Since I was very young I had an obsession with the ”Might and Magic” series, and I want to write a narrative about how that series forever affected my life. The ”Might and Magic” series consists of nine role-playing games. It also includes the spinoff series ”Heroes of Might and Magic” (or just plain ”Heroes”), which consists of turn based strategy games. My obsession ran strong with the RPG series, not so much with the ”Heroes” series, but ”Heroes” did play an important role in my obsession.
For some clarification on what I’m going to write about, I should explain that there are nine games in the ”Might and Magic” series. They are respectively ”Might and Magic I: Secret of the Inner Sanctumn”, ”II: Gates to Another World”, ”III: Isles of Terra”, ”IV: Clouds of Xeen”, ”V: Dark Side of Xeen”, ”VI: The Mandate of Heaven”, ”VII: For Blood and Honor”, ”VIII: Day of the Destroyer”, and ”Might and Magic IX”. Also, ”Clouds of Xeen” and ”Dark Side of Xeen” could be installed together and they formed one game, ”World of Xeen”, where the player could visit locations in both games. For clarification I will usually refer to a game by it’s subtitle rather than it’s series number (e.g. ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum” instead of ”Might and Magic I”). There are six games in the ”Heroes” series, but since they aren’t as important to this narrative, I will refer to them by their numbered titles. There are other spinoff games as well, but none of them became series, so I will refer to them directly. Let me begin my narrative by introducing you to my friend Aaron.
Aaron moved into our neighborhood in 1993. I was playing with my bicycle in my garage when he walked over to say that he had just moved in. I asked his name and he told me. We talked for a minute or two then he left. I felt kind of awkward because I wasn’t sure if he was a boy or a girl. You see, we were ten at the time, so any kind of obvious male or female development had not yet begun, he had kind of a high voice, and I knew that Aaron could also be a girl’s name, Erin. Two days later I ended up asking him if he was a boy or a girl. He looked at me kind of funny and said that he was a boy. Well, despite the fact that I had probably made him question his sexual identity, we went on to be great friends. Truly the greatest friends by all accounts. We’d play many a game in my backyard. We made fake FBI and CIA badges and pretended to be secret agents. We played other “imagination” type games. But through all of that, video games were our true passion.
When Aaron first moved in, my family had a Nintendo Entertainment System. Aaron, on the other hand, had a Sega Genesis. I’d heard of the Sega, but I didn’t know much about it. I always figured that my family would upgrade to a Super Nintendo, but after Aaron showed us his Genesis, we changed our minds, and my brother and I began saving to get a Genesis of our own. (I want to point out that I refer to the Sega Genesis as a “Genesis” whereas most people refer to it as a “Sega”. I do this because Aaron explained to me that Sega also made another system, and the word “Genesis” made a better distinction between the two systems.) In 1994 we finally saved enough to get the Genesis. I was mostly excited about playing ”Sonic: The Hedgehog 2”. Little did I know what was in store for me.
Getting a Genesis improved Aaron’s life as well as mine. You see, Aaron’s family may have had a Genesis, but his parents restricted him to playing only thirty minutes a day. I thought that was crazy when he told me about it. Thirty minutes wasn’t long enough to accomplish anything, especially considering that those were the days where you couldn’t save your game. When my family got a Genesis, Aaron’s problems were over. He’d simply bring his games over to my house, and we’d play there. This benefited both of us. I had more games to play, and he could play for more than thirty minutes. He had some really cool games too. One was called ”Cool Spot” in which you played as the mascot for 7-Up. He also had classics like ”Altered Beast” and ”Golden Axe”.
One day Aaron brought over a little known game called ”Might and Magic: Gates to Another World”. He described it as his most valuable game. He told me that this was a game that sold for $80.00, whereas most games at the time sold for $30.00 to $40.00. That alone piqued my interest. I wondered what could make a game so valuable. What really got me obsessed with the game, however, was when Aaron started playing it.
I had never seen, or even heard of, an RPG before Aaron brought the game over to our house. He described it to me, and I realized that there was much more to this game than the usual side-scrollers I was playing. First of all this game was in the first-person perspective. Second it didn’t have levels in the traditional sense. Aaron explained how you “level up” rather than play through levels, a concept which I had a hard time grasping. And third the game had an open world. You could go anywhere at any time, but you were likely to get killed if you went to a tough area. There were towns to visit, and dungeons to explore. Most of this was all new to me. I had a game called ”Platoon” for the NES and part of the game was in first-person, so that wasn’t completely new to me, but in general everything about this game was totally different and exciting from anything else I’d seen.
Aaron told me that unlike most games, you couldn’t finish it in an hour or two. He said it would take years for someone to complete the game. (I want to point out that he was wrong. It would take ”him” years since he could only play thirty minutes a day. A typical RPGer could probably finish it in 40 hours.) He also said that one time his younger brother, Brad, had “initialized” the game (that is, he erased the save data), and he had to start over from the beginning. Another thing that was new to me was that you didn’t just play as one character, you played as an entire party of characters. Each member having different skills and abilities that helped you to survive in the harsh world of CRON. In fact you could create thirty or so characters, and you could choose up to six of them to take adventuring. Truly I was fascinated.
I remember the main menu screen well. The name of the game, ”Might and Magic: Gates to Another World”, was written in big letters, and there was a book which had pages that kept turning. I loved to watch Aaron play the game. Combat was completely different from the games I was used to. It was turned based. I thought to myself, ”how great is that? You actually have time to think about what your next move will be. You don’t need the quick reflexes that some of these other games require.” Combat came by random encounters. I remember so many of the different monsters that Aaron fought. There was a ghoul, ghastly in appearance, that held a severed and bloodied arm in one hand. There was a jester which was juggling, and I wondered why he was fighting a jester considering that the guy had nothing to fight back with, except possibly throwing his juggling balls. There were all sorts of monsters.
Aaron never let me play the game. The game only had one save state, and Aaron had used all the character spaces. Quite frankly, I was fascinated by the fact that you ”could” save the game. Like I said though, Aaron had all of his character spots filled up so there was no room for me to create a character. I was content to watch him play. Very content, actually. I invited Aaron to have sleepovers at my house, solely for the purpose of ”watching” him play. And believe me, I watched for hours. The combat music from that game is still stuck in my head, ”duh duh duh… duh duuuuh”. One of Aaron’s characters was a ninja named Manja, and I thought to myself, ”when I get the game I’m creating a female human ninja named Manja, just like his”. I thought it was weird that there were ninjas in a medieval world, but ninjas were so cool that it didn’t matter that much.
One day Aaron let me create one character. He deleted one of his less useful characters and I created one to fill that spot. As I recall I created a male human cleric. I set out into the world of CRON, in the town of Middlegate, for the first time. I engaged in combat one time, got killed, and that was it for me. Aaron never let me play again. Truth be told, even though I had watched him play for hours and hours, I didn’t really understand how an RPG worked. ”Might and Magic” would stay in my mind forever after that. Sometimes I would grab a book, and start turning the pages and humming the music from the game. I would do anything to remind myself of this game.
Some time later, my brother acquired a tabletop board game called ”Hero Quest”. This was my first ”real” introduction to playing an RPG. Like ”Might and Magic” you didn’t play with just one character, you played with a party of four characters, each having their own abilities and skills. One person played as the game-master, they controlled the monsters. Aaron came over to our house to play this game as well, he and I controlled two characters each, and my brother played as the game-master. We had sleepovers to play this game, and we would go through dungeon after dungeon. This was a major stepping stone in my obsession with ”Might and Magic”, because I was finally beginning to understand the mechanics of a role-playing game, I saw how different “classes” of party members worked together to accomplish their goals. I understood what quests were. I felt that if I could get my hands on ”Gates to Another World” I’d know exactly what to do.
The years went by. From time to time I would check with the used video game store to see if they had ”Might and Magic” in stock. They never did. By 1996 Aaron no longer brought the game to my house. We were playing other games. I wondered if I would ever get the chance to sit down and play it. My obsession with the game plagued my mind. I would fantasize about creating a party of characters. As I sat in classes at school I would draw the words “Might and Magic” in bubbly letters, just so that I could see the name. One time a friend of mine saw that I had written those words, and he asked what ”Might and Magic” was. I said it was the greatest game I had ever seen, and he said, “Oh, yeah? I think I saw that game at the arcade.” I told him he was wrong, because a game like that wouldn’t work at the arcade. He didn’t believe me, he was wrong.
Aaron and his family moved away in 1997. He had told me that if he ever finished the game he might let me initialize the game and play it myself. Any hope of that happening was gone. I was more upset about that, than the fact that my best friend was moving away. Things started getting better though. In 1997 ”Diablo” came out. This was my first time owning an RPG. And while it seemed more limited than ”Might and Magic” I recognized the RPG elements, and it gave me hope that ”Might and Magic” wasn’t just a one-of-a-kind game. That there were other games like it. I was also introduced to ”Heroes II” that year. This was by mere chance. My friend Kevin brought the game to my house and we installed it on my computer. I immediately recognized the phrase “Might and Magic”, but I didn’t know what this whole “Heroes” thing was about. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was any connection to the game I was obsessed with. I didn’t recognize the name “New World Computing” all I remembered was that ”Gates to Another World” had something to do with Electronic Arts, and this game didn’t. (I didn’t know anything about the difference between publishers and developers at the time.)
At first glance, ”Heroes II” was drastically different from the game Aaron had introduced me to. It was more akin to ”WarCraft II” than anything else I’d seen. I recognized one thing, though, and that was the turn-based combat. I asked Kevin if there was any connection between this game and an RPG game called ”Might and Magic: Gates to Another World”. He said hid didn’t know, his brother had gotten the game because he heard it was really cool. It was a cool game, and we’d play for hours. I asked for ”Heroes II” for my birthday that year, and got it. This turned out to be very important, because it happens that on the ”Heroes II” main menu, there is a secret button you can press that takes you to the trailer for the game ”Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven”. When I saw this, I knew my life was finally getting somewhere. Not only did the ”Might and Magic” game that Aaron had exist, but there were six of them, or at least there would be six once ”The Mandate of Heaven” came out. I actually didn’t know, even then, that ”Gates to Another World” was the second game in the series. In fact, until I saw ”The Mandate of Heaven” trailer, I thought it was the only game in the series.
Unfortunately the only information I had about ”The Mandate of Heaven” was the trailer on the ”Heroes II” disk. The internet existed at the time, but my access to it was limited. Libraries were just starting to get it, but Google hadn’t perfected it’s search algorithm so searches for “Gates to Another World” on Yahoo! didn’t turn up much. The library did stock the magazine ”PC Gamer”, and one time as I was flipping through the pages, I came across an advertisement for ”The Mandate of Heaven” which would forever change my life.
The advertisement didn’t just show a few screenshots. In fact it didn’t show any. It was a black page, with golden text that listed each game in the ”Might and Magic” series. The second page read, in larger lettering, “The Mandate of Heaven, the Next Chapter in the Award Winning Series. Coming Soon.” An overwhelming sense of joy came over me as I saw this advertisement. For the first time I realized that Aaron’s game was the second game in the series. I was actually looking at the magazine with the aforementioned Kevin, and while I wanted to stare at the advertisement, he wanted to go through the rest of the magazine. So the advertisement quickly disappeared before my eyes. Something important happened in that moment, though. I gained hope. Hope that I would someday play ”Gates to Another World”. Hope that I would play the game that Aaron never let me play.
In 1998, five years after being introduced to the series, I finally acquired a ”Might and Magic” game (not counting ”Heroes II”). It happened that during the school lunch hour I was talking with someone about ”Heroes II” and I mentioned how I was obsessed with ”Might and Magic”. A friend of mine, Danny, overheard this and he told me he game called ”Might and Magic” for the NES. I was a bit skeptical. I asked him if was subtitled ”Gates to Another World”, he said he didn’t think so. I asked if I could borrow it, and he said he’d sell it to me for $2.00. Well for $2.00 I didn’t much care whether it was the game I was obsessed with or not, it was at least a step closer than I had ever been before. The next day I brought $2.00 and he brought the game. The game he sold me was subtitled ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum”. I recognized the name from the advertisement I’d seen in PC Gamer. It was the first game in the series.
I took it home and played it, and sure enough, it wasn’t the game I had watched Aaron play, but it was ”Might and Magic”! It satisfied some of my obsession. It was very similar to what I’d seen Aaron play. It had the first-person perspective, the turn-based combat, and the open world. It took place in a land called VARN, not CRON, but it was all there. It was a genuine role-playing game. There was one problem, however. The game was unplayable. A few NES games had save states, and this was one of them, but every time I played the game there was a pretty good chance the save state would get wiped out and I’d have to start all over. I think I got my party of characters up to level 10 one time, but then the save state got wiped and I had to start all over. I was semi-devastated. All I wanted to do was play ”Might and Magic”, and I was so close, I had the game and everything, but I kept having to start from the beginning.
There was only one solution to my problem. I had to make my own ”Might and Magic” game. So I learned computer programming and started developing a ”Might and Magic” style game using the programming language QBasic. Yes, I am being completely serious. Because I was having so much trouble playing ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum” I developed my own game. The game was called ”E.X.P.L.O.R.: A New World”. I had intended to call the game “E.X.P.L.O.R.E.”, but I ran out of room on the screen for the E, so I left it out. My reasoning behind developing my own game was that a computer game wouldn’t have the problem of retaining the save state that my NES cartridge had. I never made much progress on the game. It featured the basic movement mechanics, so you could walk around the world, but it didn’t feature any combat or quests. I toyed around with the code for a while after originally developing it, but never really went anywhere with it.
In 1998 the internet started to become much more popular than it ever had been before, and I found a lousy, but free, service called NetZero. The internet was the key to sating my obsession with ”Might and Magic”. First of all I downloaded a NES Emulator and a ROM of ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum”, and I finally finished the game without having the problem of my save states being erased. So I actually made it through a ”Might and Magic” game. More important than that, though, I was able to look up the series on the internet. The internet was crude back then. We didn’t have the all knowing database of Wikipedia, and Yahoo! searches weren’t turning up much. I’d search for “Gates to Another World” and nothing would be found, that is until one day in 1999 when the search turned up the most important webpage I would ever see. It was a page on Interplay’s website. I thought it strange that Interplay had a website about ”Might and Magic” since I had learned that the series was developed by ”New World Computing” and published by ”3DO”. None-the-less they had a webpage (and by “page” I literally mean one page) dedicated to the series. They were selling a product entitled ”The Ultimate Might and Magic Archives”. The page was an advertisement for that compendium. And oh my goodness! This was where everything came full circle. Finally I could have my beloved ”Gates to Another World”, as well as the PC version of ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum”. The compendium included the first five games in the series, and it was going to be released in time for my 16th birthday. I had to have it. In anticipation of the game, I printed out the webpage using the highest quality settings on my mom’s printer.
Unfortunately the game wouldn’t be in stores, so there was only one way to get it, and that was by ordering it over the internet from Interplay’s store. This would cause my mom major hesitation, since she would be paying for the game. She had heard your credit card information could be stolen over the internet. I explained how there was 128-bit encryption, and the little lock symbol on the browser showed that everything would be alright. (I didn’t actually know anything about encryption, but I was acting like I was an expert for her sake.) I told her that this game was the most important thing in my life (which wasn’t a lie), and I managed to convince her to buy the game for me. I watched her order the game for me, and I got it a few days after my birthday.
I installed the games right away. I figured I’d try out ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum” first. I had already fantasized about firing up the game and hearing the title music I’d heard on the NES cartridge. I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed. The game was drastically different from the NES version. It had crappy graphics and PC speaker sound (that is the beeping sounds that old computers made). I was shocked. It took me a minute to realize that the PC version came out in 1986, the NES version came out in 1991, of course they weren’t going to be different. I did recognize that the town of Sorpigal, the town you start in, was laid out the same. And I didn’t have any problems navigating the world, since all the maps are the same. But the graphics and audio were much worse. Well after that disappointment I was ready to fire up the game I had obsessed with for years. I launched ”Gates to Another World” next. This time I was better prepared. I realized that this version of the game came out in 1988 and that the Genesis version probably came out later, so I didn’t expect to hear the music that was still in my head. To my surprise this one had much better graphics than ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum”, and I recognized the book with the turning pages that I had seen in Aaron’s game. It did have PC speaker audio, but the graphics looked much closer to the Genesis version. They were a little different, but I recognized the same monsters in the game, especially the ghoul holding the severed arm. I wasn’t as disappointed with ”Gates to Another World” as I was with ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum”.
After my original disappointment in the lack of music, I realized that these were the original games, so I forgave them for their crappy graphics and audio. ”Isles of Terra” and ”World of Xeen” were much better, they had great graphics and good audio. I actually wanted to start playing them right away, but I have an obsession with playing an entire series from the start, so I didn’t play them right away. Not only that, I absolutely knew that I needed to play ”Gates to Another World”, or my obsession would never be satisfied. Additionally the PC version of ”Gates to Another World” let you transfer characters from ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum” so I was going to have to start with the first game, even though I had already completed it on the NES.
It took me years to complete these games, partly because I wasn’t really that motivated to play the first two games in the series. They were so old, and by the time I played them random encounter turn-based combat was an annoyance. It wasn’t until 2000 that I finished the first two games, and believe me, it was a long grind. I am happy to report that I did create a female human ninja named Manja as I had planned so many years before. I had a lot of fun naming my characters. Being that I played these games during my teenage years, I had an obsession with female anatomy, and the name ”Breastvia” was invented for more than one of my characters. (Breastvia was a female elf archer in ”Gates to Another World”, and Breastvia II was a female elf sorcerer in ”For Blood and Honor”.)
In late 1999, 3DO released a boxed set of games titled ”Might and Magic: Millennium Edition” which included the CD-ROM version of ”World of Xeen”, ”The Mandate of Heaven”, and ”For Blood and Honor”. In the summer of 2000 I started grinding through the games. ”Day of the Destroyer” came out that same year and I pre-ordered it from 3DO and got a bonus t-shirt, but I wouldn’t play it until later. I finally finished my conquest of the first eight games in the series in 2001. The last game in the series ”Might and Magic IX” didn’t come out until 2002, and when it did I bought it and completed it as well.
My obsession that began in 1993 was finally fulfilled in 2002 when I had completed every game in the ”Might and Magic” series. Let me be clear though. I completed every game in the RPG series. The ”Heroes” series takes place in the same universe, but I never completed those games. I did cheat my way through parts of them to get the story, but I don’t count that as completing them. They are strategy games, and I’ve never liked strategy games as much as RPGs. I spoke with Aaron in 2002. He never completed ”Gates to Another World”. That was the final moment of joy for me. He never let me play the game, and yet, I had completed the entire series. My guess is he’ll never complete ”Gates to Another World”. To make things clear, I didn’t just finish these games, I pretty much explored every inch of the games. The only thing I didn’t explore was the parts of ”Secret of the Inner Sanctum” that weren’t worth exploring, and I didn’t explore every inch of the Dragon’s Dominion dungeon in ”Gates to Another World”. Other than that, though, I spent a lot of time exploring the worlds of VARN, CRON, Terra, Xeen, and Enroth.
My obsession was not complete at merely finishing the games. I still wanted to go back and play the same game that I had seen in 1993. I wanted to hear the music the haunted my dreams. I obtained a copy of ”Gates to Another World” for the Genesis on eBay. I played it a little. I heard that familiar music again. I never intended to play through the game, though. I had completed it on the PC, and other than the audio, and some differences in the graphics, they really are pretty much the same game. Firing it up on my Genesis was enough to finally satisfy me. Or so I thought.
My obsession didn’t end. I had all the games in the series, but like Ariel, the Little Mermaid, I wanted more. I wanted original copies of all the games. So I began collecting. I’d keep my eye on eBay for any original copies of the games. Later I started collecting anything to do with the series. I collected Genesis and Super NES versions of the games. I have a Japanese version of ”Might and Magic II” for the Super Famicom. I have a German versions of ”Might and Magic II” for the PAL SNES. After I felt my collection of the RPG series was complete, I began collecting the ”Heroes” games, and anything else related to the ”Might and Magic” universe. I believe that I have one of the most complete collections of ”Might and Magic” games in existence, but even as complete as it is, there is so much missing from it. There’s games for little known consoles like the TurboGrafx 16 that I don’t have. I haven’t really collected anything since the franchise was bought by Ubisoft. The problem was that the more I collected, the more I realized was out there, and it got so frustrating that I sort of gave up. I just didn’t see the point in owning multiple copies of the same game just because the box artwork was a little different. In any case, here are some pictures of my collection.
I largely consider my ”Might and Magic” collection to be my most valuable possession, even though I’d probably get less than $300.00 if I tried to sell it. I wouldn’t try to sell it, though. I’m obsessed with it. I once told my mom I wanted to be buried with it. I love it. I can’t help myself. Just knowing that I have this collection brings me happiness. I genuinely feel that I might be the biggest fan of ”Might and Magic” to have ever existed. By that I mean the biggest fan of the RPG series, not the ”Heroes” series, as I personally know people that like the ”Heroes” games more than me. My obsession runs deep in my blood.
What’s ironic about all that I’ve said, and about my obsession, is that I don’t think that the ”Might and Magic” series contains the best games of all times. Quite frankly, in my opinion, the best RPG games of all time are ”The Elder Scrolls” games, and my favorite game of all time isn’t even an RPG. My obsession wasn’t really because these were particularly great games, it was mostly because I wasn’t allowed to play ”Gates to Another World” when I was a kid. They are good games, just not the greatest.
For me ”Might and Magic” ended in 2002 when the last game in the RPG series came out. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the game. In 2003, 3DO, the company that owned the games went belly up, and the franchise was sold to Ubisoft. I wasn’t surprised that 3DO tanked. My obsession began with ”Gates to Another World” because it was the first time I saw a huge open world RPG that I felt allowed the player to do whatever they wanted. It was an ambitious game. As the series progressed, it stopped being ambitious. I mentioned that the last game in the series, ”Might and Magic IX”, came out in 2002, well it also happens that ”The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” came out the same year. ”Morrowind” was ambitious. It offered a truly open world. ”Might and Magic IX”, on the other hand, felt limited. I’ll admit that I pre-ordered the collector’s edition of ”Morrowind”. I didn’t even get ”Might and Magic IX” until a month or so after it came out. I believe that if ”Might and Magic”, as a series, had tried to be more ambitious it would have succeeded and 3DO along with it. As it is, that didn’t happen.
The franchise sort of still exists with Ubisoft. They released ”Heroes V” along with some expansions, and ”Heroes VI” is due out in September, but these games aren’t related to the originals except by name. Most people wouldn’t know that, though. Most people have no idea who Corak and Sheltem are. Or that the mythology of ”Might and Magic” isn’t medieval fantasy. Its science fiction, with space travel, blaster rifles, and an unknown race of beings known as the Ancients. I know all that, but unfortunately, at this point, I don’t really care anymore.
I don’t know that Ubisoft will ever make another ”Might and Magic” RPG. I kind of doubt it. The ”Heroes” franchise has always been more popular. Even if they did, though, I doubt they would go back to the sci-fi mythology from the original series. They decided to scrap that mythology when ”Heroes V” was designed. The series was created by Jon Van Caneghem, and last I heard he went to Electronic Arts to work on ”Command and Conquer”. Which is about as far from being attached to a ”Might and Magic” project as possible. So really, in my mind, the series is dead.
I mentioned that I had pretty much explored every inch of the ”Might and Magic” games, but I wasn’t completely honest. There was one thing I always felt I was missing. The game ”For Blood and Honor” allows you to play two different paths. You can play the good path and bring light and happiness to the world, or the evil one and bring chaos and destruction to the world. I played the good path when I first played the game, and I always felt that for my experience to truly be complete I needed to play the evil path. From time to time I would install the game, create some characters and start on the path to darkness. I’d only play for a few minutes, though. That is until recently. A few months ago the game was released on Good Old Games. I purchased it and started playing the evil path. I completed it two days ago, and now I can finally say that my experience with ”Might and Magic” is complete. In some ways I think I delayed playing it for so long was because I knew that this was the last thing left for me to experience, and I didn’t want my obsession to end. Finally, however, I truly feel that my obsession has been fulfilled.