Ambermoon logo Amiga Computing Gold Award

Thalion are back with another jaunt featuring precious stones of an amber nature. But will it prove to be the classic many role-pplaying fans expect? Simon Clays investigates.


If you like RPGs in the classic vein, then Ambermoon could well be the title you've been itching for. Those of you who have buckled their swash before will no dobt remember Amberstar. Following rave reviews and considerable critical acclaim, the German programmers decided to write a sequel. Now, some two years on, Ambermoon's programmers claim it's a bigger, better, more attractive proposition altogether.


Twenty years after successfully retrieving the Amberstar - which was no easy task as its 13 segments had been spread far and wide - the young adventurer who retrieved it finally settled down.
Marriage followed and soon after a child was born. This process was repeated, with the granddaughter moving to the largest town in Lyramion, Twinlake.

But, disaster was to follow. Marmion, the god of chaos, threatened to break fee. His magic was still strong and for many weeks the earth spewed fire and shook violently as tremor after tremor erupted throughout the land.

Through great personal danger, the hero of Amberstar finds his daughter and is able to save her from certain death. The same cannot be said for Lyramion. Its splendour is reduced to a group of fust darkened islands, whose towns have been flattened.

The adventure commences some years after this event, as civilization is gradually returning to a state of normality. Our hero of yesteryear has reached the ripe old age of 80 and is bedridden.
On the brink of death, he asks for his grandson, and sends him on a mission to discover why Lyramion is under a fresh threat.



Ambermoon has a strong magical element within it and features characters that would win any stereotypical wizard fashion show. But, clichés aside, what were the genuine articles like? Well, for one, white was the proper colour of a robe as opposed to the black robes of fairy tales.

Cornelius Agrippa, the German scholar and writer of the celebrated book Occult Philosophy for 16th century mages, said that the wizard should dress in a gown of the finest linen, covering his body from head to toe.
It was to be bound only by a linen girdle and remain free of buttons and buckles which may interfere with supernatural energy.

The next task was to forge a sword and dagger. This was conducted when the moon was rising in Jupiter's sphere. Then the mage would burn the incense of Amergris, saffron, aloe wood, cedar and lapis lazuli, with peacocks' feathers.
Only then would the mage begin the construction of his wand. A complicated process, the mage would cut a solitary stem from a bush that had never fruited.
Then, on the first night of a new moon, an hour before dawn, the magician would dip his knife in blood. With a single stroke of his dagger, he would peel the bark back in the first rays of the reborn sun.

While most of these practises have fallen by the wayside, with practitioners now only frowned upon and looked at as cranks by modern society, many of the icons that remain in modern religion find their roots in paganism and magic.
The church has probably had a greater effect on arcane arts than any other body. They persecuted, slandered them as satanists, and murdered followers because of the church's fear and ignorance of esoteric knowledge.



Nothing original really. The tunes that accompany you through your day to day adventuring are text book RPG rustic ditties. Okay for half an hour, but any longer leaves you having hallucinatory visions of Roger Moore as Ivanhoe.

That aside, during combat there's a nice little tune that would feel very much at home accompanying a heraldic jousting tournament. It also features some very effective sword samples that add a good measure of atmosphere.



Ambermoon features some of the most visually pleasing graphics to come from this type of title. In essence, the game features two entirely separate graphical styles.
The first is the traditional RPG 3D first-person perspective approach. However, Ambermoon differs in one major way. Unlike most titles of this ilk which look 3D, but don't really allow any real dimensional movement, Ambermoon lets you move freely in a "virtually" 3D manner.

I use the word "virtually" because, while you can direct your party into textured walls, you can't look up or down. The 3D style that's been employed is very effective. The towns and buildings look extremely realistic, even having depth of field. The same can be said of the characters that you interact with on your journeys around the land of Lyramion.
Some of the locations are used to link one 3D area to another. In many cases a building such as "ye olde shoppe" might have a cellar which would have a 3D section below it.

When you indulge in combat, the graphic style alters once more. While displayed in 3D, the fighting features animations. For example, when you cast a spell the screen animates it and displays the outcome.

While traditional in style, Ambermoon's graphics are of a high quality, and attention and thought have been put into their implementation.




To say that Ambermoon is large, is an understatement. The programming team reckon that with constant play you might well complete the game in three months - that's at best, and would probably only apply to adventurers who took up the challenge of Amberstar.

Ambermoon has just about every fact you could wish for from a role-playing game. The play area is vast and the textured town environments are particularly well implemented.
The combat is both accurate and easy to use, while providing the user with a very realistic simulation. Played in attack rounds, your team can move into formations (so protecting the weaker team members), advance as a unit and fight, all from one icon box.

In many ways Ambermoon is one of the best adventure games to emerge on the Amiga. Its greatest asset is its realism. The programmers have managed to allow characters to tire from staying awake overnight, make attacks more likely and prevalent at night, and have even managed to reduce vision.

Really, there's so much to Ambermoon that you could go on forever discussing its virtues. The bottom line is that it's a very competent title. Its plot unfolds in a manner that keeps the player continually involved with your character, hopefully maturing as you progress.

The only little niggle I found with combat was that at first it's a little boring. Trying to defeat three bandits with the cutlery from a neighbours house was about as effective as trying to stab them to death with a damp fishfinger.
It must be said that once you progress from Captain Birdsye's limp thing on to a short sword or axe, then combat becomes much more rewarding.

If you don't possess a hard drive, Ambermoon will probably drive you insane through disk swapping. That aside, Ambermoon is a classy romp in times of old, and a must for lovers of hacking and slaying.

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Don't just look at the final score and then flip to the next page. Read what Steve McGill has to say about Ambermoon - he thinks it's important.

Ok, no messing about, Ambermoon is a top-ish adventure yam with pleasing aesthetics and an absolutely gargantuan play area. Even if you play it hard and long, it's still that completion will take over months of terrestrial time.

Ambermoon fulfils a set standard in adventure game, such as loads of spells to find and use, different approaches to set problems, multitudes of characters to be conversed and interacted with, and multifarious combat situations. As such, it will be bought and loved by enough people to make the title profitable.

But here's my heartfelt plea to Thalion, because it really did hurt to see such a potentially fantastic game be hobbled within the limitations of the adventure game genre. If the implementation of the plotline is going to be as cliched as this, please, oh please, oh please, oh please put in some innovative and interesting gameplay that's worth me telling Amiga Format readers about. Because what we've got here is a tale of infinitesimal woe. A tale of a game with three reasonably significant contributing factors toward an engaging adventure game, namely - great graphics, and excellent 3D-2D game engine, and an adequate control system, but a game nevertheless that doesn't work as well as it could. It feels like a lion that's been shackled by a donkey.

Ambermoon is the sorry tale of a potentially wild game that needs to be rethought and re-released using the current game engine as the heart of a new style of adventure game.

Mean and moody
Think about the potential in borrowing certain effects from the cinema. Explorations of cellars, cities and other creepily dark areas like dungeons could be enhanced endlessly if the music was made truly reactive to the on-screen action.

Something similar to the tunnel sequences in Jurassic Park, or a re-enactment of the tense 'searching' moments in a two-player game of Death Mask when you know that the other player has got the big gun, would be just about right.

Combat in the game needs to be made real-time too, or at least have the option to be real-time. Ambermoon has a fantastic, pseudo-Doom-like engine with lush, optional, atmosphere enhancing, texture enhancing, texture mapping built in. Real-time, Doom-ish flavoured, physical and magical combat, enhanced by cinematically styled reactive sound would mean that, even if your characters were poorly equipped, they might still be in with a chance of survival - unlike the primitive six square by five square, multi-click, chess based system currently installed. And while you were attempting to survive/conquer with said characters, the tension would be unbearable.

Make believe
The use of such cinematic tricks makes the whole gaming experience much more enjoyable, involving and believable for the gamer. Instead, Thalion have chosen the path of the adventure equivalent of a crossword puzzle - something to do on a Sunday when there's nothing else worth doing. And it's a damn shame.

Hopefully, the above doesn't sound as if I've been too hard on Ambermoon. It;s just that at this stage in the lifetime of the Amiga you need to offer than standard to perform well in the High Street, or to stimulate the interest of a typical Amiga gamer. Look at the sales performance of Super Skidmarks against all other computer formats and all other console platforms. It outsold everything else released at the same time.

Amiga owners are just about the best barometers of worthwhile, money spinning, innovative games that the games industry has, and it's time they all woke up to that fact.


The smart thing about dungeon/city/cellar romping is that, depending on the processor in your Amiga, you can switch on texture mapping for the ceiling, or the floor, or both. This adds to the atmosphere and makes you regret the primitive combat system.

Doomed in Grandfather's cellar. This looks as good as the clones doing the rounds.

And now for the floors and ceilings. Rather smart, methinks. Now where's the gun.


All control elements, including those for combat, are laid out in a modular fashion so that they only appear when relevant to the on-screen action and stage in the plot. This can be confusing at first, but you soon get used to it.

The direction of travel for the adventure party.

You can look at, touch, feel, and map things from here.

Drop, use, and pick things up. Mostly used in the inventory screen.

Combat: cast spells, strike with weapons, and then run away. Could have been better.

Ambermoon logo Amiga Joker Hit

Nie waren Amiga-Rollis so wertvoll wie heute: Seit sich der PC zum Dungeon Master aufgeschwungen hat, tröpfelt der Nachscshub für abenteuerlustige "Freundinnen" etwas spärlich - doch Thalion liefert jetzt den warmen Regen!

Bereits seit "Dragonflight" verfolgt die Rollenspiel-Abteilung des Gütersloher Softwarehauses einen ganz eigenen Fantasy-Kurs und beliefert uns Amigianer mit Games, die der mächtig magischen PC-Konkurrenz von New World Computing oder auch Lord Britishs ultimativen Britannicas auf ihre Art durchaus Paroli bieten können. Ein ums andere Mal kitzelt das Team um Erik Simon und Karsten Koeper das Maximum aus den technischen Möglichkeiten des Amigas, ohne dabei einzelne Aspekte der Gesamtkomposition zu vernachlässigen.

Auch beim Nachfolger von "Amberstar" hat das Rezept wieder funktioniert, in Sache Spieltiefe braucht sich das Programm vor nichts und niemandem zu verstecken. Und die Story gehört ohnehin Thalion allein:

Siebzig Jahre nach den Ereignissen des ersten Teils der Bernstein-Trilogie trägt Lyramion ein neues Gesicht, denn der Absturz des dritten Mondes verwandelte den einstmals zusammenhängenden Kontinent in einen Archipel. Doch auch das ist inzwischen Geschichte, die Leiche von Bösewicht Tarbos wird unablässig mit magischen Bannsprüchen belegt, und es scheinen all-überall Friede, Freude und Heidelbeerjoghurt zu herrschen.

All-überall? Nun, nicht ganz, denn in einem bescheidenen Häuschen nahe eines bescheidenen Städtchens ruft ein bescheiden mit dem Tode ringender Großvater seinen Enkel ans Sterbebett um ihm seine bösen Vorahnungen anzuvertrauen. Opa entpuppt sich als der greise Held aus "Amberstar", sein Nachfahre wird alsbald zum Retter des Lyramischen Inseln avancieren, und für die warnenden Träume des Alten zeichnet Shandra verantwortlich, ein ebenso mächtiger wie gutherziger von anno dunnemals.

Stop, müsste der Bursche inzwischen nicht längst die Geranien düngen? Müsste er eigentlich wirklich, aber was heißt bei einem Magier schon "eigentlich"? Und wie wär's, wenn Ihr hingeht und diese Frage selber klärt? Freilich wird Shandra so oder so noch eine ganze Weil auf Euch warten, schließlich gibt es hier viele Fragen zu klären, Rätsel zu lösen und Karren aus dem Dreck zu ziehen. In diesem Zusammenhang wäre etwa die Banditengang zu nennen, welche das nahegelegene Örtchen verunsichert, doch auch die im Umland marodierende Orkmeute ist nicht von schlechten Eltern.

Dann gibt es irgendwo ein Nest von diebischen Feen, ganz zu schweigen vom verzwickten Weinkeller der Kneipe oder dem ausgedehnten Höhlensystem unter Granny's Hütte. Oder vielleicht interessieren Euch mehr die verschwundenen Hufeisen des Pferdestallbesitzers, die auf einer Nachbarinsel verschollene Tochter der örtlichen Heilerin oder die gelegentlich herumliegenden Spruchrollen, mit denen magische Abenteuer ihr Zauberrepertoire erweitern können?

So tastet man sich also Quest für Quest an die eigentlichen Probleme heran, erfreut sich an der dichten Story wie an dem sauber ineinandergreifenden Rätseldesign (das meist mehr als einen Weg bietet), strickt wie gehabt mit vielversprechenden NPCs eine schlagkräftige Party, zaubert in allen Lebenslagen per zauberhaften Auswahlmenü und läßt irgendwann sogar Lyramion hinter sich - nicht umsonst heißt das Game Ambermoon!

Auf den beiden Monden unserer Abenteuerwelt gibt es nämlich ebenfalls eine Menge zu entdecken und zu erforschen, denn in der bizarren Flora des Waldmondes bzw. den ausgedehnten Wüsten und kristallenen Städten seines Kollegen harrt noch so manches Geheimnis seiner Entwirrung...

Wald und Wüste mögen als Stichworte für eine elegante Überleitung zur Präsentation dienen, und was die betrifft, ähnelt Ambermoon dem Vorgänger auf den ersten Blick wie ein jüngerer Bruder. Das Innerleben von Häusern und die Wilderniss präsentieren sich einmal mehr aus der Vogelperspektive, während die Dungeons und Städte in 3D erforscht werden. Beim zweiten Hinsehen wird dann allerdings offenbar, daß die Grafiker hier viel mehr Liebe auf die Wohnungsmöblierung und vor allem auf die Außenwelt verwendet haben.

Der wirkliche Clou ist aber, daß die Verliese jetzt einen Touch von Virtual Reality à la "Ultima Underworld" bieten! Zwar ist der optische Eindruck etwas uneinheitlich (nicht so überzeugende Natursteinhöhlen tummeln sich da neben traumhaften Katakomben mit eingebautem Schaudereffekt), aber immerhin darf man kreuz und quer "herumschlagen" - die neuen Grafikroutinen machen alles in ordentlichem Tempo, wenn auch nicht ganz ruckelfrei mit. Durch die am 1200er zuschaltbaren Boden- und Deckentexturen sind Besitzer dieses Rechners optisch jedoch klar im Vorteil.

Für alle von Vorteil sind miet Sicherheit die bei der Handhabung erzielten Fortschritte: Obwohl grundsätzlich alles bei den alten Iconfeldern und taktischen Kampfscreens mit rundenweise Befehlsvergabe blieb, würden doch hier wie dort einige auf Dauer nervige Ecken und Kanten des Vorgängers abgeschliffen; zudem lassen sich die häufigsten Funktionen jetzt auch direkt per Mausklick aktivieren. Somit steuert Ihr Euren unter acht männlichen wie weiblichen Kandidaten auswählbaren Enkel also nunmehr rund und glatt durch das Abenteuer.

Tja, bliebe nur noch der Sound, und hier erweist sich Matthias Steinwachs als würdiger Nachfolger von Guru Jochen Hippel. Ehrlich, selbst nach Tagen ununterbrochenen Spielens hört man seine diversen Melodien immer noch gern; läßt sich einem Musikus ein schöneres Kompliment machen?

Und noch ein Kompliment an die gesamte Thalion-Crew: Selten hatten wir einen Hit im Heft, bei dem durch das wohlbedachte Zusammenspiel so vieler Faktoren ein so harmonischer Gesamteindruck entstand. Mann, wir sind ja jetzt schon so gespannt auf den nächsten Teil der "ultimativen" Rollenspiel-Saga aus deutschen Landen! (jn)

Ambermoon logo

It was a time of blindness, more like.


I don't know about you, but there are some things in life that have always really annoyed the pants off me. Like that irritating way Fruit Gums get stuck around your mouth every time you eat a packet, forcing you to wipe your finger around your gums and look silly. And that in most RPGs, as soon as you die it's Game Over. Except that as you can save the game at any point, it isn't really so you have to keep saving in case you're killed off suddenly.

Take your first ten minutes of Ambermoon. If you accidentally walk into the fireplace (which includes walking past it and accidentally pressing Up), you're instantly burnt to death. Start again. But then, walk by chance into a particular fireplace and you unexpectedly end up in a secret room, and don't die. And there's some treasure chests inside, but if you open a certain one up, you die. AAAARRRGGH.


Then there's the irksome way that sometimes the hot water in your house runs out mid-bath so it starts filling up cold before you realise, forcing you to marinate in depressingly tepid water. And the way that the combat in most RPGs is really boring and takes ages even though it's pretty obvious who's going to going to win right from the start. Take Ambermoon's combat system. You plot your moves on a small grid. Moving left or right or back takes a turn so you can't move in either of these directions and attack in one turn, but advancing forward doesn't, so you can.

Once you've set your move, bizarrely the computer takes its turn before yours has an on-screen effect. At one point I was trying to attack this spider, so I chose to move forward and attack. But the spider moved backwards before my character moved, hence it was out of range and I couldn't swipe at it. I advanced, it moved back. Stalemate. As far as I am aware there is no way of exiting out of the combat until one side has come out as a victor, so I just had to turn the game off and start again. HNNNNNNNGH.


What about that advert which goes "After eating, dentists agree..."? What, so they can't see eye-to-eye while their stomachs are still rumbling, but stick them down in front of a prawn cocktail, and before the dessert arrives they'll all be best of friends? Eh? Is that it? Huh? And that most RPGs look dated beyond belief, play as originally as Jim Bowen's stand up routine, and are TEDIOUS BEYOND BELIEF. HMMMMMMMMM?

Actually, Ambermoon isn't that bad. It's divided up into two styles of play, cutesy overhead Zelda bits, and 3D Eye of the Beholder-meets-Doom bits. The Zelda bits are initially disappointing. "Hey - that's nice. It looks all consoley and user-friendly." You double blink at this point just to check that your eyes aren't deceiving you - your character jerks a hexagon at a time with no animation; to such a degree that you almost expect to find a tank around the next corner shortly followed by a miniature figure calling himself 'Napoleon'.

The graphics aren't that cutesy either. The characters are too small and indistinguishable to have any real personality, while the scenery, instead of being all cartoony and out of proportion as it should be, is just small and gritty.

The Eye of the Beholder bits aren't much better. Well - to look at they're better than EOTB, because they're calculated in real time - hence the Doom reference. But everywhere looks a bit samey. And since everything of interest is shown on the map, and the graphics are so bland that you don't know where you are, you always have to call up the map every few paces any way. The 'go to' points (which allow you to teleport and hence save pooling about for ages) are nice though, so a swift it fleeting mention to those.

But what of the actual game? Well, let's not waste time with that yet. How about a mention to the control method? It's great. Fabulous. Fantastic. And only requires you to use the mouse. This hilariously effectual control gives you a real 'cup of tea in one hand, feet on desk' feel to the game, and I notice it's the first thing I'd written down under 'Good Things' in my reviewers-aid notes. The list ends there.

Though, except for a margin note that I should test out whether the control method would be even more relaxing if I were wafted with a palm leaf and fed grapes by semi-naked female slaves; a situation I could faithfully recreate by getting Dave Golder (my house mate) to wave a newspaper at me while feeding me nice chocky biccies.

BUT IT IS. After a solid four days playing, I've explored a sizeable chunk of the map and have dipped my toes into the shallow end of the spell market. But I don't seem to have really solved any puzzles. I've been told to do stuff, and I've done it, but I'm yet to actually tune in to the contemplative side of my brain. Quite frankly, the thought of having to load up Ambermoon again even for long enough to make my screenshots for this review fills me with an unnerving sense of dread, Ugh. It's just another RPG with very few redeeming features.