Monday, July 13, 2015

Game #42: The Faery Tale Adventure (Genesis) - A Quest in an Empty World (Finished)

Game 42

Title: The Faery Tale Adventure
Released: 1991
Platform: Genesis
Developer: New World Computing (original development by MicroIllusions)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action-RPG
Exploration - Top-down / Isometric
Combat - Action based
Series - Standalone (on console; PC had a sequel)

Once upon a time, the end. This is how this game should be treated. It's just not worth the time. Boasting an expansive world is worthless when it's not filled with interesting encounters. Completing this game was a wholly unsatisfying endeavor, from disjointed quest hints to unnecessarily long mazes and soft locks. It's enough of a mess that even Chet over at The CRPG Addict decided he'd had enough of the game about mid-way through. I'm amazed that anyone thought this was a good idea to port to console.
Alright, I've got my blame list
Looking over the list of developers I was confused over New World Computing's role in the creation of this game. All the names were employees of MicroIllusions, which created the original game. In the early 90's this company filed for bankruptcy, and while I can't find hard evidence, I suspect during the liquidation that NWC bought up their IP. Having a close relation with EA, and an easy buck to be made, they ported this to the Genesis. However, neither the game nor manual mentions of anyone with direct ties to NWC. It's possible EA was the one that carried this project, and only licensed the rights. EA's role is detailed in the manual, so maybe that's as far as it goes. Eventually this IP would find its way back to the original developers working at The Dreamers Guild, a company formed shortly after the collapse of MicroIllusions. That one was never ported to console though, so we won't see it here.
Enter the red shirt
The back story, presented storybook fashion, refers to events in the past tense. The land of Holm was threatened by an evil necromancer and his encroaching army of evil. Only three brothers hailing from Tambry were capable of recovering a talisman of power that once protected their village (seriously, forget all those other villages). Their father was the first sent out to discover the cause of the invasion, but he returned mortally wounded. With his dying words he spoke of mysterious prophecy, never detailed, that foretold of a large fetch quest with many different parts, and he tasked his sons with fulfilling the vague instructions. Each brother begins with a bare minimum of equipment: a dirk and twenty gold. Instead of controlling all three at once, they take turns by age once they realize the previous brother to venture out hadn't returned for some time.
*Plop*
Tambry is a small village with only a few houses to loot. The local tavern had provisions, so I bought a couple travel rations and a meal to start my journey. I noted a few weapon upgrades and other consumables that I couldn't afford. The mayor directed me to beseech the king of Marheim for aid. On the road there I passed by a graveyard, was assaulted by a wraith, and died. Great peril really does exist. As luck would have it, each brother has a guardian angel that revives them for the cost of 5 luck.
Learning about the witch of Grimwood
The stats for each character are Bravery (battle prowess), Luck (used only to revive), Kindness (if it drops too low, then NPCs will ignore the brother), and Vitality (i.e. hit points). There's a nice compass that highlights the direction I'm headed. Below that is my gold value. The action menu from top-left is inventory, pause, take item, look, toggle music, toggle sound, give gold or item, talk, save, and restore. Each enemy defeated increases bravery by one point. At the time in the above picture, I had used an item called a jade skull to safely kill an enemy that carried the sword I now wielded. With it I killed two more enemies, but suffered another death. Spoils are gained after each battle by taking items off the bodies. Most enemies provide the weapon they were wielding plus an additional item such as a key or magical trinket. Keys are vital to making it anywhere in this game, and they're completely random drops.
Maybe I'll have better luck with Phillip
Julian met his end before I could find the correct key to unlock any of the doors in Marheim, which is on complete lock-down. So, Phillip began his adventure. At the entrance to Tambry I met the apparition of "my dead brother." (Seriously, they couldn't spare the room to note Julian or Philip?) He spoke of his belongings deposited with his body in the graveyard. Sure enough I was able to recover every bit of my inventory. While that's helpful, it still did nothing for my current predicament.
I'm missing two keys, one of which opens the door to the first castle to complete the first step in the quest
So, I wandered around the land looking for a key that according to the manual is most likely a white key that drops from wraiths. The other key is a red one that drops from skeletons, but that one is relegated to secret doors according to the manual. Thankfully the kind folks at EA provided a reference map in the manual, without which I would have been completely lost. It notes the locations Tambry and Marheim (the only towns on this island), points of interest such as Hemsath's Tomb and Isle of Sorcery, and other unnamed locations that include various roadside inns, ancient forts, and stone circles. I picked out the Vermillion Manor as an interesting place to investigate. Along the way I checked out the stone circle east of Tambry. These circles act as quick travel between each one for the cost of one blue stone. Sitting in the middle was a pile of gold, which I added to my reserves.
The map from the manual notes several key locations
As I followed the road north I ran into another wise man that revealed crystal orbs as useful for detecting invisible doors. With a few more battles under my belt by the time I reached the manor, I was feeling a bit more confident about my foothold in the game. Rations are used quickly, and at this point I wasn't sure what effect starving would have on my character. Each ration costs 8 gold, and the only gold source I'd found was the stash at the stone circle; I was beginning to worry about food. The manor provided another stockpile of gold, which I was grateful for, but I quickly found myself in an impossible situation.
Having used both my green keys to enter, I exited the manor to find myself trapped inside
That's right. The game has a soft-lock state where it's possible to entrap one of the brothers inside the walls of the Vermillion Manor. The manual even notes such, although in the hints section, which I skipped over. Restoring a saved game is a complete state, including location, and I had no luck getting enemies to spawn within the manner to hopefully get the correct key drop. So, I restarted the game, and promptly got Julian killed again.
This time I had better luck getting the correct key to the castle
I found the king in a state of complete depression over the kidnapping of his daughter. He wouldn't even lift a finger to point me in the right direction. So, I followed the south road to a place called The Watchtower. There I found a seashell that summoned a turtle, which allowed me to cross the oceans with ease. No enemies spawn while at sea. With no other leads, I returned to the mayor who lamented for the king's loss and directed me to the Isle of Sorcery where a sorceress lives. It wasn't hard to locate with the map, and the turtle allowed me to reach her with few encounters.
Finally! Some direction
The sorceress revealed that I would need to find five golden statues, the first of which she provided. I had no idea how these would help me, but at least it's something. I returned to the mayor of Tambry, and he spoke of the Lord of the Dead roaming the graveyard at the witching hour. It wasn't quite night, so I wondered to the west this time, but only discovered a couple more inns. When night fell, I hurried back to the graveyard. Time isn't ever displayed, so entering the crypt at the right time took a couple of tries, and a key each time as it locked behind me. Once I spoke to the specter, he told me to bring him a bone of an ancient king, and then he'd help me destroy the necromancer. The tomb seemed like the most likely place to get such a bone.
To sleep, just stand still on a bed roll and wait; otherwise, face exhaustion and collapse in the middle of an adventure
Inside the tomb were a couple of mazes. One held a clue to a golden beast to capture, but first a special rope must be gained. The other was a much larger affair of locked golden doors requiring golden keys. Getting through them all required more keys than would show up on the inventory screen. So, I had to constantly wait for skeletons to appear in order to gain more.
Not even a straight path
I spent a good amount of energy making certain I had enough food to make it in and out during each expedition. Unfortunately, it wasn't simple as unlocking all the the doors. Each time I left the tomb, all the doors would lock again. Also, I'm not sure if it's specific to the Genesis port, but only a certain number of doors can be open at one time. I noticed this in the middle of the maze when I ran out of keys. I found myself stuck in the middle. I'd approximate the number at 8 to 10 doors, and there were about 20 in total. So, I sat there, waiting for skeletons to spawn, hoping they'd drop keys; quickly working my way through the last of my rations. Crystal balls are described in the manual as helpful to finding secret doors in the tomb. So, I tried them out; they only work on the visible area of the screen. My first only led to more doors, but helpfully a golden statue otherwise inaccessible. Using the secret doors are the key to getting through this area with minimal keys.
One of the luckiest pair of secret doors ever, and on my last crystal ball
Through a couple more secret doors the tomb opened up to a larger chamber. By this time Phillip was starving. A condition that's less life-threatening than combat. At the time Phillip would normally eat, if he doesn't have any rations, he loses a mere two points of vitality. By this time I had enough health vials that I wasn't too worried about it. The chamber led to a long hallway and to the bone I sought. One side effect to hunger is that Phillip started to jitter about as he moved, as if he had the shakes. It made an already slow walk even slower. Delivering the bone gained me a crystal shard, which does me absolutely no good with my present dilemma. At this point I expected another hint from the mayor, but he was oddly silent. When I attempted to talk to him, the screen would pause for a moment like it was thinking, and then nothing.
So, I went to go fight a dragon
The descriptions of many items spoil a lot of the game. I'm not sure if this was done through pity by the R.J. Berg (in charge of documentation at EA), or if this is true to the computer versions, but I'm thankful in any case. The gold ring highlighted here works as a time stop for enemies. The manual says it's useful for getting past the dragon in her cave to search for the wand.
If I were a dragon's cave, where would I be?
Sticking true to its ideals, the cave was a long twisty maze devoid of anything interesting. The dragon herself could be subdued, but would soon rise again full of fury. Retrieving the wand and escaping was an easy feat with the numerous gold rings I'd found. Next time I returned to the mayor he pointed me towards a golden treasure kept in a hold south of Marheim. I headed straight south, and circled the mountains until I came upon a strange sight.
I've reached the mountains south, but see two possible holds
It's difficult to see, but I'm at the black cross. The fort below is completely walled off. The one on the left I encountered a black figure that proclaimed the place as "the sacred shrine of the People who came Before." The wand was useless against him, but he was easy to defeat in a duel with the sword. Standing just outside his range I swung my sword until he proclaimed me the victor. Combat in general is a bit underwhelming, especially at 500 bravery. All the melee weapons only require holding down the attack button, and then facing the direction of the enemy. While doing so, the character is immobile. There is a bow, which is useless in my hands, but deadly in the enemies (it even ignores bravery, which acts as a defense bonus). Mainly it's because enemies match my movement perfectly, and travel at my max speed, so there's no kiting and no escape. The wand is slightly better as it has a higher damage output, but I preferred the sword when I could get away with it.
Using a bird token to get an overhead view of Grimwood forest maze
My reward for defeating the black figure was the Sunstone, which automatically disables the witch's aura. I took the long way to her castle in the middle of Grimwood due to not having many bird totems (the only way to view the map). I'm glad I did; doing so allowed me to find another golden statue in another part of the maze. I used the wand to take care of the witch, and she dropped the magic lasso. I took this immediately to Swan Isle to procure the last golden swan. I then flew to the princess tucked away in that unreachable fort.
What other method is there to fly that someone could stash the princess here?
What happens if Phillip dies, does she just pledge her love to Kevin?
The safe return of the princess produced a thanks from the king along with a modest gift of gold. He pointed me to the priest in town that had been holding a golden statue all along. I had enough keys at this point to check all the houses. Only two produced a hefty supply of apples. One other housed a wise man that told me of the swan I had just flown on. The priest handed over the statue, and revealed they were from Azal-Car-Ithil. Gathering all five would reveal this vanished city. The map had Azal noted as in the middle of the desert. With one last statue to find, I flew from point to point on the map until I finally came upon it at Seahold in the southeast corner of the island. Up to this point the mayor had kept repeating his hint of something golden to the south. Once I had all five he told me to seek out Azal.
Wait! How did that guy find it before me?
Azal was the resting place of a rose that protects me from lava, the first barrier to the necromancer's castle. I braved the Plain of Grief to find his castle, barren and devoid of any threat worth speaking. Inside his castle was a blue magic barrier that I'm guessing didn't block me due to the crystal. The only thing on the other side was a portal to a different plane of existence. It had floating shapes that attacked, but only three of them appeared. There was different colored terrain in this strange place: green was normal, blue had weird ice physics, and red sped me up considerably. The final showdown took place in a completely black area that reversed the controls. In the center was the necromancer that fell quickly to the wand blasts.
I just realized I forgot to talk to him, or maybe I just didn't care enough to try
Picking up the talisman started the ending sequence where Phillip returned to Marheim, had a wedding, and lived happily ever after. That's it, nothing more to see. Overall it's an easy game, but the size of the world plus the disconnect between one step and the next makes it drag on far too long. The golden statue at Seahold isn't mentioned anywhere in the game according to the manual (it has a step by step guide for beating the game, which I didn't read I completed it). Actually, the game didn't mention the one in the tomb or forest as far as I know. I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone. On to the review, and a better game: Final Fantasy Legend II. I'm actually quite behind on posts, and have finished that game as well.
On the back of a horse? Have you no shame?
Elapsed Time: 11h12m (Final Time: 11h12m)

Combatant - Combat is the worst offender of this game. Random keys drop from random enemies that will most likely kill you before you can even get a foothold in the game. Once you do though, things swing completely in the other direction as to become trivial. Still random drops rule all, and if the game doesn't want to give you a single white key, it doesn't have to.
Rating: 3
Did they not even try to improve the game?
Admirer - At least each character has a unique look, and the weapon shown is the one wielded; however, that last aspect is limited to only the two most powerful weapons of which there are only five (wand, sword, bow, mace, dirk). There' no armor, and no other way to customize the characters. Controls aren't bad, but walking is extremely slow. Strangely, the inn menu and stone circle location menu of my copy of the game seemed to react to up and down per frame instead of per button press. I'm not sure how that would even happen.
Rating: 3
Poor Kevin, I wonder if anyone even used him
Puzzler - No side quests, many red herrings, and a main quest that's a complete mess to follow. This game deserves the first 0 in this category. Maybe things would have fared better with clues or hints that took some thought.
Rating: 0
Why is this note here, and who was it written to?
Instigator - The only reason this doesn't get lower is there's at least a passable story here with some descriptions and hints by various wise men that act more as signposts than people. Knowing how to trigger each point is covered above. The idea of playing through a cliche fairy tale could have been more interesting, but this game falls flat.
Rating: 3
Which goal?
Collector - Possibly one of the best inventory displays I've seen, although the selection is rather poor. Half the items are hardly useful, but the economy keeps me wanting to purchase bird totems until I'm poor. I'm missing one item (the rose) in the below shot, and it's obvious where it goes. If only this were in a better game. I didn't cover the green stones that light the night red, but they're only sometimes useful.
Rating: 6
Item count can go above what's displayed, but there's no way of telling how high
Explorer - As I mentioned, graphics, music, and sound are sufficient if not good. The world at large is expansive, and there's nothing preventing exploration of every corner from the very beginning. Nothing prevents it because nothing is there. It's a nice calming nature walk when the game cover and manual promises excitement and adventure. There are a few items, chests, and random gold piles to discover, but nothing really jumps out as surprising.
Rating: 6
Here's the password for the above inventory, and very nearly the end of the game for anyone interested
Final Rating: 21 [35%]

A forgettable game that I don't mind remaining forgotten. There was a lot of promise, but not fully realized. Had the quest been streamlined with hints all the way through it might have been tolerable. Had the world not been so empty, it could have at least been entertaining to get lost. Had someone play tested this game, maybe someone would have been able to adjust it. In the end, there are better games out there that do these things better, even on the Genesis.

Now on to Final Fantasy Legend II.

16 comments:

  1. This is surely one of those games which makes you question your commitment, isn't it? Especially since the CRPG Addict didn't enjoy it.

    At least you get FF Legend 2 next. I enjoyed the first one so I'll be interested to see if the second one is better. I might even play along.

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    1. Nah, it wasn't that bad really. It's not that I hated it, it was just drawn out so long that it became a chore to get anywhere. From what I've read, Chet didn't like it for the same reason, but he was much more apt to dropping a game, something I hope to not have to do.

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  2. The next time I feel like playing retro RPGs, I'm skipping this one. I learned my lesson from Traysia, the lesson being "listen to the people who played through it and tell you it's awful."

    Your evaluation of Buck Rogers was intriguing though. It made me want to give that one a try.

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    1. Traysia and Sorcerer's Kingdom will be interesting. I mean, I haven't really heard more than a lukewarm response for them. I'm looking forward to them more on the chance I'll somehow enjoy them rather than eagerly excited. At this point I don't hold out much hope for finding hidden gems no one has heard of before.

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    2. "I haven't really heard more than a lukewarm response for them."

      Both are pretty much the definition of lukewarm experiences. :-) However, Sorcerer's Kingdom at least offers a very user-friendly method of moving between locations.

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    3. Well, even if they don't wow me, I do enjoy exploring mostly unknown territory.

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    4. Same here -- and it's true, they don't get a lot of press. Sorcerer's Kingdom I genuinely enjoyed, if only because it goes out of its way to make itself as painless as possible. It's a slight but reasonable game. Traysia, on the other hand...

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  3. Awesome review and writing! For me, as a kid, I probably might have loved the emptiness. I could have filled that space with my imagination. Always worried about what's around the corner, so to speak. Probably, after a while, I would have been bored by it... but maybe that's what they were going for? Also, just having such a large "world" would be different than a typical RPG "city" of 5 clumped buildings that have no other purpose than to move the plot/hero along.

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    1. I can see the appeal for a while, but it's not something that can sustain itself. I'm not sure they were really going for boring, as the back story sets up an exciting time. Honestly, beyond the random beggars, wise men, innkeepers, there's the mayor, king, page, princess, guards, priest, lord of the dead, and sorceress. That's the entire cast of NPCs, and each one is specifically geared towards moving the plot forward.

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  4. ^I loved the emptiness as an adult!

    I liked Faery Tale Adventure a lot, for pretty much the exact same reasons you (Zenic Reverie) hated it. For me, it was a welcome change from endless cookie-cutter RPGs (especially JRPGs) that treat the protagonist as the center of the world, in which every single object is designed to serve you in some way, and the outdoors is merely a series of plot points on rails. The world of Faery Tale Adventure is beautifully indifferent to your existence, and there are whole areas that serve no purpose and have no secret items -- they just are.

    Yet somehow it's not irritating; like Anonymous said above, the emptiness was somehow appealing and stimulating to my imagination. Personally, I find that FTA captures the feeling of real-life exploration -- exploring the woods, stumbling upon things at great intervals -- better than any other game I've played. But, YMMV; I love a lot of things (movies, music, video games) that most people don't enjoy, and I guess this is one of them.

    (That said, I'll certainly admit the game's combat is thin at best, and gets ridiculously unbalanced after a small amount of grinding.)

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    1. That's a fine thing to enjoy in a game, and I hoped it was reflected that if that's what you like then you might enjoy this game. Exploration and collection received high marks for it, but for me, if that's the only thing going for it I won't enjoy it. The locations here aren't really interesting to look at, unlike exploring real-life. If done right, it could be rewarding for me to find a place in a game that really doesn't have any character benefit, such as a unique location.

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    2. It's a tough era to look for beauty without purpose, for obvious reasons.

      Lord of the Rings Vol. 1 for SNES is another one that has large areas with no real purpose, though the design on that one is much more segmented and episodic. (I assume it'll be on your playlist.) Unlike FTA I won't claim LOTRv1 is a good game -- it isn't -- but it does have a certain stark beauty to it, especially the soundtrack and sound design. It's also more fun, or at least more playable, with one or more people playing with you (it supports up to 5P simultaneous).

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    3. It's a tough era to look for beauty without purpose, for obvious reasons.

      Sorry, just realized how gnomic that comment sounds!

      What I mean is that the limitations of ROM space mean that eye candy for its own sake is hard to come by; when you don't have room to fit everything in to begin with, it's hard to make something that just exists without advancing the plot. Occasionally people did, though.

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    4. I do have LotR Vol 1 on my list, and plan to include it. From what I've seen it's very light on character development, but as a game I played as a kid without getting anywhere I kind of want to explore it. I didn't realize it had multi-player, that might be interesting. It's a completely different game from the PC version iirc.

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  5. It was cathartic to read your account. So many people made me feel bad for quitting this one, it's good to hear that my decision was sensible from someone who actually played it to the end.

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    1. I think you get that nearly every game you pass on. Given that by description the DOS game moves at a much slower pace you were probably looking at around 20 hours, which are better spent on other games. The end goal really wasn't a fulfilling, and you got most of the experience from what you did explore. Also, welcome; I don't remember having you stop by before. Keep up the great work, you're doing a brilliant job.

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