Return of the Blobber
Way back at the end of the 1980s I discovered three games which turned me into a hardcore computer RPG fan. Those games were Bard's Tale 3, Wizardry 6, and Might and Magic. All three of the games are now defined as blobbers. Blobbers are games with first person gameplay, and usually a party of adventurers. Most of these games are classical dungeon crawlers, though Might and Magic and its successors always featured a huge outdoor world to explore. Dungeon Master was the first action Blobber, and it also inspired game series like Land of Lore and Eye of the Beholder. But these action games were never really my great love, like classical turn based blobbers were. Of course, we didn't call them blobbers, since most RPGs back then were blobbers (the Ultima series was a huge exception). With the success of Baldur's Gate and Morrowind, blobbers began to die out. Wizardry 8 was released in 2001 and Might and Magic 9 in 2002, and both of those releases marked the demise of their respective studios. For me that was a dark time in cRPG gaming, and even though I enjoyed many of the new, more action oriented RPGs, with their beautiful graphics and excellent stories, I missed the depth of character creation and tactical combat of early cRPGs. With the rise of Kickstarter and Steam, cRPGs have experienced a rebirth on the pc, with a massive number of indie RPGs, mid-sized studio RPGs, and Japanese console ports. Also, the traditional blobber, much to my joy, has returned and I have greedily bought up almost every turn based, hybrid, and RTWP blobber offered on the market. I tend to play six games in parallel, and one of them is almost always a blobber. With this article I wanted to share my love of blobbers with you and give you an overview of where you can begin or how you can expand your collection of blobbers, should you be so inclined.
Thanks to GOG, many of the classic blobbers of my youth are available for those who can brave their outdated visuals and their clunky U.I. These games were made great by their devilish level design, their complex character development, and their challenging combat, and so they are still worth playing for their gameplay, if you can get past their outdated visuals and controls.
The Bard's Tale Trilogy - Thanks to the Bard's Tale 4 kickstarter, the original Bard's Tale Trilogy, which was only previously playable with an emulator, has been remastered and can now be bought on GOG or Steam. The graphics and U.I. have been updated, and it now runs well on modern pcs, and looks more modern than most remastered DOS games, like Might and Magic: World of Xeen or Wizardry 6 & 7. Bard's Tale started out as a Wizardry clone but was one of the first dungeon crawlers with a fleshed out city with unique places, like the Bard's College and the Temple of the Mad God. While at the heart these games are dungeon crawlers, they tried to add more character to what was around the dungeon.
The Bard's Tale 3, from the remastered The Bard's Tale trilogy
Wizardry 6 & 7 - Wizardry 6 marked the evolution of the traditional dungeon crawler towards a more modern CRPG. Wizardry 6 features a cool story, which actually runs more in the background and has important non-combat skill like swimming, which you need to train up to progress in the game. Wizardry 7 featured competing factions, and a massive open world. The game featured not only grotesquely difficult puzzles and combat, but faction NPCs who were adventuring and taking the clues you needed to solve some of the most obscure puzzles. I replayed Wizardy 6 recently and still consider it a cleverly designed dungeon crawler. Though many consider part 7 to be the best in the series, I have started it 3(!) times and only managed to play 60-70 hours before losing interest after I felt the puzzles and combat became too grueling.
Wizardry 7 played in 800X600 resolution.
Wizardry 8 - One of the last, and in my opinion the greatest of the classic blobbers, if not one of the best RPGs, period. Wizardry 8 went beyond Wizardry 7 with its factions, story, and NPCs, and in many ways is more of a CRP than a dungeon crawler. For me Wizardry 8 shows how to give personality to a group of player generated characters that no game since has matched. Divinity: Original sin 2 comes closest with its companions tied to their backgrounds rather than specific character mechanics. I've started this game 5 times and finished it 3 of those times. The biggest weakness of the game is how long combat can take in the late game. Also, unfortunately, even the GOG version is difficult to get running under Windows 10.
Wizardry 8. I was at least able to get the character creator up and running on Windows 10.
Might and Magic 3 and The World of Xeen (Might and Magic 4-5) - Before there was the Elder Scrolls, there was Might and Magic. These blobbers gave you a vague quest and a huge world to explore, with tons of secrets, side quests, and things to find that helped improve your characters in numerous ways (such a barrels of liquid which raised your strength or fountains which raised your resistances). Might and Magic 3 was one of the first RPGs meant to be played primarily with the mouse. Parts 3-5 feature turn based combat, which the later classic Might and Magic games did not. They are also DOS games, which makes them visually more primitive than their successors.
Might and Magic 3.
Might and Magic 6-8 - These games were designed to play in Windows, had free exploration (removed from the grid) real time movement, and real time with pause combat. Its often debated whether part 6 or 7 is better. Part 6 is the larger, more epic game. Part 7 has a very memorable introduction, additional character classes, and the choice between two factions near the end of the game. Part 8 is also good, if not quite as good as 6 & 7. I personally favor part 7, which I also consider one of the greatest classic RPGs.
Might and Magic 7.
Wizards and Warriors - David Bradley, who developed Wizardry 5-7, developed this game which in many ways is reminiscent of Wizardry 7, though missing are the factions, and there are a variety of guilds the characters can join which offer new character customization options and additional quests. Wizards and Warriors was a bug filled mess at release, but it is still a pretty good game. I started it twice, but abandoned it once after a game ending bug, and a second time when I upgraded my computer. I need to get back to it someday, now that GOG has put out a version.
Might and Magic 9 - Another bug filled mess at release, I finished this game at a time when it was the only blobber I could find which I hadn't played. Clearly weaker than parts 3-8, Might and Magic 9's only advantage over its predecessors is its (relatively) modern graphics. That doesn't make it a bad game, still I'd pretty much recommend any of the other entries in this category over this game.
Western Blobbers Part I: Bigger Budget Blobbers
When talking about bigger budget RPGs, things like Skyrim, Kingdom Come: Deliverance or Dragon Age: Inquisition come to mind. Big, visually beautiful games made with a massive budget. When I talk about bigger budget western blobbers, I pretty much mean anything with a developer team of more than 10 people.
Might and Magic X - In my opinion probably the best game in this category, only qualifying this because I haven't played Operencia: The Stolen Sun yet. While the game's balance and economy tends to break near the end of the game if you bother doing all of the side quests, Might and Magic X has all the virtues of the classic series: Worthwhile exploration, in depth character development, fun combat, and tons of side quests and secrets. Might and Magic X is turned based like parts 3-5, though it has a skill system like parts 6-8. I've finished this one twice.
Might and Magic X.
Star Crawlers - A rare science fiction blobber, with cool character classes, pretty dungeons, and a well-done Star Wars type atmosphere. Despite an interesting main quest, its procedurely generated side quests become dull after a while, and the combat is slower and safer than in most blobbers. That is to say enemies can take more hits but deal out less damage. This in my opinion makes the combat weaker. I think that turn based combat should never drag out when the outcome of a battle is certain. It's still worth giving it a try if you are a fan of blobbers and the setting.
Bard's Tale 4 - I reviewed this one recently. The game features wonderful sound and voice acting, but unlike almost every other game I'll mention in this article, the vast majority of Bard's Tale 4's gameplay is about solving puzzles. Its character development is ultimately shallow for a blobber, and in most other areas it's only mediocre. Bard's Tale 4 has a lighter atmosphere than many blobbers and defines itself by its humor and its unusual fantasy Scottish setting.
The Bard's Tale 4
Operencia the Stolen Sun - Some members of this site who have tried this one have compared it positively to Might and Magic X. I haven't played it yet but will definitely give it a try sooner or later.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun
Western Blobbers Part 2: The Small Indies
Many of these are one person projects. Most of them rely on very primitive visuals and sound. Still if one can ignore the poor presentation, there are some gems with excellent gameplay to be found here.
Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar- Grimoire is a love letter to Wizardry 7, and while it looks and sounds better than that game, it still looks like a game that came out at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, Grimoire is a huge game with deep mechanics and a sense of humor. Like its inspiration Grimoire has a few very challenging puzzles and could use a better game manual and U.I. One of the strange things about the game is how weak your starting characters are in comparison to the companions you can recruit. Nevertheless, I managed to finish it and play to the very end, which I never managed to do in Wizardry 7.
Paper Sorcerer - Inspired by Wizardry 4, this relatively short blobber (just over 20 hours playtime) has a very interesting art style and truly annoying music. You play as a summoner who has been imprisoned by some good guys. You need to fight to way your way out of prison and recover your memory. An interesting twist is that your party is made up of summoned monsters, each with an interesting playstyle. It also features some modern gameplay mechanics like cooldowns. Despite some weaknesses, this one is pretty enjoyable and I was motivated enough to play through it twice.
The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians - The only real time with pause combat offered in a modern blobber that I know of. TFOtDG has a lot of modern mechanics like skill trees, cooldowns, and tanking. The game's models look like unity store models, and I quit on the second to last level due to the infuriating teleport puzzle. That having been said, I otherwise found the game pretty enjoyable, with its occasional light humor and its large scope and class variation. TFotDG is a classical dungeon crawler, comparable to the original Legend of Grimrock where you explore a vast underground maze and where story is secondary. I plan to give it another try at some point.
The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians
Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon- Frayed Knights is a blobber with cartoon graphics and a cast of four set characters each with their own quirky personalities. While you get a cleric, fighter, mage and thief, each character is very customizable so that you can effectively multiclass any of them. For example, the thief can be made into a cleric/thief or more of a fighter type thief. The story is silly, and the humor is probably not for everyone. It is also another 20 hour game, and while I enjoyed playing it through once from start to finish, I probably won't be replaying it. Still worthy of a thumbs up despite its quirks and flaws.
Sword and Sorcery: Underworld - Inspired by the early Might and Magic games, Underworld is pretty true to its source material. The game has gone through a number of graphic overhauls and its one of those I plan to replay at some point. If you ever wanted to play something like Might and Magic 2, but couldn't stomach the graphics or primitive interface, Underworld offers a more modern take with some nice modern comfort features. So, a thumbs up for old school blobber fans.
Sword and Sorcery: Underworld
Demise:Ascension - This indie game you won't find on Steam or GOG. The combat is fully automated, which makes it unique. Gameplay is solely based on exploration and character development. The game's graphics are beyond bad, and if your party gets destroyed in the dungeon, that's pretty much it for them, unless another party recovers them. A hardcore and unusual take on the blobber genre.
Devil Whisky - Another one you won't find on Steam or GOG. Basically, this is a Bard's Tale clone with somewhat better graphics. Personally, I think you'd be better off playing Sword and Sorcery: Underworld or Grimoire if you want to play a game which tries to stay very true to a blobber classic. Devil Whisky is pretty rough around the edges and unbalanced at certain points.
Zavix Tower- A procedurally generated blobber, which is sort of like Wizardry meets Diablo. It has randomized loot, procedurally generated levels, and skill trees. Visually unimpressive and somewhat lacking in character, the game is still fun for a while until you realize that you've seen most of what it has to offer after about 10 hours or so.
7 Mages - I haven't played this one, because I'm wary of very puzzle heavy games, but I picked it up on sale recently and plan to give it a go at some point. Those who like puzzles or at least could live with its puzzle heavy nature seem to like it.
J(apanese style) Blobbers
Wizardry, for some reason, maintains a relatively large fan base in Japan. The official Wizardry license was even bought up by the Japanese after Sir-Tech closed. The Japanese continue to put out their own kind of blobbers, and luckily the ease of digital distribution has led to a number of computer ports with English translations.
Stranger of Sword City - This game is like Wizardry for beginners with its brutal mechanics being introduced in a pretty player friendly manner, and it features a whole bunch of cleverly implemented comfort features like a guild of adventurers, which offsets some of its harshness, such as not being able to save outside of the guild or having to leave dead characters in the infirmary for a time. For a Jblobber, the graphics are pretty western, and the art direction is impressive for a blobber. There is an interesting story about people from our world transported into a fantasy realm where they take the role of monster hunting champions, there are also competing factions, and the Japanese voice actors are pretty good if you're willing to read subtitles
Stranger of Sword City
Elminage Gothic and Elminage Original - These games are Wizardry type games that are NOT for beginners. The Elminage games stay pretty true to the Wizardry 1-5 formula. The art direction is great, there are plenty of quests which can be easy, difficult, or even impossible to accomplish depending on your party's makeup. The games can seem unfairly harsh on occasion, the English translation is often awkward, there isn't much of a story, and you can build a truly incompetent band of adventurers, or get lost in a dungeon, because you've run out of maps. Elminage Gothic is the bigger, more polished game. Original, its predecessor is a good buy for those who enjoyed Gothic and are thirsting for more Elminage. Original does have the added benefit that you start with a permanent minimap pretty early on, for those who feel that is important.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares - Sort of like Stranger of Sword City with some elements from the turn based Final Fantasy games. Tokyo has been swallowed up by a demonic entity, and the only ones who can fight their way out are a band of vampiric teenage girls, who have taken the names of fairy tale protagonists. These serve as your pre-generated party, and while all eventually accompany you, only 5 can fight at once. Each girl has a class with various job options which in turn have their own skills which you can customize and learn. Truly unique is that the girls are accompanied by one teen boy, named Jack, who acts as their blood doll, mascot, and possible romantic interest. Jack can't fight (most people in the story or powerless to hurt the game's demonic entities) but he's the only character who can initially use items during combat, he also can give the girls his blood so they don't go berserk, or can take a hit for them (which normally stuns him for a round). Like many modern JRPGs, this one has a romance/dating portion, but despite all of its weirdness, it's still mechanically an old school blobber. The game has good English voice acting, and a twisted Alice in Wonderland type art direction. The graphics are pretty tame Anime, which along with the dating game and set characters, may make it a no go for some blobber fans.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares
Infinite Adventures - Inspired by Etrian Odyssey, this game like both Stranger of Sword City and Mary Skelter has a story, well developed NPCs, and voice acting. The voice acting is pretty amateurish, the story kind of generic, and the graphics and art direction aren't up to the quality of most of the above mentioned games. Whoever can get by that, though, will find a game with excellent character and level design. The game is also beginner friendly like Stranger of Sword City or Mary Skelter, with its easily understandable mechanics, and a character system which is easy to grasp, but which features surprising depth. The character system also has as a degree of uniqueness, as each class's skills is powered by either mana, rage, focus, or astral energy, all which work in a different way. A good buy, if you don't mind the visuals and the sound.
Operation Abyss:New Tokyo Legacy and Operation Babel:New Tokyo Legacy - From the developers of Stranger of Sword City, these predecessors feature many of the same classes and mechanics, but wrapped up in a modern super hero type sci-fi setting. The story and writing are weaker than those in Stranger of Sword City, and the anime art style less appealing (in my opinion). Operation Abyss also lacks to class customization which later shows up in Operation Babylon and Stranger of Sword City. These are good enough games for those who like Stranger of Sword City and who can accept that they are weaker in terms of presentation and story.
Lord of the Seal - This game was also inspired by Etrian Odyssey and made in the RPGmaker engine. As someone who has invested a massive amount of hours in playing around with the engine, I find the amount of scripting skill required to make a blobber in RPGMaker extremely impressive. For the normal gamer, however, Lord of the Seal is visually very poor, and its English translation may be even worse than that of that of the Elminage games. LotS has a very interesting boss mechanic. Very tough boss monsters wander the various dungeon floors in a set pattern. This pattern becomes clear once you've revealed the minimap. With the pieces of the boss monsters you can upgrade your equipment. However, you can only save in camp, so choosing if and when to fight boss monsters keeps the gameplay exciting for a while. Still I'd recommend the Elminage games over LotS for those seeking an unforgiving blobber, and Infinite Adventures over LotS for those who want to play something like Etrian Odyssey.
Lord of the Seal in 800X600 resolution.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk - A blobber from the developers of the Disgaea series, which I need to buy at some point. It has gotten pretty positive reviews and like Disgaea apparently has its own unique brand of humour and art style, which won't be for everyone.
Labyrinth of Refrain
Lords of Xulima - I almost considered not including this game, but my feelings got the better of me. Except for the combat, the game really isn't a blobber, as all movement is done on an overhead map reminiscent of the Heroes of Might and Magic games. However, with the exception of Might and Magic X, no other modern RPG has been so obviously inspired by the Might and Magic series. From the skill system, to needing food to rest, to the world and the towns, Lord of Xulima feels like an honorary blobber despite most of it being in the bird's eye view. A great game I need to replay at some point.
Lords of Xulima. Not a blobber in body, but in spirit.
Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny HD and Star Trail HD - These games have beautiful character portraits and make very good of use all of the mechanics the pen and paper RPG The Dark Eye has to offer. Dungeon and town exploration are in first person, but combat is on a grid and there is travel on a world map with survival elements. The graphics outside of the portraits are rather ugly, the voice acting is also decent at best. I finished Blade of Destiny at a time when I had little in my backlog and enjoyed it. I abandoned Star Trail about 15 hours in. The quests and dungeon design seemed convoluted to me, and with plenty of other good blobbers in my account, I didn't feel motivated to leave the first mega dungeon and go back to the nearest town to buy a shovel. These are decent, but not great games for someone looking for a somewhat different kind of blobber.
Realms of Arkania: Star Trail HD
Albion - Like with Realms of Arkania this game has blobber dungeon and town exploration, grid combat and a world map. One can see that Albion had good art direction and must have been beautiful when it was released, even if its pixel graphics will now turn many modern players off. It also has an interesting story about two astronauts who crash land on an alien world, well designed quests, and is set in a very original sci-fi world, which make it unusual for a blobber. On the other hand, its fairly shallow combat and character development also make it unusual for a game of this type in a less positive way.
Heroes of a Broken Land - This game has overland travel similar to Heroes of Might and Magic, with dungeon crawling similar to a classical blobber. It is procedurally generated, and while it gradually introduces interesting character development ideas (such as the need to find special places to learn new skills or switch to advanced classes) and dungeon tricks (Such a dungeons which need multiple parties to defeat) its lack of monster types eventually make the dungeon crawling portion of the game repetitive. The exploration part stays fun for a while, though, and if one can get by the visuals it still can be pretty enjoyable for a while. At its time of release there were few blobbers on the market, now it suffers from having a lot of good competition.
Heroes of a Broken Land
While I enjoy almost all types of RPGs, whether it's a modern action oriented RPG like Prey, or an open world game like the Witcher 3, or an isometric crpg like Pathfinder:Kingmaker, some of my greatest joy is gained from playing classic blobbers. I'll admit that blobbers tend to appeal to a niche audience who like complex character and party customization. Combat tends to offer a ton of options and reward those who have carefully selected their characters and made good use of their abilities. Character mechanics, combat, and exploration tend to play primary roles, even if there is a well written story. I hope with this article I have shared a little of my love of blobbers with you. For those of you who are current or future blobber players, I hope I may have introduced you to a game you were not aware of and may now want to try out. If in this way I can support the development of future blobbers, then my time and effort has been well spent.
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