Even after the evil has been vanquished, there are still many foul creatures plaguing the land. It is your task to get rid of them. This rather unusual premise is the basis for the first roleplaying game ever. Selling only eight copies, it wasn't a commercial success either, but is spawned one of the most successful computer RPG franchises ever.
Akalabeth was written by Richard Garriot in 1979 for Apple II in Basic. The game featured character statistics, an inventory system, overhead view and a first-person exploratory mode, at a time when everybody else was just reading what they saw around. While the game never sold well, it has been the direct precursor of the Ultima series. In fact, Garriot used the dungeon routine in Ultima I, to a much greater success.
The game starts when you select your lucky number. This number than calculates the world and dungeon seed. Thus, if you find a game too difficult (even though there are ten difficulty levels), you can always try a different number to get a different layout. After rolling (and re-rolling as much as you want) your character stats and selecting your character class (mage or warrior), you will be free to roam the world. The world itself is very small, spanning only 19 by 19 squares. On the surface, there are a few towns that provide you with food and other items and entrances to dungeons. All in all, the game uses a mere four icons on the surface - towns, dungeons, mountains and you.
Once in a dungeon, the game changes to a first-person view. You will be able to explore the bottomless labyrinths, fighting progressively stronger monsters. Even here, all graphics are very simplistic, line-based, but no worse than those in latter games, such as the first several Wizardry titles. Over the course of your adventuring, you will run into monsters, chests, secret doors and more. Monsters can ambush you, some use magic, and other steal your items.
Where the game really breaks down is the interface, though. Considering the age of the game, I can tolerate the graphics and lack of sound, but the interface has driven me crazy. First of all, you will always need food to survive. On the surface, you will eat one food per turn, while underground, only 0.1 per turn. Still, the moment you run out of food, you drop dead. The fact that some monsters like to steal your food doesn't help, either, and only increases the frustration level of the game.
There are a few minor problems as well. First of all, your character has no peripheral vision, so even if he gets attacked from a side, you have no way of knowing where the monster is located, and it may take you up to three turns to face it. Second, the game is unforgiving when you make a typo. Unlike other games, where the game waits until you write something that it's in its dictionary, Akalabeth will consider anything you write as an action. Especially when you are stronger and face a weak, but nasty opponent, the loss of a combat round can be very frustrating.
All in all, Akalabeth is a very unique game. Not only it is the first computer RPG, which set standards for so many others, but also it comes with a very interesting premise. Instead of the usual "save the world" scenarios, the world has been already saved in this game, and you are only there to do the mop-up job. Origin has released a PC conversion of the game in 1997 in its Ultima Collection, but you may want to check out the Akalabeth Remake home page for a much better Akalabeth version. While selling only eight copies, the game has deservedly achieved a cult status and a cult following.