Silmarils, a french game developer, published many games which quickly became worldwide hits. This happened in the case of Ishar, an unofficial follow-up to Crystals of Arborea. Both games can be classified as role-playing games in which, during his journey, the player gathers his party, collects weapons and trains his men, while aiming to complete a task of great importance - mostly concerned with defeating a mighty, evil opponent. Ishar does not step aside. In the land of Arborea, Jarel, the virtuous prince of elves, becomes a king after winning a battle with Morgoth, lord of chaos. Unfortunately he subsequently dies in an accident while hunting.
The throne once again is being usurped by the evil forces. Krogh, a mighty magician who lives in the legendary fortress called Ishar, takes the throne. Luckily some friends of Jarel are still alive. Those are Akeer, Olbar, Zach, Irvan, Thorm and Jon. There are also other volunteers and mercenaries who are hungry for adventures. Does the assembled party manage to defeat Krogh? The answer to this question is in your hands. To succeed you need skill, judgement and no small amount of luck.
The whole Ishar trilogy (or tetralogy, to be more precise) differs from other games of this genre. It has amazing atmosphere which is created by characters and places which exist in the world. It is not a classic Dungeons & Dragons RPG where you wander purely in the labyrinth. In Ishar you are free to explore the fields, meadows and forests of Kendoria. Occasionally the party must enter the underground dungeons and cities. However, the game is mostly spent in the open, free from confining walls.
In the game there are over fifty characters. Each one is a master in certain areas: one is a thief, another is a hired mercenary, while some are simple warriors. Characters possess attributes commonly found in RPGs, such as strength, dexterity and condition, but there are also more unusual additional attributes, for example knowledge of foreign languages, or orientation.
The adventure begins with one character. Other party members can be recruited along the way, in the fields or taverns. A very interesting idea is that each character has his own emotions. It can be quite amusing when the player recruits a new party member, only for the current party to decide that they don't want him to join. Another very original and even exclusive idea is the feeling of love. Some party members may be in love - with themselves - which can sometimes lead to trouble.
Now, what would a role-playing game be without magic and fighting? Ishar does not lack here. Opponents are found almost everywhere, with wild animals, local bruisers or very well trained knights and mighty magicians all being examples.
Our heroes can wear helmets, shields and armour. There is some variety in the weapons, beginning with knives through to swords and ending with axes. During the game, tougher opponents are met, but the armaments are also better. Next to the classic weaponry there is also magic. About twenty spells are available. Magic potions can also be prepared, but in the entire game there is only one flask which can be used to make them.
During their journey our heroes get tired. Their physical and mental condition weakens as a result of fighting and from casting spells. To regenerate their vital powers they need to rest or get some steep. And this is where we get to a very important matter: money. To be frank, I have not seen such a 'materialistic' game for a long time! Prices for any type of service or for a simple item are very high. And even saving the game costs money - a thousand gold coins, in fact.
As well as shops where we can buy food, weapons and the ingredients for magic potions, there are also training houses and doctors' huts. Medics can tell you (for a fee, of course) what attitude prevails in the party. Such information may be helpful in deciding who should leave the party when you need to recruit someone new in order to progress in the story.
Controlling the game is quite easy and well thought out. The party is guided via a panel of direction icons. This can be done using the mouse or numeric keyboard. Through the backpack, the player can give instructions to an individual or to the whole party to eat, examine items, split money or give weapons. Other commands, selectable from the menu, are first aid, cast spell, recruit/dismiss party member and look at map. There is one other very important action: orientation. With this command the player's present location can be determined by reference to nearby lands. This is very useful when there is a feeling of being lost. Overall, the list of actions available is dependent on the active character, and their particular abilities.
One rather annoying design element is the icon system used in attack. The icons have been located in such awkward places (above the faces of characters) that when it comes to fighting you have to move your mouse pointer over to the left, then to the right and so on.
The best features of Ishar are the graphics and sound. Everything is seen through the eyes of a person, and the landscape is full of detail. There are two types of perspective employed: geometrical (things further away are smaller) and environmental (things which are further are foggier). These perspectives create the impression that the game world is very big. You feel the space. The atmosphere is enhanced by the sounds of nature, such as the croaking of frogs and the singing of birds. The ingame music also contributes to the atmosphere, but sometimes it can easily drive you nuts.
Although there are not many riddles to solve or tasks to complete, beginners may have some problems incompleting the game. Written information presented to the player (available in English, French, Italian or German) must be read carefully in order to progress. Advanced players, on the other hand, may feel slight disappointment that the problems are not difficult enough.
The game comes on two disks. There are different versions for AGA and ECS machines, with the graphics being much improved in the AGA edition, Ishar needs 1MB of memory in total, but if you want to have ingame music you need 1MB of Chip memory. Games are saved on a separate blank disk which needs to be prepared before starting the game. Ishar can be installed to hard disk, but may not run correctly on an upgraded Amiga system. Degraders can be used to remedy this, as can the best and easiest option, WHDLoad.
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