My introduction to Dungeons and Dragons was at summer camp in 1995. I had briefly heard about the game before, but never got the chance to try it. And while my first time playing it came in at under an hour, I still enjoyed the hell out of it – especially since my fighter got to cleave a bandit in half because I rolled a 20. Then on Christmas that year I received a copy of Eye of the Beholder for my SNES, and I was excited to play it. It was a bit confusing, at first, and it took me six months to beat it the first time (because I kept restarting and changing up my party), but what an accomplishment it was.
The game, originally created for MS-DOS in 1990, was ported to the Super Nintendo in 1994. You view the game in first-person, and you move around on a grid-based 3D system. This was tedious and frustrating when I first played it, mainly because you use the D-pad to move a cursor around. This cursor controls EVERYTHING in the game – movement, attacks, spells, and the rest. Although I later found out that the Select button allows you to toggle between your party’s movement with the controller directly and the cursor. This helped immensely.
The plot of this game is rather basic – you are hired by the lords of Waterdeep to investigate an evil presence growing beneath the city. As you begin investigating the sewers, the entrance intentionally collapses, trapping you and your party underground. Your only chance of escape is to press on, and destroy this evil presence – all the while hoping another exit will present itself.
Before you start your adventure, you have to choose who is in your party. You decide on your characters’ sex, race, class, and alignment – and then choose their base stats. I had very little experience with this stuff prior to playing this game, so I ended up choosing whatever the hell looked good. As I got better at the game (and doing some research), I would restart and change my party completely, learning from my mistakes. For example, having a Fighter with high Strength is always a good thing, but not so much for a Cleric, who would better benefit from an increase in Wisdom, for quicker access to better spells.
Aside from your four party members, you can also recruit others to join your party. This can be done by either finding/rescuing an adventurer during your travels, or locating the skeletal remains of one. You can resurrect dead heroes with a Dwarven Cleric found halfway through the game, which in some cases, is worth it just for the dialogue you can have with that character…especially when you find Tyrra on Level 10 (she blames her death on the incompetent adventurers she was escorting).
Like in 95% of all RPGs, you fight enemies and complete quests for experience. There are also Special Quests, which I discovered completely by accident – I was exploring Level 4, when I came across a chain in the wall. Curiously, I pulled it, and heard a chime. I was then informed that I completed the “Special Quest” for this level. I later found a guide that told me every level in the game has a Special Quest, and sometimes you can get some neat items for completing them. I nearly lost my shit when I completed the Level 1 special quest, and received a knife called a “Guinsoo.”
Each level has different enemies, and they do get significantly tougher as you get deeper into the game. While the manual was very descriptive with each creature you face in the game, a lot of them caught me off guard when I first encountered them. The one that terrified me the most was the Mind Flayer – tall, octopus men who can use psychic attacks on your party, which prevent you from attacking.
There are many secret paths in this game, and a good chunk of them are a pain in the ass to find. The worst ones were on Levels 10-11, because the switches were the size of pebbles on the wall. I actually gave up on my gameplay once because of a switch I couldn’t find. It took me two weeks to get back into playing the game, and I did find the switch…but not without effort (and a lot of swearing). There is also a wall when you get to the last level that disappears after you throw an item at it. I only found this out when I got frustrated and just threw my weapons at the walls, out of sheer boredom.
There are also a lot of hazards in this game. Pitfalls, spiked floors, and even random fireballs are all waiting to ruin your adventuring. Once, I fell down a pit, which damaged my party (as expected) – but I ended up right in a Spider’s nest. Even though I killed the Spiders, two of my party members got poisoned, and I didn’t have any cures on me. I then got the others poisoned by encountering more Spiders in that maze. Needles to say, I was fucked.
During the first few levels, the music makes you feel adventurous, but as you get deeper and deeper underground, it becomes more intense and foreboding. Level 7 is where the game gets a lot darker – literally and figuratively. Not only do the enemies start carrying weapons that can paralyze you, the tunnels are also darker colors. It was very easy for me to get lost in those tunnels.
Having said all that, the one thing I loved the most about Eye of the Beholder was the sense of accomplishment I felt after achieving something I previously thought was too hard, such as finally defeating a particularly tough group of enemies, or locating one of the aforementioned secret paths in deeper levels that were notoriously difficult to find. As much as the game frustrated me, it also forced me to think differently – to consider options I didn’t know I had.
I played this game a lot during high school. I completed three playthroughs of the game in the last ten years. Even though I’ve gotten into other games since Eye of the Beholder – arguably, better ones – I would periodically come back to this game, place it into my SNES, and still have some fun playing it. Yes, it’s an obscure title for the SNES with a potentially better PC version, but I got it for Christmas that one year, and played the shit out of it. During those days, I was still experimenting with new video game genres, and would’ve tried anything new. And I’m glad I did with this one.
Eye of the Beholder – it’s fun, it’s frustrating, and it will leave its mark on you.