Uncharted Waters

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Uncharted Waters (originally known as Age of the Great Voyages) is a series of Japanese privateer/trader video games set in The Cavalier Years. The first game was developed by Koei in 1991 (for MSX and NES, and later for Sega Genesis, Super NES, and the PC). The second installment, Uncharted Waters II: New Horizons, followed in 1994 on NEC PC 98, SNES, and Genesis, later ported to PC, Sega Saturn, and PlayStation. Unfortunately, the second game was the last to be officially translated into English. Two more sequels, a Gaiden Game, and a MMORPG based in the setting never made it out of Japan. However, as of October of 2010, the MMORPG is in an open beta for the English speaking world.

Gameplay-wise, the series is a Wide Open Sandbox with RPG Elements in it. You play as an owner of a small fleet (up to 5 ships in the first game, up to 10 in the second) and are free to engage in any kind of activity on the high seas: trade, gambling, ship pimping, piracy, treasure hunting, exploration, even global politics, once you have the money (and firepower) to. What set the first game apart from its Western competitor Sid Meier's Pirates! was the sheer size of the game world: instead of being confined to the Carribbean, you have the entire world to explore. The exploration gameplay was further enhanced in the second game, where you could sell the maps of your voyages, find natural and cultural wonders around the world, and look for even more treasures. The underlying gameplay mechanic involves ship management (crew, supplies, captains, repairs), character evolution (both the PC and the captains you hire), port development (trade balance, investments), and maneuvering between the major factions (Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and pirates in the first game; England, Holland, and Italy join the club in the second). It's pretty complex but not excessively so.

Storywise, the first game follows Leon Franco, a young Portuguese sailor whose father invested all his money into a voyage to India, hoping to make a fortune selling spices, but died on the way back. Only his trusted First Mate Rocco Alemkel made it back to Portugal with a small boat to tell the tale. And thus, young Leon has to assume command and to take on the rough seas of the Wooden Ships and Iron Men era. Starting with small errands for the local merchants and collectors, Leon's fame eventually reaches the King of Portugal, who becomes his exclusive Quest Giver. The final mission, of course, involves saving the King's only daughter, whom Leon had the chance to woo earlier.

The second game takes place some 20 years after the first one and follows six main characters, each with their unique (and sometimes overlapping) storyline. Additionally, there are now three kinds of fame: explorer (gained by discovering world wonders and remote ports and selling maps), piracy (gained by defeating enemy fleets, even if it is not, technically, piracy), and trade (gained by investing large sums into ports and fulfilling fetch quests), with each character having to build up one of them to advance their respective story.

  • Joao Franco, Portuguese explorer and Leon's son, who is effectively kicked out by his father soon after coming of age, in order to achieve fame as a sailor of his own. Although he is considered an explorer, he is really a jack of all trades, as his storyline involves both trade and naval battles.
  • Catalina Erantzo, a pirate from Spain, out to avenge the deaths of her brother and her fiancee at the hands of the Franco family (or so she believes). A Fiery Redhead, she has the best (initial) combat skills of all six characters but starts the game with a literal armada of privateers on her tail.
  • Otto Baynes, an English Privateer on a secret mission by Henry VII to defeat the Spanish Armada and prevent the Spanish domination of the Atlantic.
  • Ernst von Bohr, a Dutch explorer and cartographer aiming to compile a map of the entire world for his buddy Gerardus Mercator.
  • Pietro Conti, an Italian explorer and treasure hunter, who inherited astronomic debts from his father and seeks ancient treasures to repay them.
  • Ali Vezas, a Turkish trader who grew up in extreme poverty but slowly makes his way to the richest merchant in the Mediterranean, while searching for his long-lost sister.

The first two games can be downloaded from various internet sites like Abandonia.com, and run perfectly smoothly in DOSBox on modern systems. Go get them.

Tropes used in Uncharted Waters include:
  • Anachronism Stew: New Horizons, set in 1522, references the "Spanish Armada", which didn't exist for another 65 years, and features Henry VII, who died in 1509, and Gerardus Mercator, who was 10 years old at the time.
    • You can also buy a marine chronometer 150 years before its invention.
  • Alliance Meter: The relationships between the major naval powers are tracked on separate meters. If your relationship with a country is good, you will be given free entry into their ports and their fleets will offer you helpful advice when met out at sea. Hostile relationships will result in you being denied entry and attacked on sight by enemy war fleets. And if it gets really bad, they will come after you in force.
  • Badass Spaniard: Catalina, full stop. Also, pretty much every Spanish battle fleet has a tough asskicker for a captain, and even Spanish merchants can sometimes hand your ass back to you.
  • Boarding Party: The two basic means to attack another ship in a sea battle is either shooting them from afar with your cannons or "rushing" them, that is, going into hand to hand combat. Also, in the second game, "rushing" the enemy flagship gives you an option to challenge their captain to a sword duel.
  • But Thou Must!: Regardless of how you play in the first game, at some point, you will be asked to buy "14 lots of Coral", which can only be accomplished by traveling to the New World. Also, to achieve the highest nobility ranks, the King of Portugal will inevitably ask you to defeat powerful pirates or opposing factions' captains, even if you were going a pure merchant route before. Finally, the last mission is always a battle against a pirate fleet for the princess.
  • The Captain: You.
  • Cartography Sidequest: Main quest for Ernst, but played straight for other characters in the second game, especially those of the explorer background.
  • The Cavalier Years: The games are set in the beginning of the 16th century.
  • Combat by Champion: The duels between two fleets' captains in the second game can decide the outcome of a naval battle in a single round without having to damage your ships much. In fact, this can become quite a Game Breaker, e.g. when playing Pietro (whose swordplay skill is pretty high for some reason), you eventually gain enough money to afford the best armor and swords in the game. Which, in conjunction with the fact that explorers generally have very fast and maneuverable ships, unexpectedly makes him the deadliest man in the high seas.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Good luck waiting for the pursuing AI fleets to run out of supplies and go home.
  • Cool Boat: Quite a few, especially in the second game, but very few compare to the Heavy Galleons from the first one. Those are so awesome, no port in the world builds them in the beginning of the game and you first need to invest LOTS of money to even get a shot at building one of those brutes.
  • Crutch Character: Joao's First Mate Rocco Alemkel, having served under his father, starts off with a crazy character level. Later in the game, when they are attacked by Catalina, Rocco steals the spotlight to duel her (even if you've built Joao as a fencer and he can fend for himself).
  • Cutting Off the Branches: The first game has three endings: Leon marries the princess and becomes the heir apparent; Leon marries the princess but remains a "mere" duke; or Leon rejects the princess, instead choosing the seafaring career. The second game establishes that only the second is canon.
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment: You can buy used ships and remodel them, but for a really Cool Boat, you need to commission one yourself.
  • Damsel in Distress: The princess in the end of the first game.
  • An Entrepreneur Is You: In the first game, you will most likely begin by making the relatively simple sugar-porcelain runs between Lisbon and Bordeaux and go on from there until you have five carracks full of gold. Also, in the second game, pretty much the entire Ali storyline.
  • Expy: The Loveable Rogue Pietro Conti bears uncanny resemblance to Han Solo.
  • Fiery Redhead: Both Catalina and Pietro are red-headed and short-tempered.
  • Gaiden Game: Daikoukai Jidai Gaiden.
  • Historical Domain Character: Quite a few, especially in the second game.
  • Hot Chick with a Sword: Catalina. Damn hot and a swordplay stat of 92 (our of 100 maximum) at the beginning of the game.
  • Hot Mom: Joao's mom is quite a looker.
  • Informed Ability: Joao playing a lute.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Ali.
  • Market-Based Title: The original Japanese title of the game series was Dai-kōkai jidai (Age of the Great Voyages) but "Uncharted Waters" does sound better in English.
  • Number Two: The first game had Rocco Alemkel, a bearded Boisterous Bruiser who couldn't navigate his own ship but always followed Leon (as opposed to hired navigators who could desert you with their ships if their loyalty wavered). In the second game, you had number two (First Mate), number three (Book Keeper), and number four (Chief Navigator) in your Player Party.
  • The Original Series: The first game was titled simply Uncharted Waters.
  • Pirate: Where do we start?
  • Pirate Booty: The loot from destroying an enemy fleet usually consists of a large sum of money (how large depends on the level of its captain), some water, food, and lumber (essential if you go on a killing spree because large warship crews consume supplies like no tomorrow), and either a stockpile of goods or some valuable jewerly (depending on whether the victim is a merchant or a battle fleet, respectively). Jewelry is especially useful in the first game, since you can present it to the princess and receive 10k gold the next day from her dad. The only problem was that you could only carry one piece of each jewelry type at once, but that was fixed in the second installment.
    • The most lucrative booty, though, may be the enemy ships themselves. You need enough surplus crew to man both them and your own ships, extra navigators to command them, and the ability to defeat the enemy fleet without sinking all their ships. Still, they can wind up getting you a small fortune.
  • Pirate Girl: Catalina, though she is pretty much the only female captain in both games.
  • Player Party: To steer more than one ship, you need to hire a mate to serve as her captain. Also, the second game had three additional positions for your mates, First Mate, Book Keeper, and Chief Navigator, who possess skills that the PC doesn't (e.g. haggling and celestial navigation if the PC specializes in combat).
  • Point and Click Map: Only in ports, and only in the first game. The second instead went for a navigable Three Quarters View.
  • Privateer: Otto Baynes.
  • Relationship Values: All hired navigators have a Loyalty score, which can be increased by distributing spare cash but decreases sharply if your fleet falls onto hard times.
  • Romance Sidequest: Romancing the princess in the first game was optional but brought you considerable material gain if you did it consistently. In the second game, you can romance the waitresses in various bars.
  • RPG Elements: Actually, the games have enough customization to be considered full RPG: you and your mates have stats, levels, and skills; your ships come in different types, configurations, and upgrades; there are items that greatly affect the gameplay, etc.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Catalina is the only female captain in the entire second game (and there were no female captains in the first one at all), but this is Justified by the setting. The female presence in the games is mostly limited to various waitresses (each with her unique appearance), but there are a handful of plot-relevant women, as well, e.g. the Princess in the first game, Ali's sister, and Ernst's Chinese girlfriend in the second.
  • So Long and Thanks For All the Gear: If you hit a particularly hard luck, you will notice that your navigator's loyalty is dropping, and when it falls all the way down to 30-40%, one of them (if not more) will certainly desert you, taking his ship (as well as whatever cargo and crew it was carrying) with him, never to be seen again.
  • Time Skip: Between the first two games.
  • Three Quarters View: The navigation inside port towns in the second game. In the first one, you just clicked wherever you wanted to go to.
  • Treasure Map: In a particularly nice touch, a treasure map appears just like your own global map so if your visual memory (or geography knowledge) is good enough, you can find the location of the treasure just by looking at it. Otherwise, you can ask around in bars (first game) or cartographer guilds (second game) for approximate coordinates of the location.
  • Undying Loyalty: Plot-relevant party members in the second game will never abandon you (except for plot reasons).
  • White-Haired Pretty Boy: Ernst. Also, Joao, though he is more naturally blond than white-haired.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: Really wide. Like, the entire world wide.
  • With This Herring: Played with in Pietro's route and double-subverted in Otto's.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: Always check your supplies before leaving ports.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: And how.
  • You Lose At Zero Trust: If your navigator's Loyalty drops to 40% or lower, you are running a high risk of them pulling a So Long and Thanks For All the Gear on you.