If you came here with one thumb on your lighter, ready to lose yourself in some heart-wrenching ballads, I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you. I didn’t encounter my first ballad until at least 3 or 4 hours in, and it was pretty underwhelming when it finally arrived.
Yeah, their choice of titles doesn’t make a lot of sense, and neither do most of the other choices in this game.
Well, I can’t say I wasn’t warned. They always told me not to judge a book by its cover, and that’s exactly what I did. Can you blame me, though? On the surface it looks great. It’s got that Extremely Fantasy, D&D manual sort of vibe. Everywhere you look you find fierce monsters and sharpened blades, towering dragons, fireball-hurling wizards and pots of stew consumed in shady inns full of adventures just waiting to happen.
Then there are the characters. You’ve got your glowering assassin with knives hidden everywhere, your green-clad ranger who must have a lot of trouble with mosquitoes out in the woods, your standard power-mad evil mage, and a crusty old warrior who could have stepped right out of a David Gemmell novel.
It’s all brought to life with dramatic music and page after page of colorful illustrations. What more could you want, huh?
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
While they may hit all the familiar fantasy notes and wrap it up in plenty of glitzy presentation, you can only delay the inevitable for so long. Sooner or later a Choose Your Own Adventure story like this has to deliver an actual story, and that’s where things go wrong in just about every way you can imagine, and some you probably couldn’t.
The theory here isn’t so bad. You pick one of those four characters and lead them through a grand fantasy adventure. Each one plays a different role in the main story and offers a different perspective on the events. They give you a limited number of second chances if you screw up and die, and once they’re gone you can continue the story with one of the others, carrying over the consequences of your previous choices. That’s the idea, but in reality it ends up being a complete mess.
None of the characters have any real personality and they’re pretty much just defined by their jobs. There are a few token efforts to establish their various pasts, but for the most part you don’t get to experience anything that engages you emotionally and helps you connect with them as people.
You know, there’s a reason they burn down your village at the start of every RPG.
Genuine character development is replaced–in one of the most bizarre design choices I’ve ever seen–with the opportunity to abandon the main story altogether and go off on a random tangent that has nothing to do with the quest they’ve spent the whole time setting up.
I’m serious. You can just abruptly decide, “Ah, screw it. I’m going to ditch my army and go off and become a pit fighter.”
It’s crazy. At least half of the available paths are tied up in irrelevant stuff like this.
Even when you stick to the main plot, though, it’s not much better. For all that they make a big show of allowing your decisions to shape the outcome, I never saw much evidence of it. All roads lead to you fighing the same major battle in the same place, with a few interchangeable pieces swapped around here and there.
To give you an example, your assassin takes on a mission to steal the magic sword, and you’re thinking, “wow, great idea! This will make a huge difference in the final showdown!” Nope. It’s a fake, and so the whole quest was a complete waste of time and accomplished nothing. The impression that you’re really changing anything substantial seems to be mostly an illusion.
On a smaller scale your individual choices do have immediate consequences, but are just as poorly conceived. Maybe it’s tricky to strike the right balance in an interactive story between writing strong characters and letting the player have meaningful input. In a game without detailed stats or character building options, though, you’d expect to be making broad moral or strategic decisions, thinking about the nature of your character and steering them in an appropriate direction.
Instead, you spend way too much time micromanaging things like, “Do you want to parry with your dagger and then deliver a high strike with your sword, or feint with your sword and then quickly dodge, jabbing with your…”
How the hell should I know?!
Look, I appreciate their high degree of confidence in my badass fighting instincts, but in a game like this I feel like my character ought to handle that sort of stuff while I play more of an executive role. They also resolve critical situations time and time again by making you answer riddles–including that one about the fish, straight out of The Hobbit–which seems really out of place.
That’s the story of this game. Its various parts may be ok individually, but they just never fit together in a coherent way.
It’s sad that it came to this, since it looks like they put a lot of work into making this game; although if you’ve been reading fantasy long enough then I guess you’re already used to disappointment.