Saturday, 4 October 2008

#34 - Stealer of Souls

So there's no more sci-fi in FF from here on in apparently, and with Stealer of Souls deliberately or not it seemed Jackson and Livingstone were determined to get the series back to basics.

In SoS, you're an adventurer tapped to undertake a mission to rescue a good wizard who has been captured by an evil wizard and imprisoned on an island where no one's magic works but his (hence why they're sending a grunt such as yourself instead of another wizard). The adventure sheet is basic, you're given the basic leather armour, sword, lantern and 10 provisions and sent on your way, simple as that really. 

So far, so awesome. The cover art's good, the writing is descriptive, the story's simple and launches you right in. Unfortunately, this is where it all goes a bit wrong for SoS - at least on the path I took. For too long, it's just too basic, random and dare I say it, boring.

After arriving at the Isle of Despair (just east of the Island of Scars, what a welcoming place) I somewhat randomly chose to head due west, and hack'n'slash my way as best possible. I've got good stats (11/19/10), and this seems a back-to-basics, so yeah. I've already dispatched a giant bird, a giant crab and a plain ol' giant this far without much trouble, so why not? The giant's cave supplied me with some preserved and (I assume) dried fish, which bizarrely went off later when it got wet. Come on, it's fish, and it's dried... 

Further on down the western road I have the choice of continuing west, or going north down a path marked by a skull on a pike, or south to where there's a stick covered in bloodied bird feathers. Ah, west. Hack'n'slash. No detours.

Eventually, after a few more fights, I came across a small house, killed the dark elf present, then had no choice but to sleep the night. I say no choice, as there was no option given by the book - an all too common feature for much of the book. It was annoying, cause given the option, I would not have stayed there - but then again, the trapdoor (which apparently didn't bother me too much the previous evening) in the morning led me to the Iron Crypts where the good wizard was apparently being held. How convenient. 

The Iron Crypt itself I found largely to be a random wander where pretty much walking as west as possible seemed to have just as much success as it did on land. It's as if the author, in his first FF book, wanted to keep everything as simple as possible, and just made the easiest way to complete it going west at all opportunities. 

Hack'n'slash became hack'n'slash'n'bend after my western journey was interrupted by a set of iron bars. Oddly enough, later in the book not once but twice my character (it's surely not 'me' when the book gives me my decisions so blatantly gives up on doors upon realising he's not in posession of the right key. Or any key. Wow, I made it through an entire dungeon without any keys. But the point is, if I can bend iron bars, I can knock down wooden doors. Right? So.

Once again just going west (or random, if west wasn't an option) did me good, getting me to the good wizard, whom after teaching me three spells (and only three - he even knew in advance how long it would take me teach each one and how much time he had) teleported himself back home. Err, what? I know he was chained up and all, but come on - it's not as if he had to wave his wands around now, was it? Or can't he cast spells with people looking? I was a bit miffed, having had to fight off a multitude of creatures with one hand while covering my yawning mouth with the other to get this far.

So I wandered on up to the evil wizard, and despite not having ANY of the special items the text called for, or any spells left, I was able to get up close and personal with him and hack him to pieces, saving the world and bringing my FF score to seven from 34.

Well, writing the ending that way is a bit harsh on the book - the third act (following wandering west across the island and then west across the dungeon) is pretty damn good. You're stuck in the evil wizard's empire of illusion, and instead of going west you have to choose from coloured passageways - the enemies are inventive, the basic spell system cleverly implemented and there are even subtle clues as to what obstacles are ahead depending on the path taken. Maybe it's just in comparison to the preceding hour of adventure, but it really shines and meant when I did reach, and subsequently beat the evil wizard, it felt good, rather than a relief it was all over. 

But no matter how well the book ends, nothing can excuse this bizarre sentence on paragraph 96: "The rich smell of spices, the glitter of silks and other treasures do not tempt you, for you cannot carry these items." Huh?! In an adventure where on three separate occasions I lost stamina due to the smell, I'm pretty sure I'd be finding a way to carry spices, for jebus' sake! If I can bend iron bars, I can carry spices. And if I can wear a silk glove, I can carry silks. 

That, and the forced nature of the first two thirds of the book mean Stealer of Souls ain't no classic, but far from a disaster thanks to the cool third act. And propsto the author for not making it full of instant deaths! I'm not sure which of the future books are his, but apparently they're vast improvements. Looking forward to them. 



Anonymous said...

Keith Martin (the author) also wrote books 38, 41, 46, 51, 52 & 58. And while book 54 says it's by Ian Livingstone, stylistically it's far more like Martin's books, hence the popular theory on one Fighting Fantasy forum that Ian Livingstone killed Keith Martin and ate his brains before burying him under the patio and writing book 54.

Marcus Bone said...

Hi there...

My understanding is that the name Keith Martin was a pseudonym used by Carl Sargent (plus other authors perhaps?)


Anonymous said...

Enjoying your blog so far. Stealer of Souls has always been one of my favourites though it's actually more fun with a weaker character as then you have to look more for helpful items and be a bit more cautious (for instance, it's better to befriend the sea giant than to fight him). I really disagree that Martin's later books were better though, I thought some of them were very tiresome.

Batsey said...

Just recently bought 41 ff books and playing through them in no particular order. Dispite good stats was almost killed by the giant on the beach but then went on to complete the book with my light source (lantern or magic sword.) A good start to a campaign of ff gaming, though I did find myself yawning a few times during sos.