Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Game 1: Below the Root - Reaching Full Potential

My decision to fully explore each grund has really paid off. Every time I enter a new house or building, I mark down on my map whether the inhabitant is friendly toward me or hostile, what they’re offering or selling, and what piece of advice they gave out through speaking and pensing. At the end of my last post, I’d just gained the ability to pense messages, and was uncertain as to whether going back and pensing people I’d already met would offer up new information. The answer is a resounding yes, but unfortunately pensing uses up valuable skill points, so I’ve had to use it sparingly. Pensing the temple gatekeeper for example resulted in a message that “the key is lost”, which suggests I might have to find another way to gain access. Most rewardingly, I attempted to pense one of the friendly animals that appear throughout the map, and found that doing so increased my spirit limit by one! Since finding out this little secret, I’ve moved from grund to grund, searching high and low for animals to pense.

You could have told me that before buddy!

This process has required problem solving (to figure out how to get to certain branches), reflexes (the platform element of the game requires some dexterity) and a bit of luck (sometimes just trying something crazy results in finding something useful). With the action elements in mind, I guess it’s worth questioning whether Below the Root should be considered a pure adventure game or be classified as action adventure alongside games such as Tomb Raider. Personally, I think Below the Root “feels” like an adventure game and, given the fact that you cannot die, that there is no fighting element in the game, and that you can revisit any part of the map as many times as you like in search of clues, it clearly fits the definition. If anything, Below the Root has probably had an influence on games like Castlevania II or Metroid, which were basically platform games with an open-ended map, allowing players to revisit sections to gather clues or items to solve puzzles elsewhere. These games had a much larger focus on combat action however and the player could die if hit too many times.

Castlevania II: Possibly influenced by Below the Root's RPG and open-ended elements.

While figuring out how to access certain areas can be puzzling, the most challenging aspect of Below the Root is managing your rest and food status’. Once you’ve found a few different places you can rest and mapped them, it’s not difficult to keep that statistic fairly high. The problem is that while you’re resting, your food level decreases, meaning not only do you regularly need to rest, you also need to make sure you have enough food to devour straight afterwards or you’ll end up back at your nid-place regardless. Add to this that certain food affects you in other ways (I think roast lapan decreases my skill points) and it's clear this biological management is key to your success in the game. Thankfully, the game starts to give you the skills to make this management easier, which I’ll discuss in a second.

Everyone loves monkey magic! Don't they?!

I’ve managed to find some important figures (the Wise Child and D’ol Neshom), both of which have increased my spirit level, giving me the ability to use the heal, grunspreke and kiniport skills. Heal helps you manage the aforementioned food and rest stats by increasing them at the expense of spirit, grunspreke gives you the ability to make branches grow, giving you access to otherwise inaccessible places, and kiniport acts as teleportation, allowing you to move objects closer to you or even move yourself to another location that’s visible on the screen. Each gained skill gives you the ability to reach new areas, which in turn allows you to gain more spirit skill and so on. I’ve also had more visions, all of which suggest that Raamo is not dead, and will somehow play a role in finishing the game. I can only assume that I now need to venture underground somehow and find this bottomless lake that the visions keep showing me. Before I do that though, I’m hoping my new skills will help me get into the temple. I’m dying to find out what’s in there!

With great power comes great grunsprekability!


  1. Eating Roast Lapan only affects you negatively if you are a Kindar. Erdlings are meat-eaters, and so are used to that sort of food.


    Compare this Zelda2 screen to that Castlevania2 screen.

    1. Reading some old posts, are we? It is amazing how much better Tricksters writing it now. I was really not impressed at first, but now his blog it quite pleasant to read.

    2. By the way, I think I had a C64 game called Adventure or something basic like that, and I think it also had spiders that dropped down from trees.

  3. A skill that lets you modify the terrain is pretty interesting. Does it only work in specific, pre- determined areas or are the puzzles more "organic" (Pun somewhat intended)?

    1. Years later...

      My recall from playing this game in the late 1980s is that you can only Grunspreke branches, and only when you can stand on them. It grows the branch out in front of you a bit.

      Since there are surfaces in this world that aren't branches, you can't grow those. Also you can't just make a surface appear in the middle of the air.

  4. This really makes me want to go back and play this. Back in the 80s when I "finished" this game, I never managed to get into the Temple Grund. It remains a splinter in my mind to this day, wondering if I ever could have.

    I ended the game simply by finding some person in a cave. I could actually start the game right now and go straight to the cave to end the game. I don't know if there are multiple endings to this game... if there is - I may have to go back and play again.