I want to take a moment to site a couple of significant elements outside the challenge of the game. First is the party construction. In Exodus, you are allowed up to 20 characters, each of which can be custom created. You form a party of four of these characters each time you play. These characters level up independently during play. This element really lent itself to some of the household participation I experienced with this game, as 20 characters was more than enough for everyone in my family to have their own party of four. That way we could contribute to a greater whole, while still remaining independent. And we could just have fun creating custom characters and stocking the barracks, as it were. That way different classes can be available to the main players who are out accomplishing goals and progressing through the game.
Another thing I'd like to point out is the music. I think it's pretty damn good for an NES game. The songs tend to be long and varied, much more so that their contemporaries. There aren't a lot of tracks in total. I think that Exodus is often forgotten about in the annals of NES music.
Finally, the graphics. Sure, they're pretty crappy (though still way nicer than the PC version IMO). But one graphic design element that I really like is the line of site shadowing. Opaque objects such as walls, or mountains or deep woods, will hide portions of the screen in shadow, because they cannot be seen through, so the characters don't know what's on the other side. I think this really deepens the sense of exploration in the game. I'd love to see what Final Fantasy, or even better, Dragon Warrior would play like with this design aesthetic.
In parallel to that, I'd also like to point out that the general map design in Exodus is nice. There is a progression of wilderness that informs travel decisions. The party starts out in a plain, where movement is unhindered. Winding rivers creep in from the sides. Bordering the plain is some heavy growth roughage, where movement gets a bit slower, making the party more vulnerable to attack. Beyond the roughage is deep forest, which obscures visibility and beyond that are impassible mountains.
I feel a definite sense of danger the farther I wander outside of the open plain. However, it is clear that I will need to explore the darker, more confined spaces of the game if I am ever to get anywhere. I think these elements add up to a more active world map, rather than a passive one of many of Exodus' NES contemporaries. Though the Exodus map is rather small, in comparison.
Exodus is not without its many flaws. Of which, I forgive all. I am happily biased, and give the game the benefit of the doubt at every turn. After all, this was an important and formative game for me, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But hey, just for fun, I'll list a few of these flaws and make excuses for each of them.
Most of the character classes aren't worth playing. But they're still fun to build, and I appreciate having the option to explore the strengths and weaknesses of a class. The map is small, but well designed. The objectives are confusing, but the challenge to explore is its own reward. The story is non-existent, sort of. The difficulty at times seems as though its from bad design. Which is in the eye of the beholder, bad design can be viewed as another challenge to be overcome, if you so choose. And I do.
Read Part 1 of my Ultima Exodus review.