As a huge fan of the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy series, I was very excited to learn that the DS would be getting its own version of the role-playing books. Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a dungeon-crawling, old school RPG take on the classic first book of the series, with the noble goal of bringing the game's vivid fantasy world to life.
Plenty of creative license has been invoked and there's certainly far more fighting than fantasy, but has this led to a successful translation of the original book, or will fans come away disappointed? Read on as we review Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.
Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (DS)
Developer: Big Blue Bubble/Games Workshop
Released: November 24, 2009
When The Warlock of Firetop Mountain first starts, you're given a brief questionarre to find out what kind of adventurer you are. Depending on your answers, the game will decide if you are warrior, a wizard or an archer. If you don't like your class, you can always create your own character. The classes are incredibly straightforward and should be familiar to even a basic RPG player -- the warrior specializes in hack n' slash, the wizard lobs fireballs and the archer specializes in ranged combat. Easy enough to remember.
As with the book, players take on the role of an adventurer who seeks a vast treasure rumored to be hidden within Firetop Mountain. However, if you're expecting any narrative deeper than that, you're destined for disappointment. After a brief tutorial within a small and rather uninteresting town, you're thrown into the game's one and only dungeon, within which you'll spend the rest of the game fighting, looting, backtracking, unlocking doors, looting, fighting, backtracking, fighting, fighting, backtracking, unlocking doors and backtracking. Occasionally you'll meet an NPC with a quest for you, although the quests are only ever as complex as "bring me this," or "bring me three of this" or "kill these things."
Strangely enough though, I don't have a problem with this. The game is a lonely and bleak little dungeon crawler with nothing to really offer except monsters, weapons and a vague sense of progression, and yet there's something pure about the gameplay that I can respect. I like that it's a shallow dungeon crawler. It's incredibly retro and the simplicity is something you don't often see in RPGs these days. For a while, Fighting Fantasy's straightforward gameplay is addictive and fun, but unfortunately, it hits huge snag an hour into the game -- the fact that it's the most unbalanced RPG I've ever played.
After just an hour, I suddenly found myself being unable to kill a single monster, and when I say suddenly, I really mean it. One second I'm easily dispatching orcs, and the next I come face-to-face with an undead dwarf that kills me with two clean hits while my own weapon is knocking off less than 10% of his HP. Right behind the dwarf is a floating ball of eyes that is flinging instant-death fireballs like they're free candy.
At first, I thought I merely wandered into a room that I was not yet ready for, but quickly found out that the whole game is like this. Eventually, there was barely a single room I could enter that wouldn't be full of overpowered monsters that could slaughter me in one or two hits. It's like repeatedly smashing one's face into a brick wall and it quickly loses any semblance of fun.
It's a real shame, because I want to love this game a lot. Even the first-person controls, which I usually hate on the DS, work out pretty well and manage to not frustrate thanks to the simple hack n' slash gameplay. Unfortunately, Firetop Mountain is just too cheap and frustrating to play, forcing gangs of unbeatable enemies upon relatively rookie players for seemingly no good reason whatsoever.
One could try and grind, but from the looks of it, doing so would take almost forever. Each level gain only raises your attributes by a tiny amount, and you get a whopping one skill to raise your Stamina, Intelligence, Skill or Luck. It's simply not enough to deal with the vast horde of ridiculously buffed enemies. There's no scale, no sliding difficulty, nothing. If anybody was hired to test the balance in this game, they need to be fired. Quickly.
Other problems that could have been ignored include an incredibly bad map and a guiding compass that does not guide you anywhere. The production values are also incredibly low -- there is no background music, and the graphics could be described as "nostalgic" at best and "awful" at the most accurate. Still, these are issues I could have been very willing to forgive if the developers had concentrated on making the game fun instead of unfairly punishing.
Did I beat The Warlock of Firetop Mountain? Hell no, and I wouldn't advise anybody to try. Not unless they actively enjoy slamming concrete blocks onto their dicks. The old school charm quickly wears off and gives way to a game that simply does not want you to have fun. It's absolutely tragic, because I was just starting to really get into it before the game basically slammed the door in my face and said "fuck off."
So I fucked off.
Score: 4 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)
reviewed by Jim Sterling