Saturday, 20 September 2008

#32 - Slaves of the Abyss

I never tried Slaves of the Abyss as a kid - the cover art, with a bunch of people in some kind of mult-dimensional space jail and the villian with the never-ending mohawk just seemed kind of lame. I wasn't sure what to expect playing it, and now that I have, I'm still not sure what to think.

Your character is a famous adventurer called on to find out what kind of army is advancing from the East, or amass an army to take on what's coming from the north, or stay back and prepare for all three at home in Kallahmehr. 

And you only have a limited amount of time!

Knowing this, I initially decided to stay put and work out how we could defend the city - bad choice, as this ended with a future generation of scrap merchants telling stories about my gear, found amongst the rubble of a defeated Kallahmehr. As this happened within three pages of the introduction, I justified a restart.

I headed east, thinking the devil I don't know would make for a more interesting adventure - and  have to say, it was certainly more random than I expected. I eventually found myself seeking refuge in a temple, which was meant to be friendly. Instead, these asshole priests wanted me to empty my bag, which I don't recall happening at church when I was younger (though knowing kids these days, etc etc...). I refused, they insisted. Oh alright. Turns out I was carrying a golden fist of theirs, which pissed them off, so they sent me to the cells for an hour or so, then let me go. Err, okay. 

I headed on east, and more and more villagers were giving me dirty looks and treating me rather like the priests. Gees, I'm only out to save the world and all, ungrateful bastards! I soon found an overturned cart, in which was a mask of my face! Some imposter had been going around pretending to be me, which explained everything.

When I got to the next village, everyone was really friendly, so the imposter must've been heading east also. Some old witch there declared me something barely short of the messiah, and feeling wanted for once, I went along with it. Next thing I know, some guy calling himself the Riddling Reaver appears from the sky, offering to whisk me away and out of trouble. Err, what? Okay... I went along with it, got dumped with my horse far away and told a riddle, and yeah. Umm, okay...

So another few pages and another village, I wander into a building and am almost drowned in wine by a wretch. In real life I like to drown myself in wine, thankyou very much, so I fought him off and decided to check out a different house. Slaves of the Abyss, as odd and random as it seemed, was revealing itself more and more as a 'pick the right item and you'll use it a few pages later, pick the wrong one and something horrible will happen, and yes, there's always a random choice' kind of book, so I figured another building would be fine.

Of course I wander into a wizard's place, perhaps the silliest decision in a world such as the one presented in this gamebook. There's a half-eaten ham, a desk, and some puppets. Hmmm, so which is the essential, which is the help-but-not-required, and which is the killer? I decide to avoid the puppets (too obviously evil) and check out the desk, on which I find a parchment. The text means nothing to me, but it doesn't kill me, so I decide to leave. Unfortunately, the book won't let me! Instead, I'm tempted into drinking three potions, each with gibberish names. Oh great: in five pages time I'm going to be asked if I've drunk potion X, and if not I'll die, whilst drinking potion Y will kill me instantly, right?

I never found out, as I refused to drink any of them... yet. Maybe I'll be given the option to force them down someone else's throat?

So heading on again, and it's all empty villages. The book offers me the chance to turn back. Hmmm, okay. I've crossed off hardly any of my time boxes, so what do you know, I find the advancing army - and they're just ordinary peasants! And my game's over! I'm not sure how or why, but suddenly I'm in that dang floating prison on the cover.

I had a quick peek, and it seems heading on east ended the book also. WTF?

Others have given this book good reviews, and perhaps it is once you know what it is you're meant to do in order to defeat this army. I'm not a huge fan of the long, complicated backstories in FF books, I just want to play - in a backwards kind of way, I find it easier to immerse myself in the simpler stories, as there's more imagination and less thinking 'now where was that and whose side are they on again?' every time another character or place is mentioned. 

Slaves of the Abyss seems difficult, but not irrationally so. Still, I'm pretty confused about that ending - just when everything seemed to be going so well!

But then again, for once the introduction actually says to complete this adventure, you need to do the right things at the right time - or you'll fail. At least it's honest!


Ed said...

This is one of my favourite FF books, to a great extent because of all the little indications that what happens to you is only part of a much bigger picture. I do agree that it can be very unforgiving, though.

Minor spoilers ahead:
If you'd made a certain decision in the wizard's house, that would have meant that you got directed to a different section for your encounter with the hostile army, in which you'd have a decent chance of survival. As it was, you had no defence against the freaky magics being used, hence the no-win set-up in which you found yourself.

As for the potions, one is beneficial but not essential, one is indeed a deferred fatality, and one just inconveniences you (though if you hoard it and then use it at the wrong point later on, the inconvenience becomes lethal).

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to realise a failing of my blog, through design though not intentional, is that those books with a wider scope than I'm prepared for maybe get done hard by... my premise is one attempt and I write, when others obviously have the luxury (and free time) to do instant death page counts and mathematical analyses. I do glance at the others' writings before I do mine!


Anonymous said...

The scary thing about reading this run through of the book was that I couldn't remember any of it. Which, given that I co-wrote it (the book, that is, not the run through), probably says something about my memory, as well as about the book itself.

But I do think the criticisms are fair. It's an unforgiving book because we were unforgiving writers. It's also a bit all over the place because Steve Williams and I were pulling in different directions.

It's also confusing because we were trying to have the reader's adventure take place in the context of other things happening. This obviously succeeded to some extent -- hence Ed's very generous comments -- but inevitably it cranked up the randomness.

I feel that writers' opinions about their own books aren't really worth much, and that's true here. For what it's worth, I loved the cover (Black Vein Prophecy was much, much, worse, and that was mainly my fault), but although I know Slaves is the most highly regarded of the books I wrote, I still think that Magehunter is much better.

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strom-z said...

gotta say I really liked this one in the end, hardly remember what it was about but the story seemed original, there was something metaphysical about the whole thing...

Anonymous said...

Slaves of the Abyss was perhaps one of the strangest adventures. I must confess to being confounded several times until I finally determined the 'true' path - and yes: I did get caught out by simply staying to defend the city (although I'm one of those readers fascinated with all the various 'death' entries!)

Plot-wise, having two writers for the same book can be a bit risky, and sometimes ideas and hints can be thrown at the player from all directions, confusing them, rather than being more obviously tied to the main story in some way. I'm a big fan of having some interesting 'side missions' along the way (Legend of the Shadow Warriors is one such example).

For most FF gamebooks, the 'true' path was often a narrow one. If you had a made a wrong decision, if you didn't pick up an item, etc. I often favoured those adventures with only one or two items as plot-critical while the remainder either penalised or rewarded the reader's efforts as they battled and test-rolled their way through. Puzzles were also a fun (and often overlooked) part of gamebooks.