Quite simply, Pool of Radiance
(POR) is one of the first, and best, AD&D games ever to be offered in the digital realm. It graced screens two years before it found its way to the Amiga, but the wait was well worth it (and two more after that for the NES).
The POR world is impressive to say the least. The UI follows fairly closely some of the precedents set forth by the likes of Bard’s Tale: small corners of the screen devoted to close-up views of people and monsters you have dialog- or battle- with, or marching through parts of town or dungeons in a 3D viewport.
But then POR innovated - big time - when it came to battles. When battles ensue, a system was created that became expected in Japanese games like Final Fantasy and other popular RPGs. Players get to see their groups on-screen in relationship to their challengers, but with even more realism than most other games at the time. For example, arrows can come into play if you need to hit a foe 30 feet away (which you can aim at) while fighters do close combat in the front ranks. Magic users can hang even further back to cast spells on large groups of baddies to give your party an advantage (or a fighting chance!). The tactical aspects are fantastic.
Is the game hard? Hard as nails at times. Good luck playing this game and not getting your early level characters knocked out, with no money for cures, and being left wondering what to do. But take a deep breath and restart, because re-rolling your characters (for a very long time) will allow you to put together a party that can stay alive for a little while. And your party better have “balance,” meaning a bit of everything, and everyone better be nearly maxed out.
But once you finally do get that perfect party of adventurers, save often. Because you never know when you might burst into a scene of insanely difficult battles that you can’t possibly win on first glance. And, frankly, that’s OK. You’ll need to Raise Dead more than once regardless.
Pool of Radiance is one of the most “genuine” and true to the old rules of AD&D and very well balanced. And while you may grow tired of isometric turn-based battles that last several minutes, if you were using paper, pencil and dice battles didn’t exactly take 5 seconds. They could take quite a long time.
This type of battle sequence was borrowed heavily by several Japanese franchises (or vice versa).
PoR is incredibly deep, vast, and detailed. If you love RPGs & D&D, PoR is going to give you most of what you’re looking for. Is it perfect? No - it has its shortcomings, but compared to all other D&D CRPGs, Pool of Radiance is one of the games to beat. And has been for a very, very long time.
To learn more, check out this in-depth user review