In the annals of RPG gaming, few series can boast of being "pioneers" of the genre more than SSI with its "Gold Box" series, all based on AD&D mechanics and worlds licensed from TSR. Of these, four games set in the "Forgotten Realms" world stand out as the best of the bunch. Comprising four games released over four years, Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Pools of Darkness remain a lot of fun even today as some of the most addictive - albeit maddeningly combat-ridden - RPGs ever created. Pools of Radiance and Pools of Darkness are my most favorite of the series. Pool of Radiance because it was a great beginning to a solid RPG system, and Pools of Darkness because it gives you a chance to meet famous NPCs from AD&D world, marvel at the non-linear storyline, and develop your heroes to very high levels. All four games are must-haves for RPG fans everywhere, although Secret of the Silver Blades is a disappointment compared to the rest. GameSpot's nice History of AD&D gives a good overview of Curse of Azure Bonds as follows: "Published in 1989, Curse of the Azure Bonds followed the story of Pool of Radiance with more monsters, treasure, character classes and level caps. Shortly after the defeat of Tyranthraxus the Flamed One and the destruction of the Pool of Radiance, the heroic party was waylaid, knocked out, and marked with the five mysterious azure bond images stamped just beneath the skin of each adventurer's arm. Your characters recovered consciousness in the town of Tilverton on the Dalelands. Before they could even begin to ascertain who or what had attacked them, they found themselves compelled beyond their will to attack the entourage of a false prince and were beset by the city guard. Fleeing to the thieves' guild beneath the sewers, the members of the party would then begin their arduous quest to hunt down the creators of each of the five magical bonds and ultimately free themselves of the curse. In terms of gameplay and structure, Curse of the Azure Bonds followed its predecessor more or less directly, though it broadened the path considerably. The already solid game system of Pool of Radiance benefited greatly from material that had hitherto been conspicuously missing, including the ability to advance to tenth level for clerics and eleventh level for magic-users (which meant that spells of up to fifth level were available), the ability to enlist characters of the more esoteric AD&D Paladin and Ranger (and with the latter, the line of Druid spells) character classes, and the option for human characters to dual-class."
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