves spellcasters, so you really just need to keep exploring and completing subquests, gearing up as you go. It will be a while before you get the alchemy cauldron, so you'll need to take short jaunts and retreat when your casters run low. Once your wizard reaches level 13, though, you acquire a game-breaking spell: "change of timescale" heals and restores physical and spell energy to the *whole party* including the caster. It is free energy, and it makes your spellcasting bottomless [so long as you save 3 points]. After that, combat is only as difficult as your self-restraint allows it to be! Of course, you're probably reasonably well-geared by then, so it has probably become mostly about exploration - but with an infinite healing supply, you can delve as deep as you wish in the longer dungeons, and there are only a few more fights that really take much effort. (If you don't abuse the time spell, there are a couple that may kill a PC, but that's where resurrect comes in :-).)
Ishar 3 fixes the timescale spell so that it drains the caster, meaning that you can't just constantly cast it, and must still carry potion components. Even if you import a party, the level requirements for spells have been raised, so you won't be a powerhouse out of the gate, and the thieves around the city scale with your party's level, which makes them rather damaging before you buy gear. The party members you probably want are spread around the city, so building the party you want will take some time (and be warned, you're going to be fetching characters again!). Once you start questing, you'll earn cash quite quickly, thanks to the introduction of selling goods, including highly valuable goodies you can pick up in your quests. That plus the bank will have you able to buy pieces of the new top gear in fairly short order, and early acquisition of the alchemy flask means you can stay stocked with energy restorer, so your spellcasters will be at full use. After the initial exploration and cleaning of the city, this episode never felt terribly hard, because being prepared was pretty straightforward. There's not even much cause to grind, thanks to ample XP and money earned in the normal quests. I finished Ishar 3 in well under half the game days that Ishar 2 took, despite spending 4 times as much on gear.
I'll mention Crystals of Arborea here: it's a much shorter game, with only a tiny bit of story content. Length is provided by randomized item locations and a maze in the underworld, and gameplay is largely strategic, since limited healing means that you can't afford to engage in much combat, no matter how well you manage it tactically. Speed is critical, but contrary to what you may find on the internet, being beaten to an objective by the enemy is not game-ending; you merely need to take a trip down to the underworld to recover anything you didn't get to first. Once you have the hang of effective searching and evasion, the primary challenge is that the boss is *tough*; even a well-designed party may well lose someone in the final fight. (And after beating the boss, don't hang around! He comes back if you wait too long!)
LEVELS, STRATEGY, and OTHER ELEMENTS:
Ishar 1 is mostly an open landscape, with a couple cities and a small and large dungeon. Being able to out-maneuver enemies in what is essentially a dungeon crawler is a neat touch, but there's not a ton to say about level design. Enemies move around looped paths quickly enough that twists and turns in cities and dungeons are not much more than mapping complications. There is a decent distribution of treasure to be discovered tucked in corners of the landscape and sprinkled around dungeons, but you'll want to grind for cash.
Ishar 2 has a much better treasure distribution and several significant dungeons. The snowy island is confusing because the level is rotated relative to the map you have - clicking on a pier to land puts you in a different area. This isn't too bad, given that the levels are mostly linear with one internal passage, but it can get one a bit turned around. The undead-dungeon island is surprisingly deep, and has a small but decent maze in it; this game does allow you to load within a level without causing respawns, but changing levels does restore monsters, so beware of stairs when you are low on consumables! This is not a grinding tool, since money is usually needed more than XP and most monsters carry no cash. There are a few decent puzzles, but one involves finding 6 key items, several of which are in rooms behind illusory walls . . . so search thoroughly!
Ishar 3 has the most extensive city by far, and the most extensive and varied other levels as well. The main timesink in this game is exploration, thanks to a big, mostly-open forest level with a few chokepoints and a target in the middle of one area (plus some goodies in a nook off to the side) and two large jungle mazes full of twists, turns, and clearings that look alike. You will probably need to map these levels, and not loosely either. The final boss is unfortunate; he is easy to beat if you stay out of his range and spam cold spells, but on every attempt to "fight fair" with actual weapons, I hardly scratched him even with buffs, while he tore through everyone's health with area attacks, even with lots of protection up. Playing that way would have required a lot of boring retreating or time abuse. [I have just learned that stun works, at least if you are high-level enough - still, there's no way to trade blows and live.]
In all the games, you'll want at least one healer and one monk or wizard as soon as possible. In Ishar 1, Kiriela is a wizard-type caster with a healing spell, to help you out at the start. Early on, you'll probably want at least two healers to get more health out of each expensive night of sleep; a paladin like Karorn fits the bill nicely, since he's also a front-line fighter. You will eventually want a cleric to give you access to top-level cleric spells including resurrection, and if you were using a monk, replace him with a wizard (who in Ishar 1 gets the best healing spell too). Spells that hit all enemies are both extremely efficient and highly damaging even against single enemies, plus they can be spammed as fast as you can click the cast button. Plan on losing characters to plot necessity, and don't throw away developed spellcasters; fighters are far more replaceable!
For fans of the classic dungeon-crawler, these games are pretty straightforward; the difficulty curve is pretty front-loaded because gear is all purchased, meaning that once you establish solid cash flow, you'll have good armor and weapons in addition to a supply of spellcaster-powering consumables. Still, exploring the remainder of the game, mopping up basic enemies and enjoying the occasional real fight in the endgame can be enjoyable enough.
The games are basic, classic fare. The inevitable comparison is of course the Eye of the Beholder series, released at a similar time. The Ishar games are simpler, less maze-heavy, shorter, and much easier (by my recollection) than the EoB games, but they're a lot prettier, particularly Ishar 3. The comparison has plusses and minuses. The lack of mazes is a huge plus, because most mazes add frustration and time without adding actual challenge or fun. The length isn't really an issue, the Ishar games shouldn't be longer than then are. But while Ishar doesn't have any frustratingly hard sections, it has only a few that pose any challenge at all, and all the games suffer from becoming overpowered by the mid-game. (And really, they added mazes to the last game. Why can no one ever resist the mazes?)
I think I have to rate these games at 3. They're enjoyable enough to play, but there isn't much substance (and they do sport some irritating habits, such as forcing you to drop party members). When it came out, Ishar 3 might have had more value because it is very pretty for the time and all three have some unusually open environments; unfortunately, neither of those aspects is exceptional now. The character recruitment model could have provided replay value, but the only way to really vary the game would be to play without any spellcasters, and in any case it doesn't hold any interest for me. Ishar is fine, but nothing special now.
(Please note that this doesn't mean I think the EoB series is necessarily better; it has its share of flaws!)
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Posted on 2009-07-02 16:33:49 byNarakir:
GOG Review : ISHAR TRILOGY –
Good old school RPG
When I hear the word of Ishar memories of childhood and my first step into fantasy comes to my mind... NOTE : I never played Crystals of Arborea so this review is based only on my experience about Ishar.
They had quite good graphics for their, time and it wasn't a problem to get into full immersion. Sureread more compared to let's say Morrowind it's quite a joke. On the music and sound aspect it had excellent environment sounds made you relay into the skin of an adventurer wandering the vast plains, icy mountains, marshes, cities, dungeons, jungles, forests... A lot of varied environments, that were all well rendered and inspiring at their time.
A role-play team
In this game (except in Ishar 3) you can't create your own team from scratch and you have to find decent companions. The interesting aspects, comes from that some companions are just opportunists or they may dislike some other members of your group. For example you've two Dark Knights which are powerful guys but they can't stand most characters and they'll beat them instead of the enemy. Your team also votes for the exclusion or the inclusion of a member so you actually can't exclude anyone at anytime, and members can also flee with all their equipment during the night if they don't have a good reason to stay with you... A final interesting aspect is that you can export your team to the next episode if you like so.
The story of the first and second episode are quite classic, the third one involves travels in time... I will not spoil more... The whole feeling is its quite dark especially in the second one and the fact that you may choose your team-build can lead you to see your group of evil dark knights and bandits actually saving everything which is quite refreshing.
Dungeons & Exploration:
Dungeons in this game are pretty excellent one, they're quite long, you've to fight but also find switches, avoid traps and tricks and solve enigmas. The positive aspect is that they're not the only aspect of the game; you can explore the whole land if you wish and find some interesting things...
About combat & team:
Combat in Ishar is real time with “rounds” such as in Baldur’s gate when you’ve to wait a few seconds to hit again. The game use a gird system, maximum four adventurer can face four enemies, so you've to position your team in a way that mages have to stay behind, but beware if you're attacked from behind your, something that may happen. The warrior aspect of the game is just clicking as fast when you "round" comes, same for archers but at distance (They’re are hottkeys to do so) the magic aspect of the game is quite the same but you've to target the monster and unleash the blast on him, it’s more precise than the warrior and this may also be good to start killing of the boss that lies behind the enemies in front of you instead of having him actually hitting you. There's quite a good variety of spells to play with for both clerics and mage so mage lovers may like that. Real-time combat involves that you have to manage the whole thing quickly, especially with spells, but using the hotkeys can save your day, you should also try to "run away & shot" as moving backwards puts you away from an enemy while still facing him you can shot him without much problem if you've enough space to manoeuvre.
Some frustrating aspects:
- The story is pretty linear, if you didn't have the right object at the right time you had to find it before continuing without much clues, sometimes this was quite frustrating since some of the enigmas where quite hard to solve...
- You may loose a crucial item by not using it at the right moment and that killing some characters may avoid you further progressing.
- You don’t have a case-based map, your map is absolutely of no use when in a dungeon or back in time… you had to draw one yourself as you are exploring, but don't panic, there are still some walkthroughs to the game to be found on the web so you can avoid these frustrating aspects.
- Last point, at the end of Ishar 1 you'll have to trade one of your characters for another one you absolutely need to finish the quest
Perhaps I’m too much into nostalgia, but the Ishar series are still good games, I you’re an old school RPG fan you’ll probably love it, if you are not frustrated by the linearity, the combat aspect or they way you can’t build up you own team until episode III. I recommend you to play them in order; you can import your team of old good chaps from the previous episode with all stats, but no equipment. At that time RPGs had room for your imagination, you had to imagine life where you saw a few animations or what was actually happening in your team as they didn’t made so much comment except “I don’t like this guy” and “aaargh!”
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