Defender of Castle Sin

Author
Nivek
Released
Nov. 6, 1998
Genre
RPG
Size
31.5 KB
Boards
49 / 50
Rating
3.67 / 5.00

Closer Look: Defender of Castle Sin

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Sept. 25, 2017

Defend Castle Sin from intruders both good and evil to keep an ancient portal sealed and secure

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The last unexplored section of the castle is now open to the player, where they can hopefully find something to help deal with the opening portal to the Abyss.

The library is pretty ugly looking with the books all being giant rectangles on a single massive shelf.

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Most of the books are no help, but a few offer some new spells which are either cast immediately or memorized quite quickly to use in future fights. The defender's capabilities in combat expand dramatically here.

(There's one more door here, but the player can never go beyond it. We've seen all of the castle we'll be seeing.)

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The portal is looking worse now. The wizard has not been very helpful.

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You can still step too close to the portal and get crushed to death on a slightly different art board which now has a second hand coming out of the portal as well. Who knows how many hands will come out of this thing!

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Angus McDonald is on the case. Magnus rushes in. The wizard runs off to try and get help while the defender sticks around to try and buy some time.

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Which weirdly involves leaving the portal room for some reason. That chokepoint is up to no good yet again and hides another passage to a battle.

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Look at this guy! Nivek does an admirable job here creating a foul looking daemon from the abyss.

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Thanks to the library, the defender has four new offensive spells and a healing spell to try out. Let's crunch the numbers:

I feel like presenting this information to the player would make combat way more interested. Instead I was guessing maybe the values would be different for each enemy and they'd have elemental weaknesses or something. The choices offered are varied enough that you can justify each spell to some extent, but in practice the player will pretty much just be picking them at random and hoping for a good roll. DoomBlade kind of outclasses FairySword since two FairySwords will cost as much as one DoomBlade and do less damage plus mean the enemy takes another turn in between castings. IceSteel has a hidden mechanic where you regain some MP when you miss with it which goes unmentioned.

The choices presented here are good, but the information just isn't there to actually be able to choose wisely. The combat being nothing more than taking turns mashing attack also limits how effective all this is since the only thing the player is really considering is how long they think it will be until the next MP refill versus "Fuck it. DoomBlade". Just spamming DoomBlade quickly became my plan when I didn't need to heal since it did so much damage. I didn't even realize it always hit since it killed things fast enough that I never got suspicious of my rolls with it not actually being rolled.

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The battles do get harder from here on out, but right away the player gets something to help even the odds.

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The ring of Wizardry allows you to replenish your MP to 200 three times. The uses left are tracked by how many gems the player has. I did not notice that I got gems and thought you could only use it once. Whoops.

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The next fight happens right away. This time against a DaemonMage that happens to know "Major Destruct" which hurts a lot. It hits for nearly 50 HP.

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The daemon mage is just as grisly. With that dreadful spell I suffer my first defeat in combat. New strategy: DoomBlade.

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Good strategy.

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Speak of the devil. The council is here and if there's any hope of resealing the portal it's going to be them.

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In a kind of a dick move, it turns out you totally can just close the portal if you get this magic crystal. It's time to leave castle Sin.

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The game would imply that the defender has never left the castle since taking on the role, but there's no dialog about how the defender feels about stepping outside the walls for the first time in who knows how long. They're numb.

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A sign helpfully guides the player to the cave and also teaches us the castle's true name is "Felok".

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I hoped I could head into town, but a good point is brought up here. The defender is definitely a monster to the outside world.

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The path to the cave has some trees with less foliage and even a stump. I wouldn't describe it as unassuring myself. It looks way too similar to the previous board to give a feeling of danger.

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The next board is the mouth of the cave. There's a large willow which looks really nice to me.

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The defender however, eyes it suspiciously.

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And for good reason! It's actually a treant ready to keep people away from the cave much in the same way the defender keeps people out of the castle.

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Most of the fights so far have been easy enough to win, but the treant is definitely a pain here with the ability to hit for more than 40 damage.

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This battle is probably the most well done fight with the damage being high enough that the player really does need to keep up on their healing and strike hard whenever the treant misses. It still takes a few tries to persevere.

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The defender is the first person to make it past the treant in presumably a very long time, and thus the first to explore the cave.

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The cave is pretty empty, just some squiggly walls and black floors against a black background. On the second cave board here there are two passages to enter and this mysterious tile. It kills you for touching it.

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It doesn't kill you without giving a reason at least. It turns out this is a pit and you are bad at video games for touching the only thing of interest on the board.

The top passage meanwhile, leads on to...

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Another instant game over. It turns out the passage was a cliff and you are bad at video games for picking the wrong passage. This is some School ZZT design here.

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The correct passage leads to another fight, this time with a carrion worm that's capable of multiple attacks.

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There are a few different attacks here, and the worm does indeed get to strike multiple times. This is handled a bit weirdly and can sometimes result in an infinite loop where the enemy will keep attacking the defender until you touch the attack button again (normally it automatically pops up when its your turn again).

It's not as difficult as the treant, even with the multiple hits.

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Next up is another empty cavern with instant kill pits. Nivek really dropped the ball on this portion of the game.

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Or so I thought before a giant centipede bursts into the room and attacks!

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Well, it's a reskinned carrion worm, but it got a spiffy introduction at least. That sort of thing adds a lot compared to walking into invisible passages into fights.

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Healing from 6 health to 200 in a single turn feels good. Other than that, it's no different than the last fight really.

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Finally the defender reaches the end of the cave and acquires the Crystal of Reficul they've been questing for. No traps are triggered, no fight happens, you just pick it up and can leave.

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And you do have to leave. The player must backtrack across the entire cave and back into the castle before anything new will happen.

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The long walk concludes back in the portal room where the wizards are doing their best to keep the portal from opening further.

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Morden takes the crystal and is able to use it to close the portal. The threat is over, but there's still a monster running loose in town. The defender has one final job to do before they can finally retire.

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After all this time the defender is just about free of their duties.

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The many tentacled monster is pretty massive and can be seen from outside the village's walls. Of course the trees look way bigger than anything in the village so who knows.

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The final fight begins with the multi-tentacled horror that is the demon beast.

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*mashes DoomBlade button*

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It's a good start, until Death starts getting cast.

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The spell lands hard, taking off 67 health! With 200 max HP it's enough to be killed in 3 hits. Fortunately, the other attacks will hit for less, but it means keeping a rather large HP buffer available to be able to heal when needed.

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I managed to whittle it down to a single point of health and opted for a fancy sword stab for the killing blow.

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The game abruptly draws to a close after defeating the final monster. You get some interesting lore though. The defender is the first defender, and has been alive for centuries. Whether this is because they've been given immortality as a job perk or a generic fantasy thing where some races live for centuries is unknown. The portal is closed, but it can be opened again if the magic is undone.

There's never a reason given for why they couldn't just do this centuries ago instead of giving the defender such a lousy existence. The defender has had a really lousy time and I can't help but feel bad for them.

Final Thoughts

Defender of Castle Sin a fun little game. The story isn't as fleshed out as I'd have liked, but I think Nivek did have a good idea for a game here. It's an unusual concept to have the protagonist in an RPG be rooted to a single location which helps add some interest to the otherwise by the book fantasy world.

There are some glimmers of interesting ideas, but they never really get explored. The whole game is very linear when all I could imagine was wandering around the castle finding intruders and besting them in combat. Stumbling onto the disguised mage early on felt really cool, but instead of being one of many rewards for a keen eye that the player has been taught they should be using, it winds up being a random fluke leading to an ending whose true impact won't even be realized unless it's a second playthrough. Also the ending where the portal never gets opened means the defender continues their life of killing anybody who enters the castle and never being free from their duties.

The more ZZT games I play, the more I realize that the only fun RPG battle engine was Commodore's in Psychic Solar War Adventure. Nivek continues the trend of having battles that almost never put the player in danger, rely massively on randomness, and focus more on flashing invisible walls for magic spells than giving the player a reason to choose one spell over another. The spells here are so varied too, and if the information on them was presented where the player could easily access it there might be a little more to it.

The art is really nice at least! The scenes for each ending are well drawn and the portraits in combat are of a high enough quality that when battles are telegraphed you do get excited to see how Nivek will portray your foe.

In the end though, things feel rushed. There's a definite dip in quality once the player leaves the castle despite this being soon after gaining several new spells and ways to recharge magic. Defend of Castle Sin just can't hold itself together enough to really keep a player's interest going. It's one of those games that feels like with a bit more time it could stand out, but what's actually delivered is a pretty repetitive game with some pleasant art peppered throughout. You're not really missing too much by skipping this one, but it has enough appeal that it might be worth playing through the first half before putting it rest.

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