#689 – Ultima: Exodus

Why is this beloved classic on the NES?
The school play is in shambles!
Lotta bones to sort through afterwards… yeesh.



DEVELOPER: Origin (port by Newtopia Planning)


RELEASE DATE: February 1989

Ultima: Exodus is the third of nine games in the long-heralded, predominantly PC series Ultima. But it’s the first to be ported to a home console, and while I haven’t played the original PC version, methinks Newtopia Planning didn’t do their porting homework. Exodus on the NES was made to be played on a PC: from the cumbersome menu selection to the awkward sorta real-time combat system, the controls are strict and sometimes unforgiving. Pressing ‘B’ brings up the Menu, and pressing ‘Select’ brings up the second Menu. If all you want to do is pick up an item or talk to someone, it’s not bad, but God help you if you want to re-arrange your party, their weapons, or items. Menus in battle are touchy, as well. You can only attack an enemy if your character is pressed against them. One would think that assigning attacks to the D-pad would be a wise choice, but no, if you want to fight, you have to bring up the menu with ‘A,’ then select the Fight option; the D-pad is only for moving. Also, unlike most RPGs, you can’t cancel your moves, so if you accidentally hit the D-pad to the left instead of pressing ‘A’ to bring up the menu, ’tis your “ultimate” loss.

The controls are my biggest pet peeve, but there is another design option at play that aggravated me during my brief playthrough: you need food to survive. If your party isn’t well-fed, they’ll take damage just by walking. Fair enough, if you have the money to stock up on food. But money comes mostly with fighting, and lots of it. You also need money to equip your party with armor and weapons, and if you’re far from a town and you’re out of food, the damage you take from both walking and fighting will overwhelm you. Like all good old-school RPGs, both PC and console, you’ll need to level up your party a bit before embarking into any dungeons. Deciding whether to eat or buy your warrior a shiny new mace will be the option ever before you; at least until you get out of those early levels.

Poor controls and constant eating lessen Exodus‘ appeal considerably for me, but should you patient old-school gamers consider it? Probably! Just not on the NES. Exodus has a lot to offer: customizable party with eleven different classes, and five different races, and the battle system, though frustrating, was groundbreaking for its time (“real-time” battles in ’83? Shut your mouth!). And I’m sure there are other features that I didn’t get far enough to appreciate. But boy, would the game work better with a mouse and keyboard. To me, Exodus functions as a history lesson more than an immersive gaming experience. My comrade-in-arms Matthew Conway pointed out on Twitter that the Ultima and Wizardry series were hugely popular in Japan, inevitably influencing Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, among other RPGs. Roaming through Exodus enables you to see how influential the game was, from the dark monsters on the overworld map (Zelda II!) to the town layouts (Dragon Warrior!). As for me, I’m content to know Exodus existed so that better franchises may come from its half-rotted corpse. I never need or want to play it again.

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22 replies on “#689 – Ultima: Exodus”

Mouse and a keyboard? I don&#039t think the PC version supported a mouse. As far as the keyboard aspect, I think I would prefer to select talk from a menu rather than type &#039TALK&#039 then &#039N&#039 for the direction I wanted to talk.

No mouse support? And you have to type TALK to talk… every time?

Maybe I was wrong about playing ANY version of this game in 2013.

So this was a game I actually enjoyed quite a bit back in the day, though it hasn&#039t aged well largely because of some of the control/combat design. Still, this and Dragon Warrior were probably my first two video game RPG titles, and I sunk a ton of time into both

This game was stellar back in the day. I recall my brother and I finding a lovely glitch. To level up you needed to talk to Lord British in the first castle. We discovered that if you start making a group and hit reset before you create your last character you can start the game normally. The only thing is the last character you made would be a pixelated block. Once you talked to the king that character would level up a whole bunch of times. Enabling you to get the boat and other things very early in the game.

Not sure if it could be recreated, but it did work back in the day. Great review!

This was my first RPG. I fell in love with it and still have very fond memories of it. It really is a fabulous, ambitious game. It is also quite hard. I felt like a god when I beat it. But let me tell you: the NES port is quite the improvement from the PC: in graphics, control, and fun. The PC version is brutally ugly and hard to play.

I&#039ll never forget when I finally had a full powerful party on horseback, with a ship… Man, I&#039m gonna play it again. Oh, and wait till quest of the avatar… That is one killer game.

I know little about computers pre Win 3.1. My Commodore 64 didn&#039t have a mouse, but my friend&#039s Apple II did.

This was always one of my favorite games. By far the most challenging game I ever played and most rewarding to have finally beaten. I do remember it being a constant annoyance having to buy food.

New characters stared with some gold. I remember you could farm gold (for food & etc.) by starting up, give all the gold to one character, save, make a new party with three new throwaway characters and the one old one with the gold, start playing, give new gold to that character, rinse & repeat. Also, there&#039s one town where you can gamble. Fight your way there and gamble for a big win, only save when you win.

My biggest problem back in the day? It takes forever to level up the fighting characters, while the magic characters (who can shoot range attacks) level up quickly. BUT – the difficulty of the baddies roaming around escalates to match your MOST exp&#039d character. Caused me endless problems, and no one ever mentions it in walkthroughs and reviews.

One good thing – the music was great. (But minimal looping battle music was tedious).

This comment covers Ultima III, IV, & V: I assume when you and others say “PC” you mean the IBM DOS version. I had an Amiga in 1986 and was blown away at the graphics of Exodus. Moreover, playing with a keyboard and mouse seemed only natural. I've never played the NES version, but as I know how the game works I can understand how anyone who plays it would become frustrated. NES, however, has a 1up over the PC DOS version and a 1up over any computer version because of the amount of time it takes to load the floppy disk. Too bad all of these elements couldn't be merged into a single “perfect” game.

Exodus was my very first RPG, even before Dragon Warrior, when I was 10. It had a very high price tag at the time, and I was 20 before I owned my own copy. I loved that your view was blocked by walls and forests, it was something I&#039d never seen before in a game!

I later bought the Ultima Collection, I-VIII for the PC. It was weird getting used to having 26 commands, one for each letter, and other aspects were very peculiar as well. I think VII was the first with mouse support. No, they haven&#039t aged well, but I appreciate them and I have no problem imagining they have state of the art graphics (they did at the time!). Besides, there exists a vibrant mod community for Ultima, and you can make the DOS versions look about as pretty as you want them to! ^_^

Also, Ultima I is the only RPG I have ever played start to finish in one (1) hour.

I couldn’t stand the NES Ultima ports, having grown up with the Apple II versions. I like the atmosphere that comes with the minimal graphics.

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