SotSB: Pieces

The area around the Well of Wisdom forms the hub of Secret of the Silver Blades. There are sixteen two-way teleport gates there, leading to significant places throughout the game, but they need to be activated from the opposite side before they can be used. It’s a reasonable way to make the player earn progress in the story, but only have to earn each bit of progress once. (I recall Ultima Underworld 2 did something similar with doors that could only be unlocked from one side.) I currently have five of the teleporters activated, which I suppose means I’m somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the way through the game.

My current mission is similarly subdivided: I’m scouring the various levels of the mines for the eight pieces (one piece per mine level) of an important artifact, a staff once owned by the big bad’s little brother. 1Actually, I don’t know which of the brothers is older; I phrase it the way I do because it sounds good. And this reminds me once again of Ultima Underworld 2, which also had a backstory involving two brothers, with no indication of which was older — which, I hear, resulted some consternation, and an emergency post-release story meeting, when the game was translated into Japanese. A character talking at length about his brother in Japanese without saying whether he’s an older or younger brother is about as natural and easy as a character talking about his sibling in English without mentioning the sibling’s gender. The mines are large: the point where you enter has coordinates (50, 50), and the tunnels spread in all directions from there, for an implied 100×100 potential size, although the upper reaches, at least, don’t reach nearly that far. But so far, I haven’t found it necessary to map them. Following the right-hand wall has sufficed to produce the first three staff fragments. This technique is not guaranteed to always work — there could be loops in the tunnels — but I can worry about mapping once I’ve seen it fail. Or once I start actually encountering monsters that pose a threat to me again, and decide I need to know the shortest route back to the exit.

Understand that the staff doesn’t show up in your inventory, or indeed anywhere else in the entire user interface. It’s a notional staff, a staff that exists only at the plot level. This is consistent with the approach taken throughout the series so far, starting with the books you recover from the Phlan library in Pool of Radiance. Curse of the Azure Bonds makes a major point of three artifacts (a helm, an amulet, and something I can’t remember) that you need to defeat the end boss, but you only see them in cutscenes. But that’s all quite easy to keep track of: the CotAB midgame has three villains, and each is linked in some way to one of the three items. Whereas these staff pieces have next to no context: they’re all found in undistinguished crannies in indistinguishable tunnels. If I were to set the game aside for a few months, as I have done with many other CRPGs, I doubt I’d be able to remember which tunnels had already yielded staff and which still need scouring. And the game wouldn’t help me. I’d have to keep notes manually or something.

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1. Actually, I don’t know which of the brothers is older; I phrase it the way I do because it sounds good. And this reminds me once again of Ultima Underworld 2, which also had a backstory involving two brothers, with no indication of which was older — which, I hear, resulted some consternation, and an emergency post-release story meeting, when the game was translated into Japanese. A character talking at length about his brother in Japanese without saying whether he’s an older or younger brother is about as natural and easy as a character talking about his sibling in English without mentioning the sibling’s gender.

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