Celtic Tales - Balor of the Evil Eye is a game, which is, as it is called, inspired with Celtic legend of Balor. He was an enormously strong ruler of the underworld who led his Fomorianses (Fomors in the game), a tribe of giants, to terrorize the island of Eire. From that day, all Eire lived in fear and paid him in riches every year. There has to be one High Ruler who will unite entire Eire and lead people in battle against mighty Balor to defeat him once for all.
The game is brilliant, and quite an original turn-based strategy. It never made to the top mostly because KOEI didn't really try to put it through since they turned to console games at that time. Anyone who played KOEI’s previous games such as Romance of Three Kingdoms series (RTK 3 included on this site) will be pleased to see some changes in AI, graphics and whole isometric view in the game. When I first played this game, I didn't understand anything, but it was real fun to move little people around. However, the more I played it, the more I found out. There are some things that are very good for my taste. I like the reality. Well, no game is realistic, especially the one was inspired by a legend, but some things smoothly fit in.
Whole gameplay is done with mouse. Game is turn-based, which really means that every move is one month (13 months per year!). You give orders to your champions and they will spend next month according to your orders. Now, I mentioned "champions". Well, everything in land of Eire is going on with champions. They are the minions in your command. They do jobs in your provinces such as chopping trees, improving farmland and such. Number of your Champions is equal to the number of workers, and is also number of your troops. Inhabitants of Eire are here of course, but they follow a champion in battle, and if that champion is defeated, they don't fight anymore. I guess this could give you a feeling of old times because in legends you hear about individual heroes. Each champion has his own skills and character, and they act differently in different situations. Strength is probably most important, but it is like energy. Other skills can't improve, unless champion is carrying an item.
When I mentioned "realistic" I meant logic. We have here ancient Eire. First thing I liked a lot is that there is neither money nor gold in the game. Yap, no money at all. There are grain and cattle for food, and metal (read: stone) and trees for building. I found this cool because I doubt there were gold coins back then. You fight for glory, respect and fame. There are three kinds of champions: warriors, bards and druids. While bards and druids can perform different kinds of magic, warriors are experts in arms and duels. Two warriors can fight a duel, and then you can only watch how will it end. Don't hesitate to give a warrior job like cattle tending, or assign a druid to chopping trees. No matter what they do, their experience will grow and champions will increase their levels and therefore work or fight better. Naturally, battles give more experience than cattle tending. If there are more than 10 champions in a province, others will rest in citadel.
Whole Eire is divided into provinces, and in every province there is a village, citadel and tent. In the village you can see people's will, create items, move your champions to other provinces and so on. In the citadel you'll be able to attack other provinces, ask provinces controlled by other tribes to obey you instead, dismiss champion, etc. At the beginning, lots of champions roam the land of Eire. If a champion is currently in your province, you'll be able to talk to him or recruit him in your tent. He can decline, but you can learn some magic or fight a duel for experience. In these duels champions don't lose energy, but if you win, the opposing champion will join you. Besides paying druids to teach you spells, only other way to do this is to try and randomly use champion’s runes and see what happens. However, runes can be broken (and fixed later). If you attack a province, know that you can't take more than 7 champions. During the battle, weather can change and influence champion’s movement and seeing.
In provinces, you'll notice a little window with buttons (with pictures) in the upper left part of the screen. Clicking the champion will select him (right clicking will deselect him), and then you can issue orders with those buttons. First row is for working in province and resting, second is for hurling (important exercise), exploring, building, casting spells and eye is for help. Eye can be also turned on with right mouse button if no champion is selected. On the upper right part of the screen you can see info about your stock, people etc. It is not as complicated as it seems, but this is not one of those strategies where you'll lose right away if you don't do something right. No tribe has real homeland and if there is food, you'll last long. There are buttons on the left and right sides of the screen. You'll figure them out, except for council. Clicking it will bring you to your councils. You'll use the girl on the left very often in order to see what's going on in provinces that are currently known. After a battle there will be buttons for prisoners instead.
Danu, goddess of Eire will bless you on your way to defeat Balor right from the beginning. You get to choose one leader of 9 tribes (in Eire there are 18); you can still see info on certain tribe before choosing. More players can play at the same time but there is no net connection. You start in your province and you can change between four views according to the world sides (spot that "compass" in the down left). Actually, first thing that happens is Fomors tax payment, and you can choose to pay, bargain or fight in duel. If you fight, Fomor will most likely crush you. Well, no matter what, champions DON'T DIE (very rarely in the war they do). They just lose energy and will need to rest for couple of months. This goes for battles too. When champion is out of energy, he will be captured (this can happen in a cattle raid too) and may be exiled from Eire, join an enemy tribe, or get released back to you. This is not strange since it is better to release a good champion (if he doesn't want to join you) in order to recruit him later.
All in all, you should be a rightful ruler and build your tribe to be the strongest. In that way champions may join you and you can subordinate other tribes in a peaceful manner. Still, I doubt that lots of you will like this way, so there is still the option of conquering everything until there's only your tribe left. After some time you'll be able to defeat Fomors and Danu may show herself, but only when whole Eire is united you'll go to war against Balor. My advice is to let your warriors train ancient game of hurling, so their strength can increase along with their experience. In war, it is most likely that all champions from other tribes will join you after you completely defeat that tribe. There will be lots of things to deal with, but still you can just focus on something (like war or improving) and forget other stuff.
Graphics in this game are very nice. Special praise goes for portraits of champions, especially because they look authentic and they are not drawn in well-known Japanese style, which would probably be disastrous. Music is nice but sound effects are little raw. I think I never saw the worst sound setup. There are only 3 supported sound cards and there is no way to test them. Still if you don't have any of these offered cards, choose one and try to run the game. It might work. If not, try choosing another one. Although setup is bad it seems that it can make the game work with many sound cards.
This may not be the best strategic game that you ever played, but you'll probably admit that you never played a game with a concept like this. It may easily give you impression of ancient Eire's way of life. Tribes, certain happenings, many names and lots of other stuff are authentic, and taken from legends. If you are strategic fan or just have an interest in Celts, you should definitely try this one. If you are Irish, well, suit yourself.
The game works flawlessly with VDMsound, however, you will need to do some tweaking in order to run it smoothly in DosBox. First, run INSTALL.COM and set your sound blaster settings, then run KOEI.BAT.