Ultima VIII is, to put it mildly, flawed. Many people in fact think it’s a total travesty of an Ultima game, a sentiment I understand completely; I share many of the common frustrations and I expect this part of the blog to be much more critical than the previous two. Some of the departures from the earlier games, such as the lack of party, smaller world and an increased focus on action don’t bother me so much. But the level of world interactivity is a disappointing step back, and the story is a mess, with the large chunks of the plot thrown down the garbage chute.
I do however have a huge soft spot for the game that endured through the years, and can’t just be attributed to the nostalgic warm memory of seeing the Ultima VIII box under the New Year’s tree (New Year’s Eve in Russia is the big family holiday that Christmas is in Australia, with the decorated tree, presents and the lot). When you get down to it, despite the many, many glaring problems and shortcomings of the game, the dark sinister world of Pagan had well and truly captured my imagination. Most of my never-finished fanfics were inspired by Ultima VIII, and I still have a hand-written translation of the Pagan history in Russian I had laboured over for weeks lying around among my keepsakes.
The game is also elevated for me by its eerie haunting soundtrack; granted most of the music is ambient and lacks the instantly hummable themes of the previous games, but in terms of mood and texture I find it immensely rich and evocative. Must be my inner goth girl or something. Pagan also tickled my nerves in a way no other Ultima had; I have many fond memories of creeping around the catacombs, jumping in terror at the sight of skeleton warriors and ghosts. In terms of childhood computer game traumas, this experience is second only to those damn slicers from the original Prince of Persia.