Thursday, April 25, 2024

Castle of the Winds Part II - Lifthransir's Bane (PC, 1993)


Part Two (AKA the rest of the game) was the one you had to buy after finishing the shareware demo. However, in the late 1990's Rick Saada made this freeware as well, so anyone could play it. Wish I'd known about this at the time, because I'm sure I would have liked to revisit the game back then. This part has the third and final dungeon of the game, which is bigger than the other two combined and transpires over a whopping 25 floors as our hero fights down through the Castle of Winds to face Surtur.

The base town for Part 2 has a lot of shops. I manage to grab a couple new spell books here.
There are exploits you can do to get all of the shop inventories for free, but I'm not going to do that. There are also exploits where you can lower your Constitution below zero, causing it to lap around and give you essentially infinite HP. This entire game can be beaten in about 30 minutes using 'sploits, but why ruin it for yourself? Played straight, it's an awesome dungeon crawler, and only takes a few hours to get through anyway.

So at the end of Part 1, the hero finds out that he's royalty. Not just that, but he's also the destined hero who can defeat Surtur. That's a lot of responsibility. And he never would have known if they hadn't sacked his village! Course, the local castle is pretty unimpressed with all of this and doesn't know Beef Curtains from Adam.

Continuing onward to the actual Castle of Winds, the ghost of the King can be found on the first floor. From here we've got 25 floors of death and destruction in front of us.

He tells the story of how the castle fell to the Fire Giants.

Side Note: Fire Giants really are my nemeses. Since this game, and the Fire Gigas in Secret of Mana which ended my run at that game circa 1994. We go back a long way. The Sahagin wish they were my nemeses, but no matter how hard they try, it's Fire Giants.

Dragons start showing up at this point, and they're a substantial threat. This is also the main time in the game where elements/resistances really come into play. Blue Dragons use lightning, White Dragons use ice, Red Dragons use fire, Green Dragons use poison (which is technically the opposing element to lightning, though you never get a poison spell). They also get stronger depending on how old they are, and on the last few floors you can encounter Ancient level dragons that can decimate an unprepared player.

Hill Giants are just regular foes now too. Things have gotten serious.

This was pretty cool, a pit trap dropped me into a snake pit. Rick Saada was really trap-happy in this game, putting them everywhere.

At this point the game totally changes, as I get an Enchanted Two-Handed Sword from the shop. Enchanted is the highest category of equipment, with higher stats and some innate effect(s). This isn't just any enchanted weapon, it's one enchanted to do a large amount of bonus damage to any enemy type, plus extra damage to Giants. This means it has a whole bunch of +attack stacked up against the primary antagonists of the game, and should allow me to finish the game at a lower level than normal. Two-Handed Swords are also the best weapons on attack power. Since shop inventories are randomized, this was a huge stroke of luck.  

On the same shopping trip, I also found a spell book of Healing, the best heal in the game. It isn't a full heal, but it's a huge one, healing around 100 HP for 7 MP. Between this and the sword, the game is now totally different and considerably easier.

Problem is, my lack of Strength is becoming a real detriment. With the new weapon and spell, most of my fighting now is using basic melee to clear things out quicker, then using Healing to recover. Once that spell is learned, it's all about the melee/heal combo and saving MP for more heals. High Int and spells were great for the first half of the game but at this point I'm finding myself wishing I'd beefed Strength up instead because I could be absolutely rolling foes with melee now. As it is, it's still taking a good amount of whacks to win fights due to my low Str.

That said, losing Int would also be an issue in other ways. One thing is for sure, Rick Saada did a good job making the stats actually matter in this game, and you can see a big difference depending on which you specialize in. Still think Dexterity is the only bad stat, but I might be entirely wrong.

At this point I discover what is totally the secret to success in this game: The local priest. Enemies often inflict -Str and other stat curses on you, especially things like Wights. After a while you start noticing that your HP and Mana are significantly lower than they should be, and that means you've been sustaining a lot of stat reduction attacks. Visit the priest every 20-30 minutes or so and clear out all those ailments, and the game will be a LOT easier. It's also pricey, but at this point I'm swimming in money and don't really need to buy shop items anymore anyway. Just got a score that was as good as it gets.

A Green Dragon draws near! Besides watching HP/Mana for decreases, another thing to pay attention to is Speed. Once it gets low enough that enemies start getting like 3+ attacks per round every time you do one command, it's time to gate back to town and sell stuff.

More hill giants start popping up, which is a sign that we're close to...

...Utgardhalok, who has an awesome name. This is the first of the four great Giant Lords that are basically the big villains of this game. All of these decades I thought this guy was the villain of Part 1 and that the game had four parts (one for each giant type). Good to finally find this game and clear that up.

He isn't alone, and has a ton of minions. Around this time I got the ultimate attack spell, Transmogrify Monster. It doesn't work on bosses, but on regular enemies it'll change them into a different enemy type randomly. Not anything higher level or lower level, but something from the same enemy pool. However an enemy pool can be fairly large, so when up against tough foes like dragons, it helps to cast that a couple times until your enemy becomes one of the weaker foes from the current floor. It's a hugely helpful spell.

After luring out all the giants and taking them out one by one, I felled Utgardhalok one-on-one. Took a lot of kiting him around and trying to use spells from a distance.

The other 3 giant types (and Giant Lords) are Stone, Ice, and Fire. Weirdly enough Surtur isn't the Fire Giant Lord, despite being a Fire Giant. It's some other guy. Surtur is the overboss bad guy in charge of all four Lords. Wonder if he realizes the Fire Giant Lord is totally stealing his thunder.

Is that a Pit Fiend from D&D? Yeah, that's definitely a Pit Fiend. These guys are BAD NEWS.

The core gameplay loop here is knowing when to book it out of the dungeon and back to town to sell things. It's simple and it's pretty nice, all things considered. One might scoff at the visuals now, but when the game was current, your imagination would fill in the blanks.

Vampires really like to do -stat attacks and are probably the top source of me racking up medical bills at the healer.

Enchanted Boots of Speed is another thing to keep a lookout for, and basically functions as an innate passive Haste spell.

On floor 17, another boss fight. This wizard has a bunch of Manticores as pets, and they're vicious. They can also attack at range by firing tail-barbs.

Beef Curtains survives, only to face a new nightmare: Is that Gumby?

Next big boss after that is Rungnir the Stone Giant Lord. Things are pretty serious now and these guys are way stronger than anything up to this point. When enemies mob up like this, it's a good time to start AOEing with Ball Lightning.

Same strategy as Utgardhalok, I get Rungnir by himself and battle it out one-on-one with melee and heals. Really feels like I'm hampered by my Strength stat at this point and I briefly considered starting the game over. You can start at the beginning of Part 2 with a new character at level 7 (which is higher than I was when I got to it, at level 6) and redo your stats and everything. So you don't have to start all the way back at level 1 at the beginning. However I don't think I'd luck out with a sword this good again, so I stick with this file.

Rungnir is defeated, leaving two more Giant Lords. We're also on floor 18 out of 25, so there isn't much room left for the remaining bosses and Surtur. They definitely went top-heavy with the Lords, having them appear on floors 16, 18, 20, 22, 25. I think there might be a few other minibosses besides The Wizard, especially on earlier floors, that I didn't run into.

Spell setup going into the last few floors. With only 10 spells available to hotkey at a time, I ended up basically ignoring the resistance spells and focusing on attacks. Also found a necklace with a Resist Fire enchant on it so I've got that effect innately.

Besides Transmogrify and Healing, one spell that really became the MVP later on in this game is Teleport. It warps you somewhere random on the current floor, and is a HUGE help for escaping from fights. Yeah, you might end up in front of an even worse situation. If so, just cast it again until you have room to sleep and recover.

Here's the Ice Giant Lord. It was another situation where his floor had a lot of Ice Giants to clear out. Same thing, just clear them out as best you can until it's just him left, then go in for the duel. Relying entirely on sword swings for these giant fights since I've got the bonus damage against giants.

And here's the Fire Giant Lord. We can see all the smashed doors around the level from Fire Giants moving around.

The four Giant Lords are down and all that remains is Surtur himself. Considering this guy is supposed to be a huge mega threat, hopefully I've prepared enough. Only level 10 (and never found any level-up books) which is definitely low for the endgame.

The last few floors absolutely fly by, since there are so many pit traps that I end up basically just falling to the bottom quickly. Here's Surtur on Floor 25, and he can't believe a guy named Beef Curtains actually got through 25 floors of his castle.

Surtur is surrounded by Pit Fiends, Fire Giants, and Fire Elementals (easily the weakest of the bunch).

Wait a minute...

Well... not really what I expected. Most of the enemy icons in this game are really good. What happened here? I'd probably have just used a regular Fire Giant icon for this guy over this. Add some yellow to it or something and go from there.

But hey, at least the final boss isn't The Floor like in that one Ultima game.

This is easily, by far, hands-down the hardest fight in the game and it isn't even close. Luring his minions out doesn't work as well as it used to because A) Surtur is very aggressive and follows you around and B) Surtur can cast spells at range, and alternates between fire and lightning spells.

My last round of deaths. Gotta say, the dragons were a real problem.

After lots of reloading and luring minions out, teleporting around to try and ambush them away from the pack, and so forth, I finally get Surtur by himself.

And even by himself he's super difficult. Melee and healing isn't working like it usually does, as he just isn't taking much damage from my attacks even with the enchantments. By the time I run low on mana he's still at like 75% health. I could bust out my couple of full mana restoration potions, but I better be wise about it. As it is, I'm teleporting away to regroup.

I finally take him down. But wait! I didn't take him down at all, he warped away. That's right, at low health, Surtur teleports to a different part of the map. He's using my own teleport strategy against me. And what's more, he gets a FULL HEAL when he does this. Using up mana restore potions and then having him warp means you really ought to reload and get those potions back, or else you'll quickly be boned.

Finally I manage to take him down on the 3rd or 4th try. Turns out the only way to keep him from teleporting is to absolutely spam Ball Lightning once his health starts getting low. It does more damage than melee attacks, so you actually have a chance of finishing him before he warps.

Final stats upon finishing the game. My 1993 kid self would be proud! ...of this, anyway.

The game isn't actually completed until you go back and talk to the king, and it doesn't let you warp back outside. Nope, you have to walk all the way back to the first floor, with enemies everywhere. At least it gets easier as you go this time. Still... having to walk all the way out wasn't really a fun time and between this and Surtur's full heals on warps I think this game falls short at the end. It's a great game for its time and what it is, though. For the first 95% or so of the game it's impeccable.

That's it for Castle of the Winds, a long-lost RPG that I've finally avenged my loss to. It was pretty much forgotten to time but I'm glad I found it again. It's, surprisingly, as good as I remember.

On a personal note, the fact that this game was designed by one guy was something that made a big impression on me in 1993-1995 or so, and told me that I too could make a game if I had the tools for it. Even took some C++ classes in 1997 or so because of it.

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