Saturday, 15 November 2008

#39 - Fangs of Fury

Some FF gamebooks just try to do too much in the limited, uncomplicated format set up way back in FF1, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The best gamebooks are the ones which perhaps not strictly stick to the formula, but at least know how much is too much to cram in.

Fangs of Fury goes far off the deep end, having item hunts, semaphore puzzles, magical item collections, number puzzles, a timer and even an essential mini-quest where you've got to get a bunch of blocks of different shapes, including 'mushroom', and stick them in the appropriate-shaped holes. Just like a two-year-old, except with more chance of death.

It starts out well though, like some sort of cross between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. There's a bunch of wizards (jedi) having their once-every-seven-year meeting (jedi council), and a former ally-turned-evil uses this opportunity to try and wipe them out once and for all, using a powerful minion (between them, Darth Vader and Palpatine). They've managed to extinguish the breath of the six fire-breathing dragon statues that defend the kingdom, and it's your mission to take some kind of magical torch (the one ring) to a volcano (Mount Doom) and re-light the dragons from there and yeah. Um, what? Meanwhile, to stop you chickening out, the council has fitted a bracelet on your wrist that lets you know when another of the fourteen (?!) walls of the city has fallen (did I mention it was under seige?), and if all of them fall, it kills you, Battle Royale-style.

Heading through underground passages to get past the seige, I eventually the middle of the seige. I tell the goblins I'm with the Bonecrushers (factoid: I had a pet snail when I was eight called 'Bonecrusher' - I'm not sure what age I was when the irony hit me), turns out they haven't made landfall yet. D'oh! So I tell him no wait, I want to join the Bonecrushers, that's what I meant. I'm instead drafted into fighting with the goblin's unit, and realise not more than 10 paragraphs into the book, I'm already hastening my own demise.

A mate from the good side, Peric, falls off his horse and realising I'm already on the way to the dark side, I steal his horse and fuck off out of there. Some orcs catch up, whistle, and the horse throws me off and kicks me in the head. Great. I'm not only a traitor, but I'm well on the way to the dark side and brain damaged.

At this point I'm thinking hey, this book ain't bad. The writing is good, I'm in the story, there's a real sense of freedom despite the very specific goal. The 'the-end-justifies-the-means' attitude your character seems to be allowed to take is refreshing, even when I'm given six bodyguards, ditch five, and kill the one that won't leave. More dark side points! And when some old woman tells me she accidentally dropped her master's fiddle down a well, I just leave her to it. Sounds like a trap.

Escaping a bunch of orcs relatively unharmed, I eventually come across a monastery, and for some reason the book thinks I'm keen to search the entire building. This is where the game starts to get frustrating - I'm forced to go wandering in this building it seems, but I can't stop to search the room of cubes (considering I need as many as I can get), can't stop to check out the cauldron I'm continually reminding is bubbling away, then some voice asks me for 'the numbers of the name that cannot be uttered', gives me six guesses (Hen, Hex, Win, Hox, Ned and Eli are all wrong, by the way), then drops me through a trapdoor with little ill consequence. 

I'm thinking now, this book has taken a slightly annoying turn, to be honest. Why would a disembodied voice give me six chances? 

Moving on, a dwarf at the appropriately named 'Dwarf's Hammer' tavern tells me the volcano is the one with the flat top and three holes, all of which lead to the fires of Mt Doom, or wherever it is I need to go. When I think volcano I don't usually think of getting in them, least of all via the crater(s), but hey.

The book's teetering at this point, but really goes downhill once you're in the 'volcano' (there's a distinct lack of um, lava). I realise I've probably missed something explanatory earlier, but half the walls have semaphoric heiroglyphs carved into them, which beyond an initial YMCA joke mean nothing to me about anything. I'm forced to collect aforementioned puzzle pieces like some kind of lethal kindergarten game and jump over chasms which are easier to leap the more you've eaten (FF provisions are basically instant stamina in pill form, remember!).

Then I reach some monks who want me to pass a bunch of levels for some reason, some of which I can skip if I have a number of white cubes. White cubes? There are white cubes? I only have a few black ones. I knew I should have stopped in the monastery earlier, written to the author Luke Sharp and asked him if I could have special dispensation to stop and grab some of them cubes I was allowed to admire but not examine.

It didn't seem to matter though, as when on only the second level of seven I ran into Palpatine (okay, Jaxartes). There was some kind of lock system with 50 permutations - I had a plain key I'd found hanging from a rope, but a key without a number etched on it is kind of useless in Khul/Allansia, right?

So while I hacked at the lock with my sword (read: had as many guesses as I could), the fallen wizard fired lightning bolts and fireballs at me, and I was eventually killed.

Thing is, all the permutations where between 1 and 50, so even if I guessed one next to the correct one, there's no way my real-life skill 12 eyes wouldn't have glimpsed the correct page to turn to! Haha.

Others have said Fangs of Fury is too easy, as there are too many chances to get through it without even going a particular way, and there's too much time to do it in - 10 walls had been breached by the time I died, out of 14 (Atlantis, eat your heart out). But there are just so many silly little random things, description-less locations and nonsensical challenges, particularly in the second half, that leave it lacking. It's a shame, cause despite the over-egged premise, it started really well.

There was no entry last weekend, cause we had our election and I was out of town drowning sorrows with a bunch of other lefties. 


Davy Malay said...

Hey Dan,
Been unpacking some old boxes of stuff, and found I have at least some of the books you're missing from your collection - I really enjoy your blog, and would be happy to provide you with them.
Only problem is, I live in England, but if we could work out something with the postage, I'd be glad for you to have them!

Ed said...

I remember working out some of the semaphore code from the warning notice by the key-on-a-rope. It gave me enough letters to be able to figure out the clue to the correct combination that comes your way just before the finale.

A flawed book, but not the author's worst (stand up Chasms of Malice

dan duran said...

Davy - I'm not sure how to contact people through Blogger. I can't find an email on your profile ot from your own blog/ If you email me at, we should talk. If I don't reply, it's because I typed the email address wrong, gmail screwed up, or I'm drunk.

- dan (signed in as non-fightingdantasy dan, just as everyday dan)

Fido815 said...

Played this through for the first time today. I really liked it. I died after a giant chained me up and made me play 'games' over and over. *giggles* (And, yes, the inverted commas are in the book).