If the title didn't already give it away, in FF54 our old friend Zagor is back for another outing, only four books on from his last. I blame the better-than-expected sales for Return to Firetop Mountain, more than anything - because to be honest, there is nothing in the path I took through the book that suggests this is specifically Zagor - it could have been anyone, any evil demon, really.
Saturday, 31 January 2009
If I'm sounding a little weary, it's because the premise is wearing a bit thin, and no matter how many extra features an rules the book throws at you, there's no hiding the fact this is a dungeon crawl-item hunt, just one that's so completely open and non-linear it can quickly feel like a pointless bore.
So Zagor's now a demon, bla bla bla, convoluted back story, you have to kill him. In a break from previous adventures you get to choose one of four characters to play as,and each have different skills and abilities - much like the popular-at-the-time Heroquest (now there's a new blog for when this one ends - playing the HeroQuest expansion packs!). Except here instead of an elf you have a warrior, who's part-Barbarian part-Wizard, the all-rounder whom it's almost impossible not to select.
I noticed the writers had very quickly fixed the new multiple-attacks system to be more realistic, if somewhat less fair to the player. It almost killed me straight up before even getting to the Castle Argent. Yep, this is one of them books where you have to travel to the main arena - and by boat, even. Difference here is you can spend luck to avoid any troubles on the way - now because each character has different modifiers to their stats, I began with a luck of 4. Hmmm. So of course I spent a point, as I'd be failing every future luck roll anyway.
Arriving at the castle, I decided to check out the ruins, and was almost killed by a bunch of orcs. I found a visions well which told me 'Beware the traitor-wizard Remstar', without telling me who he had betrayed - us, or Zagor?
I wandered up to the castle and shoved the doors open, only to stumble on a tripwire - the first of what I expected to be many failings of luck. I was attacked then by four orcs with identical skill and stamina sets - already Legend of Zagor was beginning to feel like a lazily-designed round of HeroQuest. I thought perhaps I should have put away my lucky green dice and pulled out the skulls and shields set.
Opening the first door in the castle and eating my sixth meal of the day, I found an old barracks. Not much going on here, so I opened the one opposite - a drill room. Okay. Let's go further in.
I went through some massive doors, and west. More doors and random passages. Okay. Opened a door to a destroyed library, ate my eighth meal of the day - unlike the author, who must've been a few sandwiches short when he wrote: "Test Your Spot Skill. If you are unsuccessful, turn to 212. If you fail, you find nothing..." Wow, even the book doesn't fancy my chances.
Turning to the page I assumed was the successful path, which was through a secret passageway into a dark tunnel, I soon came across a door. On opening it, three theives cower in fear - I tell them no worries, I've got no gold to steal anyway, just a few coins - and hire one of them as my bitch.
So me and the thief (whose skills add a whole two points to my attack strength) wander randomly about, eventually coming across a merchant who'll offer me a free random key if I spend twice as much gold as I actually have. I KNOW the key is important, this is an Ian Livingstone book after all, but goddamnit. I grab some more food, realising I have the metabolism of a domestic cat, and continue my mission of opening random, ill-described doors.
Eventually I come to a room defended by zombies, which knock me down to a single stamina point - before the marauding orcs turn up, the book says I can "quaff" down some provisions, should I feel the need. So that's the official FF term for wolfing down a day's worth of food (well, perhaps not a whole day in FF54's case) inbetween scraps. It makes me wonder why Rocky didn't just knock back chickens and potatoes inbetween rounds, or when that dick broke Daniel-san's leg, he didn't just mainline some beef (maybe that was a hit to his skill...).
It was all to no avail though, the orcs that came through knew how to fight under the new multiple combat system real well.
Others rate this book really highly, some calling it the best in the series. I won't go that far, it's hard to say off one reading, but it doesn't look likely. The atmosphere wasn't there for me. I like being able to wander around a bit, but a really well put-together gamebook knows when to push the plot forward; it also knows when things are looking a bit cookie-cutter.
I've only got one more book left to do before I run out of conventional FF gamebooks - one that didn't appear in the original series, Eye of the Dragon. After that, assuming I haven't acquired any more, I'll be onto the Sorcery! series - though two weeks from now I'm due to become a dad, so it may have to wait. We'll see.
Posted by Dan at 21:10