Thursday, 22 January 2009

#51 - Island of the Undead

Sometimes, FF gamebooks just don't gel, and FF51 is one of them. I may have an engrossing mystery to investigate, but the seemingly random swings between open-ended wandering and forced, linear gameplay made it feel disjointed, confusing and incoherent. It wasn't Keith Martin's aim to make me feel like a character from Lost, but it sure felt like it.

The premise of the book is thus: you come from a fishing village in the Strait of Knives, which explains why you start the adventure with a knife, and not a sword, and have to suffer the Attack Strength penalty. Almost everyone in your village survives through fishing, which raises questions of supply and demand in Allansia's primitive, laissez faire economy. There are a bunch of wizards living off the coast on an island, and they control the weather for your village, while you supply them with fish and materials for their spells. 

It's not explained why the wizards can't just magic their own fish, but hey.

So, the story begins with storms and bad weather, which instead of blaming on global warming, my village deduces must be a failing on the wizards' part, so a bunch of us manlier men set sail to figure out what's going on, 'cause the usual trade boats are out, I assume? Unfortunately a storm ruins our boat, and I wash up on the shore alone, being attacked by zombies of the crew (now that never happened on Lost). 

It's only an hour's walk to the large hillock, which I assume is a redneck hill, in the middle of the island. Why it then takes two days to visit a nearby monastery then wander into a swampy region in the southwest beats me, but once again I'm going to make geek and suggest it's a space-time fluctuation, much like how I suspect another island might work.

Anyway, I wander to a stone building in the northeast, which turns out to be a monastery. Hoping they'd be warrior monks so I could find a sword and/or shield, I was disappointed to come across a zombie trained in unarmed combat, 'cause that means these monks shunned the use of useful weapons like swords and shields. Those things that could increase my Attack Strength and let me make more than a single stamina point of damage per attack. No big deal.

In the monastery I found a bunch of 'small' bottles of Herbal Liquer, and you think considering they increased my stamina as provisions would, I'd find more space in my backpack than for two. I mean, I started with 12 provisions, and would later pick up four jars of fruit, not to mention crystals, globes, other bottles, a lantern, a scroll, keys and more, and considering I had no sword and was likely to get injured, a lot, you'd think I'd make space for small bottles of Herbal Liquer. But no.

I also found a map down there, which was absolutely no help 'cause following it to the 'Mermen - Good' spot instead screwed me. Searching another room was apparently so tiring, I had to sleep. I said search, not tidy! 

I wandered upstairs, and was met with a giant pentagram on the floor. Given the option to jump it, I did, 'cause why wouldn't I given the chance? This isn't an Ian Livingsone book! I found a meditation chamber and fought the zombie Father Honorton, which was when I started to get the false impression that perhaps I could finish Island of the Undead. Why? Because I survived the fight, that's why. Remember I'm carrying a stupid knife (why oh why wasn't I born in the Strait of Flaming Morning Stars Coated In Napalm?), doing a single point of stamina damage each time while suffering the full two when hit! I did use three luck points to whittle down his.

The risk seemed to pay off though, I got a load of stuff for my effort. You know your'e not reading a Livingstone when instead of getting a single yet essential item you're landed with a shopping list's worth of crap, which you stuff into your sack forgetting the fact you passed on unlimited Herbal Liquer cause it was too heavy. 

Heading southwest, I was determined to find these 'Mermen - Good'. Passing on a rope bridge, I continued southwest, and continued a freakishly good run of dice rolls defeating a swamp alligator with two stamina left. One thing Martin did right was starting me with 12 provisions instead of 10. He could've put a sword on the beach too, I mean even the Losties have guns! And a detachable hatch could have been handy as a shield too.

After eating three jars of fruit, which I have to assume are smaller than the vials of Herbal Liquer yet still restored four stamina each, I trudged through the swamp, crashing on the other side. Eventually I reached the Plain of Swords, which would have been a handy place to have started. There are all these dead bodies and weapons, and despite the fact their blunt swords would have made much better weapons than my shit knife, I'm not given the option to have a dig. Yeah, I'm allowed to spend time cleaning up monasteries and fucking around with pentagrams, but not looking for swords in a place called The Plain of Swords.

Instead I'm attacked by a hydra snake, and saved only by my freakish dice again. I have a massive pile of dies/dice, but I think from now on I'll be using my mis-matched (in shade and size) green ones. 

I head west, and find a building. Is this the home of the 'Mermen - Good'? It's guarded by skeletons, so I doubt it. Skeletons aren't exactly known for their marine skills. I make a dash for the door, but they cut me off. 

How? Cause my 'presence' level is too high. If I forgot to mention this earlier, it's because not only does the score seem to barely play a part in the adventure, but there's no box for it in the adventure sheet. There's a box for 'honour', but 'presence' is more a cross between that and notoriety. It's a pretty major fuckup, and only made worse by the fact the 'time elapsed' box is not only completely ignored by the text, but is not even supposed to be on there. Yeah days pass, seemingly randomly, but I'm never prompted to care. 

Turns out the building is the shrine, not the 'Mermen - Good' home, so I head east. Why? Because the book made me. I'm on my way to the 'final destination'. What?! Nooo! And in no time, no sleeping, I'm there. Okay...

I try to sneak in the back door, 'cause there are lizard men and a monster guarding the front. Using oil from my lantern to squeak it open, I shoot up a staircase and find a nest of straw. A giant 'roc', a kind of bird attacks, surely this is my death. Despite the fact we have an equal attack strength (apparently not having a sword nor shield is no concern when heading to a 'final destination'), I kill it whilst only losing a single stamina point. These dice! In its nest is an egg, apparently three provisions' worth, and considering it's a raw egg and I'm almost dead,  I've no qualms in downing the whole thing in one. 

Heading down more stairs, and more, eventually I'm face to face with a killer amoeba, cause someone from a fishing civilisation totally knows a mutant amoeba when they see one. I thought this would be the end, but my freakish dice again got me through. Where were these dice when I was attempting City Of Thieves

I used a sapphire I had to open another door (I'm not sure how that works, but hey), and found myself in the Master Of Water's alchemical lab. If you were a master of water, I'm not sure why you'd need alchemy unless you were evil, but hey. I suppose the water economy hasn't quite kicked off in Allansia yet. If it had, I wouldn't have been killed by a loose eel.

Well... it's a long book, I've read elsewhere it can take over 200, perhaps up to 250 paragraphs to complete. Doesn't that make it pretty much a maze? Is there really that much leeway in the path you can take? It seems that way to begin with, but exercising that ability resulted in me being shunted towards the endgame when I was far from ready. 

Sometimes the writing seemed blunt and short, whilst other times it seemed to give far too much detail. At one point, I was dodging snakes and gaining luck points without any decisions or rolls at all!

So umm, not the best book. Maybe a different route would be more rewarding. 

And yes, there is at least one non-Lost-related link in that bunch. I'm off to find the new episodes now, I think they'd have been broadcast on the other side of the world and uploaded to mine by now.


Anonymous said...

Basically in all the later Keith Martin books you have to explore nearly every nook and cranny to stand a chance - you actually did pretty well to get so far without proper weapons. Still, I like the story in this book - I think it's intriguing enough to stop the gameplay becoming too tiresome.

Joomua Tng said...

Island of the udead is a good book with interesting story explaining the downfall of the wizards when they start to experimenting with the undead, especially the greater ethereal undead with intelligence.

It is a long book though. This i would agree with you. If you visit the quest location at the right sequence and select the right questions to ask you would appreciate the big pictures of the story better.

FightingFantasyFan said...

Another Keith Martin. His work was very hit-or-miss, sometimes among my favorites (Vault of the Vampire, Master of Chaos) and sometimes anti-favorites (Midnight Rogue). Island of the Undead was in between.

This one definitely followed the formula that you need every item in the world, meaning you visit almost every page in the world. The amount of combat was tiresome (yeah I know it's Fighting Fantasy) and there's at least one critical bug (a wizard's name in a puzzle).

A decent book, though a tedious one.