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Emperor's Exhortation

From the manual:

Once, my kingdom knew peace. Now it only knows evil. Renegade forces have infested my realm, destroying Kodan't second largest city. Their provocations continue unabated, threatening the safety of my people and making travel unsafe in many parts of my kingdom.

They approach the seat of my power, lurking insolently in the catacombs under my castle. At the head of the devilry is an outcast wizard. Plans to dispatch him have failed, as he has set up magical barriers that have befuddled even my most experienced scouting parties.

As the ninth Emperor of the Kingdom of Kodan, I call upon you, brave adventurers, to seek out the source of this living malice and restore calm and civility to Kodan. For your success, I promise these riches: 100,000 pieces of gold and choice southern lands for each member of your party. Beyond these, you will bring honor to your family name, a name which will be repeated through the centuries with great reverence.

Whether you are dirven by ancestral duty or adventurous desire, go forth with fortune in your future. Be diligent in your journey. Gird yourself for battle, recover from the setbacks that may befall you, and above all, pleasure in the nobility of your cause. Remember, he who fights and dies is honored, but he who fights and lives is honored and rewarded.

Emperor Nakamoto

Greetings from the Deathlord

From the manual:

Stupid adventurers! Your weak party is not enough to stop even my most slack-spined drone. I would encourage you to stay in the security of your little homes, but I thrive on misery and dread. Your futile quest to stop me is sure to yield just that. Even if you defeat my lowly pawn, you still must answer to me, face to face.

Should you insist on pursuing this fatal course, I offer these clues: seven worlds, six items, and your ineptitude prevent us from meeting.

Go now. And prepare to embrace your Emperor in my hell.

Overview

In Deathlord, players are called to assemble a group of adventurers together in order to discover and destroy the great evil that has invaded the land of Kodan, ultimately confronting the titular antagonist.The title is an oriental flavored RPG which broke from the typically Western flavored sword and sorcery material that was the staple of most of the genre during the eighties in North America. It was designed from a top-down perspective which was considered a standard among titles such as the first Ultima trilogy and SSI's  Phantasie, Demon's Winter, and several other RPGs from its own collection.It was noted for the scope of its vast world and the difficulty of its gameplay at the time.

However, the game was also criticized for simply replacing the names of those elements which were common in other systems with oriental ones in a weak effort to distinguish it and it would occasionally break the fourth wall. Within the flyleaf of the box the game came packaged in, part of the text describing the world states in broken English:

"And I, a mortal with a hurting head, a keyboard, and few hundred hours to give, am bound by duty more venerable than time to save life of Emperor. Must save him from a Deathlord out of a mind past Byzantine. Next time, take harmless Niagara Falls tour instead."

The hint guide that was released with the game was notoriously written from the perspective of someone that had been "pulled into" the world of Lorn, further damaging the illusion that this was an oriental fantasy RPG on the level of other efforts such as Bushido: The Land of Nippon (1981) from Fantasy Games Unlimited in the PnP space.

A rough map was included with the packaging displaying the location of every land in Lorn outside of Kodan. Sixteeen continents that ranged from desert environments to ice caves were fraught with a large variety of danger, challenging players to survive.

Gameplay

The screen was divided into a top-down grid perspective with 2D movement on the left half of the screen and an information list showing the party, time of day, and combat messages on the right hand side. Random enemy encounters would provide combat opportunities within the game against mixed groups of foes which would be displayed as icons on the worldview side of the interface along with the party. Random enemy encounters would provide combat opportunities within the game against mixed groups of foes which would now use ranged attacks by being a square or so away from the actual party.

As with most RPGs of this type, party setup and character selection were left entirely up to the player. A party of six could be created from a variety of classes and races.

The autosave feature was a source of great frustration for players as it utilized only one save slot and it would occasionally save in the middle of combat after a character had died. If the party encountered a group of monsters that were particularly difficult with no way of defeating them, it usually required the player to start all over with a new party. However, this could be circumvented with disk copies and backups allowing a player to get around this, allowing them to repeatedly clean out dungeons and other areas and somewhat guarantee their party members' safety by judiciously swapping the disks at the right moments.

Races

Eight races are available for players to choose from and is the first step in creating a new character and a party of up to six adventurers with which to go out and save the world. Sex no effect on a character's abilities as it only adds color to the variety of characters in a party.

  • Human: As in most RPGs, their statistics and abilities are fairly average across the board with no distinctive bonuses. Only humans can be a member of any class.
  • Toshi: These replace the traditional elven race. Their intelligence makes them ideal spellcasters and their physical weakness makes them a liability as a warrior.
  • Kobito: These fill in for the dwarves. This is a dour, durable race that may be short in stature but are considered second to none as warriors. They can also do well as thieves, but are incapable of performing well as spellcasters.
  • Obake: This race act as the traditional "hobbit". They are a darker and less intelligent version of the Toshi. Tiny and nimble, they make ideal rogues.
  • Nintoshi: These are the traditional "half-elves", a hybrid between a human and a toshi.
  • Ogre: Part human, all ugly, they are the title's version of the "half-orc" only in this case, it's a mix between human and troll. They make decent fighters and thieves and the manual suggests using them in the Shisai class.
  • Gnome: Similar to a kobito, but with a greater respect for nature. They are able to excel as spellcasters and the manual suggests a Genkai build with this race.
  • Troll: This race passes as the "orc" race in Deathlord. Strong but slow witted, they make excellent Senshi.

Attributes

Character attributes in Deathlord were similar for the most part with other, more traditional, RPG systems of the day with a number of exceptions.

  • Strength (STR): This determines the amount of physical damage that a character can inflict.
  • Constitution (CON): A character's health is determined by this.
  • Size (SZL): Fighters tend to be huge while spell casters are small. Larger characters are also more apt in smashing through doors and performing other feats where size is important.
  • Intelligence (INT): A vital attribute for mages and it also determines how quickly their Power can be recovered.
  • Dexterity (DEX): Characters with a high dexterity tend to be nimble and agile, important values to have in order to avoid hits and land the first blow during a fight. It is also important to thieves as they pick locks, avoid traps, and even steal merchandise from merchants.
  • Charisma (CHA): This determines how attractive or repulsive a character is to everyone around them, whether it is in how they carry themselves in conversation or appear in public.
  • Power (POW): This is a character's magical aptitude. For mages, it is particularly important as it determines the number of spells that they can cast. It is not spell points in the most common sense as the system uses a one-to-one ratio when it comes to spellcasting. For example, casting a fourth level spell requires four power points, and so on.

Classes

Deathlord introduces over sixteen oriental classes that the player can pick from. Many of these classes have overlapping abilities, but quite a few have unique skills that help to make them stand out.

  • Senshi: These are the warriors, mercenaries that hire out to anyone that can pay their price. They can use any weapon that they find.
  • Kishi: These are the noble warriors of Lorn, dedicated to honor, justice, and order. They are also able to cast a few Shisai spells in addition to their combat prowess.
  • Ryoshi: They are scouts and trackers skilled with all types of weapons, although they favor bows and axes. They also favor light armor for movement and enjoy working with Shizen.
  • Yabanjin: The barbarian class of Lorn, they are survivalists and are brutal fighters. Despite their profession, they shun heavy armor.
  • Kichigai: Kichigais are the berserkers of the party, able to dish out powerful attacks while leaving themselves open to getting gutted at the same time. They are similar to the Yabanjin in avoiding heavy armor that may impede their abilities.
  • Samurai: Another warrior class, their skills peak with particular weapons of honor geared specifically for them.
  • Ronin: Corrupt brutes who look out only for themselves, they enjoy a kicking, gouging fight where they can resort to dirty tricks. They are also able to cast a few Shisai spells of their own.
  • Yakuza: They are best at lockpicking and at disarming traps, but are not very good at fighting. They also have the special ability in being able to steal from merchants.
  • Ansatsusha: Similar to the Yakuza, these assassins are better fighters than they are and are able to use a number of additional weapons, but their thieving abilities aren't as sharp.
  • Ninja: Hand-to-hand specialists, they work with conventional weapons when needed.
  • Shukenja: Holy men that are similar to ninjas, but train for enlightenment and not assassination. Less skilled than their darker counterparts, they have some spellcasting ability to compensate.
  • Shisai: They use mediuim-weight armor and smooth weapons, and are specialists when it comes to casting curative and protective spells.
  • Shizen: A secretive class, Shizen are the outdoors type that draw from nature to work their magic. They cannot wear metal armor because of its interference with their abilities so resort to leather armor instead.
  • Mahotsukai: Rare class that is best known for the potency of their offensive spells.
  • Genkai: They are the illusionists whose spells can be used to confuse and befuddle opponents.
  • Kosaku: A peasant class considered untouchable by others.

Designating a party leader of a particular class allows the player to perform actions in the game world using them as the default selection if they do not specify who they want to work with. For example, if you temporarily assign a Yakuza as the party leader and encounter a locked door, you can pick the lock based on their skills as opposed to the Kishi who may be the favored lead.

Food was also extremely important as it allowed characters to slowly heal themselves over time. If food ran out, characters wouldn't die but they would no longer be able to recover from their injuries naturally without help from spells or in replenishing their supplies.

Alignment

This has little bearing on the actual gameplay other than in determining who is able to work with who in a party. Character classes that are innately one alignment will have this automatically assigned to them.

Six Relics and Seven Words

Key to the game is the clue that the Deathlord leaves the party as he mocks them for even trying to stop his plans. He reveals that there are six relics and seven words that must be recovered from the world before they can complete their quest. Much of the game's difficulty resulted from the relatively obtuse handling of clues and leads that the player would need in order to find these necessitating a large degree of relatively aimless wandering and fighting throughout the world.

Locations

Deathlord was a colossal game in terms of area, especially in comparison with its peers. With over sixteen continents and a large number of dungeons scattered across each one, there was quite a bit there for the player to freely explore and discover. Most of the game required the player to explore the world in sandbox fashion. It was entirely possible to end up on an island or a continent with encounters far beyond that which a party may be able to handle.

According to the included map, the lands that could be sailed to and visited were:

  • Kodan: This is where the player would start their adventure and where the Emperor resides.
  • Chigaku
  • Nyuku
  • The Lost Isles
  • Black Island
  • Ossiria
  • Asagata
  • Isle of the Dead
  • Akmihr:
  • Narawn
  • Giluin
  • Sirion
  • Belgorn
  • Hell Island: Where the Deathlord resides and is hidden until the party recovers a particular relic.
  • Two Uninhabited island clusters

Within these lands were a variety of other structures and locations:

  • Castle: Only the Emperor of Kodan has a castle although rumors point to another one far on an island far to the east.
  • Cities: The hubs of commerce and trade
  • Dungeons: Labyrinthine caverns and trapped tunnels.
  • Fortresses: Guard mountain passes from invasion
  • Pyramids: They house long dead kings and protected by curses on the living.
  • Ruins: Remnants of what may have been a sprawling home for a people now long dead. May contain valuable treasures and other items of interest.
  • Skull Keep: Where the Deathlord resides.
  • Temples: Found in remote areas and often set up by non-human cults.
  • Towers: Inhabited by wizards and necromancers of ill repute.
  • Towns: Smaller than cities, there are shops here along with a few gossip mongers for news.
  • Villages: Peasant communities that can offer lodging while a few are rumored to offer much more.

Combat

Fighting in the game is handled through random encounters wherein experience, items, and gold are earned. Over 128 types of monsters await adventurers within the game. Encounters were handled in the overhead view of the map and was initiated when contact was made. NPCs appeared as icons on the map allowing the player to converse, trade, or steal from them. However, the majority of other encounters in the game would be from the monsters that would show up.

The player could also initiate combat with almost anyone in the game with the appropriate consequences. Attacking peasants within a town would usually elicit a harsh response from the guards that will join the fight.

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