RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Apr 20th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Goldbox, Dungeons and Dragons, NES port

Cool Aunt Chronicles is a series that I have had in mind for quite a while now.  Chronologically, it follows the Budget Wall series that I wrote in the past, and builds as a personal transition from somebody who just loved games in general to who I am today.  Please enjoy.

So, I've got this aunt, who is super cool, and as long as I have known her she has been a gamer.  I credit her not only with truly introducing me to the love of console gaming (while stoking my future love for PC gaming), but with helping me out of my "Budget Wall" funk of the early nineties.  This is what we are here for today; reliving that special period between 1993 and 1995, when in her amazing generosity Cool Aunt dumped a paper box filled with games and magazines on an otherwise broke teenager.  This is the Cool Aunt Chronicles.

Back in the early nineties I was pretty bad at making video game purchase decisions.  Perhaps you have read one or two of them.  While ultimately tragic (and hilariously relatable), my philosophy on game-fun was probably based on a fallacy where I believed that I should get "X" amount of entertainment based on the amount of money I paid.  I think this goes back to my days trolling arcades and convenience stores, where more often than not a more expensive game was one you really wanted to play.  Left to my own way, I would have no doubt transitioned from buying cheap "throwaway" games on the NES to cheap "throwaway" games on the SNES (and beyond), picking up diamonds in the rough (maybe but not likely), while all the time looking longingly at those gaming horizons I would never truly explore, all because I was blowing my cash on cheap crap.  So naturally, I owe Cool Aunt quite a bit, so this is my own way of saying, "thank you" to her.  Thank you!

Your first exposure to gameplay in Hillsfar and for some their last: Horse riding.  Ug.

Before we progress any further, I think it is fair to point out that Cool Aunt Chronicles will feature very few games that are considered...  good (by the mainstream).  I don't want to get too much into it (my opinions on this tend to be rather controversial), but much as my views on movies, I have games that would be considered "good" and some only "entertaining."   Most of the games I pulled out of that magical paper box were definitely in the "entertaining" category.  'Nuff said.

One more note - I had the nostalgia part of this article written a bit ago, then during the RFGeneration NES Challenge 2019 - March Hillsfar was on the list and I couldn't help but jump on it and play.  It was a time and half, let me tell you.  I started out playing the thief class, just like the good old days, then wimped out and started again with the cleric (due to it being the shortest route to the end) because I had other games I wanted to play.  You know, sometimes I think my gaming life was simpler when I had less games.

Hillsfar for NES was the first game I remember pulling out of the paper box, but not to play.  Looking at it, I had no idea what kind of game it could be.  I mean, just looking at the cartridge label it could literally be anything.  And actually, first playing the game really didn't help either, but I jump ahead.  About the only thing I could do was pray the "Dungeons & Dragons" bit at the top of the cart meant it would be a roleplaying game, and not an action game like Heroes of the Lance.  I didn't have much hope, but oh man was I hyped.  Of course that didn't push me into playing the game the first time I saw it, but I had a brand spanking new SNES plugged into my television via RF leed, so by default I was not going to pop in an NES game, regardless of any other factors.  I did get around to it eventually, but only after I saw an advert in a gaming magazine, and since I was absolutely RPG crazy at the time, I got to it as quickly as I could.

"RPGs? Oh wait, I have the one the left! Yes! YES!" likely said sixteen year-old I.

So, in Hillsfar, you play (in true D&D style) an adventurer out to make a name for him/herself in the aforementioned city.  You roll up a character (or choose a pre-rolled), choosing a class, race, alignment, and stats, then set out for Hillsfar on horseback in short time.  Once you arrive in Hillsfar you are left at the city gate wondering what to do with yourself.  You can wander around the streets, and as you do you get a little texts describing what (if anything) is next to you that you can interact with, be it the generic "door" (meaning someplace you can break into) or one of the unique buildings strewn throughout the city (one of the Guilds, the Jail, Arena, etc.).  Computer gamers will no doubt notice a massive lack of visual fidelity in the picture above compared to the 8-bits or DOS, which it certainly does.  However, the little texts that you get are a massive aid in trying to find destinations, where as in the computer originals you are left with the locations of only important buildings. 

What you should be doing in the city of Hillsfar varies.  You have enough freedom if you choose a warrior or a cleric you can still accomplish the tasks of a thief (you can hire NPCs at inns, for example, or just use a knock ring), though there are limits.  This certainly wasn't like any RPG that I had played before, but to be fair even on the computers of the day Hillsfar was pretty unique.

You know, I wish I had gotten the manual with the game.  The little introduction to the game is very brief, but stuff like that really had an impact on me at the time, where I would scour the used bookstores for fantasy and science fiction titles (though more of the former).  If I had read that before playing the game I think I would have wandered the streets with a lot more trepidation, as I watched intently for the Red Plume guards.  Of course the manual plays a more practical purpose of showing you the locations in the "overworld" are, as well as what times the establishments are open.  Doesn't show you where they are, but that is okay; This is an RPG after all.  If you aren't exploring, why even bother playing?

But as I implied, I didn't get the manual, so needless to say I was very confused.  Luckily I had my own TV, albeit tiny, in my room to play, so my siblings couldn't sit in stunned silence while I struggled first with character creation, horseback riding, and finally surviving as a thief in Hillsfar (then later as a cleric).  But once you understand the basics, the game is very easy to play, and really easy to get sucked into, provided you don't mind the graphics (which are pretty poor).  However, it should be said that at its core, Hillsfar is really nothing more than a bunch of minigames (horseback riding, lock picking, archery, maze chase, and arena fighting) with a bit of story thrown in for good measure.  Not a lot of variety though, and outside of the story you are stuck with those minigames or just wandering around the city.

So when I started this I debated on exactly what I should cover.  At first I was going to just explain everything (warts and all), but in the end I think I will leave it a mystery, and just cover the most annoying part of the game:  The controls.  More specifically, the really laggy and imprecise controls when riding the horse.  So, regardless of what class you select you will be riding that stupid horse no less than twenty times.  You can control the speed by pressing left or right, duck down by pressing down, jump by pressing the A button, and use a Wand of Blasting with the B button.  The only problem is most of these buttons don't seem to do very much.  Speed control works almost flawlessly, while jumping works merely most of the time.  The funny thing about that I could never pin down exactly what the game wanted from me to cause the horse to jump:  Would it be a firm button press followed a hold, or a frantic rapid mashing?  Both seemed to work, but it was never clear when.  Ducking (from random arrow shots and birds) is true hit or miss, and I never got the hang of this.  And using the Wand of Blasting?  I used to think that only the mage class could use it until I started blasting obstacles on the path during my final playthrough, then it never worked again.  What does all this translate to?  It makes the game a lot harder than it should be, that is for sure.  To make matters worse, once you fall off your horse and lose most of your HP the animal runs away, leaving you to slink back to the Trading Post to buy another horse, though getting accosted by brigands while doing this (and losing money, potions, or both in the process) is pretty common.

Looking back, I don't think Hillsfar ever had a chance on the NES given the time it was released.  Had it been ported back in '89 when it was new on DOS and the C64, I think it might have done well.  But appearing in 1993, when the graphics of the SNES and Genesis were all the talk at the lunch tables of my teenage youth, it came off as foolish;  Were people even still playing the NES?  And if so, why play such an ugly game?  Quite simply, despite the sparse story, terrible controls, and sloppy graphics, there is a something about Hillsfar that holds a certainje ne sais quoi, especially if you are into open-world games of a certain vintage.

Unless you are a serious NES fan or a collector I don't think getting this game is necessary.  The price is rather high (loose around $85 USD and CIB around $200 USD) and to be frank the C64 and DOS originals (and likely the Amiga and Atari ST) are far superior and cheaper, and do not suffer the from the terrible controls.  Still, I cannot deny the fun I wrung from this game, and although I no longer play this port (except for the RFGen NES Challenge, that is) it was kind of fun (in a way) playing it again.

Thanks for reading!

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I guess Hillsfar really DID put you in your place, just like the advert promised... albeit not in the way they intended. No wonder these realms are forgotten...
Hey, I just realized that you posted this on 4/20. Does your cool aunt celebrate this day, if you know what I mean, wink-wink? Is that what makes her cool? Hmmm? I'm toatz jelly... Grin
This is the only AD&D game I have left to beat on the NES. I really enjoyed Dragon Strike and Pool of Radiance, Heroes of the Lance was forgettable but I didn't hate it. After hearing you speak of Hillsfar in the NES Challenge Thread (thanks for the shout out!) I'm pretty intrigued to check out this game at some point. Very cool to hear about the personal connection you have with the game. I wish I had a cool aunt growing up!

That horse riding image you have near the top I had to double take on. I just recently beat Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and it looks identical to the horse riding in that game.

@Zagnorch:  Hehe. I didn't think of it this way until now, but very funny (and ironic).

@Crabmaster2000: I don't think it will take much for you to wring some fun out of Hillsfar.  For what it is it's fun, and like I said, best lockpicking minigame ever!  I even fired it up the DOS version and was about half-way through the Cleric quest before I caught myself.  That's funny about Robin Hood.  Looks a lot alike (though I think it looks more fun than the horseriding in Hillsfar).

Thanks for commenting guys!
I was never into D&D stuff as a kid, so other than seeing advertisements like this in magazines, I have no familiarity with these games. Seems like I didn't miss a whole lot. This is the kind of game I would rather play on PC, honestly. Cool story about your aunt, though, and I'll be curious to know what other games were in the box for you to discover Smiley
@MetalFRO:  If you have the means I would point you to the C64 version (for the music), but the DOS version is just as good (and with better graphics).  I sat down and finished the DOS version the other day and the controls are much for more responsive, making the Fighter storyline actually doable.

There are def more game incoming.  Thanks for commenting!

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