The only version of Ultima VII: The Black Gate that is available for any system other than the PC is the Super Nintendo port, first released by FCI/Pony Canyon in 1994. It is a much simplified version of the game, but is still fun to play if you like old school RPGs.
Ultima VII: The Black Gate on the SNES is considerably shorter and more streamlined than the PC original, and is also censored to appease Nintendo licensing standards (Christopher and Inamo have been kidnapped instead of murdered at the beginning of the game, for example). Interactivity is much reduced; the world map is smaller; quests have been reduced to their bare minimum, and no party accompanies The Avatar in this version – he’s a lone wanderer, fighting and exploring by himself.
If you’ve played the original Ultima VII before this version will take little getting used to, because the controls are pretty basic. The ‘A’ button is used to attack with whatever you’ve got equipped in your left hand and the ‘B’ button with whatever’s in your right hand. Some weapons require both hands to wield, in which case either button can be used to attack.
The ‘Y’ button is multi-purpose and opens doors, uses lockpicks, looks into containers, gets or uses items and objects, and also starts a conversation with whoever’s stood in front of you. The ‘X’ button is used to drop items from your inventory.
Start brings up your inventory and Select brings up the Game Control screen (where you can save/load the game, or re-start a new one). The ‘L’ and ‘R’ buttons cast readied ‘Fast Magic’ spells (which are set in the inventory screen), when you finally get your Spellbook from Lord British.
Combat is real-time and defeated enemies often drop useful items such as gold, lockpicks, and food. Enemies also re-spawn constantly in most areas, so it’s easy to grind for money, consumables, and experience.
The Avatar’s health is indicated by the heart meter at the top of the screen, and you start with just two hearts. That said: levelling up is very simple and killing multiple slimes in Connor‘s basement in Trinsic (the town you start in) increased my heart meter fivefold. Replenishing health is simply a matter of eating food, and what you food you do find often re-spawns, so it’s not difficult to recover. The Avatar’s magic level is indicated by the number of Ankhs underneath the heart meter.
Talking to NPCs uses keywords about certain topics, just like in the original, and to end a conversation you select “Bye!“. The process is fast and you can speed through conversations quickly, which is good.
Day and night cycles still happen but are much simplified. At night a circle of blackness surrounds The Avatar and you cannot see outside of it. Some items, like the bedroll and magic lantern, can only be used at night.
Spellcasting is also simplified. Reagents are not needed to cast spells, and only sixteen spells are available (instead of the 72 in the original). There are, however, some spells in this that are not seen in the PC original, such as “Water Walk” and “Lifting”.
Conventional boat travel has been replaced by a thing called “The Magic Boat“, and Moongates are non-functional in this game, which reduces exploration to just a few islands. There are no horses and carts – not that you can ride anyway. The Avatar’s walk speed is so fast, though, that you don’t really need extra ground transport.
Puzzles are extremely simple and combat is a button-masher, but the gameplay is still involving and absorbing. If you’re a Black Gate veteran then this port will likely make you scoff, but if you’re a beginner, or just enjoy playing all the versions, then this might entertain you for a while.
Although the SNES version of The Black Gate is not in the same league as some of the best RPGs on the SNES (like Seiken Densetsu 3 or Shadowrun, to name but two), it does have its charms and should not be dismissed arbitrarily.
More: Ultima VII: The Black Gate on Wikipedia
GOG: Ultima VII: The Complete Edition on GOG.com
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