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.


Ed said...

The riddle you mention was old when Tolkien included it in The Hobbit. It's probably not originally American, either.
As for the answer:
In marble halls as white as milk,
The eggshell. Must be a white egg.
Lined with skin as soft as silk,
The membrane inside the shell. Not sure a pearl contains such a membrane.
Within a fountain crystal clear
The white of the egg. Do pearls contain translucent fluid?
A golden apple doth appear.
The yolk. I guess the grain of sand that irritated the oyster and caused it to create the pearl could also be considered a 'golden apple', but it's not as good a match.
No doors are there to this stronghold,
Yet thieves break in and steal the gold.

Though the shell contains no openings, the egg is broken and the yolk eaten. Unless you're taking the 'marble walls' as being the oyster shell (in which case it'd have to be an albino oyster), there's no clear parallel.

Incidentally, giving the correct answer to the riddle would have taken you to a second riddle, which isn't about a pearl either, but has an answer of equal numerical value to 'pearl', so that was a seriously freaky coincidence.

As for the 1 in 3 chance of learning the secret of the sword, it is at least given as a clear option. By comparison with the climax of City of Thieves, where a completely random 1 in 3 guess makes the difference between certain death (not even a slim chance if the dice favour you, as you have here) and success, it's not so harsh.

Dan said...

I'm not sure why I thought pearl - the whole 'treasure-inside-something-that-is-probably-a-metaphor-for-something-natural' pattern that riddles often follow probably helped. I last read the Hobbit when I was about 12, to be honest.

But to randomly and wildly incorrectly guess 'pearl', and be taken to the same page as the correct guess to the second riddle is pretty bizarre!

It did confuse me as to why it was described as 'golden', and I briefly wondered if there was such a thing as a golden pearl, but I figured a treasure's a treasure, maybe it was more metaphorical than it actually was... still, pretty weird.

Dan said...

Oh, and I didn't think outright asking for the answer would work - and it seemed honourable to let him join me on the side of the jedi, so to speak, just like Luke does with Vader on his deathbed...

Anonymous said...

When I played through ss I got 'pearl' too!

The other choice led to different items, and different creatures. That was how the book knew which creatures you could and could not have.

Ian B said...

How odd,
I remeber playing this years ago and guessed the answer was "heart" and got the correct reference for the 2nd riddle. I only found I'd done this by coincidence years later.

Viagra Online Without Prescription said...

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Aussiesmurf said...

I actually really liked this adventure, particularly the 'drafting of allies' before the battle with the Dai-Oni.

I kept finding that the quasi-toad creature was actually one of the hardest to defeat, and often had several allies, all of which were promptly chomped up by him.

The correct question to ask the Dai-Oni was dead easy in my opinion.

Kish said...

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.

Yes and no. Yes, you did choose the right order to send them in--the first enemy is only vulnerable to the tiger or the serpent, the second is only vulnerable to fire, and the third to Eleanor the Enchantress or the Golden Company.

However, also, as soon as you chose to send the tiger against the first one, the book knew you couldn't have the serpent, the phoenix, or Eleanor, and you couldn't have gotten past the first enemy without using up the tiger.

Simon atford said...

Sorry to be a pedant but this book isn't set in Allansia. It's set in Khull, another continent of Titan.

Anonymous said...

Saw a load of these books at a bookfair and decided to buy them and relive my childhood. This is the first I've tackled and wow, I'm sure they weren't all this hard!?

I too guessed "pearl" for the dragon's riddle, but had my ass kicked by the samurai on the bridge shortly after.

The mixing of Japanese culture with the fantasy/undead elements didn't really grab me, so i've since moved on to attempt some other titles.

Rhodoferax said...

The giant centipede is actually a monster from Japanese mythology, which was defeated by the legendary hero Raiko.

Unknown said...

about the 'random' 1-in-3 chance to unlock the secret of singing death: it isn't that random. on the second page of the background, your master clearly tells you that the only way to defeat ikiru is to unlock the secret of singing death somewhere along your journey, so it would be a priority to ask the defeated dai-oni about it when you have the chance. but i understand that if you had been playing a book for a while, the background section fades from memory. most of the backgrounds in gamebooks are just for atmosphere, but this one clearly states a crucial objective for your journey.