Saturday, 13 December 2008

#44 - Legend of the Shadow Warriors

I've mentioned it once or twice, but finally, it came - the font change! My memories suggest from here on in the books were of consistently high quality, but we'll see about that, eh?

But I have to say the new font certainly got off to a good start with Legend of the Shadow Warriors. It's always difficult to get a handle on gamebooks with the depth of LOTSW with a single read through I know, but unlike some earlier examples in the FF canon, here it works, no matter how far you get. The writing is good, the world feels alive and truly dynamic, your options match the map well so it never feels like you're randomly wandering, your character's motivations feel natural, and the book's rule innovations work, damnit! A rarity, I know!

You can only carry/wear one weapon/set of armour at a time, and they actually make a difference, for one.

Anyway, onto the story. There's a massive load of background that has no real bearing on the story at hand, but you're quickly on your mission regardless. Some farmers have been having trouble with a bunch of 'Shadow Warriors', who were previously thought to be a kind of myth. After trying everyone else and being laughed at, they approach you with the mission, and not being picky, you accept.

So first things, I figure if I'm in this for the money, yeah I should do some gambling. A clown (he's dressed like one) called Bartolph (and has the name of one) offers me a round of 'roll the dice' that sounds deceptively simple, and is. I roll a winning number, and it flips over to a losing one. Bastard! I call him on his tricks, and promptly get thrown out of the bar. Hmmm. 

Feeling like I'm missing out on some kind of cosmic joke here (the cover has a dude in a kung-fu pose carrying a sword with a pumpkin for a head, for crying out loud), I wander over the markets, and decide to check out the gears. Lanterns are always useful in FF gamebooks, and if there's a grappling hook and rope on offer, you know there's going to be a cliff at some point (and on typing this, I just flicked the TV over and there's 'Cliff' Burton playing a bass solo, freaky). 

Heading to the 'exotic' stalls, I'm interrupted by some fat bastard telling me I owe the city nearly 600GP in taxes. Err, what? Another freakin' trickster, but I can't afford to pay, and probably can't get away, so I let them arrest me. 

They take my weapon, and throw me in jail. This mission is going from bad to worse. Anyway, despite having a luck score I could count on one hand, I try my luck tricking the jailer into opening the door, and it works. 

Escaping the jail, I decided to high-tail it out of the city before I was captured again. Something LOTSW does really well is make it feel like you are in total control of your actions - whether that's a testament to the writing or the structure of the game, I'll leave up to you. I think it's both.

Anyway, I came across a rubbish cart, decided against hiding in it, and headed on to the town gates where, goddamnit, the tax collector and his goons were waiting. I've had enough unwarranted harassment from the tax guys in reality, so thought fuck 'em, I'm running - and ran right through without so much as a scratch. If only it was as easy as rolling a four in real life.

So although I'd made it out in one piece, I quickly realised I was not only pretty much exiled from the town, without a weapon, food or any useful gears. Hmm.

An encounter with one of the so-called Shadow Warriors and a load of lucky rolls later, it was on to visit the hermit Hammicus. On the way there a 'highwayman' (it didn't say which one, though I like to think it was Johnny Cash) told me the hermit was dead and I would be too if I didn't pay him. I figured hey, I'm almost dead, broke and struggling anyway, I'd might as well pay him off what little money I did have. Turns out he was lying, as Hammicus was alive and well and willing to give me the background the actual background didn't.

Turns out these Shadow Warriors are not only real, but nigh on invincible and magically attached to Vovoid, some kind of... it doesn't really say. Evil, no doubt, and perhaps a metal band on the side. Wow, this entry is fast turning into some kind of metal tribute post. Even more so when as I'm reading the passage where tells me how to kill the Shadow Warriors individually, or at least render them impotent, is to rip off their masks, a video by Slipknot comes on the tele. 

Woah. This book is hardcore.

Anyway, the book tells me if I defeat a Shadow Warrior in combat, to turn to a different page than the one specifies - and it specifies the the particular incorrect page. This is a technique I don't think I've seen before in FF in this specific way, and is quite clever - I'm not sure if it's a gamebreaker, so not sure if it's an anti-cheat device, but if it is it's ingeniously simple and clever. There are loads of other situations which aren't so much 'if you have this, turn to X, if you don't then Y happens', but several option-trees, which makes me, and anyone else playing I suppose, think gees, there's so much I've missed - and I've only been playing for half an hour!

It's impressive, and shows how well put together the book is, even if you haven't played it a thousand times.

So, I move onto Hustings, where I pretty much bail on the poor villagers - they're preparing for the arrival of the pumpkin-headed ninjas, but I have two stamina points and no desire to lose any more. Funnily enough, on leaving town the book tells me 'though [I] feel that [I] have done [my] best to help' - yeah, I totally did my best. Actually, I think I put more effort into replacing the pronouns in the text for that last quote than I did helping the people of Hustings. 

Karma gets me though when on leaving I'm ambushed by a Shadow Warrior and run to the safety of a nearby tower. Some hot girl (this time there's nothing in the text nor images to suggest she is, I'm just going to pretend for the purposes of this sentence) takes me upstairs and feeds me food laced with sleeping drugs - which I initially think is great, 'cause I have only two stamina points still, and could do with the extra two or four a good sleep brings, depending on the book.

I woke tied to a table in some kind of laboratory, the next victim of a mad woman who wants to transfer my brain to a Frankenstein zombie ogre thing. D'oh.

LOTSW being the book it is, still provides me with several options, or possible options at least, of escape. I have none, so die, but don't feel so bad! The book gave me options, I blew it, it's my own fault! 

At least that's how it comes across, which is a testament to how good this book should rank amongst the 59 others, at least from a single reading. I don't think I was swayed by the fancy new font, noooo... 

Absolutely recommended, and bodes well for the rest of the series.


Anonymous said...

Call me mad, but I never really liked the "new" font. It always seemed too formal and humourless as fonts go . . .
A good entry to the series but I like Hand's 3rd book Moonrunner a lot more.

Anonymous said...

Love the excessive metalness! I'm not sure I ever actually played this one - I may have to track it down...

Scott said...

The font? I bought this book in the summer of '92 and I liked the new font. Loved the book too! A lot of strange characters like The Haggwort, The Shadow Warriors, Urtha, Jake-in-the-Green, The Horn God, The Nightmare Master (Thou I murder sleep, I can never die) and of course Voivod!

moneyq said...

great book! where can you find the older chose your own adventure books?

Ricky Moon said...

Dear Dan thank you for writing such a detailed account of your game play, although a short one on one pass. This is the second FF book that I've ever read (First is #41 Master of Chaos) so both books have a special place in my memory. What I liked about this book is: 1a). You have multiple routes to victory, but mainly the SE/SW main trade route options. Also when you are running in Royal Lendle, you can choose LEFT/FRONT/RIGHT option which will make a difference later in the game, but the results are not permanent. 1b). The excellent illustrations within the game and especially the ominous cover title pumpkin heads. I think most people mistook these as the Shadow Warriors before they actually went deep in the book. I remembered as a kid this cover page was one of the ones that really stuck in my mind, if not the best one. The dark, ominuous and rainy background, the scary looking pumpkin heads, and the Asian yellow fonts really stood out even to this day. On the other hand there are two things I didn't like: 2a). One of the SE/SW path is much harder, as most reviewers have already concurred, and it's a pity that I have never taken the hard path, as a few initial tries almost resulted in death or getting lost in the maze. Also the fact that if you take the easier path, not only is it much easier, but you also get rewarded with an item which is VERY VERY GENEROUS even in most FF books I've read. Therefore, to me the two-path option is irrelevant, as I almost always go the easy route. 2b). When you get the SPEAR OF DOOM you have to roll 1D6 + 5, so if you are really unlucky and roll a 1, your chance of winning the game is much slimmer. All in all this is still one of the best FF to date and as mentioned before, will have a special place in my heart.