Review: Fighting Fantasy: Talisman of Death (Sony PS3/PSP)

Fighting Fantasy: Talisman of Death
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Laughing Jackal
Genre: Adventure/RPG
Release Date: 08/23/2011

If I were to tell you that the Fighting Fantasy name sounded familiar, you might not be surprised. After all, the series has existed for decades as a popular gaming book series. However, that’s not where I’ve heard the game. In fact, the only contact I’ve had with the name is thanks to a DS iteration called Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Even then, I only knew of the game because it received a 3.5 from Gamespot. What can I say? A game so bad that even GS won’t dish out a seven sticks in my mind. With that kind of pedigree, you might wonder why I’d volunteer to review a new video game in the series.

The answer is that I’ll pretty much review anything that I can play on my PSP. The system is starved at this point, and it is quickly dying out to make room for the Vita. Also, I looked up some videos on the game, and it looked pretty interesting. I definitely don’t mind a game where a lot of reading is required. In fact, I welcome it, especially on handhelds.

This game is a pretty straightforward translation of the old books, but it does have a few twists to throw the player’s way. Does the format make a good transition to the Minis collection, or is this one fantasy you can safely ignore?

Story

You wake up alone and confused. For some reason, you have a sword. Even stranger, you know how to use it. It isn’t long until you’re told you’re the chosen one who’ll be sent to the land of Orb in order to correct the balance of nature. It seems that Death is on a rampage and getting ready to conquer this mythical land. Without much ado, you’re thrust in a tough spot and forced to go it alone.

The story here is pretty nifty for a few reasons. Firstly, this is a choose your own adventure style story. At the bottom of most pages, you’ll be given two or more options. Do you politely ask the guy blocking you to move aside, or do you beat him down with your sword? Depending on what you do, different things happen. Best of all, you can die in this game and be forced to start all over again (though there are checkpoints in a sense, but I’ll get to those later). As such, the way to the proper ending can be traveled many ways, depending on your choices and a bit of luck.

The writing is pretty solid in this game. Characters have established personalities, and everything is described in detail. It’s easy to get immersed in the world of Orb, and like a good page turner, the game is hard to put down. Best of all, you can meet different characters on each playthrough, keeping things fresh when you try a different route.

This game is mostly text, so if the story was boring, the game wouldn’t amount to much. Thankfully, the narrative is up to snuff. This is easily the best story I’ve seen for a Mini, and it could easily make a compelling novel.

Graphics

There isn’t much going on in this game visually. Pretty much the entire game is one screen. You’re reading a book that’s on a desk with a lot of text on it. What’s here looks decent, but apart from the turning of the page and scrolling text, it stays stagnant.

During battle, you switch to one of two screens. If you use dice, you and an opponent take turns rolling and damage is calculated. If you use tiles, they shuffle around quickly before turning over and you have to find a friendly tile. Either way, the hit marker remains the same. It looks like a giant wooden stamp coming down on the page.

There is practically no art in the game proper, but you can view some illustrations in the logbook. These are all black and white and tied to various characters, items, and places. It would have been nice if they were included in the gameplay, but I can understand why they weren’t. There just wouldn’t have been enough space.

Nothing is bad here, but there’s so little going on that it hardly feels like a game at times. Consider this a virtual choose your own adventure book with a couple of effects thrown in for good measure. As long as you don’t go in expecting more, you’ll be all right.

Audio

The music in this game is simple background orchestral music. It’s the kind of music you’re likely to find in any fantasy game or movie. However, there’s no real tune to it. It just kind of goes on, meaning that the music never once stuck out for me the entire game. I had to focus just so I could be prepared to write something here. The music isn’t bad by any means, but it is purely background stuff. You would barely notice if it were gone.

The sound effects are pretty much nonexistent. The noise associated for taking damage is the same no matter what enemy you’re facing, and the occasional effect does nothing to draw you into the game. Like the music, this stuff is pretty much background stuff.

Overall, the aural experience is lacking. I could play this game with or without the audio on and I’d get pretty much the exact same playing experience. That doesn’t say much for it.

Gameplay

Gameplay in Fighting Fantasy isn’t quite what you’d normally expect.

Most of what you’ll be doing is reading. Each page details characters, environments, and the goings on of Orb. At the end of most pages, you’ll have a choice. For example, when entering a forest, you have the option of sneaking by a large lizard, or simply trying to back away. Each option will send you to a different page and the result could be any number of things. You could get in a fight, be awarded an item, or even die.

Character creation is very simple. The game will randomly select point totals for three attributes. These are skill, stamina, and luck. Skill deals with your ability to deal damage, stamina represents your health, and luck I’ll explain in a bit. You can re-roll these stats as much as you want at the outset, but you can’t change them inside on an adventure unless a page tells you so. For example, you may have your sword stolen, which would result in a lowered skill total until you find another.

Combat in the game differs greatly upon which system you use. If you chose to use dice, all you have to do is sit back and press the x button to move the action along. Your opponent rolls, you roll, and then you compare your totals. Winner deals two damage. Repeat this until one of you has fallen or some condition has been met.

If you chose to not use the dice, you’ll instead need to play a minigame similar to three card monty. At the start, there are a number of tiles that have pictures on them. Relative to your difference in skill level, some will be yours, and some will be for the enemy. They get shuffled around and flipped over, and then you pick one. Pick one of yours, and you strike. Pick one of theirs, and you get hit.

The biggest difference between these two modes is the ability for a lower skilled player to come out on top. For example, using the dice system, if I have a skill of 13 and I’m facing a skill level of 7, then I’m probably not going to lose a single round. If the reverse happens, I’m screwed. Using the tile system, the odds will still be in favor of the person with the highest skill, but the lower skilled combatant has a fighting chance.

There’s also a luck system in the game. Throughout the game, you’ll occasionally have to make a luck roll. If your roll is less than or equal to your luck total, you’re lucky and get a good result. If you’re unlucky, things go badly. In battle, a good result doubles your damage while a failure halves it. When not using the dice system, you stop a bar on the green part of a meter. Either way, you lose a luck point every time you use the system, so it gets harder and harder as you go, thus adding strategy to the proceedings.

Inventory is very basic. You have various equipment and provisions, and new ones can be gained throughout the journey, though there is no real store you can access at any time. You can use any consumable at any time outside of battle. If, for instance, you find yourself about to fight a tough looking foe, you could chose to use a provision to restore some health just in case.

Finally, you have the logbook. This keeps track of every item you acquire, every person you meet, and every enemy you face. More importantly, it keeps track of what happens on each page. If you want to avoid making the same mistake, all you need to do is check the logbook and see where the resulting page choice will lead you. This is a godsend to those who are trying to view every page in the book, and will no undoubtedly help those trying to get the true ending.

Overall, this is a great blend of a visual novel and a no frills RPG. It isn’t very deep, but it stays engaging, especially if you don’t use the dice system. If you don’t like to read, the game won’t appeal to you, but the combination of choosing your own path and managing a character proves to be a solid game mechanic.

Replayability

More than likely, it will take you several tries before you get to the ending. I manage it on roughly my fifth or sixth attempt. This is a game where a wrong choice can lead to your death at any moment, so this is to be expected. Each adventure can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to over an hour depending on how fast your read and what choices you make. This alone can help the game last a while.

There’s also the drive to find out every possible outcome. I’ve played a few adventures determined not to win in order to find out what happens if I go a certain way. It’s interesting to see just how many ways to die there are.

All told, you’ll get a good amount of time out this game simply in order to beat it. If you want to unlock every page, you’ll need to spend a while to do that as well. Thankfully, you can easily skip pages you’ve already read, so this game is very replayable.

Balance

I’ve already mentioned how the battle system works. Using the dice system, the game can easily become too easy or too hard. At one point, I dominated every enemy I came across, even the bosses, because my base skill was so high. However, I got my sword stolen and came across an enemy that drained skill with each hit. I died. So, at the very least, this game has a checks and balances system at work that shouldn’t make things too certain.

If you don’t use the dice system, the game is pretty easy provided you have good focus. I don’t think I lost a single battle using the tiles, though there were points where I was getting hit more than I would have liked. If you’ve got a sharp eye, landing that hit every time is very possible.

Thankfully, the branching pathways have their own ways of balancing the game. Just because you have great stats, doesn’t mean you won’t die if you decide to take a wrong path or fight a boss too early. The choices you make matter.

Originality

Well, this is a video game adaptation of a decades old gamebook. They added some color graphics, a random character generator, and a combat alternative, but it is very faithful. The pages you see in the game are pretty much what you’ll get with the real thing.

What you won’t find is too many other video games like this on the market. This game mixes the adventure and RPG genres quite well, delivering an experience you can’t find elsewhere on the PSP. The added content is also a nice bonus, meaning this isn’t just a straight up port.

Addictiveness

Since this game is quite literally a page turner, it appears I’ll have to find a less obvious description when talking about how addicting it is. To put it simply, the chose your own adventure style is done darn well here and and makes you want to keep going even after an ill timed death. There is a great feeling of success being only a try or two away.

I put in three or four attempts back to back the first time I turned the game on. Thanks to the game letting you skip past any section quickly, a lot of potential tedium was avoided, making this an easy game to play for lengthy sessions.

Appeal Factor

If you don’t like to read, avoid this game. Plain and simple.

If reading lots of text and very little hands on action is OK, this game is definitely worth a look. This game would have failed without a good story and thankfully it provides one. For fans of fantasy, RPGs, and choose your own adventures, this game holds great appeal.

Pricewise, the game is a bit more expensive than comparable titles you can get for Kindles, but it adds color, the logbook, and an optional active battle system. That is worth the extra dollar to fans. As a Mini, this game is easy to recommend.

Miscellaneous

I really don’t have much left to say about this game. It appears the developers are hoping to put out more books for download, and I find that to be a great idea. This kind of game is a perfect fit for Minis and I’m not likely to take it off of my PSP until I’ve unlocked everything.

If there’s one thing I would have liked, it would have been to find a way to add the illustrations when you’re playing the story. So much of the world has to be imagined even when the art is available in the game. That’s just too bad.

The Scores
Story: Very Good
Graphics: Mediocre
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

It may not look like much, but Fighting Fantasy for the PSN is pretty engaging game. With its multiple branching pathways, optional combat system, and great storytelling, this is one Mini that has mass appeal. The only people who shouldn’t give this game a good look are those that are afraid of reading. If you were ever a fan of choose your own adventure books, you pretty much need to get this game.

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