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Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Hillsfar (NES) artwork

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Hillsfar (NES) review


"After riding into the city of Hillsfar you’ll find it to be rather lacking in terms of dragons, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on the seemingly endless parade of fetch quests (“retrieve this rare spell component for me,” “rescue the princess,” “find my pantaloons,” etc) that lead you to seek out a dreary maze somewhere and open every treasure chest in sight until you discover some halfhearted clue . . . that sends you off looking for another dreary maze.
"



Well met, young lad!

It’s time to put down that homemade broadsword, cleanse your palms of those bothersome Cheetos™ stains and choose your lot from the stalwart fighter, the pious cleric, the cunning thief – even the mysterious mage! You’ll select a noble race, your well-endowed gender, and endlessly reroll those stats until you get them just right before setting forth to brave the dangers of the treacherous Moonsea! Therefore it’s a pity that all of the above (except for the hand-washing, hygiene is always a virtue) is completely meaningless, because all you ever do in this game is run through exasperating mazes picking up trinkets that you can’t do anything with in order to advance a nonexistent plotline and reach the exciting conclusion – in which, predictably enough, nothing much happens.

Thus we enter the clutches of Hillsfar – an official “Advanced Dungeon & Dragons” product. It’s generally a bad sign when an officially licensed release can’t even spell its own name right, but there’s no sense in nitpicking – not when the actual gameplay is a billboard unto itself. After riding into the city of Hillsfar you’ll find it to be rather lacking in terms of dragons, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on the seemingly endless parade of fetch quests (“retrieve this rare spell component for me,” “rescue the princess,” “find my pantaloons,” etc) that lead you to seek out a dreary maze somewhere and open every treasure chest in sight until you discover some halfhearted clue . . . that sends you off looking for another dreary maze and so forth. Each class has its own objectives, which would theoretically add to the replay value, but that doesn’t change the fact that the main activity to this game is inane and repetitive in the extreme. The only thing that’s “Advanced” here is its state of decay.

Observe: you’re thrust into an ugly overhead labyrinth consisting of little more than walls, the floor, a nasty time limit, and your poorly rendered character sprite. These dungeons are also huge while the playing area doesn’t take up even half of the screen, resulting in a ludicrous amount of scrolling as you senselessly blunder into walls, traps, and the unusually crimson arms of the law. Yes, the city guards begin to swarm onto the scene as your remaining time dwindles, often attempting to trap you into a corner (which is actually pretty easy due to the sluggish controls). Just to drag things out, their touch won’t do anything to you until the clock finally runs out, at which point you’ll be variously booted out (minus your newfound booty), robbed blind, or tossed into the neighborhood coliseum for mortal combat with a slavering minotaur.

As for the traps, every one of these infernal creations is packed with teleporters on the floor as well, merrily transporting you to a completely different location within its walls. Oh, and they’re invisible. Lest you be fortunate enough to find your necessary clue early on, the programmers made certain that you can’t leave the way you came in, either; you’ll have to wait for the exit staircase to appear around the timer’s halfway point, naturally in a random location (so let’s hope you found that clue already). In the meantime you’ll “dash” about aimlessly to run afoul of the odd trapped chest while amassing the requisite (and mostly useless) gold, healing potions, and quite possibly a headache.

For there aren’t a merely few of these treacherous lairs, mind you, but dozens upon dozens upon dozens, all of which appear all too hauntingly similar. You can enter nearly every building in the city even if it ends up having nothing to with your quest. because there’s nothing more heroic that breaking into the locals’ houses and making off with everything from glittering hoards of gold to smelly old clothes, right? Good luck attempting to pin down the location of your next bungling burglary; every location on the map manages to look and feel exactly the same – which is to say, excruciating. This cart was released in 1992, well after the introduction of the Super Nintendo, and yet raises the question as to who switched your NES with an Atari 5200 thanks to visuals that stand out as a stunning example of blah. The city’s palette alone evokes a breathtaking sense of “brown” unseen since the early days of Faxanadu, and nearly everything takes place in abject silence, although when you hear the music it does have, you’ll likely agree that this isn’t such a terrible thing.

Loiter about in these bleak environs long enough and you may be accosted by a random personage of questionable value, like the disheveled thief-type who offers his services in exchange for a percentage of your take.

PROTIP: Do not hire thief.

Normally most of the abundant chests aren’t even locked, leaving those remaining few to be easily savaged open by way of your brawny arms, but elect to play as the rogue (or even just conscript one) and suddenly everything’s zipped up tighter than a buxom wench’s corset! Picture a sizable number of abnormally shaped tumblers whose patterns must be painstakingly matched up with your twenty lockpicks and you’ve got the right idea – only there’s also an(other) unforgiving time limit to deal with and choosing the wrong pick has a tendency to snap it in half to quickly render your tools of the trade useless! Mom was right; crime doesn’t pay – unless you’re the Japanese team that converted this game to the NES, but they’ve probably committed seppuku by now anyway.

Oh, but our misadventures aren’t confined to the city alone! No, one must also trek across the surrounding wilderness to explore fantastically mysterious sites such as the “wrecked ship” and the “old hut,” which are in reality little more than the homes and shops of Hillsfar etched in slightly different shades of puke. More importantly, the reaching of these areas requires you to climb atop your trusty steed and avoid all manner of pathetic obstacles in a terminally annoying side-scrolling sequence that would probably be merely “lame” if the controls weren’t so poor. Your horse advances automatically, leaving you to pound down on the button whenever some dangerous object like the mighty “rock” or the dreaded “stream” appears in your path – and then, three or four seconds later, it actually responds, by which time your character is already soaring out of the saddle to kiss hastily drawn ground with a not-so-resounding “thud.”

And just as you get up, an arrow darts out of nowhere aimed straight for your head! Too bad the shoddy responsiveness means you can’t time your ducking properly before it’s too late.

“Thud.”

Oh look, three holes barely spaced apart – and here comes a friendly bird!

“Thud.”

Besides reducing your health, enjoying one too many falls will inspire your horse to bolt for sweet, sweet freedom to become a power-up in Gun.Smoke and leave you trudging back to buy another mount and start this mess all over again. As such, you’re quite naturally forced to ride all the way back to a tiny campsite north of the city every time you want to save the game. Even better, a few of the areas on the map can’t even be reached through normal means, thus you have to set the cursor to the “?” icon and hope that you just randomly end up there. Eventually. Fortunately for aging controllers and dangerously cracked walls the world over, should you find the Rod of Unholy Blasting in your travels, you can temporarily turn its wrath upon the treacherous hay bales and mud puddles that foolishly bar your noble quest! It’s a good thing, since there’s certainly nothing else you can do with it; you know, like fight random encounters for experience and reach the next level or something.

In those brief instances when you’re not occupied with the meaningless brigandry that makes up its villainous heart, Hillsfar also boasts a handful of equally pointless diversions. Diversions such as the aforementioned HEROIC arena combat in which you must do pitched battle with a series of uninspired opponents (like Morin, the knight you should fear) by constantly tapping the “A” button whilst jerking your stick back and forth, perhaps pausing in between rounds to quaff a healing potion – or perhaps strutting on down to the local archery range to shoot your load (of sling bullets) at myopic moving targets while the owner disparages the size of your . . . score. A real man, however, will head for one of the many (identical) taverns that litter the city, where one can regale himself with useless gossip, climb on the ceiling, and make the barmaid cry. Of course this is a Nintendo game, so you’ll suck down glasses of juice and mugs of root beer, or, if you feel you can handle them, the frothing tankards of pink lemonade.

In fact, the most fun I had in the realms of Hillsfar was the time my budding magic-user, having quaffed one cider too many, “accidentally” burned down the local watering hole before he was slain by chronic disinterest. Sadly, it was for the best; an extended encounter with this game is almost as deadly as a slender, pointy-eared elf and his long, polished bow.

And every bit as fey.

Rating: 1/10

sho's avatar
Staff review by Sho (July 12, 2004)

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dagoss posted September 05, 2012:

I'm rather curious if this is a bad port or a bad game.

Has anyone had a chance to play this? D&D games from this era tend to be hit or miss. Pool of Radiance, for example, is god in cartridge form whereas Heroes of the Lance is mostly plastic poop with a label on it. Where does this one really fall if you're into old PC-style RPGs like PoR and Wizardry?
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zippdementia posted September 06, 2012:

From what Sho paints here, it sounds like it falls into the terrible category. The thing that screams warnings to me, even as a fan of these old titles, is the poor controls, the bad scrolling, and the time limit dungeons paired with poor controls and bad scrolling. That would just be a recipe for frustration. It also sounds like one of those that went for repetition in order to create content, which just starts to give you a head ache after a while.
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dagoss posted September 06, 2012:

I tried it out by using an emul...

*FBI AGENT BURSTS INTO TOPIC*

... physical game cartridge that I borrowed from a friend. And certainly left a horrible first impression. The idea of being a wandering adventurer on horse back exploring the countryside sounds like fun, but the controls were awful. The horse was horribly unresponsive and movement in the timed maze part very klunky.

If you look at [Moby's page for it](http://www.mobygames.com/game/hillsfar), there's a clear discrepancy between reviews for the NES and other versions. So I'm actually wondering if this falls until the "bad port" category. I have one of those Forgotten Realm Archive discs somewhere and I know it has the DOS version of this game on it, so I'll have to see if I can get it working.

In the mean time, my quest for a new NES RPG continues... *sigh*
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zippdementia posted September 06, 2012:

You can always play Startropics. That's different.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 06, 2012:

Radia Senki!
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dagoss posted September 06, 2012:

StarTropics is fantastic! So is Radia Senki (though I can't read Japanese and I'm not really into using emulators these days).

I thinking of either Ultima: Exodus or Bard's Tale. Or Dragon Warrior 1-3 if I feel like spending money.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 06, 2012:

From what I understand, you're better off with either an Apple II or PC version of Ultima: Exodus. I haven't played the NES version in depth, but I didn't much care for what little I did play.

I tried playing Bard's Tale and couldn't get into it. I think bumping into high powered random battles while walking around in the initial town broke the game for me.

If you're okay with looking outside of NES while staying old school, there are a few I would recommend:

Great Greed (GB)
Sword of Hope (GB)
Arcana (SNES)
Crusader of Centy (GEN)
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zippdementia posted September 07, 2012:

The remake of Dark Spire is also fun; though very simplistic. It's very much an old-style rpg. You may even have to draw maps with little notes on them.
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dagoss posted September 07, 2012:

The NES is actually the only console I own right now (!?). I'd never heard of any of those games though, Joe, so I'll certainly take a look. GB and GEN RPGs are something I've never really given a chance.

Ultima: Exodus on the NES has one thing going for it: the frickin' title music. Gets stuck in my head every time I hear it. I played this game briefly probably 10 years ago and just couldn't get into it at the time. My tasks have changed considerably since then though. The only thing that makes old CRPGs a problem for me is the lack of music. That's usually while I prefer the NES versions when possible.

Dark Spire was a remake? I can't find any information about the original game.
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overdrive posted September 07, 2012:

Dragon Warrior 3 might be the best RPG on the NES. 4 did some things better, but is slow-paced for a good chunk of it because you have to do the early-game DW level/cash grind FIVE SEPARATE TIMES!!!

Of the Ultima ports, Quest of the Avatar was the only one I'd say was better than average. The thing about Exodus for me was a combination of ugliness and if I remember correctly, the menus were a bit confusing to navigate. Not as bad as the SFC's Shin Megami Tensai, where you had to input like three commands just to get to your dungeon map, but still annoying.

If you're looking also for action RPG/adventure stuff, Battle of Olympus is to Adventure of Link what Startropics is to Legend of Zelda. Maybe better. Also started replaying the second Startropics game last night. It's pretty fun if you can ignore the "straight from the Howard-n-Nester comic in Nintendo Power" brand of humor. "Cleopatra wants you to fetch her a pizza?!?! LOLOLOLOL!!!!!" The first boss fight cracks me up in that game. Hit it repeatedly while it's eating the wild pig = dead before it can even attack you. Hit the pig and kill it before the boss can eat it = brutal fight considering your general lack of durability and power.
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Putty posted September 07, 2012:

I actually really enjoyed the Willow RPG and...the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves RPG/Action game.

I seem to remember Uninvited being great and Ghost Lion as well.

Aside from uninvited, I bet you can get these 3 games pretty cheaply.
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pickhut posted September 07, 2012:

Crusader of Centy was something I always wanted to try, but the game was pretty hard to find in my area when it was first released. Trying to get the game now, too, is a pain in the butt, because it's going for crazy mad money... for just the cart.
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dagoss posted September 07, 2012:

I know that DW3 wraps up a "trilogy" of sorts. Having not played DW1 or 2, will I be missing something? DW4 was absolutely fantastic, and had many elements that I've never seen in another game.

I mean, I know what happens in DW1. Your hero grinds like 50 hours, then kills some Dragon guy thing.

I'm actually leaning towards finding an appropriate donor cart for Mother and getting it from NES Reproductions. Looks like it could be quite a fun game.
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overdrive posted September 07, 2012:

3 is essentially the prequel to 1 and 2.

And to be honest, by merely mentioning that, I probably essentially spoiled the game's connection to the other two. It's a far more robust game that includes class-changing and stuff and other than one bit of plot, you're not missing anything.
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honestgamer posted September 07, 2012:

Dragon Warrior III was my favorite in the series without question until I played VI, and now I'd have to think long and hard to decide which I definitely prefer. It depends on my mood, mostly. I love so much about III. Yes, IV was ambitious and without its experiments we wouldn't have had the superior outings that we saw with V and VI, but IV got that second "trilogy" in the overall series off to a shaky start when compared to III.
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dagoss posted September 18, 2012:

So I got Dragon Warrior 1, because fuck it, that's how I roll. Having never played it before (only played DW4 and 8), I would like to say I'm loving this game.

It's simple? So what; I like that. Grind fest? Battles go stupid fast and are fun, so who cares. I'm level 12 and I feel like I've grinded less in this game than I did up to the first dungeon in FF1--and battles in FF1 are slower than my 95 year old grandmother drinking maple syrup.

So I'm not finished yet, but I'm quite enjoying this game. I must be in the minority that thinks it aged just fine.
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honestgamer posted September 18, 2012:

You need to play numbers 2 and 3 when you're done with the first one. I love them all. 4 took a slight dip, and 5 mostly recovered, and 6 was brilliant and I haven't played much of 7 or any of 8 or 9 yet, but I know that 2 and 3 remain two of my favorite RPGs of all time. Given how much you are apparently liking 1, don't even think about missing out on 2 and 3!
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dagoss posted September 20, 2012:

I will certainly get them, eventually. I know 2 & 3 are a little on the pricey side. We're in the process of closing on a house right now, so I think the likelihood of convincing my wife that I should buy an expensive game is about as likely as my cat learning the horsey dance in this music video and breaking into song whenever I say the word "pickle juice".
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honestgamer posted September 20, 2012:

Hmm, yeah, that sounds like most wives I happen to know... Well, congrats on closing on a house, anyway. I may own Dragon Warrior II/III, but you will soon own a house and that's probably better. Probably.
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dagoss posted October 04, 2012:

I finished DW1 yesterday and I have to say it totally gets an unfair rap. Considering that I beat it in about 3 weeks only playing for a half hour or so before work in the morning (great way to start the day!), the grinding can't be as bad as everyone says.

I had an absolute blast playing it too. The dungeons were very atmospheric (I loved how the music shifted downward with each floor). The pacing and balancing were nearly perfect (in that they worked as designed and were consistent--I can understand how one could argue it was too slow, but it was definately consistent). And I honestly liked the simplicity and small amount of equpment and spells; it made every level or new item feel like a reward with tangible results.

This is still a great game, and having also replayed FF1 earlier this year, I think it aged infinately better than it's competitor.

So yes, I will definately be getting DW2 asap. All I need to do is find it for a good price (easier said than done; I hate re-sellers and eBay).

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