Saturday, 26 July 2008

#22 - Robot Commando

When I picked up Robot Commando, I got ridiculously excited - just look at that cover! It's a dinosaur biting what looks like a Transformer, and the title combines the best of what I loved as an '80s kid - robots and Commando. Oh, and I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Completely bonkers.

So I was pretty thrilled to realise that unlike some other FF books, the cover showed exactly what was inside - actually, it failed to mention that not only are there robots fighting dinosaurs in a Schwarzenagger-esque one-man mission to save the world, but you actually wear the robot. (It was a toss-up between that and The Simpsons for that link...)

Basically, your planet has been invaded by an alien race, and they've put everyone to sleep - except you, somehow. It's your job to defeat the invading army, singlehandedly, whilst avoiding being killed by the dinosaurs that roam the planet you call home.

Truly awesome.

So, I rolled 11/18/9, grabbed a standard 'cowboy' model robot and beelined for the City of Knowledge - figuring I'd need to know what I'd need before hitting up the City of Industry. On the way to the CoK, I killed a pteranodon, and soon came across a digger, apparently a potential replacement for my current robot. Well, we have diggers on Earth, and they're nowhere near as exciting as wearable cowboy robots.

Once at the CoK, I went to the interestingly named 'War College'. We don't have those on Earth, at least not in this part of the world, and it sounded useful. We're at war, and I'm wearing a giant robot, remember.

I was soon attacked by a Karossean (the bad guys), whom I defeated... I went to check out his remains, when he self-destructed and destroyed my robot... which without, I was quickly dispatched by the other Karosseans.

Hmmm. I counted this within the 'restart' boundary, and err, restarted. With the same rolls, as I was pretty happy with those.

So, I quickly made it back to the same spot, killed him, and continued onto the War College. The Karosseans were closing in, and I only had time to read one book - I chose the one called 'Emergency Procedures', considering I was in an emergency, and it was useless. Damn. I escaped, jumping into one of their robots - the Starscream model, I suppose - and escaped.

I went to the Medical College, and made a potion - the antidote to the sleeping virus! I could only make one litre, and it was so volatile it could only be used once. Hmmm. Somehow knowing this jar would still be usefel, I took it with me. There were weird noises, so I bolted.

Next up was the museum, and I went to the Karossean cultural display, to learn about these assholes. I found a dead one, stole his uniform - I assume we fit their clothes? - and soon realised they'd been messing about with the T-Rex exhibit. Hmmm.. must be time to bail this place too!

Onto the dinosaur preserve. I didn't find anything in the admin department (Yeah, I found a freakin' dinosaur preserve, and the first thing I did was check out the freakin' admin dept), but in the barn was a super cowboy robot. If there's one thing better than a cowboy robot or a wearable Starscream, it's something prefixed 'super'.

The dino reserve itself contained vicious Triceratops, plural (however you do it), so I left there. One thing the super cowboy robot couldn't do was fly, damnit. It was one of those times I felt like something was just out of reach due to an idiot ('wow, it has 'super' in the name') decision earlier on.

Next up I travelled to the City of Industry, and it was significantly more boring than the City of Knowledge, much to my surprise. I got my robot touched up a but, got hit on the head by a falling book, and found an ape who did my robot some further fixing.

Okay, no rocket add-ons or super heavy-duty robots? Anyway, onto the City of Pleasure, something to alleive the dull monotony of industry.

Once there, being the geek I am I went straight to the arcade, and a game called Wasp Fighter, which proved that playing games is good for you - my skill against robots increased by one. Bouyed, I played Dinosaur Hunter next, which was fun, then 'Zap the Karossean'. This one was broken, and zapped me back.

Onto the City of Jungles, where I found a serpent robot.

If this entry's getting a little dull, it's because around here the book did for me too. It started so damn well, and I'm not sure exactly what wrong. I think a little freedom is great in FF books, but perhaps this one went a little too far - I was eventually killed in the Capitol City, after being asked for the return call by some Karosseans, and failing. It was a pretty dull end to an adventure that opened so excitingly, but got far too open and wide far too quickly, without a focus or clue as to just how defeating the invaders would be achieved.

I think this book has the real potential to be a classic, for someone willing to buckle down and nut it out - but for a casual stroll, it's too open. It's obvious there's a huge amount to do, places to go, choices to make and paths to follow - and for this, Steve Jackson #2 has to be applauded.

So if you're just in the mood to have a romp through a land full of robot-wearing commandos and loose dinosaurs (to be honest, who is never in the mood for that?!), Robot Commando is perfect. If you're in the mood for a deep, open and mysterious FF adventure, ditto.

But if focus and a linear plot is what you're after, or perhaps a quick read, go elsewhere.

Perhaps tonight, I was just in the mood for something quicker! Any way you look at it, I'm on a bad run at the moment... and I won't be passing Masks of Mayhem, #23, as it's the first gap in my collection, and hasn't been republished in the current series. I picked up Legend of Zagor the other day from Borders, though I'm several months from visiting that one at the moment.

So: all in all, Robot Commando is good if you have the time and patience to give it a decent shot; and a robot made of whatever the Terminator is.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

#21 - Trial Of Champions

Unlike others, I wouldn't call Trial Of Champions a sequel to Deathtrap Dungeon - it's not as if you're playing the same character with the same motivations or anything. This is probably just as well, as I doubt a corpse would get very far.

This time around you're a slave belonging to the maze owner's brother, Lord Carnass, and he wants a strong contender to represent him in the competition, to stick it to his bro', as all brothers do. Apparently someone won it the year before (not me, mind you) so Baron Sukumvit redesigned the competition from scratch to make it more evil.

Carnass has 42 slaves, but can only send one for some reason, so puts us all through challenges - not like a trial, to be honest, as the losers are put to death, if they're not dead already.

Sounds a little complex and two-parted, huh? Well, that's nothing compared to the adventure sheet. Just skill, stamina, luck, some boxes for fights, and one for equipment/notes. No food, magic, treasure, nothing. Sensing fisticuffs would feature heavily, without even a mention of weaponry in the intro I was glad to roll 12 skill, 21 stamina and 11 luck. Though, somewhat ironically, these high rolls would result in my eventual downfall.

I survived the first test - running on hot coals with a sack of rocks on my back, thanks to a technique I developed long ago while at high school - the slower you run, the less energy you lose. Next up, I had a choice of going into battle with either a sword and shield, or a net and trident. When faced with such a choice, always choose the quirky gear, 'cause you're bound to be facing an opponent whose weaknesses match, and this was no different.

What did amuse me was the name of the creature - Bonecrusher. I had a snail by that name when I was a little one.

Anyway, the next challenge was dodging spinning blades, and a skill of 12 certainly came in handy here. So many times I was faced with challenges of skill, and every time I came out of feeling like I must've been wearing my undies on the outside and a cape. Even a blindfolded fight with morning stars went my way without trouble, as did the final battle against the last other slave alive. Lord Carnuss really should've thought about how much money he was losing with each death!

So although I doubt the chances of making it through this part of the book were 1/42, I still felt pretty good, and even better so when a week of gorging and living in luxury restored my stamina to its initial level. I know in real life when I gorge and live luxuriously, the opposite happens.

Into the dungeon I went, second in line, but obviously whoever went in first was chicken - they didn't even open the door with the 'keep out' sign. I did, killed the hellhound, and found a gold ring. Sweet. I wasn't given the option to wear it and lose skill points, so I figured it must be useful.

Next up I found a bunch of spears hanging from the ceiling, so took one. No, it didn't seem scary at all, for some reason. So far so fail, Sukumvit, I was thinking, till a random crossbow bolt took a skill point off me. Damn you, Livingstone! Yep, when things are going well, it's Sukumvit's fault, when they go badly, it's Livingstone's.

Next up I found some orcs having a dagger-throwing contest, which was unlucky, as I was a much bigger target than the rat they were using before. Oddly, the dagger I had to rip from my arm only did 2 stamina damage; I assume it hit my muscly arm, while the crossbow bolt hit that arm of mine which is directly attached to my heart, or something.

Killed them, took the breastplate, got my skill point back and eventually came across a little mischevious-looking dude in a glass bowl. I should've guessed, but he was a thief and stole my pouch, where I was keeping my gold ring. Bastard! Oddly enough, later on I came across a bell, rang it, and a dove delivered me a gold ring (once again, not one I had the option of wearing); so I figure owning a gold ring must've been important at some point in the book, not that I got to find out.

As if to balance the universe, I then randomly, without much effort stumbled across a magic sword. Now, no indication was given in the text how I knew it was a magic sword - no mention was made of lightning bolts firing out the end or an eerie glow, and I didn't get any increase in skill. What a lame magic sword.

It was even lamer when I came up against a 'Skeleton King' (what, the skeleton king? Weren't the skeleton serfs annoyed their king was living in an amusement park? A deadly amusement park, but one nonetheless?) and I was told that unless I had a hammer, I'd do only one point of damage with each hit. What, a hammer can do two, but a magic fucking sword can only do one? Eh?!

Anyway, before that encounter I did come across a couple of his subjects lounging about, posing riddles. One pointed to the other, and said: "Brothers and sisters I have none, but this man's father is my father's son." I know this is an ages-old riddle, and I should've known the answer right off, but I've been looking at family trees regularly while playing my newly-acquired Medieval II: Total War, and got a little confused, 'cause 'sister' wasn't an option. Eventually my graph (yeah, I know it shouldn't have taken this much thinking) showed me the answer, and I got an iron key for my troubles.

Alright, it's a planned maze, I figure the placement of probably essential items in artificialy situations is probably fair, this time!

So eventually I come across Buddha, except he's masquerading under the name 'Trialmaster'. I beat his caveman in tug-of-war, solved his junior school maths problem and beat him in a bout of kendo. Once again, or perhaps even thrice, it helped having a skill level of 12.

Skipping past a fountain (too obvious, Livingstone, surely!) I defeated the aforementioned Skeleton King and killed a giant worm (I should have known better than to open a grill on the floor, I mean, really...). Still, given the option to check out its lair, I was game. I found a sheet of paper in a bottle with the sentence: "There is a door behind the pile of stones." Strangely, the text told me this made no sense. Odd, cause I know what door means, I know what behind means, I know what stones are, and I've already proved I can do maths and solve riddles - I'm not just an idiot slave, damnit!

It wasn't long before I found the pile of rocks, and the door was right there, behind it, mentioned in the same damn paragraph. Some help, condescending previous location!

I wandered in and found an elf being eaten by a giant tongue. This was the first contact I'd had with another contestant - unlike Deathtrap Dungeon, this was a pretty solitary adventure. Maybe it was written as such, and when it didn't fill 400 pages, the trial was added? Or maybe the trial bloated, so the trip inside the dungeon was simplified? I mean, so far it seemed the only essential thing I'd need would be a gold key! And some brains...

Anyway, I went through the mouth where the tongue was, and heard some music. I slap my forehead now, but being a music geek, I decided to check it out - apparently it was real good! Yeah, I temporarily forgot I was the FF world. It was a siren.

And here's where having a skill of 12 paid off badly! I was heading towards her when a tentacle or something grabbed my leg, pulling me under. I rolled equal to or lower than my skill level, of course, throwing it off and continuing onwards toward doom.

If only I'd rolled a 13 or something, damnit! I had a quick viddy and saw that failing would've saved me, most likely. Dang. I have to say, well played Livingstone. Nice twist.

I think perhaps although Deathtrap Dungeon was definitely better in atmosphere and structure, Trial Of Champions pips it for playability and style. It's easier - maybe not to finish, I can't say as I didn't complete either, but it didn't seem like there were too many die/pass 50/50s. I wouldn't know if I happened to choose the correct way each time though, of course. I also feel like it wouldn't take too many attempts to complete, with decent dice rolls, while Deathtrap seems very particular about what you do.

Overall, I'd say Deathtrap Dungeon was better, but Trial Of Champions more fun. It's like comparing Pinkerton to The Red Album - on any given day I'll chuck on the latter, but every now and then, but only when the time is right, I'll pull out the former and deal with the full-on version.

Or something...!?

My cover's the same as above, but has a '21' in a yellow oval in the top right. I'm not sure what this means, except to guess perhaps they were celebrating FF's 21st. Inside the front cover Crypt of the Sorcerer and Beneath Nightmare Castle are advertised, so I suppose it's a later printing?

Pretty good overall, but a few less 'you find a door - do you open it?' scenarious would've been better.

I'm only one book from my first missing one now, which is #23, Masks Of Mayhem.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

#20 - Sword of the Samurai

It's pretty obvious from the title what Sword of the Samurai is going to be about, but for some reason I assumed it'd be Earth-based. Samurai seems a very specific area to me, not like the generic early-medieval settings of most books that has been used for many a fantasy setting.

But we'd be living in a pretty boring world if it weren't for Japan, and I suppose Allansia is the same!

You're a champion samurai tasked with retrieving the stolen 'Singing Sword' from Ikiru, who lives in the regretfully-named 'Pit of Demons'. The holder of the sword (excuse the pun) weilds extreme power, and as you've probably guessed, Ikiru's a bad guy. Who else would live in a place called 'Pit of Demons'?

Perhaps Ikiru's a good guy whom people just don't trust because he chooses to live in a place called 'Pit of Demons'. If it was known as, I don't know, 'The Valley of Fallen Angels' people wouldn't say so many bad things about him.

Anyway, I chose the skill of ni-to-kenjutsu, which is the skill of fighting with two swords at once. I chose it based on the cover (that's my cover, the one above), assuming at some point I'd have to face an undead samurai with two swords. I chose well - Sword of the Samurai is a hard, relentless non-stop barrage of battles, few of which are easy. I rolled 10-24-9, which was pretty good, but the ni-to-kenjutsu certainly came in handy. I went down to a single stamina point on more than occasion!

Heading off, I went west, planning to go through the 'Forest of Shadows'. Typical Allansian name I thought, kind of glad nothing was named in Japanese or I'd have no idea what I was in for. In this case, I was prepared for shadows, but came across a wingless dragon. More on that later.

First I came across a burning village, and being a samurai, figured I should probably do something. It would be the honourable thing to do, after all, and seeing as I had an honour score, I decided buggering off would only lead to the dark side.

A bandit fighting for the warlord Tientsen attacked me on the way there, it was a tough fight but I prevailed. Stamina was in short supply, so I sat to eat two meals. I wonder how many died while I was sitting around eating? It's not like the book punishes you though, so it didn't matter really. The village was in some kind of quantam state, you could say - the number of villagers raped and pillaged wouldn't change regardless of how long it took me to get there!

When I did though, I challenged each of the bandits to a one-on-one duel, not so much because it'd be honourable, but 'cause I didn't want to fight an entire brigade of bandits. It was a bluff, you could say, but they took it. I easily slayed three, the rest ran away, and the villagers caught one - Moichi - whose life I spared. He became my annoying sidekick, and much to his dismay, I decided to raid his former master's castle and avenge the village.

What was my original mission again? Meh! By now I was just looking to get as high an honour score as possible.

We lied our way past a bunch of guards, which were basically hairy, ugly and fat orcs but to keep in the spirit of the book were called shikome. According to Wikipedia, a shikome was a 'fierce and wild woman'. Maybe these guards were fiercer, wilder and more lesbian than others?

Anyway, they led us into the castle, we slayed them, but Moichi was wounded. We then found Tientsen, killed his bodyguards and then him, and Moichi got wounded again. I decided to eat some more food, but didn't give Moichi any - I would have, but the book didn't say how. That must have been an awkward moment.

I slipped on Tientsen's armour, which was described to me as being far 'superior' to my previous armour, but it's not like the book gave me a bonus at all. I might've been stingy not giving Moichi any food, but I wasn't the only one!

Next thing we know, we meet a forty-foot centipede, which I assume must've been common in medieval Japan...? It bit off Moichi's arm, and no amount of food was going to fix that, so I felt justified (but not exactly honourable) in not giving him any. If he needed food that badly, he should have bought his own.

After killing the centipede, I found a few objects - a helmet, some liquid and a fan. The fan was pretty and harmless, and the liqiud restored my stamina like a Red Bull. I figured in a bunch of items like this, there's always going to be one bad thing, and my fighting was pretty solid, so left the helmet.

So! Onto the Forest of Shadows, finally. To be honest, the rest of the book went so quickly I would've felt ripped off had I paid $20 for this back in the day and not gone to Tientsen's castle.

In the forest, I was approached by the aforementioned wingless dragon, and asked to solve the following riddle:

In marble halls as white as milk,
Lined with skin as soft as silk,
Within a fountain crystal clear
A golden apple doth appear.
No doors are there to this stronghold,
Yet thieves break in and steal the gold.

Now, according to (what the hell is an American riddle doing in a Japanese-style fantasy world?) the answer to the riddle is 'egg'. Which is weird, because that's not the answer I guessesd, which was 'pearl', but adding up the numbers (A=1, B=2, etc) I turned to a page where the wingless dragon congratulated me on my success. I'm as confused as you are.

Anyway, wandering on I fought an undead samurai (well, what do you know), then was besieged by six skeletons, but I was able to position myself so I'd only have to fight three at a time. I love how in FF whenever you're attacked by a large group, it's always in a narrow hall, or a corner, or a doorway, so you only have to fight one at a time, or at least less than the entire group. On this occasion, I was on a narrow bridge, and only had to fight three at a time. Strangely enough, they came in two groups of three - so the second three waited for me to dispatch the previous gang, instead of replacing them as they went. How kind.

Still, down to one stamina point I decided to camp out amongst the bones and eat four meals. I assume in medieval fantasy parallel Japan all food comes in some kind of astronaut form.

Next up I'm in space somehow, surrounded by doors and being challenged by something or someone called Dai-Oni. I have to challenge him and his creatures, but first I get to collect my own creatures, Pokemon-style, by going through different doors into parallel universes and collecting creatures through honour, skill, previous findings, etc etc. It all sounds incredibly stupid and fake, and it is in a way, but it works somehow. I end up with a winged lion (the dragon must be pretty dam jealous), the wingless dragon, a sabre-toothed tiger and the Golden Company, a troop of soldiers.

Onto the battle, Dai-Oni sends in a toad - I send in the tiger, and it wins easily. He sends in a giant mantis, which is easily defeated by my wingless dragon. At this rate, I'll be Pokemon champion, I mean defeat him no worries!

Next thing, the book asks me which I want to use next - which is weird, cause it seems to know exactly what I would have. Weird, I must've chosen the exact perfect path out of all the options. Nice. The Golden Company then kill his giant, Gargantus, and I go up against Dai-Oni - me SK10, ST11, him SK10, ST10. Lucky dice rolls get me past him relatively unscarred, and in his dying breath he grants me one wish.

Hmmm - reverting to my honourable ways, I, Darth Vader-style, ask him to join or assist me in my quest. He gives me two luck, which I didn't really need, and dies. Hmmm.

Onto Ikiru, who makes a similar offer to me - join him and rule, or die. I choose to die. Well, I didn't have much choice - my high honour prevented me from joining the dark side, and my low stamina prevented me from staying alive once we began fisticuffs.

Oh yeah, that, and the loss of 2 SK, 4 ST and 2 luck that immediately preceded the 'battle'. Talk about a crap way to end, it left a real sour taste coming this far only to be mortally crippled right before the final battle. I was out of food (would I be allowed to eat here?) and reduced to a single stamina point. Some ending.

Maybe if I knew the secret of the Singing Sword I wouldn't have ended so ingloriously - but a quick check reveals that there was a 1-in-3 chance of getting this info (I won't say where from) which is a bit tough, really. The pre-fight docking of points all but renders the final battle impossible considering what has come before it otherwise!

So, all-in-all, it wasn't too bad, if a little heavy on the fighting, dice-rolling side of things. I did like the inclusion of a riddle that required real-world smarts, even if I fluked a wrong answer that happened to add up, haha!

If you're wondering why I didn't post last weekend, it's cause I held a Star Wars ultramarathon for my birthday, so my entire Saturday (10am till just past midnight) was taken up with Star Wars. And yes, it was totally worth it.