Website content – M&M Chronicles Celebrating 25 years of Might & Magic

Part 1: The Sheltem Saga

The Might & Magic saga started in 1986 with the release of Might & Magic Book 1: Secret of the Inner Sanctum on Apple II (and later other computers). Created almost single-handedly by Jon Van Caneghem, Might & Magic was a first-person RPG in the tradition of classics like Wizardry or The Bard’s Tale - but instead of confining the player to some obscure maze of caves and dungeons, Might & Magic featured a vast open world, with forests and mountains and castles and cities, a land of mysteries and wonders – and a great sense of humor, too. It also introduced many legendary characters such as Lord Kilburn and Crag Hack, who would later enjoy recurring appearances in one form or another throughout the next installments of the series.

Some images from the DOS version of the original Might & Magic. Those graphics were state-of-the-art at the time.

This first quest took place in the land of Varn, pitting the players against an impostor masquerading as the good King Alamar. This usurper turned out to be Sheltem, an intergalactic Guardian gone mad and rampaging throughout the cosmos. The old Might & Magic universe was not your classic fantasy setting: it possessed a sci-fi background prefiguring the Stargate movie and TV series. The storyline of the early games revolved around an advanced race of precursors, the Ancients, who had built arteficial fantasy worlds linked together by an intricate web of galactic portals.

Might & Magic was the first game released by Jan Von Caneghem’s company, New World Computing. NWC would continue to produce Might & Magic games until 2003.

Might & Magic II – Gates to Another World (DOS version).

Might & Magic Book II – Gates to Another World followed, improving the graphics and transporting the players to a new world: Cron. Then, three years later, in 1991, came Might & Magic III – Isles of Terra, which was the series' breakthrough entry. A new and colorful world, greater accessibility thanks to a brand new, simpler interface (entirely controlled with the mouse), not to mention tons of quests and monsters: Isles of Terra is considered a timeless classic of the RPG genre. The Might & Magic series introduced numerous concepts that were considered revolutionary at the time, such as the automap feature and a generator of items using prefixes and suffixes (“Power Broadsword of Incinerating”, anyone?).

Might & Magic III – Isles of Terra (DOS version).

Might & Magic IV and V followed in 1993 and 1994, building on the strong foundations established by the third episode. These two full-fledged games heralded a new concept: one took place on the Clouds of Xeen, the other on the Darkside of Xeen. If both games were installed, they would combine to create the World of Xeen, one single, giant playground with extra quests and dungeons.

Some cool enemies from Might & Magic IV – Clouds of Xeen.

The World of Xeen arc also concluded the storyline initiated in the very first episode: Sheltem was finally defeated for good by his archenemy, Corak, during a climatic battle. Interesting piece of trivia: Might & Magic V introduced the Necropolis (including the first incarnation of the Great Lich, Sandro). Necropolis would become a popular faction in the subsequent Heroes games and is still alive (well, undead) and kicking in Might & Magic: Heroes VI.

The sci-fi component of the old Might & Magic games is very visible in Might & Magic V – Darkside of Xeen. On the right, Sheltem, the series’ first great villain, is pictured, about to make his last stand.

Some notes about the console versions:

The first three episodes of Might & Magic also received several interesting ports on various consoles. The first game was released on the NES and the PC-Engine (a.k.a. TurboGrafx-16 in North America). This PC-Engine version featured new character designs by manga legend Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (Gundam), with a soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi (best known for his work for movie-makers Takeshi Kitano and Hayao Miyazaki). Unfortunately, this version was never released outside Japan.

Left image: the NES version of Might & Magic. Middle image: the PC-Engine version (beautiful but sadly only available in Japanese). Right image: the cover art of the PC-Engine version, drawn by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.

Might & Magic II was released on Mega Drive (Genesis) and Super Nintendo.

Left pictures: the Mega Drive version of Might & Magic II. The barbarian hero Crag Hack appears on the back cover of this version. Right picture: Might & Magic II on the Super Nintendo.

And finally Might & Magic III also had a few ports, on Super Nintendo and again on PC-Engine, this time featuring work from Akihiro Yamada, a famous illustrator sometimes referred to as “the Japanese master of fantasy”.

Some pictures from the PC-Engine version of Might & Magic III, including the cover art for the game, drawn by Akihiro Yamada.