Inside Pulse 12

Review: Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Sony PS3/PSP)

Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Publisher: Laughing Jackal
Developer: Laughing Jackal
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 11/01/2011

A few of months ago, I reviewed Talisman of Death, which was the first of the Fighting Fantasy game books to be brought to the PSP Minis. It was a great idea. With a new interface, an optional combat system, and other niceties, the game was highly recommendable. In my review, I stated that Laughing Jackal was hoping to bring more books to the format, and it seems they wasted little time in banging out another entry.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain has seen a video game adaptation before. It was released as a first person dungeon crawler on the Nintendo DS, and the reviews were, to put it lightly, less than kind. It would seem that releasing the game as a Mini would be a great shot at redemption.

As this game uses the exact same engine with a few tweaks, some sections of this review will be copied from my review of ToD. These sections will be in italics, with all of the new stuff being in boring old regular font. Feel free to skip those sections if you’ve read it all before.

Story

This is about as generic as fantasy plots go. There’s a mountain said to be filled with treasures for the taking. All you have to do is take down an old warlock and the loot is yours. You play a nameless adventurer who dusts up on his swordsmanship and heads into the mountain to make his fortune.

The plot in this game is kind of disappointing. There aren’t nearly as many characters to interact with as in ToD and the quest is kind of lame. This is still a choose your own adventure, but there are far less meaningful choices to be made. One section even has you slowly making your way through a corridor and checking every door. Behind each door is an identical room with a different baddie guarding some next to worthless trinket. Compared to the sprawling city and outlying regions that ToD offered, this was a letdown.

To put it bluntly, this is the kind of story that a DM would make off the top of his head just so that the party would have something to do. This is somewhat understandable, as Firetop Mountain was the first book in the series, and the style had yet to be perfected. However, it doesn’t make for an interesting journey.

Graphics

From my previous review:

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

From my previous review:

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 through 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 to 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, the effects are 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

The game starts out the same. You make your character, which takes all of a couple of seconds. You basically reset your stats to your heart’s content and grab a potion of your choosing. Your stats are skill, stamina, and luck. Skill determines your abilities in battle, stamina is your health, and luck is an x factor that you test against to determine the outcome of certain non-combat situations. The potion you can grab is a one time refill of one of these attributes.

The inventory is handled a bit differently this time around. While you’ll still collect various trinkets and items on your journey, you’re limited as to when you can use them. In particular, you can’t use the health restoring provisions unless prompted by the game. This makes some sense, as it represents your character only stopping to eat when he is in a safe place, but it can be a bit inconvenient. Most items can only be used in one spot, and I found that gold was pretty much useless for most of the adventure.

Gameplay is still pretty much the same. You read a page, and then follow the instructions. At the end of most pages, you’ll be given an option as to what route to take, whether to start a fight, etc. In these cases, you need merely to click the desired option. I did find that there were fewer instances of you being able to have several choices as to how to deal with a situation. Often, the only choices are to fight or flee, which wasn’t exciting.

Combat is still the same as well. You attempt to hurt your opponent each turn either by rolling dice or playing a tile minigame. Each hit does two points of damage, though you can use a point of luck to boost damage or reduce it. Unlike ToD, you only ever go one on one in this game, so there are no decisions to make about who to attack. You face each opponent in a separate battle.

Overall, this game wasn’t as engaging or interesting as its predecessor. This is mostly due to the source material not being as complex, limiting the game’s ability to give the player options.

Replayability

The biggest thing going against this game is that you will most likely beat it on your first go. That is, of course, unless you didn’t explore enough to find all of the keys. This is one of those games where you can get to the end and beat the final boss, only to find that you missed some stupid item way back at the beginning. However, unlike something like Ghosts and Goblins, this game just ends and forces you to replay the whole thing.

If you did get the keys, the game is over, and there is no reason to go back unless you want to fill in your logbook with all of the pages. That was more interesting in ToD, because there were so many different ways the story could end. This is not the case for Firetop, and so you might be able to squeeze two playthroughs out of this game, tops. The second playthrough assumes that you didn’t get the keys the first time and that you’re willing to go through the whole game again.

Either way, the game won’t last more than a couple of hours, which, while not too bad for a Mini, isn’t exactly appealing.

Balance

This game is also a lot easier than its predecessor, which was disappointing.

Almost every enemy you come across has a snowball’s chance in hell of even scratching you, let alone killing you. Unless you go in with a gimped skill check, you’re going to cut through everything like a hot knife through butter. I only found two enemies that were even slightly tough, and one of them was the end boss. The other was a vampire that I was highly warned not to fight.

There are also very few instant deaths in this game. The right choice is abundantly clear, and most of the choices relate to simply making your way through an impossibly annoying maze near the end. Even if you get stuck, you can actually use online guides for the original game book and still make your way out in no time.

The only thing challenging about this game is staving off boredom, which is nothing less than a disappointment.

Originality

From my previous review:

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

A fundamental problem with this game is that there isn’t much variety in what you’re doing. As I mentioned before, one section of the game is literally a door filled corridor with near identical rooms and encounters. The only variety comes at the end, but it goes by so fast before the game is over. A huge section of the game is the maze. The maze will literally have you going in circles. Aesthetically, this is cool and just like a real life maze. In terms of gameplay, it’s frustrating. There are no visual clues to guide you, and the descriptions aren’t too helpful. You’d be better off drawing a map, or simply looking the answer up online.

Let’s put it this way: I immediately started a new adventure after my first death in ToD; in this game, I was glad the adventure was over.

Appeal Factor

Once again, reading is a key factor in how this game plays. If you can’t play something without a visual world to look at, you’re going to want to avoid this game.

For fans of the series, this book is a perfect translation, only dressed up in a fancy interface system and given some graphics. The new battle system is preferable to simply rolling the dice, but if you already own the book, you probably won’t find much here to sustain you, especially since the game is more expensive than a digital copy of the book.

If you liked ToD and want another adventure, this is worth a look, but be forewarned that it is weaker in all of the important aspects, and should be looked upon as such.

All told, this game’s appeal is less than it could have been.

Miscellaneous

All I can say about this game is that I was definitely disappointed. A huge part of any adventure game is the story, and this game falls flat on its face in that regard. Such a generic plot cannot carry interest in this type of setting.

This doesn’t mean I’ve been soured on the series. The formula still works; it’s just that the source material needs to be stronger. I’m hoping that they continue to release these books as Minis.

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

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is incredibly faithful to its source material, which turns out to be its biggest flaw, as the story is not up to snuff and the adventure is anything but fun. There is some enjoyment to be had if you like this sort of game, but you’re much better off with Talisman of Death, or waiting until another book is translated. This is one entry in the series that you can safely miss.

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