Walthros Mercenaries
A Commentary by Paul Harrington
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I've released a lot of OHR games over the years, many of which are directly related to Walthros, but one of the few that has remained totally untouched for years is Walthros Mercenaries. I'd all but put this game out of mind until my interview in Vol. 18, in which the good Mr. Rockwell brought it up. I'd say that this one is definitely my "lost" OHR game. It received almost no attention, even while Walthros was receiving plenty, and went years with no reviews. As of writing this, it has no entry on the Games section of this site (I'll have to fix this soon), and I only recently uploaded it to SlimeSalad.com. I'd more or less passed it off as a failed project, but going back and playing it again, I wish I'd never abandoned this game.

Walthros Mercenaries, designed in 2001 but not widely released until 2003, predates the final release of the original Walthros, which would be released in the fall of 2002. The premise of Mercenaries was that the player takes control of Zero, a creature of indeterminate species who was killed in a war far in the past. His soul wanders restlessly, and is eventually allowed to reincarnate into one of six different races, each with four unique classes available. One of the biggest flaws in the game is that there's not an enormous difference between classes, with most being "physical brute," "magician," or "healer." The Ralz Psychic is an exception, being that all of his attacks are randomized, making him a less annoying version of Walthros' Woo. The reincarnation theme that started in Walthros and continues into Surlaw Armageddon was meant to play a big role here, but the story doesn't have a chance to go nearly far enough to expand upon this.

Once you choose a new body for Zero, he awakens in The Guild of Mercenaries, a place where a group of soldiers operates by playing both sides in a civil war that has consumed the region. The war is between the nations of Linas and Coen; None of the cities mentioned or visited here are from the first Walthros, the idea being that Mercenaries took place far before the events of the first game. In this demo, you get to lead Zero on two missions, before being bombarded with an abrupt END OF DEMO screen just as things are about to get interesting.

Here's how things were supposed to happen: Zero is captured by a bandit convoy during his second mission. He learns more about the horrors being committed by both sides in the civil war, and becomes disillusioned with the idea of helping either side. Eventually, the Guild of Mercenaries is destroyed by outside forces, forcing the player to choose whether Zero would flee to Linas or Coen. He would work for that side for a while, making connections along the way, before finally leaving and forming his own nation of mercenaries, continuing in the footsteps of the original guild. Lots of political drama, lots of betrayals, leading to Zero ultimately bringing down both Linas and Coen. As I said in the interview in Vol. 18, "I still like this idea, but Metal Gear did it better."

Zero's past life was also to be a major plot arc in the game. To repeat what I said in that interview, "Zero was meant to have a good amount of backstory, in which we find out that he was a horrible tyrant in his past life before being reincarnated as a weak, normal man. Redemption was to be the major theme of the game."

This wasn't going to be a very happy game. It's the darkest game I've made, aside from Surlaw Armageddon. I'd intended it to end pretty badly for everyone involved, a pretty stark contrast to Walthros' happy ending.

There was going to be a good deal of freedom involved in this game, aside from just the choice of siding with Linas or Coen and the class system. I didn't implement any dialogue choices in the demo, but I did use a system in which a partner character is chosen for the player based on how well he does in battle. This was meant to balance the classes, some of which are horribly weak alone. The partner chosen leads to a decent amount of difference in dialogue during the game's missions.

I'm still a fan of this game's monster designs. For the most part, they're much more bizarre than what you see in most of Walthros, and I'll likely reuse the better ones in a future project. There aren't many areas in the demo, but there is a fairly large number of enemies considering. The graphics are also a decent step up from Walthros, even though they're not spectacular and rely too heavily on filter effects. Everything's also very blocky, which I've tried hard to get away from in Surlaw Armageddon.

The battle system was also very different from Walthros. It used an Ability Points system similar to what Surlaw Armageddon now uses, though it's far more refined and balanced in SA, rather than a traditional Magic Point system.

There's a lot I like about this game. I like the amount of NPCs in each town, especially in the Guild of Mercenaries. I like the foundations of the battle system, which I improved upon for SA. I liked the ability to choose your class, even if it needed a lot of work. I like the game's flow, and I like the story.

I don't like the amount of grinding required to survive if you choose a weaker class. I don't like the awful, thick outline around the Guild houses. I don't like the way it ends, even if the final text box is pretty funny to me. Most of all, I don't like that it's so incomplete.

This game was a break from working on Walthros. If I'd kept working on it in 2001, there's a chance Walthros itself would have remained unfinished. As it stands, I'm glad Mercenaries was the game to fall by the wayside instead, but I'm disappointed that I never went back to work on it after completing Walthros. It showed a lot of potential, and it also reminds me of how important feedback is. If I'd gotten more of a response to this game, positive OR negative, I likely would have kept at it. I wanted to say something with this game, and it kind of felt like a waste of time when almost no one even played it. I've got a feeling, though, that some day we'll be seeing Zero again.