Ishar: Legend of the Fortress, Atari ST

The first in a trilogy of French Role-Playing Games published by Silmarils, Ishar: Legend of the Fortress is an atmospheric, first-person, party-based RPG with challenging gameplay, released in 1992.

You begin with a single, given character (called “Aramir”) and must recruit others to help you on your rather obscure quest. I say ‘obscure’ because – even with the manual – it’s not very clear what you’re supposed to do. Reading the manual indicates that “alignment” is a big deal (“Dwarfs [sic] are not very friendly with elves,” it says), although the manual writers don’t seem to understand the concept of ‘alignment’, as it is actually race that makes the difference with regards to dwarves and elves. So basically: it’s racism that you have to contend with… Sigh.

The in-game map doesn’t show you where you currently are, so is next to useless, and you have to fumble your way around the opening of the game to gain a foothold. Eventually, though, you’ll find a village and hopefully a few extra party members to recruit.

Combat and movement is all mouse-driven and is fairly intuitive, but slow and prone to click errors. Healing is another matter entirely. It’s either done via choosing ‘First Aid’ from an action menu (and whether it works or not is very hit and miss), or by sleeping or eating at an inn. Even worse: saving the game costs actual in-game money – and quite a lot of it too – which is outrageous! It’s like the developers have deliberately set out to make a game you’re going to hate, which is a pity because Ishar has all the makings of a very good game.

Graphically, Ishar is pretty good. The first person graphics are atmospheric and well-drawn. The colours are a bit weird. The monsters are reasonably well animated. The spelling mistakes are appalling, though.

Getting anywhere in this game is frustrating without a walkthrough. With one, it’s marginally less frustrating. Personally, I prefer the much improved sequel, over this game. Back in 1992 Ishar was still archaic, compared to the market leader, Dungeon Master. Playing it now, it’s a barely entertaining hack and slasher, but only with a walkthrough. Playing it blind is way too much of a slog to be enjoyable.

The Ishar trilogy on The King of Grabs:
Ishar #1, Ishar #2, and Ishar #3.

More: Ishar: Legend of the Fortress on Wikipedia
GOG: Ishar Compilation on GOG.com

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