This page is about all versions of Ultima IV, computer-based AND console-based.
Due to some differences between versions, be sure to specify which one you're talking about (even though most PC versions tend to be fairly similar).
Info about the other games of the series will naturally have their own sections.
User 1's NotesEdit
Add anything you feel like adding here.
Although this is the 4th chapter in the main series, I don't have a lot of experience with the series. As such, I'll be looking at it as its own game. Additionally, I didn't have the instruction books either. And on a last note, I haven't finished any version of it (I'm sorry, I'm sorry! (but for the record, I only started a few months ago)).
This is blatantly a personal statement, but I find Ultima 4 to be quite cool. It doesn't involve some ancient evil arising (hell, all of them are dead now) and instead has your goal being that of becoming a paragon for truth, justice, good will towards your fellow person, etc. And while the more "edgy" crowd may find this sort of thing to be too "moralfag" for their tastes, at the very least, it's rather different from typical conventions. At least in theory. In practice, the game still has you killing motherfuckers, looting their corpses, and generally traveling around to kick some ass. Still, at the same time, after starting the game, it just kind of drops you in the middle of a town, tells you to "figure it out", and lets you go on your way. Games back then didn't have lots of in-game tutorials, for better or worse (that's what the manuals were for, honestly). The game doesn't assume you're a total idiot, but at the same time, there's lots of hints and info to learn from NPCs. So as long as you put in some effort, you can still get a bit of a helping hand. That's a pretty nice balance that should be done more nowadays (if only similarly).
But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. As far as I know, every version of the game starts with you taking a personality quiz of a sort. It asks you questions along with hypothetical situations and how you answer determines both your starting class and starting town. From what I've played, it's fairly balanced for the most part, at least at the start. Additionally, even if you're something like a mage, you can still deal and take a fair amount of damage. This is both smart on the devs and beneficial for the player, since even though typical RPG players may understand common norms, they may not be totally familiar with Ultima and its workings off-hand. And, let's be frank, it saves the player from a bunch of hair-pulling frustration that would occur if the some of the classes were as weak as they are commonly portrayed in other RPGs (a bog-standard mage starting solo in almost any other game would get clobbered). Still, at the same time, each have their specialties and disadvantages soon, if not readily, apparent. The magic-centric classes don't wield strong weapons or sturdy armor, and physical-centric classes wield little, if any, magic. However, unlike most games, Ultima 4 doesn't have a total shitload of either gear or spells. One the one hand, weapons tend to cost more or are harder to obtain, but on the other, each step up from a previous one is that much more significant. As for spells, there's enough that you start out knowing, but you can also learn a decent handful more along your journey. A curious factor versus conventional spell-casting seen more commonly, is that spells rely on both mixing of reagents (herbs, spider silk, and other natural items) and MP (or "G" in some versions). This gives magic both something of a more mythical and alchemical property. A bit juxtaposed, but still cool, and while I don't know which game did it first, this sort of thing definitely served as an inspirations for other such systems in games by others.
I'm repeating myself, sure, but I can't express enough how Ultima IV is an example of nifty game design in an unconventional sense. Talking to NPCs is useful, and actually necessary to progress for one. Even if you know some things ahead of time, the game still has you have to ask characters about things to "unlock" the next steps in your quest. While this isn't too grand for replays, if you think of it from the in-character perspective it makes sense. Of course the characters wouldn't know to check some seemingly-innocent hallway to find a hidden item necessary for their quest. Neither would a first-time player without a walkthrough. This also applies to hidden magic recipes as well. Along with mantras and other such things. You HAVE to give a shit about NPCs because you need their help. In addition, while I stated that the practice of being a righteous figure are mostly nudged aside for gameplay (and not to say they aren't entirely), the gameplay factors into that as well. You can donate money to poor beggars, donate your blood to those in need, over- (or under-) pay blind shopkeepers, lie/be honest, and so forth. Granted, it's not as intricate as it could potentially be, but given the era it was made along with limitations present, the devs still did a fairly good job. In addition, there was also other gameplay as well, so it's not like they could focus entirely on that part either. Speaking of which, the battles are pretty enjoyable. Depending on what your fighting and how many enemies you face, each can potentially be a little on long side perhaps, but for the most part, they're pretty fast and manageable. One factor that's particularly cool is how the "arenas" you face foes in can have obstacles in them, such as large boulders, mountains, walls, lakes, etc. which manages to impact your fighting and strategies, especially regarding movements to evade foes when in danger or corner them with a gang-up assault and let loose. I've seen later games use similar such systems, but to be direct, Ultima is one of the few that got it "right", which is at least in part to sprites and animations moving quite quickly versus being overly cinematic. It's a bit tough early on with only a handful of allies, but later on, after gaining more, it's a pretty cool experience.
I kind of like how it isn't entirely conventional to "gain" allies either. They aren't just robots at a pub or guys you find along the way through the story who join you for no good reason. You have to correspond to virtues (at least to an extent) and talk to them a certain way to convince them to join up. They're generally doing their own thing as well. While the back-stories for each (at least solely in-game) aren't really fleshed out much, you get a sense that they were at least alive and doing things before you met them. Like the game itself, you don't technically have to get them in a totally linear order either. You can pick one up, then sooner or later meet another. Just like exploring the towns. Due to the game being mostly open-ended, you can go pretty much anywhere. Thankfully, in addition to just walking about, there's ways to travel quickly, via ship or fast-travel moon-gates (and later, explore the world and dungeons easier with learned spells). Still, it's a little devious of the devs to put perilous tiles about the world, such as poison bogs, especially when they're placed in ways that you literally cannot avoid them. At the same time, it's also, to an extent, beneficial for the player as a learning experience. "Well, there's all these damn bogs, and I keep getting poisoned. What do I do?" To get to the point, you seek to obtain ways to cure poison, which in this game, comes from the "Cure" spell (as in cure poison, not cure HP). Naturally, a player who is a class that can't cast it will need to find someone who can, and that comes from seeking out a new ally. It's little things like this that encourage the player to think without flat out treating them like stupid casual.
All in all I really enjoy the core game of Ultima IV. It's not entirely perfect, but it's very good at what it does conventionally, and great at what it sets out to do differently. Perhaps I can explain my stance with some extra exposition.
My experience with PC versions of Ultima IV is pretty damn limited. Hell, with most PC games in general I can't say too much from direct experience. Growing up, I never had a "good" PC or knew about many games on PC directly. Over the years, I've been aiming to fix that, but I'm still not nearly as proficient as with PC games as I am with other consoles and handhelds. Regarding modern games, my craptop of a laptop can't handle much either. Long story short: I can't talk about the PC versions of Ultima IV much in terms of past and direct experience. I played the Master System and NES versions, so as such, I'm something of an outsider looking in. Still, from what I -DO- know about the PC versions:
They're kinda neat. I mean, they're definitely centered towards PC players with a lot of shortcuts and letter-based actions from the keyboard stuff. A decent number of them weren't made to be ultra high-def action and super stereo sound or anything, so in terms of aesthetics, I guess they don't have a lot going for them. Granted, they were made to focus on the gameplay, story, and characters with the artsy type stuff being something of a distant second, so it's understandable. Some more modern PC variants like the FM-Towns look pretty cool, but some of the older ones like the Apple II are naturally going to be notably weaker. The reason for this being a relevant point though is that people move around quite notably, and could be something a hassle to figure out who is who. In addition, the enemies on the overworld and in battle could be hard to figure out as well. It probably won't kill the overall gameplay experience, but it is something to take note of ahead of time. So, no, for the record, I'm not just flat out saying "0/10 graffix shit sux". Hell, they likely did all of what they could. One PC factor I'm rather iffy on is the need to type shit out when there's only so many commands to do anyways. Granted, I'm not too big a PC game player, and I know this was common practice back in the day, but at the same time, why not just give the choice options anyways? Especially if there's shortcuts via the keyboard to begin with and you don't even need to type in the full command for somethings, particularly when talking with people (from what I've seen, the first 4 letters are enough).
This all is somewhat minor stuff overall, but it can add up to more or less of a problem depending on the player. This is why I prefer the Master System version. It's essentially the PC version, but smoothed out. You ask what you know, based on what you learn from conversations. This may come off as a bit of a "watered down" variant, in addition with the lack of 3D dungeons (replace by 2D dungeons with exact map replicas), but as I mentioned before, it makes sense. Like you wouldn't flat out raise up a particular subject without breaking the ice a bit first. Though, there times where this system does come off a bit odd. The last differing factor is a boon though, as you can attack diagonally with some spells and attacks, as opposed to purely horizontal or vertical. Despite these things, it's, as I said, essentially the PC version, though along with some slightly prettier and nicer sounding aesthetics. To my knowledge, even the script is the same. As such, even when I get around to playing the PC version (which is free on GOG if I recall correctly), I'll still probably prefer the SMS version. Although that's also because I'm a Sega-loving scumbag. Ohhhh, the shame.
So this leaves us with the NES version, which is easily the most different of the bunch. Without a doubt, Pony Canyon definitely mixed things up quite a bit. While the core game remains the same, several things were relocated, partially due to different maps now, in both dungeons and towns (dunno how different the overworld is off-hand). I've read that coming from the PC/SMS version, you can have an idea of where everything is, and it'll still be in that rough area, but the exact locations were altered. An example being an item found in a hallway in PC/SMS. That's found at the foot of some stairs in the NES version. Same item, just different placement. It gets a bit more notable with some item placements, but for the most part, it's nothing too overly confusing or complex (especially after talking with NPCs). In addition, where as the SMS version was smoothed out in some rough edges, the NES version is pretty much streamlined and reforged into something similar, but still rather different. Alternatively, think of a fun house mirror: some parts are narrowed down, but others are expanded or just plain altered. I'm definitely not a fan of the simpler conversations. It really takes away from some of the overall amusement, and it removes some neat little tidbits in general that made things somewhat more lively. I don't like how you have to choose a direction before moving, BUT I do like the fact that the game gives an "auto" command, which is generally pretty balanced in terms of movement, attacking, spells, healing, etc. (at least in my experiences). I dunno about the fact that commands are done via an order and then executed with all allies first then all enemies second. On the one hand, getting through most battles is fairly easy thanks to spamming auto, but on the other hand, when you want to execute a plan of action, you do it in sequentially-ally-based phases, rather than ally-based steps. The latter part of that isn't a "bad" thing, but it is something to consider and possibly (re)adjust to, especially coming from the PC/SMS version. Random battles is a no-no, given that weaker hardware could pull it off easy. Normally, I'm okay with random battles, but it's a bit detrimental in Ultima 4's case. At the same time though, most environmental speed-reducers (i.e. thin forests and bushes and such) don't act their parts anymore because of this, so it's sort of a double-edged benefit. You have random battles, but traveling speed is generally smoother. Though, I'm not totally sure if there's a way to reduce enemy encounter rate or not in the NES game, and unfortunately, they're predetermined, so you can't do a "menu trick" like you can in other games. However, the biggest negative in terms of battles is that you only have a 4 person party. The enemy parties? They can go over 4, and often tend to. This is a big reduction from 8, and the reason why random battles bother me so much in Ultima 4. I've heard that going the adventure solo actually reduces the number of enemies that pop up per encounter, but from what I've played, that may or may not just be a rumor, since I noticed similar amounts going solo and with a full party. I'm not nearly curious enough to do the number crunching, so I don't give a shit either way. One thing that's pretty cool about this version, despite other factors, is that spells auto-mix. As long as you know the recipe and have the needed ingredients, you just have to select a spell and it will cast. No pre-mixing at all. Off-hand, I don't recall if you still lose reagents upon death in the NES version, but I'd hope not. There's no food though, so you don't have to worry about stocking up, since that factor's been eliminated. Possibly for the better in the long run of things. Oh, and the new music that replaced the original soundtrack gets rather annoying. That's about all the "major" stuff I can think of. Most everything else is still intact, if sometimes renamed.
Regarding some of Pony Canyon's other alterations though, some say that they were trying to make it more like Dragon Quest. That's hilariously ironic, given DQ's origins and the DQ devs' inspirations, but not entirely unfounded, though not entirely accurate either. One noteworthy DQ-ish factor I can tell is the Sword of Paradise and Exotic Armor. You can obtain these after gaining the 8 virtues, and they're meant to be used for your trip into the dangerous Stygian Abyss. While the YE OLDE WEAPON OF ASSKICKERY is a cliche old as lore itself, given its requirements to obtain and time of doing so, along with when the NES version came out, it definitely seems less likely to be sheer coincidence, especially since ONLY the Avatar/Stranger can equip them, regardless of his/her class. Keys also seem to hold slightly higher importance in this game. The menu, while being a bit DQ inspired, circumvents this a bit by using a different set of commands, which is honestly for the better. Most obviously, the sprites all have a very "famicom" style to them, though I find they resemble The Glory of Heracles 2 more than anything. That said, I'm a bit surprised that herbs and antidotes weren't added in the NES version. All in all, it's a streamlined and altered version of Ultima IV, but all things considered, it's still mostly accurate for the most part.
And there you have it. I've said all I can (at least right now) about Ultima IV. Here's an extra link for the curious, which discusses Further Info on Console Differences.