Way back in 2002, Paul Harrington, also known as Surlaw, released a game called Walthros. Most people associate newbie games with poorly executed games, but I am happy to say that Walthros breaks that chain. Those who think newbie games are always bad will be proven wrong by this game, despite its minor issues. To many, Walthros is a household name. I never took the time to play it back when it was in its prime, but even years after release, I still hear great things about the game. I finally decided to sit down and play it, and hopefully answer some questions I have thought about. Did Walthros deserve all of its praise, and how does it hold up six years after release?
Cosmetically, some could get turned off Walthros before giving it a chance. The graphics are not horrible, but are definitely the weakest link. It is tough to say how much better some things could have been though, because of the fact that the majority of the creatures that inhabit Walthros are of Surlaw's own creation. That's right, this is not your typical RPG medieval world bustling with Humans and Dwarves. Instead, the globe is inhabited by flying fish, super walruses, and winged seals. Despite the graphics not being that exciting, the game's unique characters and setting are definitely a sight for sore eyes tired of the standard role playing setting.
With that being said, I was still impressed by the animated cut scenes used, a mechanic that is a rare sight even today. While it was really sweet seeing the amount of thought and creativity put in the game, it ultimately leaves you feeling like the graphics could have been worked on a bit more. I suppose that we could all say that about our own games though. In Surlaw's defense, you will see a slight increase in graphical quality as the game nears the end.
Bob Surlaw is a casual explorer and archaeologist that spends the majority of his time studying ruins, antiques, and relics. Bob has decided to go to the ruins of the Blue Shrine, south of his home, and investigate a recent surge of activity there. Upon exploring the ruins, he discovers an ancient artifact, as well as a strange creature. Little does Bob know that the investigation will lead to an epic adventure involving archaic crystals and a rising unknown entity that must be destroyed before it decimates the planet. The world of Walthros is in luck though, because he is up for the challenge, and will meet many friends that are willing to lend a hand along the way. From the cautious but trustworthy Salom Lancoven, to the psychotic, hot-headed Super Walrus Man, there will never be a time where Bob must face these forces alone. Don't forget the famous Dinosaur Triple, which is a trio of dinosaurs with distinct traits. Micro is small, but intellectual. Giant is big and stupid, and Super thinks he is awesome but is actually a douchebag. Rest assured, Bob will meet many more creatures besides those mentioned that prove to be worthy assets to the team.
The story of Walthros and its inhabitants definitely serves as the solid backbone of the entire game. Although there are a few unoriginal ideas within the script, Surlaw still managed to deliver a great experience with the help of some original ideas. My game time clocked in at about six hours, and thanks to the solid plot flow, there was never a dull moment. Intriguing townspeople and well developed characters help the world of Walthros come alive right before your eyes. Several times during your adventure, your party will split up in groups to accomplish a goal, similar to the "scenario" system used in Final Fantasy 6. During this time you really get a sense of what each hero is all about. I really enjoyed learning about each of the protagonists, as they all had strong, unique personalities. All of these elements combined really made Walthros feel like an epic adventure. Looking back, I think that this game has proven to be one of the greatest stories ever to grace the OHR.
My thoughts on the gameplay are somewhat of a mixed bag. While there are certainly many good factors, there are also some places that are lacking.
Battles are extremely fast paced, which helps some of the easier battles be more enjoyable. Random battles are generally pretty easy, but they do tend to increase in difficulty as you progress through the game. This is easily countered by gaining a couple of levels and purchasing new equipment for your heroes. The boss encounters range from fairly easy to genuinely hard. Several of the fiends are unique and require a certain skill or ability to down. The final battle was well done and can be pretty difficult if you are not prepared.
Some people might complain about the simplicity and length of Walthros' maps, but I think it is an ingenious design. While the majority of the areas are not huge, sprawling mazes, I feel that they are just the right size. Most areas will present you a challenge, but because they are not complex or extremely long, you will not get tired of them either. This design really adds to the game's fun factor and makes it a much more enjoyable experience.
There are a few things that do appear to be unbalanced in Walthros. For instance, many of the heroes' spells and abilities are pretty much obsolete save for one or two encounters. I hardly ever used Salom's Spear abilities or Surlaws summons, because the bad generally outweighed the good in most cases. Melee damage was pretty much the way to go in most bouts. Despite how awesome Super Walrus Man was, he was too overpowered for most of the game. Buying his secret item at Golden Fist City made it even more noticeable.
On the other hand, things like the economy were flawless in the game. You generally had enough cash at any time to buy a few restorative items, but at the same time, would have to save up to get some of the more high-powered items towards the end of the game.
While I was not a huge fan of the musical selection, it was unique nonetheless. There are several classic piano tunes used, something that is not typically done in an OHR game. It was refreshing to hear this kind of music, although some pieces did sound a bit out of place.
I enjoyed every minute I spent playing Walthros. With overall balanced gameplay, a vast, original world and intriguing dialogue, you will not regret the time you set aside to play this game. In fact, I found myself staying up much later than I should some nights because I wanted to see what would happen next.
Surlaw, you have created a masterpiece that certainly is worthy of its praise. Not only is it the the best "newbie" game I have played, but also one of the best OHR games period. It is not often that you find an OHR game that is enjoyable from beginning to end, but Walthros definitely does that. I have heard rumors that a remake is in progress, and I look forward to seeing a new rendition of this epic adventure. I just hope that it can live up to its legendary predecessor.