Wednesday, 31 December 2008

#47 - The Crimson Tide

By now the writers of FF were obviously either getting a bit bored with the old formula or feeling more confident with it - either way, The Crimson Tide feels more ambitious and less down to earth than most gamebooks.

You begin the book aged 13 years old, with skill and stamina rolls found via dice rolling without modifiers; and as you age, your scores improve, but your ferocity decreases (just like any self-respecting punk rocker).

Hell, the book's trying so hard to set itself apart, two or three paragraphs in you could be facing an enemy of skill 12 with yours potentially at one.

It's a huge blunder (apparently of the editor's doing), but not surprising in a book full of random deaths and other, less bloody failed endings. 

So - you begin as an Asian (lets not kid anyone here - rice fields, monasteries, vague references to the 'east', the 'Crimson Tide' being a colour and a euphemism away from 'Golden Horde' not to mention the cover, come on) tween whose family is killed by a marauding group of bastards (whom, going by the illustration on page one commit hara-kiri by stabbing themselves in the head), and you decide to get revenge. Eventually - it's obvious with the lowest starting skill and stamina in FF gamebooks that you're not going to avenge anyone right away. Despite this, if you don't face the invincible worm, you're soon nabbed by a guy who for the next two years trains you in the art of arena fighting - muchly helfpful for the stamina and skill, of course. 

The first enemy I have to face robs me of two skill points, and realising this is no way to avenge my father's death and rescue my mother, I escape by doing a reverse streak into the crowd, eventually falling out of the stadium onto a hot dog stand and escaping by stealing a horse - luckily despite the 'eastern' setting, there's no honour score to keep track of!

Instead the author makes you take notes on certain actions you've done, which can repercussions down the track, which is pretty cool.

Anyway, I soon stumble upon the bastards' camp, and they don't recognise me at all. I find the leader, and yep, it's the guy who killed my father. Starting a fight here would be suicide, so I tell him I want to join, and he laughs at me. Damn it.

A new plan is needed, so I wander out, south, and arrive in a town where everyone treats me suspiciously. Being 15, I'm not sure how I ended up fighting a drunk in a bar, but it eventually led me to a barber who told me of a rebel group meeting that night. Again not sure what relevance this had to my mission, I decided to go anyway.

So do 50 others (so it's obviously not some half-arsed socialist club, then), and they're soon whipped into a Hammerskins-esque frenzy so I sneak out. I like The Wall movie, but nah. I'm only 15!

I wander on for weeks without an increase in stamina, carting around the same three provisions I've had since stealing a 'roasted meat stick' from the meat cart, and soon bump into a 'puzzler'. These clowns wander the countryside asking people questions, and if you can't answer their puzzle, convention dictates you owe them a feed, or something equivalent. The text describes him as barely older than I am, but the illustration puts him at about 60. He asks me a differentiation maths question that sounds hard but once I start working it out seems easy, even without my award-winning teenage maths skills (couldn't do differentiation now, mind you). 

But amusingly enough, if you turn to the page you're meant to if you know the answer, the puzzler just assumes you are right and wanders off...! You don't even have to know the answer, which is funny, cause I never did work it out - I quickly realised I could if I had to, the long way, and turned to the appropriate page. 

*Maybe Spoiler If I Did It Right*: the formula is days=(2x)-1, where x=the height.  I think. It's been a long time since I needed maths...

A year passes, and I arrive in the capital, Shoudu. This part of Allansia, or wherever it is, is obviously larger than Japan. I queue up to see the God-King, whose servant takes me aside and pretty much tortures me to death. Err, wut?

The book's premise is not entirely original, but the writing is good, the openness of the adventure feels good, and even running into the supposed lead bad dude early on is a twist I didn't expect; but the seemingly inhospitable nature of the gameplay is a turnoff. It just seems so damn hard. 

But still, one that seems like a replay would be worthwhile, and give a return perhaps even greater than the first attempt.

Happy new year!


Alan said...

I really like The Crimson Tide. It's the sequel to Black Vein Prophecy, which might account for the strangeness of the gameplay. I've never finished it, so I find it quite frustrating, but it's a fairly unique experience in gamebooks.

Incidentally, it's set in the Isles of the Dawn, which, if memory serves, are off the coast of Khul. Not that I remember a lot of FF stuff. No.

Gamebook Fanatic said...

You DO need to know the anwswer to the puzzler's question to win the game, though (annoyingly) this isn't apparent even when you reach the point where you need it.

This is one of those books that is far too complex to understand in just one read. Although you can sort of say that for all of Paul Mason's books.

Dan said...

So all that time I spent on the maths wouldn't have been in vain?

Stuart said...

The skill 12 mudworm is a famous mistake in the book. You have to face the worm to collect the correct codewords. I read somewhere that it was supposed to have a skill of 6 (although that isn't too good when you have a skill of 1)

dan duran said...

Yeah, I read that. Sub-editors, huh?

/subs copy for a day job

Gamebook Fanatic said...

Nope, the maths question wouldn't be a waste of time. Knowing the answer is vital for you to win the game.

In fact, you're supposed to write it down like all the codewords you've collected. The book never tells you to do so, though, which IMO is rather unfair.

Oh, and as a Chinese-speaker myself I always find it amusing to see Paul Mason trying insert references to China in his books about Isles of Dawn. Especially the names. It's quite clear from the words he chose that he's simply picking words straight out of an English/Chinese translation dictionary without really understanding their meanings.

"Shoudu", for example, means "Capital", which is correct. "Baochou" in fact means "Revenge", which may be quite inappropriate. While it's true that there have been old chinese fables about men who learn martial arts from monks in the mountains in order to gain revenge, no monastary will actually call itself "Revenge" because those monks are Buddhists and are quite against fighting for revenge on principle.

There are several names like this in Black Vein Prophecy, too. The funniest has to be "Biantai", used to represent the Mutation Spell. In Chinese, "Biantai" usually refers to "Pervert", used to describe such people in a rather derogatory way. :D

To find out why the palace guy killed you instead of bringing you to the king, try finding out what his name ("Pantu") means from a dictionary. :P

Ed said...

You have to face the worm to collect the correct codewords.

I'm pretty sure you actually miss the first essential codeword if you face the Mudworm.

Anonymous said...

Nice to know that someone got some value out of my flicking through an English-Chinese dictionary.

I was deliberately choosing the names for sound, not as 'correct' Chinese which, as pointed out, I couldn't speak. And although the Isles of the Dawn 'resemble' China in some ways, in others they are totally different. Just look at all the weird stuff Steve Williams had put in Black Vein Prophecy, for example.

It was a strange situation: the Isles of the Dawn looked like Japan, but they clearly weren't, as Jamie had put 'Hachiman' on the mainland. So I flipped that round and put some Chinese elements into the Isles of the Dawn.

I also tried (and obviously failed) to point out that China and Japan are somewhat different. I had the 'Hachiman' mercenaries pop up, and the villain itself (ie the mask) was based on a Japanese Noh-men, inspired by the superb movie Oni Baba.

Apart from the skill 12 Mudworm (not my fault, honest!) the biggest flaw with this book, for me, is that it is absurdly difficult. That's because I set out to write the most difficult FF book ever. Fool that I was.

Incidentally, Gamebook Fanatic, although I still don't speak Chinese, I would now be a little better with the Chinese-derived names as I do speak and read Japanese. And I've written a novel about Judge Bao.

Anonymous said...

I've just started playing some of these out of nostalgia, and... this one is outstanding. I must have played about eight times before finally figuring out what I needed, but the developing nature of the protagonist and the interesting setting makes that process more fun than frustrating.

On the puzzle thing... that's what caught me. I seemed to have everything I needed- in theory you need to have seven words, but in practice I think the last three are all that's necessary. And I kept searching for something I'd missed, seeming to see no options between the sixth word and the endgame point. Turned out I'd just missed it by not paying enough attention to what I read, because it does actually specifically tell you to write your answer down. So, really, well played to Paul on that one. Very tough but fair, and great fun.

Jamestan Lannister said...

All 7 words are needed if you want a phrase that makes sense. Otherwise you get a confusing mishmash like "king spider turn to XXX" which won't even register as a meta-instruction the way the correct answer is supposed to strike you.

And it's really, really nice to know some of you westerners out there actually realized what the authors were trying to do with the Chinese words.

U-B said...

I'm much later coming to this than anyone else but it's been a marvellous find (led to via the splendid Tin Man Games adaptations).

For me despite being marginally older than Dan (When I first started reading they'd only just published Fangs of Fury) the 40s had all my favourite - and hardest - gamebooks. In fact when my collection went to the great car boot in the sky I only kept a few - From 44 (Legend of the Shadow Warriors) to 49 (Siege of Sardath) as they were all magnificent. Although sadly these have also now been disposed of in favour of baby stuff (who'd have kids, I ask you...)

For me, Crimson Tide was the best of the lot (just ahead of Moonrunner and LOTSW). I never completed it but loved the writing, the style, the approach - everything. Glad to see I wasn't alone.

I guess there's no hope at all these might make it to the Tin Man Games shelf?!