Ezanya

Released
Jan. 1, 1992
Company
Size
24.0 KB
Boards
9 / 9
Rating
3.88 / 5.00

Closer Look: Ezanya

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Sept. 21, 2018

Commit war crimes in the name of the king in this early fantasy that stands the test of time

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In order to free the dragons (who will not find the player worthy), the player needs to take each transporter and throw a lever on the other side. The way everything is set up, I'd imagine the order is important, but both in my first mistaken trip to the final battle as well as the proper one I managed to open the chambers up without issue.

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To make it to Exasperata, each dragon has to be defeated to make them drop a key. The dragons are a huge pain to fight, and it's probably a good idea to just free a bunch of them and get them to shoot each other while focusing on dodging the stars that only some of them shoot.

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By this point, I just wanted to see how it ended, and not worry about any BS from fighting the dragons. I began to cheat pretty excessively as I not only was almost out of health, but ammo as well.

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The final dragon was just too much for me to deal with, having a special rest state that basically made them stop moving and become invincible for 15 seconds after each hit. I did not have the patience, and the overwhelming offense when the dragon wasn't in statis wasn't something that could be overcome to hit him reliable with so little ammo. But my cheating was done out of anticipation for how this would come to a climax more than any frustration at the game's balancing issues.

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There was one last cruel gauntlet to get past in order to make it to the end. A hallway of spinning guns that fired a bit too rapidly to avoid, and conveyors positioned to make it difficult to get through. In DosBox, with key repeat issues for ZZT these are extremely difficult to bypass without taking advantage of the input exploit to move, pause before being pushed back, and move again.

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Door
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
You see before you a huge door, covered
with golden figures in tortured relief.
You press upon the door and it melts away,
flowing into the walls around you.
Beyond you see a large room, the roof
fading away to a dark rotunda whose
heights are lost to the lurking shadows.
In the center stands a figure...King
Exasperata! Garbed in deep purple and
bearing all the treasures you brought him,
he returns your stare, then with eyes
aflame he yells to you,

    "So it is you, Hero! Oh, impudent
mortal, to have gone so far and learned
so little! Come, if you must, to the
ruler you crowned, the Lord of Darkness!
Come and witness my gratitude!"
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Again Daggert pulls out the detailed fantasy writing. Turning a yellow equals sign into a melting door, massive and intricate in design. A "round" (for ZZT) room of linewalls has life breathed into it, turning it into something sinister. In ZZT, good writing can do so much that the graphics can't, but few games actually manage to be descriptive like this. This is not a white smiley face about to shoot at a purple smiley face. This is a grand fantasy battle between one chosen by the Earth and a demonic lord covered in ancient and powerful magical artifacts. The importance of this fight feels so much more real than pretty much anything you'd see in ZZT for a decade or so.

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Alas, this is still screenshots from my first trip, where I did not acquire the EarthSword, making Exasperata invincible.

Bad end.

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The proper playthrough goes better. The player's EarthSword makes his attacks do nothing, turning the final battle into a short one-way assault, with the player's victory assured.

end

The EarthSword makes short work of Exasperata, ending his reign and letting the player reclaim the dwarven treasures. Salkan's request fulfilled and peace being brought back to the land, though at quite the cost. Exasperata drops a key and the player can proceed to the victory screen.

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You win!!!

(I am amused that there's a gap in the sky because the player's default position on the board hasn't been changed.)

Final Thoughts

What a ride! Ezanya looks to be a short game, taking place on a total of nine boards, one of which being the title screen and one being the ending scene. All that game was crammed onto a shockingly small space which makes Town feel massively sprawling in comparison. Beth Daggert took a chance on a new and generally unknown program called ZZT and created something with it that has truly stood the test of time.

Ezanya greatly out-paces the competition both in the other games of the ZZT's Revenge compilation as well as the later output of many ZZTers. That this game is so well crafted in terms of story and board design (mostly) is really stunning. It easily stands toe-to-toe with games like The Mercenary in terms of dungeon crawling or Deceiving Guidance in terms of storytelling and world building. The game's graphics are the only thing that tip you off that you're playing an older title, but is an excellent example that older ZZT worlds can still hold up today.

It's not perfect. The resources provided demand the player either makes no mistakes or cheats liberally. There's a dwarf that can sabotage a puzzle, a few walking-dead states if the player kills important NPCs, and that white key being meant for a different white door than the one the player has been curious about the entire game definitely give Ezanya its share of rough edges.

The general gameplay is a tad too difficult for the resources provided, but otherwise solid. The quests all feel challenging, and each component of them generally works, but taken all at once is more than can be reasonably handled.

But the game truly shines in its writing. Most ZZT RPGs of the 90s take blatant inspiration from Final Fantasy 6 and other 16-bit Squaresoft RPGs. Daggert's influences likely come from the older era of PC RPGs and tabletop. It feels so much like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with the setup of taking quests from the king only to discover the king was evil all along. It's not brilliant, and it's heavily implied that something is up if the player pays the slightest attention to Exasperata's behavior. The thing is though, that it works. Ezanya knows the story it wants to tell and does a creates a compelling adventure in doing so.

Don't be fooled by Ezanya's age, or lack of complicated turn-based RPG battles. If you're looking for a grand adventure in a tiny package, Ezanya is a royal treasure of a ZZT world not to be missed.

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