Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle
|Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle|
|Release||March 25, 1993|
Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle is a role-playing video game released in 1993 as part of the core Ultima series, its story beginning eighteen months after the conclusion of Ultima VII: The Black Gate. In Serpent Isle, the Avatar follows Batlin to the eponymous land called Serpent Isle, finding three city-states founded by those who left Britannia generations before and ancient ruins from a still-older lost civilization that was there long before them.
This is the first game in the main Ultima series to take place in its entirety outside Britannia as it has been known since Ultima III. It is also more linear than the earlier parts—unlike the earlier games, where the order in which quests were completed was of little concern, the new approach makes it possible to give the game a more carefully plotted storyline, while at the same time somewhat limiting the player's choice. Additionally, there are few optional sub-quests; every objective somehow ties into the main quest.
Unlike the four previous Ultimas, the companions do not take issue with theft or murder. The only punishment for such behavior is if characters outside the party witness it. As the world of Serpent Isle does not emphasize the virtues the way Britannia does, guards will sometimes ask for bribes from the Avatar if the player is caught stealing or murdering; bribing guards was last possible in the game Ultima III.
Since most of the game's code was recycled from The Black Gate, it was decided not to call it Ultima VIII; Richard Garriott had stated in interviews around 1988 that no two Ultimas shared the same source code, unlike the then-competing The Bard's Tale series, and he may have felt bound by this statement.
A clue-book was published for the game, titled Balancing the Scales.
Back in Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, one section of the game world was known as "The Lands of Danger and Despair". Shamino, a recurring character in the Ultima series, was a ruling lord here. The Lands of Danger and Despair vanished after the conclusion of Ultima I and became Serpent Isle, separated from Sosaria, as the world of Britannia was called before Ultima IV.
The original inhabitants of Serpent Isle, the Ophidians, had a culture where serpents played a central role. They eventually became polarized as the forces of Order and Chaos, respectively, and fought a great war that destroyed their culture and left their cities and temples in ruins. Order "won" the war, destroying the Chaos Serpent, but thereby upsetting the natural balance to the point where the entire universe is unraveling. (It turns out that the "Great Earth Serpent" that guarded Exodus's fortress in Ultima III was actually the Balance Serpent that Exodus had ripped from the void, triggering the war between Chaos and Order in the first place.)
Much later, Serpent Isle was re-settled by humans who had left Sosaria voluntarily, or who had been exiled. An alternate name for Serpent Isle is "New Sosaria", a reference to the original homeland of these settlers. Many of them referred to Lord British as "Beast British", and had a very low opinion of him. After he united the lands, and with the establishment of the eight virtues, those unhappy with his rule fled to Serpent Isle. Unlike Britannia, which has eight cities representing the eight virtues of the Avatar, Serpent Isle has three city-states, each with their own beliefs, which are warped versions of the Britannian principles of Truth, Love and Courage:
- In the city of Moonshade, mages rule, and "mundanes" are regarded as an inferior servant-class. Instead of truth, they strive for power.
- Those from the city of Fawn champion beauty above all else, instead of Love.
- The Monitor warrior-culture is ostensibly based on knightly courage, but in truth is rife with feuds, intrigue and betrayal.
Serpent Isle has essentially the same map layout as the former Lands of Danger and Despair, though this might not be immediately obvious to players. The formerly separate towns of East and West Montor have merged into Monitor; the large Sleeping Bull Inn has taken the place of the village of Bulldozer; the village of Gorlab vanished in the newly formed Gorlab Swamp (an important plot element); and the ruined Ophidian cities of Skullcrusher and Spinebreaker, apparently named after the mountain-chains in which they lie, are located where dungeons of the same name were found in the earlier game.
Eighteen months after the destruction of the eponymous Black Gate at the conclusion of Ultima VII: The Black Gate (and six months after the Guardian attempted to trap the Avatar and the whole of Castle Britannia in a blackrock sphere on the anniversary of that event in Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds) it is discovered that the Guardian ordered his right-hand man Batlin to follow Iolo's wife Gwenno, who went to explore Serpent Isle. Lord British sends the Avatar and three of his companions—Sir Dupre the knight, Shamino the ranger and Iolo the bard—to Serpent Isle in pursuit of Batlin. The journey entails travelling into an arctic zone where two serpent pillars emerge from the sea; upon moving between the pillars, the ship is teleported away to Serpent Isle.
At the beginning of the game, the expedition's ship is beached at Serpent Isle by magical storms. Soon afterwards they lose most of their equipment to another magical storm that exchanges equipment for seemingly random items, such as a magical helmet exchanged for a fur cap. It turns out that the items switched locations and that the items gained thus are leads to the location of the missing pieces of equipment, such as a penguin egg indicating that the item it has swapped places with will be found among the penguins in the frozen north.
Two overarching plotlines exist within the game: the expedition must reclaim their equipment, as many of the items are required to solve puzzles and subquests in the game; and they must explore Serpent Isle and discover its history to understand the reasons for the magical storms that will destroy the land. Over the course of his adventures, the Avatar and his companions visit the ruins of the lost Ophidian cities, witness the extinction of the peaceful Gwani, and learn that Iolo's wife Gwenno was killed (though later manage to have her revived). Lord Shamino's ruined castle is also visited, and his and his dead fiancée's tragic backstory is revealed.
The storyline can roughly be divided into three parts.
Exploring Serpent Isle while tracking Batlin (and Gwenno), the expedition learns that the magical storms, which are gradually getting worse, indicate that the world is unraveling. The apocalypse is drawing near, and when it turns out that a lighthouse on Serpent Isle was exchanged for Britannia's Royal Mint by teleport storms it becomes apparent that the problem is not limited to Serpent Isle, but is affecting Britannia as well and possibly the entirety of creation. (At one point in the game, the Avatar visits the magical dream world where he meets Lord British who confirms that similar magical storms began ravaging Britannia shortly after the Avatar left.)
The Avatar learns that Batlin is trying to capture three Ophidian demi-gods known as the Banes, but Batlin always remains several steps ahead and the Avatar does not arrive in time to stop him. Batlin was hoping to tie the Banes to his own service to attain god-like powers, betraying the Guardian, but they escape, slay Batlin and possess the Avatar's companions who in turn proceed to devastate the three cities and kill most of the inhabitants.
Fighting the Banes
After this happens, the Avatar must find a means in the post-apocalyptic Serpent Isle to track down the three Banes (Anarchy, Wantonness and Insanity) and free his companions from their influence. In the process of doing so, Gwenno is resurrected.
Many parts of the plot were cut for this section. In the game itself, the Banes occupy the cities and simply kill most of the population of Serpent Isle before withdrawing to a castle where the Avatar must find and defeat them. However, in the original plot documents of the game, the Banes take over each town instead of simply killing the inhabitants and many subplots are concerned with their cruel rule.
Finally, after defeating the Banes and rescuing his companions, the Avatar must use his knowledge about the ancient Ophidian culture to ascend to the position of Hierophant of Balance (through exploring their ruined cities and shrines, and performing a variety of rituals) to ultimately restore the lost Chaos Serpent to balance the warring forces of Order and Chaos. It turns out that a living soul must be sacrificed in the process. The Avatar volunteers, but Sir Dupre, driven by guilt for the deeds he committed while possessed by the Bane of Wantonness, insists on sacrificing himself instead and hurls himself into the crematorium.
In the end sequence, the Avatar is teleported into the void to face the Serpents, who thank him and affirm that order is restored; then suddenly, the Guardian's giant hand appears and grabs the Avatar, abducting him to (yet) another world. (Ultima VIII: Pagan continues the story from there.)
Many elements of the game's plot were cut from the final release, due to the deadline imposed by Electronic Arts. Most of the cut plot elements were from the second half of the game after Batlin's death, although a few ideas from earlier parts of the game were also removed. Many of these elements can still be found in the final game's usecode, and some remnants still exist in the game itself. The cut plot elements include:
- An extra consonant was to be added to the Avatar's name in Monitor after achieving Knighthood, and the town itself was even to be named "Monnitor". Several characters in the final release of the game still have the extra consonant in their names, such as Harnna, Standarr, Brendann, Cellia, Lucilla and Shazzana.
- An upper level of walkways and connected buildings was supposed to be added to the cities of Fawn and Moonshade. In the final release, Fawn still mostly has this upper level, however Moonshade does not, save for one walkway leading from the MageLord's palace to his private yacht.
- A large island named "Claw Isle" is visible on the game's map in the final release and even mentioned in the game itself, but cannot be visited without cheating, and is unfinished. Originally, the idea was for the player to visit this island, and two possible plots were considered. A Kilrathi from Wing Commander was supposed to have crash-landed here, and worshiped as a god by a race of primitive cat people. The second plot idea involved the cat-like creature Yurel from the Silver Seed expansion residing here instead, being the chief of a race of cat people that is slowly going extinct.
- A Xorinite Wisp was originally supposed to be a character in the game. The Wisps had previously appeared in Ultimas IV through VII Part One.
- A large golden door in the Skullcrusher mountains is present in the final game, but is impossible to pass through without cheating, and the unfinished corridor simply leads into the ocean. However, a scroll can be found here that provides more details about the War of Imbalance, suggesting this area was originally supposed to be significant.
- The player was supposed to be able to captain their own ship after the Banes are released, much like in Ultima VII Part One. However, Captain Hawk, who was supposed to provide his ship for this purpose, was simply killed off, along with most of the world's human population.
- As mentioned earlier, originally the Avatar's companions Dupré, Iolo and Shamino were supposed to rule over the cities of Monitor, Fawn and Moonshade, respectively, while possessed by the Banes of Chaos. The player would have been required to defeat each of them in the city they had taken over before the battle at the King of the White Dragon's Castle. This is the largest and most significant plot cut from the game, as most of the population is simply killed off in the released version. Some of these plot elements are still present in the final release; for example, Dupré was to turn the citizens of Monitor into their totem animals, but still retaining their human minds. In the game itself, wolves, bears and leopards have overrun Monitor, but they simply attack the player. The NPCs in the city are all dead, with the exception of Harnna, who has no reaction to the fact that the entire city's population has been killed.
- The Black Sword has three additional portraits in the game's usecode, suggesting it would have originally been possible to talk to the Banes of Chaos while they were trapped in their respective gems.
- Harnna's daughter Cantra is also possessed by one of the Banes in the game, and was originally supposed to have her sanity restored along with the Avatar's companions. However, in the final game, she cannot be healed, even when the correct bucket of water is used. The fan-made Exult project (specifically, the "SI Fixes mod") fixes this issue, allowing her sanity to be restored in the game.
The Ophidian Virtues
The Virtue system of the Ophidians is formed around the following three Principles:
|Order||Blue Serpent of Order||Diamond, Ice|
|Chaos||Red Serpent of Chaos||Ruby, Fire|
|Balance||Great Earth Serpent||Earth|
In the Ophidian symbology, the Great Earth Serpent is the keeper of Balance, and lies around in a vertical plane; the opposing serpents of Chaos and Order wrap themselves around the Great Earth Serpent, each spiraling in a different direction (a symbol inspired by the Caduceus).
The Ophidian system comprises six Forces, three from Order and three from Chaos; the Forces of Order are Ethicality, Discipline and Logic, while the Forces of Chaos are Tolerance, Enthusiasm and Emotion. Their descriptions are as follows:
|Ethicality||The belief that there is great value in abiding by rules of conduct.||A torch|
|Discipline||The drive to complete a task and avoid the distractions that will prevent its completion.||A dagger|
|Logic||Clear, reasoned thought, free from any instinctual biases.||The abacus|
|Tolerance||That which encourages the acceptance of all things.||A chain|
|Enthusiasm||The energy that allows one to perform great tasks.||A rose|
|Emotion||The ability to perceive those feelings that come from the heart, as opposed to coming from the mind.||A heart|
When combined by pairs, these Forces form the Three Principles of Balance (not to be confused with the three Principles of Order, Balance and Chaos above). The Principles of Balance, their descriptions and relations to the Forces of Order and Chaos are illustrated in the table below:
|Principle of Balance||Arises from||Description|
|Harmony||Ethicality and Tolerance||The ability to be at peace with the self, the individual and the world.|
|Dedication||Discipline and Enthusiasm||That which permits one to surmount obstacles and lead others.|
|Rationality||Logic and Emotion||The ability to comprehend life and understand the world around us.|
There also exist Anti-Forces associated to the Forces of Order and Balance. These Anti-Forces arise from imbalance between the Forces, and are essentially perversions of their corresponding Forces. The Anti-Forces also manifest themselves as a kind of malevolent spiritual being, collectively called the Banes of Order and the Banes of Chaos.
The Anti-Forces (and Banes) are as follows:
|Prejudice||Ethicality without Tolerance||Disrespect for the beliefs and rights of others.|
|Apathy||Discipline without Enthusiasm||A spirit of hopelessness which retards positive action.|
|Ruthlessness||Logic without Emotion||Taking self-advancing actions without regard to the wants or needs of others.|
|Anarchy||Tolerance without Ethicality||A lack of standards of conduct.|
|Wantonness||Enthusiasm without Discipline||Acting without self-restraint.|
|Insanity||Emotion without Logic||An inability to overcome emotional impulses with rational thoughts.|
The Silver Seed expansion
The Silver Seed expansion adds the Silver Seed story arc to the game, in which the party visits a subterranean keep in the ancient civilization of Serpent Isle (centuries in the past, during the war between the two sects of Ophidians). The Avatar is given an amulet by the Xenkan Monks when he or she first visits Monk Isle (either by death or by physically going there), and after using this amulet at one of the Serpent Gates, the subquest begins.
Powerful magic items, including a keyring, a ring of unlimited reagents, a magic axe and an enchanted belt can be found in this area and in nearby dungeons. In later releases of the game, the expansion pack was included, and both games and expansions were released as The Complete Ultima VII.
The Silver Seed expansion was not properly finished due to a rushed release by Electronic Arts; the story told in the expansion does not properly conclude, nor does it seem to connect with the larger plot of Serpent Isle outside of a few incidental framing elements. It is broadly concerned with acquiring and planting a magical silver seed to maintain the balance that holds the world of Serpent Isle together.
The Silver Seed does attempt to address the issue of the population being killed off after the Banes are released; if completed after this takes place, Karnax will inform the Avatar that everyone killed by the Banes will be resurrected once Balance is restored, in the conclusion of the game itself.
Items included in the box
Like other Ultima games, Serpent Isle and its expansion pack originally came with cloth maps, and in-universe manuals. It did not, however, come with a trinket. Ultima VII: Complete Edition (1993) included all the items while The Complete Ultima VII CD (1994) included everything except the cloth maps which were replaced with paper maps. Most other compilations did not include the trinkets and came with electronic versions of the documentation.
- Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle: Cloth map of Serpent Isle; Beyond the Serpent Pillars book
- Ultima VII Part Two: The Silver Seed: "Silver Seed Play Guide" pamphlet
Computer Gaming World's Scorpia in 1993 stated that Serpent Isle was much more complex than The Black Gate, but with "some major problems", criticizing the inventory system and need to manually feed characters, slow disk access, and several puzzles. She concluded that "Serpent Isle is a good story gone wrong. While the main plotline is solid, execution of it is inadequate ... too many poorly-designed 'puzzles' ... Origin needs to re-examine Ultima IV for a refresher course [on] how open game design and logical plot connections are supposed to work", and warned "prepare to be frustrated with this one". Cnet stated that "Serpent Isle, the continuation of Ultima VII, is often considered the best Ultima ever made. Though its look is mostly borrowed from Ultima VII, Serpent Isle offers a huge quest and some of the most fascinating characters and situations ever to be found in a role-playing game." The Free Lance-Star stated that "Ultima VII Part II, The Serpent Isle, is yet another improvement in the series, technologically, visually, and in terms of story line."
Scorpia only recommended Silver Seed to those who would play or replay Serpent Isle. She stated that "the storyline of the game doesn't amount to much", noting that planting the silver seed in the past apparently did not change the present, and that the included walkthrough indicated that Electronic Arts wanted players to quickly return to the main Serpent Isle plot with the expansion's new items. Scorpia reported that various improvements made gameplay "less of a hassle", citing the keyring, lockpicking, and food and reagent handling, but warned of various new bugs. She concluded that "while Silver Seed isn't a terrific game in itself and has a few problems, it will certainly make playing Serpent Isle a little more enjoyable".
In 1994, PC Gamer US named Serpent Isle the 13th best computer game ever. The editors wrote that it "marks the pinnacle of what has become one of the most popular game cycles ever", and they considered it "a must for every PC gamer". The same year, PC Gamer UK named Serpent Isle and The Black Gate collectively the 39th best computer game of all time. The editors called it "absolutely enormous – we are talking months of play here – with complex, absorbing and involving multiple sub-plots and storylines. Garriott's commitment to creating a complete fantasy world has been fully realised here."
- Just Who Is BILL ARMINTROUT? // The Miniatures Page
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