Just a glance trough the heavy-handed text which accompanies Starbyte's latest RPG leads us to believe that R.O.M. is quite a meaty piece of software. Indeed, the quest itself is attractive. You, as Crown Prince of some unknown land, have to deal with one of the greatest adversaries of Greek mythology, the Medusa herself. For the sake of the story, Medusa has control over a 'hell-army' who aim to take over this, a green and pleasant land and you have to deal with her once and for all.
The game is viewed on three levels. The first, and most common, is an overhead view of a part of the land, with you as a small sprite. Using the mouse, you move this sprite around the map, guiding yourself toward towns where you can make money by trading goods, buy soldiers, weapons and transport, and of course search for the five rings. The towns are represented by a map, with buildings highlighted and named. By clicking on these buildings you can enter them.
The third level is the fighting screen, not completely dissimilar to Joan of Arc in that both armies are viewed as small clusters of dots, with a group of icons to control the movement of your attacking forces.
The game itself is controlled by a series of icons at the bottom of the screen that really provide nothing but the most basic functions - simple object and monetary manipulation, some communication interaction (a YES and a NO button for answering questions) and disk commands. It is this simplicity which really put me off the game to start with. Simple controls are fine if put to such good effect as, say, Times of Lore. Unfortunately, the controls are only set for the most basic functions, and this makes the gameplay primitive.
And it is really this complete lack of ingenuity which has spoiled R.O.M. for me. What could have been a highly enjoyable and involving RPG has turned to be nothing more than a superficial trading game with some strategy elements. Yes, the graphics are very nice, but that will never be the saving grace of any RPG. If there is one thing products of this genre cannot afford to be, it is superficial.
Snakes alive! If it isn't that old boa bonce, Medusa ravaging the kingdom of Morenor. She's must be hysterical if she thinks Crown Prince Cirion is gonna stand for that load of adders: just 'cause her horde of demons and dragons have overthrown the land and left him a pauper doesn't mean he's finished. All he has to do is make enough money to build a massive army then find magic rings so he can summon Medusa and challenge her to a final, bloody battle for the kingdom... It seems like a good day for Cirion to have stayed in bed.
Alone on the plains of Morenor, with only a thousand monetary units for company, the task ahead seems awesome. But a crown prince has gotta do what a crown price has gotta do, and standing around sulking doesn't win kingdoms.
Towns are scattered throughout Morenor (some more friendly than others) and it is in them that most money-making tasks are performed in an effort to win back your kingdom. A visit to the bank should get you started, as arranging a loan is a doddle - although you do have to pay it back within three months or people in the area will cease trading with you.
Also in the towns are temples, stables, parks, pubs, jewelers, castles and so on. And once you've secured a loan you could do worse than visit the local stable and buy a couple of wagons (complete with horses) to improve your commodity-carrying capabilities for trading between towns (Elite-style). Popping into the pub is a good pastime if you feel lucky (well do ya punk?) 'cause there is always a game similar to Blackjack available and you may just come out with a profit (but I wouldn't bet on it).
If you've any money left from your town wanderings you might take a walk to the park to hire a soldier or two (try doing that in this country) to help protect you from attack by villains and thieves outside the town gates.
Traveling from town to town gives you an idea of market prices in each (the greater the distance between towns the greater the price difference of certain commodities). Also, some towns specialize in particular products, making them a snip for the traveling trader to buy and creating bigger profits when he sells them elsewhere.
Trading isn't the only way to make money: should you find ore on your over-land travels you can set up a mine (if you can afford the necessary equipment) and sell the excavated minerals. You can also look for treasure (again requiring expensive equipment) or, should you have a strong army, attack other armies and nick their booty.
Wanderings aren't restricted to land however, and, when you can buy ships to travel to the many islands surrounding Morenor, perhaps indulging a little piracy along the way.
Among all this mining, fighting and trading are the aforementioned five magic rings. Each one enhances your powers in a certain way, and when all five are in your possession you can summon Medusa and hopefully kick her out of Morenor.
All functions in Rings of Medusa (recruiting and arming soldiers and sailors, fighting, buying and selling, mining for ore, and protecting recaptured towns) are detailed and require some strategic thought. Visual displays are neat, using nicely-drawn graphics and smooth (if limited) animation.
Actions are controlled using icons at the base of the screen, some of which are only available during suitable situations - there would be no point in being able to open a mine when at sea, for example.
Music plays continuously until you switch it off, of course; which may be sooner than the composer might like. Oddly, there are no sound effects featured.
Professionally produced, the only real negative aspect of Rings of Medusa is lastability: it's not exactly exciting to play and isn't suitable for long sessions. But if you tackle it in short bursts - taking it off the shelf every now and then to give it another go (it features a save game option) - your pointer shouldn't click on the Quit icon through boredom and you'll get more pleasure out of your battle with Medusa.
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