Console Ports of Ultima IV

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Ultima IV is an interesting case, in that there actually exist two console versions of it. Nintendo wasn't happy that Origin had developed a port for Sega as well, and the threat of going to the courts delayed the Sega port. However, the threats proved empty, creating the interesting situation of comparing two console versions of the same game.

The two ports are very different, and both games were released in 1990.

The Nintendo Version[edit]

North American box art
The Nintendo port of Ultima IV has a similar look and play-style to port of Ultima III, and incorporates many elements of classical Japanese console RPGs into its gameplay. The interface has been streamlined considerably from the computer versions of the game, and has obviously been adapted to fit the limitations of the system's four button controller. Like the Ultima III Nintendo game, the musical score for this version has been completely replaced, with a new soundtrack having been composed by Seiji Toda for this release. Nintendo Power featured Ultima IV as an 8-page review in February 1991, giving the game a rating of 3.3/5 for graphics and sound, 3.4 for play controls, 3.5 for challenge, and 3.7 for play and fun.[1]

Like its predecessor, this NES-ported game differs in numerous ways from the game which originally inspired it. A great deal of the gameplay appears somewhat abbreviated in comparison to computer releases, with towns and dungeons rendered smaller and more compact and NPC dialog trees having been replaced with single statement barks. Mechanics such as starvation and wind changes are also absent from gameplay, making at times for a less complex experience. Spellcasting has also been simplified, with reagent mixing no longer being required to cast spells.

The introduction and endgame have also been greatly pared down, with the former having been largely transferred to a narrative in the manual, and the latter excluding the famous test as to the composition of the Eight Virtues. The party size has also been reduced to four, although all eight companions may still be recruited, and may be changed in and out of the party at Castle Britannia.

The combat system reflects the mores of many console RPGs of the age, with random encounters occurring without warning on the world map. While combat remains tile-based, character actions are determined collectively at the beginning of a "turn" instead of being executed individually. Monster AI also appears to be more primitive, with enemies failing to flee when injured and often walking into damage fields they themselves created. Unlike the computer releases, flight from battle is always an option, even at sea. Dual weapon slots have also been added, allowing characters to equip both ranged weapons and close-combat weapons simultaneously.

Most noticeable among the changes between versions, however, is likely the ambiguity of character's genders, as all recruitable characters are referred to by male pronouns. As the sprites for character classes are identical, this also leaves the apparent gender of the protagonist to be determined by their character class, and rather awkwardly renders the companion Julia as a man named Julius, that he might fit with the bearded masculine sprite used for tinkers.

See Also[edit]

The Sega Version[edit]

Master System box art
The version for the Sega Master System is very different, since unlike the Nintendo port, it stays more faithful to the original. The port was handled by Sega of America, but ended up not being released in the United States.[1] The game was released in Canada, Europe, and Brazil only, with limited North American distribution through imports. The very similar feel to the original version already starts with the game box, which not only uses the original box art, but also includes a paper map of Britannia similar to the original cloth map. The History of Britannia and The Book of Mystic Wisdom, are included, only reduced slightly in size, and a detailed manual is also included. This is opposed to the NES port, which only has an instruction booklet.

The game itself is very much like the 16-bit versions on the computers, only with improved "western-style" graphics. The music is the same as the original, but improved in quality. The game also includes the complete introduction.

There are essentially three major changes in the game:

  • The first is the dialogue system. The player can only ask things they know about (similar to Ultima VII).
  • The second concerns the dungeons. While the SMS could handle them in 3D, all the dungeons are 2D from the top with each square now being a 2x2 block[2], which makes navigating in them easier, as they resemble dungeons from Ultima VI. In spite of this different point of view the dungeon maps remain mostly the same as their computer counterparts. However now Energy Fields take up four squares and the number of chests are doubled[3].
  • The third aspect is the combat system. Unlike the original version which only allowed to attack vertically and horizontally (just like in Ultima III), this port uses a combat system closer to Ultima V allowing the characters to attack diagonally as well.

There were French, German, and English versions of the game released. The in-game text was always in English, with only the print materials being translated though.

See Also[edit]

See Also[edit]

External Links[edit]


  1.  "Ultima: Quest of the Avatar". Nintendo Power (Ultima IV). Feb. 1991. Pages 70-77, 85.
  2. Pix. "Ultima 4 (Sega Master System) – Part 3". Pix's Origin Adventures. 2013-06-01. Retrieved 2013-06-18.
  3. Pix. "Ultima 4 (Sega Master System) – Part 4". Pix's Origin Adventures. 2013-06-05. Retrieved 2013-06-18.

Console Ports
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