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Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain Package Art
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Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard scoring criteria.

The Fighting Fantasy franchise originated in the 1980s as books that combined the premise of Choose Your Own Adventure with dice-based combat derived from Dungeons & Dragons. This Nintendojo reviewer has fond memories of working through one such Fighting Fantasy book as a kid and can testify to the immersion and "replay" value that the books had.

Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain for Nintendo DS is based loosely on the first book in the Fighting Fantasy series. The game is a first-person action RPG experience and bears a lot of similarities to Elder Scrolls games, albeit less complex. In so doing, the DS game showcases both some nice addictive qualities and glaring noticeable flaws; the sum of which is a promising but problematic action RPG.

The player begins the game by answering a series of questions and then being offered either a premade character or a chance to create one. There are three major character attributes (stamina, skill, intuition) which correspond to the notions of warrior, thief and mage, respectively. (A fourth attribute, luck, is not well described and its usefulness is unclear.) In addition, the game also allows players to choose and boost something called abilities, which are a bit like feats seen in Forgotten Realms games or Knights of the Old Republic. As players level up, they can either specialize or diversify their attributes and abilities, although most players will probably discover that specialization is more effective in the long run. Each character “class” has its own strengths and weaknesses and makes replaying with different configurations worth the effort.

Fighting Fantasy Screens

To be fair, Fighting Fantasy does not make a great first impression. Players begin the quest with a rather middling narrative about going to some city looking for some treasure, and the game does a rather mediocre job of introducing and explaining its mechanics. The manual is of little help, either, as it more or less repeats what little is found in-game. For example, the player has three bars -- hit points, magic points, and energy -- but there is no explanation anywhere of what energy is or how it is depleted. (Turns out energy is tied to sprinting, but neither this fact nor instructions on how to sprint are mentioned in the game or in the manual.) Likewise, players can put attribute points into categories but the fourth category of luck is so vaguely described that its virtue is unclear. The irony is that Fighting Fantasy is a really good-looking game, with gorgeous locations, especially early on; it’s a shame that the game doesn’t do a better job of drawing the player in during the opening minutes.

With time, though, the game ramps up and gets more interesting. The game lasts about ten hours or so, with the player character traversing a variety of locations en route to an inevitable confrontation with the game’s namesake, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The game is a pure dungeon crawl, with a lot of dark caverns and a cast of characters that include familiar Orcs, Dwarves, and Elves. Nestled in the mountain are traps, locked chests, and merchants with randomly-rotating inventories. A collection of main quests and sidequests are in play, including more than a few of the fetching variety. Once the game gets going, it’s actually quite addictive, especially since characters level up quickly and acquire new equipment at a pretty brisk pace. At times the game has that “just one more level” or “just one more quest” feel to it, a testament to its ability to pull players in at times.

If that were the end of the story, this game with the slow start would nevertheless finish as a fantastic game. Sadly, the opening act is not the game’s only shortcoming. The difficulty of the game, for example, is frustratingly inconsistent. Some of the enemies are pushovers and can be felled in just a few strokes, while other enemies possess special attacks that make them nigh unbeatable. Given that a room may spawn one of the easy or hard enemies depending on random chance, the game often becomes an exercise in luck. Players may find themselves forced to backtrack and level grind in order to handle the toughest enemies of the next major area. Other enemies, such as those who inflict specific status effects, are so cheap that they never really feel surmountable.

The game’s difficulty is mitigated somewhat by few factors, both intentional and unintentional. As noted earlier, leveling up happens pretty quickly and isn’t as much of a chore as it can be in other RPGs. The game has an autosave system that saves every time a character enters a new room, so death usually only costs a player a minute or two, if that. Less intentional is the game’s enemy path-finding, which sometimes results in monsters getting stuck behind walls.

Fighting Fantasy Screens

Sadly, there are far more glitches than that. Scattered reports abound on message boards of a variety of different problems ranging from broken quests to crashing bugs, although Nintendojo did not observe any of these. We did observe, however, a couple of major ones. One, the game features chests with elaborate lockpicking minigames, but they can be circumvented simply by clicking on an icon inside the character screen. Less serious, but still annoying, is the fact that game options, including settings for lefties, are reset whenever the DS is turned off, meaning that southpaw players have to reconfigure the controls each time they boot up the game.

Speaking of controls, Fighting Fantasy is one of those games that works better in theory than it does in practice. The game effectively maps one hand to the touch screen and another to moving and strafing. (The L and R buttons can also be mapped to a single attack or spell.) While this arrangement sounds good in theory, the non-touch hand can get pretty cramped after awhile. The touchscreen, meanwhile, is home to most of the action, whether it be shortcuts to attacks and items, accessing inventory, or simply looking around. The touch screen actually works pretty intuitively, and the developers made the in-game menu customizable, so players can decide what goes where.

Taken as a whole, Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain certainly has a lot going for it. The pedigree as a legendary book series, combined with the appeal of an Elder Scrolls-style gameplay approach, would seem to be a recipe for success. Unfortunately, unclear mechanics, uneven difficulty, uncomfortable controls, and some serious glitches and hiccups do a lot of damage to the overall experience. It’s certainly a pretty game, and it does a few things pretty well, but it also stumbles in some rather serious places along the way. Still, it retains enough of an addictive dungeon-crawl charm that it may be worth a risk to some once the price comes down.

final score 6.0/10

Staff Avatar Joshua Johnston
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"Round 1! Fight!"

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