Ultima: Exodus is a fantasy role-playing video game originally developed by Origin Systems. This port was developed by Newtopia Planning and first released in Japan by Pony Canyon on the Famicom on 1987-10-09, then for the MSX2 in 1988, and later in February 1989 in North America on the NES by FCI. This is a port of Ultima III: Exodus, and while the game is similar enough that it should be on the original game's page, I have such a history with it, it warrants its own page. The MSX2 port is nearly the same as the Famicom version, just with a slightly different color palette and sound due to the different hardware. This game was heavily advertised in Japan; the soundtrack was composed by a pop musician and released on vinyl, cassette, and CD, a single was released featuring the vocals of a pop singer who had an in-game cameo, several extensive hint books were made, and even comics and game books were written to introduce the Ultima series to the Japanese console audience.
I first played this game after renting it from a video store around 1989 and loved it. I remember reading the poorly printed replacement manual that came with the game and seeing that there was "dragon armor," which I thought was so cool. Later, my step-brother brought his copy when he visited, and I played it more. I accidentally erased his save game file, and my brother and I tried to rush through the game to get back all the stuff he had, but were unable to, he was very mad. But we kept playing, and I amassed a lot of gold and raised each of the characters to level 5. This unleashed the pirates, and we made it to Ambrosia. I found a shrine, and, teasingly, my step-brother told me to try and donate all my gold to see what happened. I obeyed, but since I didn't see any benefit, I felt betrayed by him. Only later did I realize I was on the right path.
That winter, I asked for the game for Christmas, and got it. It was a used copy which didn't have the manual, but it did come with a nice transparent purple plastic case, which fit with the game's graphic art. I played it a lot, but didn't get very far into the story because the game has very little in-game direction. Later, my brother and I found a copy of the hint book at a Toys 'R Us, and he bought it for me. With it, I was able to get a lot farther and even max out the level of my party. However, as the hint book reveals, you have to grind like crazy to get far into the game, and after getting about two thirds through the story, I got sick of grinding and gave up. Years later, having gotten tired of it being a game that I really loved, and sunk hundreds of hours into, but couldn't beat, I sat down and spent even more hours grinding out gold and buying my stats (I ran the game at 2x speed in an emulator), and then finally beat it on 2017-07-08.
I've also done a fair amount of hacking on this game, figuring out the save-game format and the dialog encoding method.
I own a complete-in-box copy of the game and a loose copy.
Best Version: NES
— This section contains spoilers! —
- The art of Atsushi Fujimori is quite good, better than any of the other ports until this point.
- The game music is extremely well composed, having been written by professional musician, Tsugutoshi Goto.
- Hiding portions of the map that your character's can't see, while not very attractive to look at, is certainly more realistic than seeing through walls and roofs, which was common in most RPGs of the day.
- The amount of effort Pony Canyon put into marketing the game was amazing. Multiple professionally made hint books, a manga, a game book, a soundtrack (on CD, cassette, and vinyl), and more.
- There is a wide variety of classes and races which make it very easy to customize a party to your play style.
- The spell list has a good amount of variation. There are attack spells for singular and multiple targets, spells for getting around in the dungeons, disarming traps, healing, resurrection, and so forth. This allows for different play strategies.
- There is nice variety to the layout of the towns; each focuses on a particular terrain, and it's impressive to see varying age groups among the NPCs.
- Having wind that affects how fast the ship can move in various directions was a nice touch.
- The game engine moves too slowly. Characters walk slowly, monsters move slowly, projectiles in combat are slow, etc. I found the game to be much more playable when run at double speed in an emulator.
- The content of the towns are very redundant. Most of them have duplicate shops all selling the same stuff, and most of the NPC dialogue is useless banter: "it's a good day for washing," "it's too late to play Ultima," etc. Occasionally the dialogue contains useful clues, but the majority of the clues are either unhelpful: "find the shrines," or incorrect: "dig here!" Sometimes, even the hidden or out-of-the way NPCs offer pointless dialogue. I would estimate that half of the towns could be eliminated.
- Weapons are poorly factored. Weapons of a higher power level only do marginally better damage despite costing exponentially more gold. Ranged weapons usually do the same amount of damage as melee weapons, but you have many chances to hit before the monsters can hit back, so the only reason to use a melee weapon is if the class can't use a ranged one.
- Enemies can attack diagonally, but you cannot, even if your character is wielding a pole-arm and the enemy is weaponless.
- If you choose the wrong menu item in combat, you can't undo the menu option, instead, you have to forfeit your turn. While punishing you for your indecision is more realistic, it's annoying to deal with.
- Monsters in each group are essentially sprite-swaps. For example, titans, giants, and golems are all identical in combat.
- I don't care for the 3D dungeons because you can't tell where the enemies are, there are WAY too many traps that suck you health, food, and light sources. The layouts are ridiculous, and, like towns, their content is mostly redundant and half of them could be eliminated.
- Traps in dungeons do not go away when you spring them, so, if you have to walk through the same area multiple times, you'll be hit multiple times. Traps in a corner are the worst because even turning to the left or right will cause the trap to spring again.
- There are a couple game breaking bugs, that will let you keep playing, but make it impossible to win. Mercifully, they're rarely encountered.
- The game's economy is totally broken. Gold is a precious resource and you will always be lacking throughout the entire game. It's rewarded far too slowly, and entirely at random; there is a 50/50 chance that a single goblin will be carrying more gold than a pair of dragons, and no battle, no matter how difficult, will ever award more than 99! Because of this, the game requires an obscene amount of grinding. To raise stats, you must grind gold and donate 100 GP for a single stat increase at a shrine. Getting a single character to their optimal stats costs about 20,000 GP (about 800 battles). But before you can tackle that, you have to equip your party with about 10,000 GP in weapons and armor (400 more battles), and buy food and healing along the way. Grinding for that much gold will take you literal weeks. To buy the best armor in the game for a single character you'll have to fight an average of 131 battles, and, at about five minutes per battle, it will take about 11 hours of grinding for that single piece of armor!
- Recovering HP after major combat takes forever. There are four ways to heal and they're all slow: walking, casting the Heal spell, using a tent, or at a hospital. Walking heals 1 HP every 40 steps in a town and 1 HP every 10 steps outside (but also takes food which you have to buy). The heal spell requires 10 MP (recovers at 1 MP per step outside and 1 MP per four steps inside) and only gives a paltry 25-50 HP to a single character per casting. A tent heals 100 HP per character, but has a 100 GP price tag and you'll always be strapped for gold. Some hospitals will heal a character to full at a cost 200 GP each, but there are only a couple in the game. Still, this is the fastest way to heal, especially when you near the 2250 HP cap. Unlike most RPGs, inns don't heal your characters, they only save your game.
- Experience is poorly correlated to the difficulty of the monster. A full mob of skeletons can be defeated in a single round with a free Undead spell, yielding 32 XP, while a full mob of demons, who will leave your whole party crippled and poisoned, only gives 64 XP. Also, the amount of XP needed to level up isn't exponential; it always take 100 XP to get to the next level, so you'll reach the level cap very quickly. Also, the game caps your level at only 25, rather than 99 like the original game, which means, even at your cap, you won't have very many hit points. And, very strangely, going up in levels only increase your maximum HP, not your stats!
- Combat, though tactically superior to most RPGs of the time, is dreadfully slow, and you have to fight thousands of them to beat the game.
- In most RPGs, as you become more powerful, the game because easier. But, because the game keeps throwing tougher and tougher monsters at you as you level up, the game actually becomes more difficult. Because of this, the optimal play strategy is to remain low level for as long as possible, which doesn't feel very heroic or entertaining.
- Although the manual gives detailed instructions for how to play the game, neither it nor the in-game NPCs give you useful direction for how to progress the story. This causes a lot of aimless wandering, and, without a hint book, you'll be very unlikely to beat the game. It also does a strange ret-conning where it tries to merge Britannia and Sosaria.
Maps with details can be found here: mikesrpgcenter.com/ultima3.
— This section contains spoilers! —
The best strategy I have found to for completing this game quickly is using a low-level party to quickly grind gold to buy upgrades, and then jump to level 25 for the final assault; it works in four stages.
Stage 1: Gold and XP
Create a party where all four characters have access to the wizard or cleric spell books, preferably two with the wizard spells and two with the cleric spells. You can use the ranger or druid, which give you both, but the additional spell book prompt gets annoying fast. During this stage, walk around Sosaria killing goblins and orcs with the free repel spell and kill skeletons and ghouls with the free undead spell. After they die, open the chest they leave behind with the open spell to make sure you don't get hit by traps. Do this for a very long time amassing a lot of gold. Buy food as needed. Give gold to the classes that can't cast open until all four characters have several thousand gold. By this time, you'll probably already have enough XP to reach level 25 for all characters, but make sure you never go beyond level 2 for any character. As long as you stay level 2, you'll never have to worry about the stronger monsters spawning.
Use the moon gates to get to Devil Guard and buy horses. Visit Dawn and buy the optimal ranged weapon for each character, then use the inn in Dawn to save. Steal the gold pick and escape. Reset if you're caught by the guards. Save at the castle once you're safely out. Pure spellcasters can get their optimal weapon at any weapon shop. Ignore armor, you'll jump straight to the best in the game for free very soon.
Stage 2: Seafaring
To get a ship, create a disposable fifth character, preferably a ranger or druid, and swap out your leader with them. Grind with this character until they pass 500 XP. To ensure they get most of the XP, use both repel and undead as needed and skip the turn of your other characters. Then, go to Lord British and raise their level, and only their level, to 5. Now stronger monsters including pirate ships will spawn. Go in and out of the castle until a pirate ship spawns in the bay. Fight the pirates, which will be difficult with your weak party (it may require a couple tries), and take their ship. Dock the ship next to the castle and save at the inn. Reset, and swap out your level 5 character for your original level 2 leader. The ship will remain and you can now explore the sea without encountering aquatic monsters. Keep your level 5 character so you can swap them out again in case you ever lose your ship.
Use the gold pick to get the magic armor for each character. Then, sail into the whirlpool and get to Ambrosia. Get a flower for each character, then raise your stats at each shrine. They won't need to be too high, since you will bypass most of the tough enemies, but try to raise them all, particularly the intelligence of characters with the wizard spellbook to get their attack magic. After you've exhausted your gold, make your way to the ship. There is a demon-type monster along the way which is hard to avoid. If you bought horses, you're more likely to bypass it, but, if get caught, your increased magic will probably let you take them out without too much trouble. Avoid the man-o-wars and return to Sosaria.
Stage 3: Get Equipped
Once back in Sosaria, go the the Royal City and give the flowers to Sherry to get four compass hearts which you can use if you're ever in a bind. If you use them while on Ambrosia, you'll have to get a new ship (which is why you keep your level 5 character).
Next, work on collecting all of the remaining items. The Cave of Moon has fairly easy access to its lowest level where you can get the marks of king and fire. Once immune to lava, go to Yew and get the pray command, then use it to get the silver horn and the four cards at each of the shrines. Get the silver pick from the 8th level of Death Cave, then get a mystic weapon for all four characters. Equip it on those who can't use ranged attacks as it's the best weapon for them. Get the mark of force and the mark of snake from your dungeon of choice. You'll also want to have several sands of time for each character. Also, meet with the Time Lord on the 8th level of the Cave of Moon to learn the correct card order.
You will now have all the items you need to beat the game, but you'll probably want to return to Ambrosia a couple more times to raise the rest of your stats. Most difficult combat can be avoided, but you will have a couple mandatory hand-to-hand battles in Exodus' castle, so don't skimp on strength.
Stage 4: Assault Exodus
When all four characters have good stats, go to Lord British and raise each of them directly to level 25. Heal everyone to full health and buy several sands of time. Take your ship to the snake, use the silver horn, and enter Exodus's castle. Use sands of time to bypass all of the encounters and make your way to the back of the castle when an encounter will happen seemingly out of the blue. Kill the sets of tiles, and reach the water at the back. Pray, and use the cards in the correct order, then escape, and you've won.
This route will still take a long time to beat the game, but it will cut off several literal days worth of grinding.
I have reverse engineered the game's internal dialogue format. It uses a 6-bit encoding which allows for four characters of text to be stored in 3 bytes. I wrote an extraction program for ROM Detectives.
The original Apple II game doesn't have credits.
|Original Designer||Richard Garriott|
|Producers||Masaichiro Hirano, Yasuo Hattori|
|Directors||Kunihiko Kagawa, Junichi Ishii|
|Coordinators||Kouji Ichikawa, Masuko Mori|
|Chief Programmer (NES)||Takaaki Ushiki|
|Programmers (NES)||Yoshihiko Nakazawa, Tomohiro Hori, Naoki Koga, Saeko Suda|
|Programmers (MSX2)||Hiroyuki Fujiwara, Satoru Miki|
|Character Designer||Atsushi Fujimori|
|Words Arrangement [Dialogue?]||Yasushi Akimoto|
|Music Composer||Tsugutoshi Goto|
|Sales Promotion||Mutsuko Arata|
|Special Thanks||Aya Nishitani, Saburo Yamada, Yasuhiro Kawashima, Kono Production|
|Japanese||ウルティマ 恐怖のエクソダス||Urutima: Kyofu no Ekusodasu||Ultima: Fear of Exodus|