Pool of Radiance
1990, Amiga (1988 - Others)
SSI/Ubi Soft (yes, that Ubi Soft)
*Game best played in NTSC mode with 4:3 aspect ratio
My Video Review of Pool of Radiance
AmigaLove Site Review with ADF Download
To best set the mood for this review, listen to the Pool of Radiance intro music
recorded from my Amiga 500
The significance of this game on the computer gaming world cannot be overstated. This was the first of around 12 "Gold Box" games. A title lovingly bestowed upon these games with their gold box art and similar game engines used for all titles. Many of these games became not just top sellers, but held the #1 chart position of sales for all computer game genres at the time. Pool of Radiance alone sold over 200,000 copies on all systems. This was an incredible amount in terms of the much smaller computer game market compared to consoles. You add on the hefty price tags for such games (which often went for $50-60$), and you had quite the success story.
Yet very few talk about these games today. I tend to feel these games shine a light on the truth of the computer market from back then and how much modern audiences do not understand the truth of gaming at that time. My father owned just about every single one of those 12 gold box games, buying a few on several systems even. He was not the minority. Game sales for computer games in America were overwhelmingly made up of an adult demographic, not one of children. However the people looking into these titles today were very small children (if they were born at all) at the time these games were released. Adults from that era are not the ones writing about these games, and thus a complete history is being lost. Many children who had a computer, yet nobody around who knew how to use it, tended to like the same kinds of games the children who owned a Nintendo Entertainment System liked. I feel this taints how they cover (if they cover) these types of large games, which happen to be the most popular games that were ever released for many computer systems.
This included the Amiga in its home country of America. You're never going to see a game like Pool of Radiance listed in the top 100 Amiga games lists... And that is a damn shame. This is not only one of the best games of all time, it is one of the best Amiga games of all time. It is far past due for somebody to properly show off these titles from the start to the end, and play them on the system with the absolute best versions there ever were; the Commodore Amiga.
^Our six characters; Shot, Lactobicillus, Maximum RD, Shadowsnose, Stygian, and Polaventris (all fellow YouTubers)
After an impressive musical introduction (unique for the Amiga version), you are thrust into the character creation process. SSI let TSR have all the say they wanted on the creation of this game, and thus all the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule sets of the time are followed nearly to the tee. Roll those dice and create some characters. You are allowed to modify your characters stats at the start of the game quite easily, however. I've always maxed them out. These games show no mercy, take the little this game allows you would be quite sound advice. If you plan on carrying this same party through the other 3 games in this series I would advise the use of humans for straight character classes. All other races will be unable to advance further at some point into the 3rd game due to the strict rules. I tend to go for a fairly well balanced party, but it always amazes me to see the unique variations others use and still end up winning. So have fun deciding how to make up your party!
^Some wonderfully written plot information featured in the essential to use game manual
The game itself provides very little plot information at the start of your adventure. For this you will need to consult the extensive manual. There tend to be a lot of computer games from this era where many will tell you that a manual is required... None more so than a game like this. It's not necessarily to learn how to properly play the game, however. Due to the game referring to the manual extensively in the form of story driven "journal entries", I would say it's near impossible to enjoy this game without its manual. Rest easy friends; it's all scanned and ready for you if you do a quick search.
^ Get a grip on those surroundings, this is your home now
You are in the city of Phlan. A city that has been through quite a few ups and downs in its immense and rich history. The city is just starting to recover from a terrible event some 50 years ago. Monsters control the majority of the city, leaving just a small section safe for civilized life. It is your job to reclaim the city block for block and stop the monsters and their leader.
^ Hand drawn map of Phlan (I always make the mistake of writing and saying it as Philan for some reason) and the Slums, along with some of our first battles
Unlike all others who cover games like this, let me state clearly how much I recommend the use of graph paper to hand map this game. You can of course easily download said maps from the internet, and using the terrible (compared to the Amiga) DOS version you can even have a completed map on screen at all times... Don't be lazy. Not only will hand mapping better prepare your party (via experience gained from random battles), but I can't state more strongly how much a part of the entire experience the mapping is in terms of gameplay. It's half the gameplay, it does not take long at all, and you'll be far less annoyed with random battles if you're spending time mapping. This is how the game was meant to be played. I really implore people to give it a try. I've beaten this game 4 times and every single time I start fresh with the mapping. If you're too busy to go to the store for some graph paper you can go here to print your own.
You'll want to go the shops for the first (and last) time in order to equip your party with basic weapons. My biggest complaint about this and all gold box games is the awful economy. There's nothing good to buy and there's no reason to spend money on anything but training. You will quickly find yourself in a situation of dumping all of your money due to encumbrance issues. No matter how much I adore these games I'll never forgive them for constantly taking me out of this world by having me dump all of my treasure. I recommend having your fighters carry 400 platinum and others carry 200 for use to train or use occasionally elseware. Dump everything else or your characters are going to barely be able to move. Other games of this era did it much better, this is one of several examples where following the AD&D rules to the letter was truly a bad idea. Compromise would have made these games even better.
^ Camping, Orcs, death...
The game is tough as nails on a staring party. When entering combat you'll be greeted with constant roles of misses. The good (and bad) news is the enemy will miss just as much as you in the beginning. However, there tends to be a lot more of them than there are of you. Waiting for 20 Goblins to miss just for your next chance to miss can get a tad bit on the annoying side. Due to the sheer numbers don't be surprised if you find yourself staring at the game over screen quite a lot. Due to the expense of raising the dead I'd recommend a complete reload of the game when one or more characters die. There's no loading in game; but at least you've got nice intro music...
^ The main gameplay screen showing descriptions of your surroundings
The atmosphere of this game is incredible. The story itself is the most memorable story I've ever come across in any video game. Beyond the plot elements there is no shortage of descriptions which help you stay in touch with your surroundings. From simple to elegant, it all helps to keep your imagination grounded in a world where the actual main gameplay screen does not offer much help. Most of your journey is conducted through a 1st person view in a small window on the screen. The graphics here are nothing special, similar games like Might and Magic II destroy it. Your mind will help you quite a bit combined with the sprinkling of the written word, however. There are many detailed pictures that will show up along your journey to better plant you into this world. These pictures are absolutely incredible on the Amiga. They feature great use of color and animation, and many are completely redrawn for this Amiga version.
^ Choosing spells and casting them
The combat system in this game is what makes it shine. This is the thing that stands it above so many of the RPGs at the time, as well to this very day! The tactical and strategic elements presented in this turn based bird's eye view perspective had no contenders at the time, and I'd gladly argue it has never quite been surpassed. Most RPGs were a strict hack and slash affair. Some offered more strategy than others, but it all came down to keystorkes. Hit "A" to attack, "S" to shoot, and "C" to cast spells. Target enemy "1","2", or "3". You might get an a nice picture to go along with the monsters, but fulfilling combat was never a staple of this era of RPGs. SSI would go on to create Baulder's Gate, revolutionizing real time combat. In the strategy genre, Heroes of Might and Magic would create quite a nice turn based system itself. But in terms of turn based RPGs, this is the best it ever got, and it can be argued quite heavily that turn based should still have a place today. Yet this type of combat system can mostly just be found in these gold box games. I love them, despite the occasional annoyance with random battles. It is so satisfying to come up with your own unique way to beat the odds in combat with these games.
An essential part of that combat system are your spell casters. Cleric's will know all of their spells for a given level, but will need to memorize the ones they wish to use. Sorcerers will also need to memorize spells, but they don't have access to all their level has to offer. You can memorizing one spell per level, but can supplement that with the use of reading scrolls. Fighters are so very important in this game; but I always find I need my healer and I need my mage. The spells in this game really open up the strategic elements of the combat system so much more given the perspective. Sleep spells, stinking clouds, fireballs and lightning bolts all offer their advantages and disadvantages and must be carefully considered given the circumstances.
^A side quest, some plot, and getting and finding one of the main quests
This game is not my favorite RPG (Might and Magic VI is), nor is it my favorite gold box game (that honor goes to the Savage Frontier games). It was not the first one I ever played (Death Knights of Krynn on Amiga), yet it has always been the most memorable of them all. I believe that has a lot to do with how the game advances. The clearing of the different city blocks one by one. Just when you start feeling it's the same old stuff something unique happens that you just can't forget. I enjoy the story so much I've actually read the novel (a best seller).
^ Going block by block, we encounter memorable moments and add to our collection of journal entries
I've always tended to get a kick out of Japanese RPGs, despite growing up with Western computer RPGs. They tend to be quirky and funny as well as endearing. There tends to be much more story in JRPGs. Though perhaps it's the same amount of story, just told more often and in shorter segments. They all tend to extraordinary easy given my CRPG background, but I can say I enjoy the stories. Yet I've never felt a single one of them was ever as memorable as any CRPG. There seems to be less of a story, but the way it's told simply makes it stick with you. Years after you play this game, you're going to remember the plot of it in fairly great detail. Inside the game itself it's just sprinkled here and there, and perhaps that helps. Once in awhile you'll be pointed to one to three paragraphs in your manual to really dive you in. The act of physically reading from the manual these plot elements I feel really helps to keep this one inside your mind long after you're done.
^ The great outdoors
When you've finally had enough of dealing with the city blocks you can take your adventures outside Phlan. You can really go anywhere you want at any time in this game. Like many CRPGs, it's non linear. The only thing stopping you from heading right to the end of the game are the extremely tough monsters in your way. But if one area is not working out for you, simply go somewhere else. If you're getting bored somewhere, change it up. I love that about this game.
^ More wilderness adventures
In the wilderness you'll be greeted with a completely new view of a horse in a bird's eye view. The outdoors are extraordinarily detailed in Pool of Radiance. I feel it's the best wilderness representation in any of the gold box games, and it was never used again, sadly. Unlike all other areas in this game, the outdoor map is much larger than 16x16, necessitating the use of several pieces of graph paper (unless you've played it enough to know where to start like me). The areas of interest are rather spread out, but I still must insist everyone try to map this area themselves. The random battles in the overworld can give quite a lot of experience. They tend to not utterly destroy your party at this state of the game, and they are incredibly varied in terms of the monsters you'll face. You'll do well to map every inch of the world.
^ We eliminate the local pollution problem and get a nice view of a castle
There are many well drawn scenes to see in the wilderness. Perhaps the most memorable is the large pyramid found where the Stojanow River and Lake Kuto meet. The river is now called the Barren due to the death is causes the local plants. The cause? A local evil wizard polluting the river for his experiments. After navigating a rather complex maze we will find and destroy the equipment pumping in the sludge into the river, as well as the mage himself. This will open up the previously impassible (without going round) river to your travels.
^ I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts
The graveyard. Oh, the bloody graveyard. At the beginning of the game it's kind of suggested to you that this place should be one of your first stops. Classic CRPG misdirection right there. You will be destroyed if you venture to this area at the start of the game. If you do manage to survive, you'll be worse for the ware. Very dangerous undead with the ability to paralyze and even drain your levels are found here. With years of wisdom I now know to save this place until near the end of the game. At that point it might actually seem a little easy, but the local mummy's will still scare you to one hit deaths. The vampire must be killed twice, but you might have help from a genie if you manage to find him elsewhere first. Perhaps the single most memorable area in the entire game due to my horror of having failed inside of it so many times in the past.
^ Storming the Stajanow Gate, hope you're ready Tyranthraxus!
Upon completing enough quests you'll be asked to storm and secure the Stajanow gate separating the city from the fortified castle. At this point we've learned about the games antagonist, who is referred to by most creatures as "the boss", but we'll come to know him as Tyranthraxus. - Side tangent, I understand every single last word used in the game or the manual, but I have always hated how these games named characters. It's always a guess how they want you to pronounce these things, I do not enjoy having my reading halted by some name where I have no idea how they're wanting me to read it. The "Big T" is quite a memorable enemy I will say, and we're going to be seeing plenty more of him in future games.
^ We meet the Big T, he has a proposition for us... We answer
Upon finding your way through the hedge maze that is the four 16x16 map area of the castle, you'll come face to face with Tyranthraxus. You might even find a fake one before you meet the real deal. He won't be too impressed with us at first, simply sending in a squadron of top of the line fighters to dispatch of you. Upon defeating them (with no time to rest) he'll express his intrigue over us, asking one by one if our characters wish to join him. If all join, the game will immediately be over. If some join, they will face the ones who did not in battle with the Big T.
^ We destroy Tyranthraxus' body and he is sent back through the Pool of Radiance
The Big T is indeed a worthy final boss battle. You're very likely to be killed over and over again until you figure out a strategy. Due to the immediate continuation from the last battle, there's no time to cast buff spells before you face him. It's simply a matter of luck on who goes first. Position your party around Tyranthraxus so that he can't attack more than one person at a time. His lightning attack will immediately kill any character it touches. Hope one of your magic users will be able to cast haste or bless on the party in combat. In my video run I had one character die, when I did it the second time I did worse, with three dying. It's going to be hard to get out of this one without at least one death, but hopefully you can resurrect the fallen at a temple.
^ End screens
Upon killing the dragon that Thranhraxus possessed; you'll witness him threaten to take over your party, but Lord Bane pulls him to another realm through the Pool of Radiance, due to his failure. All is saved, for now. Upon returning to the city console you'll be rewarded with some very nice experience. Do your final trainings, and save your game (or continue if you have more to do), you might want to save this party for use in Curse of Azure bonds.
It's one of the best games of all time, an all out classic. It's so much better on the Amiga compared to any other platform. It's an adventure unlike any other. Many people experienced this adventure back in the day. This was the number one seller of all computer games when it came out. Far too few talk about it... Here I am trying to do my part; I hope others might see what they're missing when they dismiss certain games. This is an important game, it means something in terms of video game history. Give it the respect it deserves.
Please check out my video review of Pool of Radiance
. You can read the AmigaLove site review and download the game here.
If you can't wait for the next adventure, check out the AmigaLove site review for Curse of Azure Bonds.
, the 2nd game in this series.