|Their tails are going like fan|
blades right now. Vrrooooom!!
The most stand-out thing about this book is the cover. It is the best cover of any FF book of all time, because it shows a mongolian barbarian who seems to be wielding a death-mace-whip weapon of some sort, and his trusty eagle companion, jet-skiing across a river by means of standing on top of two saber-toothed tigers. There is simply nothing better than this image. Compared to jet-skiing tigers, Game of Thrones falls flat on its face. "Oh, you have dire wolves? Can I jet-ski on them? I don't think so!"
Well, the formula of the adventure seems standard. A villainous warlock (or in this case, the vizier Chingiz) is trying to usurp power in Kazan, and I need to go and stop it, or something. Aside from the usual stats, the book also has a poison rating. Well, not so much a rating, but it's a little drawing of a man with his body parts blocked out into seperate areas. As you go through the adventure, you fill in more and more of the body, until the poison takes over and you die. Charming. So already the book is devising new ways to kill the player.
So how do you get poisoned in the first place? What are the plans of the evil vizier? What are my starting stats for this game? Let's find out! Well, stamina's a lowly 15, but skill's a decent 9, so it looks like we might do okay this time.
The adventure starts as an assassin is trying to stab me to death. So, not fooling around, then. The last time I started an adventure by almost being stabbed, I wound up being accused of being the false prophet (wow, an Ultima reference? I'm feeling very retro today!). He barely manages to scratch me with the titular dagger of darkness, but in doing so I have been intoxicated with the poison that will slowly try to claim my life.
|There was a time when all video games started like this|
With Cliff's advice still ringing in my ears, I head out on my travels. Before long, I find another of the Select, who is laying dying with one of the daggers of darkness embedded in his chest. He manages to tell me which way the assassins went, so I opt to head in the opposite direction. I don't have the chance to rob the body though, because the full force of the poison that flows through the poor victim causes his body to crumble to dust - along with ALL OF HIS POSSESSIONS as well! How does that work? Seriously? Did the gold coins in his bag get poisoned too? Damn, I don't stand a chance with that kind of poison in my system! I'm lucky that plants don't just die as I walk past them...
|What does it say about me that the first version of|
this shot I looked for was the Ralph Bakshi one?
It seems that the riders weren't assassins, because when they confront me and I tell them that I'm one of the Select, they greet me with praise and respect and offer to take me along on my journey. They even give me a horse to ride on. An old gray mare (which ain't what it used to be), and before long I'm making really good progress.
Well, we make good progress until we're attacked by orcs and my entire party is scattered or killed during the night (although I'm sure a couple manage to scramble into Fangorn Forest and are probably eaten by Ents). I chop up a few of the orcs, but I'm left stumbling in the dark. From somewhere in the shadows, I am assailed by a 'dark warrior', who I have to assume is one of the vizier's assassins. I take a skill penalty due to the darkness, but I'm still able to overwhelm my enemy and push on.
|If Obi-Wan asks you to go to Port Blacksand,|
the wisest answer is to tell him 'no'
By this point, the poison's already starting to really build up and it's close to taking a full third of my body. I haven't found any of the medallion/talisman/amulet things as of yet, and I'm rather certain I should have come across one by now and simply missed it. Maybe my luck will change soon, because it's not long before I'm rescuing a fellow adventurer from a pack of goblins. He seems a trustworthy sort, so I tell him that I'm one of the Select.
It turns out that this is a good idea, because he teaches me how to fight in the dark. Which would have been really useful a few sections ago when I was fighting the dark warrior, but I don't mind. We head to a nearby tavern, where I have a quick meal. It seems that things will be settling down for a while...
|So, Adventurer, what is best in life?|
He knocks me around the arena for a while, beats me in combat, I no doubt pee myself, and he leaves me in a pool of my own embarrassment. Strange, this didn't happen to Conan.
Anyway, it seems that my willingness to stand up and make myself the center of attention has caught the notice of one old man, who tells me that he has been watching for the Select, and he can tell that I am one. Being one of the traditionalists, he wants to see the old rituals of royal ascension maintained, so he hurries me to my freedom. We journey to his home city, where I am plied with food and wine (and I chug down my Stamina Potion now so that my health is maxed out) and I'm told about the trials that stand before me.
In order to win my first medallion, I need to win the test of chance. To do so, I need to make my way from one side of a chamber to the other. There is no floor, only a series of pillars which I need to walk over the top of. Several of these pillars hold vicious snakes. So in short, it's like the movie "The Golden Child", if you remember back when Eddie Murphy made good films (oh, so long ago)...
|We should have just let Lara Croft handle this part|
Oh, and if you can't move on any given turn (either because you're unable to move in the direction that the dice indicates, or because it rolled 1/2), you lose one stamina point... I don't know why. I assume that there's a group of men standing at the entrance who throw rocks at you or something. It's the only logical reason, because as it plays out, I wasn't able to get across this pit. Eventually, only one step from being all the way across, I rolled a 2 and my stamina hit zero. Because the book doesn't tell me WHY it is that I died, and because my 'men throwing rocks at you' idea sounds too sadistic even for this type of test, I'm going to just assume my character died from a bad case of death.
Not a bad book, the atmosphere is very thick and you get a real sense of history and fantasy environment from it. It's a lovely escapist piece, because it gives a very unique feel to the area and culture you're travelling through. But the downside, it's one of those very difficult books. It often feels like the author was trying to make sure you couldn't get through some parts without vast amounts of luck (actual luck, not the stat).
I can tell the thing that knocked it's value down, though, is that it used to belong to a library in Inverclyde. The stamps on it are quite interesting - it was taken out twice in 96, a few other times during 96-99, and then wasn't taken out at all until 2004, possibly being filed away in a back room somewhere for half a decade. See, you just don't get this kind of history with eBooks.
Overall the condition of it is good, and given that it's one of the rarest FF books around, £35 was a great price for it. Flicking through it, I remember how lovely the artwork is, evoking so much of the atmosphere of the original 'Vault of the Vampire' while at the same time giving so much more of the setting and landscape it takes place in. Can't wait to try it out again!