Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Missed Classic: La Abadía del Crimen (1987) - Adventures in Speedrunning

Written by Mariano Falzone



Sir Sean Connery judging my poor murder-solving skills


And So I Go Again

You could say that last time I didn’t make much progress. I barely got to the morning of Day 3, and didn’t do most of what was supposed to be done by that point. But, in any case, I got used to the layout of the abbey, learned a bit how to play this thing. This is one of those games that has to be played repeatedly from the beginning just to understand what you’re doing, let alone beat it. Or, like me, you can save early and save often, and end up with dozens of save states.

I’ve read that the Big Bad Bug the game has is that you need to have the scroll, the one in the Scriptorium, by Day 4 or the game won’t progress anymore. Somewhere else I read that, more specifically, you need to get it by the night of Day 3. Some clarification here: as the days are divided in canonical hours, night is the first of those hours, so the night of Day 3 comes at the end of Day 2 and before the rest of Day 3.

So I decided to try something. I would get the scroll when everyone is either called to eat or to church, hoping Berengario, the monk at the Scriptorium that threatens to tell the Abbot if I pick up the scroll, would follow suit and rush off too. First time I try, we’re called to church, but Berengario just decides to stay put in his place, still not letting me take the scroll. Some double standards, hey, Abbot? Why is Berengario not scolded?

Anyway, I let this day end and decide to try again during Day 3. After all, maybe I still can get the scroll during that day? But after being called to church in the morning, the game just stops progressing. The Abbot is at the altar, Adso is there, and another monk too. But my guess is one monk is missing, and several minutes pass by and he never comes. He must have gotten stuck somewhere. I still use the opportunity to rush off to the Scriptorium, but when I get there, the scroll and the book are nowhere to be seen. And the Abbot eventually shows up and tells me I haven’t obeyed his rules, game over, all that jazz.

So I load back to Day 2, and this time wait to be called to lunch just in front of the scroll, under the vigilant watch of Berengario. And sure enough, we’re called, and Berengario rushes off to eat. I get the scroll and he doesn’t say anything. Yay!



This confirms Berengario likes food more than he likes God


But the joy is short-lived. After lunch, Berengario fetches the Abbot, who then takes the scroll from me. In a kind of cut scene, I see the Abbot taking the scroll to his own room behind the church and leaving it on his own desk. Hmm… is this a clue? Maybe I’m supposed to sneak into his room during the night, as he’s off doing his nightwatching, and finally take the scroll back? I’m onto something, all right…

Spoiler: I’m not. The door to the Abbot’s room is forever closed, day and night, at least during the days I’m supposed to get the scroll, so this is effectively a dead end the game will never tell me about. By the way, I’ve been playing for two and a half hours now. Oh, and there have been many weird crashing bugs so I’ve had to restart the emulator and the game several times, but I’m leaning towards blaming the emulator for this.

But it wasn’t all in vain. On the night of Day 3, I stand still long enough for a cut scene I hadn’t seen before to show up. A hooded figure goes all the way up to the Scriptorium and steals the book. Interesting…


They don’t know what they’re in for…


On the morning of Day 3, at church, the game doesn’t stop progressing this time. The monks arrive, and, after praying, the Abbot informs us that Berengario has disappeared, fearing another crime has been committed. After the monks are dismissed, the Abbot tells us he wants us to meet “the wisest man in the abbey” so we must follow him. And here it gets annoying again. Just like at the beginning of the game, if I let the Abbot walk just a few feet away, he comes back scolding me, saying we must follow him. But the third time he scolds me, he loses patience and tells us to get the hell out of the abbey.

At first I thought it was a “3 strikes and you’re gone” kind of thing. But, in retrospect, and watching my recorded playthrough as I write this, I finally realize it’s because of the Obsequium bar at the bottom. Every time the Abbot tells me off for anything, like not following him fast enough or not getting into my designated place at church and at the refectory, the bar depletes by one line. In this playthrough, I lost more than half of the Obsequium bar in just following the Abbot at the beginning of the game, and I didn’t even notice! *facepalm* Okay, that’s on me, but come on, this game is punishing as hell! Or as punishing as God, I should say?

Anyway, I do manage to follow the Abbot and meet the wisest man in the abbey. The old man is called Jorge and is blind, clearly referencing my compatriot Jorge Luis Borges, and what he says to us raises major red flags and puts him squarely into Creepy Guy Zone:

“Welcome, venerable brother, and listen to what I say. The ways of the Antichrist are slow and tortuous. He comes when you least expect him. Do not waste the last days.”



Um… okay?


I spend the rest of Day 3 trying to figure out how to get the scroll from the Abbot’s room, but as I said, it’s impossible.

So I load back to Day 2, trying to get on track again. It’s almost completely fruitless, except for one little big progress. In one of the calls to church, I lose Adso on the way but come across Malaquias, so I decide to follow him instead as he has to go to the church too. He goes to lock the gates, and then proceeds to the kitchen. This is what the cut scenes with him going about were showing, and they always stop when he’s in the kitchen, as the camera would go back to us in the church before Malaquias shows up a few seconds later. So, this time, following him, I get to see that he goes through a secret passage from the kitchen that connects eventually to the church. I’d read about there being a secret passage when I was researching the game, but hadn’t thought of actively looking for it yet.

Thing is, there’s a door in this secret passage that can only be opened if you have the key, the one Malaquias has on the table at the entrance of the library. So this time I just get stuck behind the door and eventually the Abbot comes and expels me for not showing up to pray.



One of the secret rooms behind the kitchen,

with skulls as decoration because why not.


And that’s everything my wearied will could get to solve on its own. The Cross of Difficulty on my shoulders has become unbearable and I fall into every adventurer’s Unnamable Temptation…
Nearer, My Walkthrough, to Thee I’m not alone in my frustration, though. Almost all players who tried their hand at this game back when it was released were equally confused and fascinated. That’s why, in 1988, the Spanish magazine Micromania published a solution to what the hell you’ve got to do, which straddles the line between being a hints guide and an outright walkthrough. This is the walkthrough I encountered most frequently when trying to google for one. It’s written as a kind of short story, making a summary of each day’s events. I don’t read the whole thing through yet, though, so as to minimize the spoilers. First thing I set out to do is get the key from the table at the entrance of the library, so jealously guarded by Malaquias. You must get it on, and only on, Day 2, or you’ll be forever stranded in dead-end land. And this is where I realize just how little time the game gives you to do everything you need to do. If you don’t rush off to meet Malaquias right away after church on the morning of Day 2, you risk not having enough time, as you’ll soon be called to the refectory and, a little while later, to church again and to sleep. So, after a while juggling back and forth between save states, I manage to do what needs to be done on that day. I meet Malaquias, who tells me the Library is forbidden. Berengario shows me the Scriptorium, where Venancio, the first victim, used to work, and where the scroll and the book are. I also manage to get the key with a hint I’ve read before. To get it, you need to move Adso around while Guillermo stays put somewhere to distract Malaquias. After many tries, I get the key, but I’m not sure the way I do it makes much sense. Malaquias is always moving around, depending on where you stand with Guillermo, and doesn’t give enough space for Adso to pass through. After a while, Malaquias stands in such a way to let Adso through, who I proceed to move in front of the library guard without him noticing.


Malaquias is not very good at his job.


Day 2 ends and the night of Day 3 comes, so it’s time to put that key to use. After some trial and error, it seems that the key only works on the door behind the church leading to the secret passage, and since Adso is the one who has it, he’s the one I have to control going through the door first (once during these sessions I went through the door with Guillermo after Adso opened it and the door shut before letting Adso through, leaving me assistant-less. The kid eventually found his way to the church though, as we were called.)

I watch the scene of the hooded figure stealing the book, and then I set out to get the scroll. This is the first time I stay up all night, as there’s not enough time to go running to the Scriptorium, get the scroll and back to my cell in time without suddenly being day again and time to go praying. Thing is, depending on where I am when day breaks, the Abbot knows I wasn’t in my cell, so he comes and kicks me out of the abbey. After several tries, I manage to be somewhere near enough the church when we’re called to pray so as not to be scolded, with the scroll safely tucked in my inventory.

Now it’s time to go and see wisest-man Jorge, following the Abbot as close as possible. But, in a surprising turn of events, after scolding me once for not hurrying up, he comes near me and takes the scroll! At first I think the Abbot knew I had it and was just taking it back, but after seeing it happen a couple of times, I believe it’s a bug. No matter where you are, if you and the Abbot walk exactly near each other, the Abbot will take the scroll with no announcement whatsoever. In my frustration though, after it happens for the first time, I load back and leave the scroll in the middle of the church before going to Jorge, and take it back when the Antichrist talk and refectory lunch are over.

Day 3 ends pretty quickly after that, and I sleep off the night of Day 4. In the morning, at church, the Abbot announces that Berengario has been found murdered (good news for Severino fans, he wasn’t next after all!). After everyone’s dismissed, he tells Guillermo and Adso that Bernardo Gui, the Inquisitor I believe, has arrived, so the investigation must be abandoned.

As I saw it mentioned in the guide, I now go to the kitchen, where I make Adso pick up a lamp that will be needed to light up our way through the library’s labyrinth. Mind you, the game doesn’t hint at all that you will need a lamp, or why Guillermo can’t pick it up and you have to use Adso for that. If it weren’t for the guide that was published back in 1988, I firmly believe that no one would have ever finished this game successfully.

On the way out, a monk runs to our encounter. The guide says he’s the herbalist, and it makes sense. Seems he’s done a kind of autopsy on poor Berengario, as he tells us that the victim had black stains on his tongue and fingers.



Very strange indeed…


As soon as he finishes his sentence, we’re summoned to the refectory. After lunch, the Abbot demands I give him the manuscript, after which he says we’ve disobeyed and kicks us out. I’m perplexed. According to the guide, it’s Bernardo, the new monk in town, the one who should ask for the scroll to take a look at it, after which the Abbot takes it with him. I load back and leave the scroll in my cell before starting the day. When lunch arrives and passes, the Abbot doesn’t say anything, but I decide to follow this new monk I hadn’t seen before, who goes all the way to my cell and takes the scroll! He then takes it to the Abbot’s room, I think? I’m not really sure, I lost track of him on the way but that’s the only explanation I can come up with.

By the way, yes, that new monk is Bernardo, but no one ever introduces us. Also, I’d assumed that, since he was the Inquisitor, he would be somewhat differently clothed, as he is in the film if I recall correctly, played by the great F. Murray Abraham. But no, only his head is different from the rest of the monks, and he never speaks to us.

Now I realize that the only reason I was losing when the Abbot asked me for the scroll is because I only have one line left in my Obsequium bar. Seems I’m not very good at this, I disobey too much! If I let Bernardo take the scroll from my cell, though, I don’t get scolded and that line remains intact.


Some Time-Jumping and a Hint of What’s to Come

Remember I mentioned a labyrinth? Well, the guide says Adso got the lamp on Day 3, and on the night of Day 4 he and Guillermo decided to go to the library to do some recon on how to navigate the maze. So in all my messy back-and-forth between save states, I give that a shot, and let’s just say I’m not looking forward to having to solve that maze when the time comes.

The place is completely dark, hence the need for the lamp, which halos only Adso. Add to that the endless corridors and the camera angle changes, and it becomes a heavy contender for the Most Frustratingly Difficult Maze in an Adventure Game Award.



Oh, come on!



I leave the maze for now and go back to the future, to the morning of Day 5. At church, before praying, the Herbalist comes to me and says that a strange book has appeared in his cell. The plot thickens! After that, the monk goes to his place, we all pray, and the Abbot tells us that Bernardo is leaving the Abbey today. Aaaand this is as far as I can get for now. I naively thought this would take me two posts max, but this game turned out to be nerve-rackingly, hair-pullingly, teeth-grindingly difficult. I mean, I expected it to be hard, but it really went beyond my wildest nightmares. I don’t hate it though, and still think it’s a beautiful and impressive piece of media. I just want to scream at it once in a while, but that’s perfectly normal, right? I’m really okay, no need to worry. Seriously, I’m fine! Time played these sessions: 6 hours 20 minutes Total time: 8 hours See you next time, when hopefully I’ll show up having beaten this thing and crying tears of joy. PS: Two other adaptations of The Name of the Rose to add to the list. Firstly, a TV miniseries from 2019 with John Turturro and Rupert Everett. Secondly, the ZX Spectrum Adventurer (@ZXadventurer) has brought to my attention on Twitter that “there's a 1984 text adventure for C64 called Murder in the Monastery heavily inspired by The Name of the Rose too”. I suspect I won’t be in a rush to tackle another abbey murder game any time soon, but it has the potential to be another Missed Classic indeed…



6 comments:

  1. It`s a pity that a game that has such a superb story, setting and graphics gets drowned by bad design choices. Nevertheless, I applaud the creator of this game for his bravery, or madness, of doing a game like this for a 8 bit system

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  2. I agree the graphics are gorgeous and the the story really seems like it could be enthralling, but nobody is blaming you for pulling some hairs.

    I do wonder HOW they managed to figure out a walk-through for this though, did they speak to the developers or just take inputs from everyone everywhere until they could figure it out?

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    Replies
    1. If I'm not mistaken, it was published by the creators themselves through the magazine, because they knew everyone was stuck!

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  3. If you dont use a guide You cannot finish The Game, it's have a timing for all actions.

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  4. In the labyrinth you need the oil lamp

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  5. If we're counting adaptations of the original story, there's also a song by Ayreon, Abbey of Synn. Though don't listen to it if you don't already know the twist, because it spoils it.

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