Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Super Nintendo

The 1993 Super Nintendo version of Ultima VI: The False Prophet was developed by Origin Systems and first published by FCI/Pony Canyon. It is a faithful and playable port of the classic RPG, but with a few changes made to adapt it to play on a gamepad.

As is usually the case with these console ports the SNES version of The False Prophet changes the keyboard/mouse, and icon-based control system to one that uses a menu, which can be brought up by pressing the ‘A’ button at any time. From here you can access your inventories (one for each of your party members); talk to NPCs; look at objects (replaces “use” from the original version); attack enemies; cast spells; camp (to rest and heal), and save the game.

Doors open immediately when you walk into them (if they’re not locked), instead of having to manually open them, and there’s no outer information panel polluting the screen. Which is great as it allows the game world to be shown full-screen. That alone gives this version a big plus point over the original.

Managing inventories is a little more complicated than in the original, but you get used to it eventually. “Give” and “Move” commands are different in this, but are self-explanatory. You can still use sacks inside inventories (each character is provided with one at the start of the game), but it doesn’t look like you can acquire any more, and you can’t pick up and use backpacks, which is a little disappointing. The inventory is also the only place where you can get vital information about day and night cycles; gold carried, karma level, and the current ‘Command Mode’ being used (either Solo Mode, where you control a single character, or Party Mode, where you control everyone at the same time).

Combat is a mixture of real-time and turn-based, with hostile creatures edging towards you even if you leave the gamepad alone, and then the game will enter turn-based mode when the first attack is struck. The combat menu comes up for any character who is set up to be manually controlled. By default that is just The Avatar – the main character – with your companions being auto-controlled by the computer, but you can change that via the ‘Battle Tactics’ menu which is buried in Inventory > Options > Combat. This important menu item really shouldn’t have been buried that deep in the system, but from here you can set the tactics for each individual party member, to either “Berserk”, “Flank”, or “Retreat”. Or you can set each character to “Command” which will allow you to control them manually, individually, which is good. This tactics menu item should be available during combat, but it isn’t, which is an oversight. There is an “auto” option during battle, though, which allows you to defer control of your character to the computer if you wish.

As far as healing goes: you can either cast spells to heal (in or out of combat), and camping is possible if there’s enough room and there are no enemies around. You can also get healed by healers (for a price), or for free by Lord British himself by asking him the keyword “heal”.

Differences to the original that I noticed while playing: there’s no Battle Mode toggle, which can make running away from enemies difficult; day and night cycles seem to happen more quickly than in the original; Gwenneth won’t give you the Magic Bow on credit, like she does in all the other versions of the game; monsters constantly re-spawn inside dungeons, which is not necessarily a bad thing since it allows you to accrue loot more quickly; it’s easier to sell stuff in shops and build your money up more quickly, and money doesn’t physically sit in your inventory any longer; Sherry the mouse is an item instead of a party member; you can’t sit in chairs; you no longer need mantras to meditate at shrines, and the maximum party size has been reduced from eight to six.

The most frustrating thing about this version is that it’s not easy enough to quickly check your party’s condition. You have to go into the inventory to see their health or whether they’re poisoned or otherwise afflicted. A simple button press could’ve solved this (or at least having some kind of on-screen indicator during normal play), and better use of the L and R buttons should’ve allowed you to cycle through each party member in the inventory. As a result the menu and inventory system feels a little clunky. So it could’ve been better with a bit more thought put into it.

Playing the Super Nintendo version of Ultima VI is good overall, though. It’s fast, smooth, and easier to play than the original. It’s essential to read the manual if you’re a first-time player, though, but once you’ve grasped the basics the game is easy to gain a foothold in. As far as SNES RPGs go: it’s not quite up there with the best, but it is an interesting game that is still worth playing today. Is it better than the PC original? In some respects: yes, because it’s less frustrating to sell loot to merchants, but in other respects: no. It’s lacking the detail of the original, but some players might prefer that.

More: Ultima VI: The False Prophet on Wikipedia
GOG: Ultima 4+5+6 on GOG.com

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