Thursday, September 15, 2016

Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor REVISITED

A million years ago when I was first exposed to the Might and Magic series, it was to me then what Skyrim was to me a few years ago:  all-consuming.   I was first introduced to the series through Might and Magic VI: Mandate of Heaven.  It was an RPG like none I had experienced before.  Oh, sure, I grew up with Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy and Ultima all on the NES, but this, this was something else.  Mandate of Heaven so engrossed us, that we literally pulled the couch over to the computer desk and took turns playing for something like 96 hours straight.  One of us would play while the other watched or slept.  Work/classes were either skipped or begged off.  Food was eaten on paper plates and was either delivered or hastily prepared.  For the better part of a week, I literally LIVED Might and Magic VI.  Looking back now, that was a magical and terrifying time.

I tell you this to set the scene for my overwhelmingly "meh" reaction to the follow up game Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor.  I was so enthralled with MM6 that I was super stoked for MMVII to hit and when it did, it seemed at first like the ultimate game.  You see Might and Magic VI was running concurrently to the incredible strategy-based sister title Heroes of Might and Magic III (a pinnacle of strategy gaming in its own right, more on that another day).  Since both MM6 and HoMM3 were such hits, 3DO decided to capitalize on this popularity by taking the enemy set from HoMM3 and using them as the enemies for MM7.  Thus you could RPG battle the same monsters you had fell in love with strategy battling in HoMM3.  I know that sounds like a mouthful, but basically they just took the creatures from the strategy game and used them in the RPG.  (wordy)

Seems like a great idea.  Little did I realize that this would ultimately contribute to my first experience with gamer fatigue.  Turns out you can have too much of a good thing.  I had spent SO much time playing both MM6 and HoMM3 that smashing the two together into a mega RPG gave me too much of things I already liked and not enough new stuff.  I really wanted to like MM7, but I honestly felt like I had already been there before and found myself just rushing through the early levels as quickly as possible to get to something new and interesting.  I never found it and quit the game, fatigued, and honestly, bored about half-way through.  I put MM7 into the game collection and never touched it again.  My final evaluation: a decent game, but a shadow of the two games it spawned from.

I would return to play Might and Magic VI repeatedly in the following years.  I don't think anything can diminish my love for that game.  It stands out as one of the greatest WRPGs I have ever played.  I strongly recommend it for any WRPG fan.  But I never had the urge to give MMVII another look.

Over the years I realized that I was pretty jaded against Might and Magic VII and that was a result of gamer fatigue.  I found it hard to believe that I could be so disinterested in something that was born of games I really, really loved.  So, having not played either Might and Magic VI or Heroes of Might and Magic III in years, I decided the time was ripe to give Might and Magic VII another, non-biased look.

And I'm glad I did.

The game is good.  Really good.  It's never going to be as good as MM6 because that game has transcended in my mind, but it's pretty darn close.  The mechanics are exactly the same as MM6 which means it is easy to access and getting into the action doesn't require much of a learning curve.  There is a tutorial level, which is kind of odd for an RPG, but I think it's there to help ease in those gamers brought over from the HoMM series.  Ultimately, it's extremely brief and inoffensive to even the most experienced RPG player.
The story continues the plot from previous MM and HoMM games, following the drama of the Ironist Dynasty.  When you really immerse yourself into this world, it proves to be a very engaging and rewarding one.  NPC interaction isn't as involved as it will become in the following generations of RPG gaming, but it's still enough to draw you in and keep you interested.

In terms of difficulty, this game might be slightly more difficult than its predecessor.  MM6 starts you out fairly slowly keeping you engaged in the starting town of New Sorpigal for what feels like 50 or so gaming hours. MM7 gets you out and wandering the world well within your first 30 hours of play.  The world is a little bit smaller and each area map containers fewer points of interest than MM6 and there seem to be far fewer minor quests, but that isn't always a bad thing.  MM6 was a bounty of grunt work and just wandering around to see what you could find.  That's great, but it doesn't always move the plot.  MM7 moves the plot.  And overall there is more plot.  This time around, like in HoMM3 you are asked about 2/3 of the way through the game, to choose between the sides of Light and Darkness.  Your choice will determine which towns are friendly to you and which later quests you can access.  This means you kinda get two games in one, as you will have to play all the way through twice to see everything the game has to offer.  Not a novel concept, but it was a new wrinkle in the Might and Magic formula.  This also increases the difficulty, because it blocks you from certain spells or abilities that would make some aspects of the game easier, while opening you up to other advantages depending on your allegiance.  Early on, though, leveling up is tough and the first enemies you meet will give you a solid beating.  On the upside, the leveling in this game is extremely well balanced and there is practically NO grinding.  Yeah, you read that right, NO GRINDING.

That's a LOT of Hydra...
You also get a castle that slowly upgrades as you progress.  When you first get it, the castle is infested with goblins.  After you run them off, you can request that the Dwarves clean the place up, and later upgrades give you shops and open treasure areas.  You never get a place to sleep in your home, though, and overall this new addition to the game seems very under developed.  The castle you get is huge, but the upgrades are slow to come and never really maximize the potential of the "build your own castle" gimmick.

Big Pimpin', Erathia Style
Once the game gets going, it's just as much fun as the previous installment in the series.  Exploring, customizing your characters, finding treasure and taking down ever increasing monsters, all the staples of a good RPG are here.  The plot-directed decision making doesn't have a huge impact on overall game play, but it will determine whether you have unfettered access to the main cities of Light and Dark.

I just finished the game tonight, and it was a very satisfying and full gaming experience.  The only downside is that it commits the one sin I hate the most in fantasy RPG's:  the Sci-Fi Finish.  You know this device.  The entire swords and sorcery world you have been inhabiting is actually a ruse or a staging ground for a wildly advanced culture that has been working behind the scenes for centuries. In the final act of the game the veil is lifted and your team of adventurers suddenly has access to technology far beyond their greatest imaginings.  This, of course, completely derails the fantastic elements of the story and injects an unwelcome influx of robots, aliens, ray guns, and computer terminals.  The Might and Magic series is consistently guilty of this sin.  The upside, is that the lion's share of the game takes place extant of the Future Finish elements and what little robot smashing you have to do is really very minimal and is preceded by an awesome and incredibly difficult underwater area, so it kind of makes up for the jarring shift in theme.  You can also win the game pretty quickly in the final "dungeon" as there is no boss fight and all you must do is locate a certain item and then clear out.

In the final estimation, I am very glad I decided to revisit this game, some 15 years after its release.  It's every bit as fun as Might and Magic VI and I really believe that the only reason I was less than impressed with it the first time around was gamer fatigue, which at the time I didn't even realize was a thing.  If you're kicking around looking for a good, older generation RPG, and you've got a good emulator that can slow your computer down enough to play it, I recommend Might and Magic VI AND Might and Magic VII, just don't play them back-to-back.
Yeah, I used FFVII names, what of it?

All this talk of RPG's is inspiring me to take a look back at some of the other RPGs that had a profound influence on my gaming life.  Might be a subject for another time...

As always, thanks for reading.

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