Many years ago; as a child; I come across a book called Return to Firetop Mountain, by Ian Livingstone. Inside I found a grand adventure to slay an evil Wizard, in which you chose your own adventure and made meaningful decisions which affected whether your character would live or die. In these game books, you would start with a character sheet, generate your stats, and read until you had to make a decision. The book would direct you to go to different pages based on your choices and you just had to face the consequences. In some ways, this was my first introduction to proper RPGs, and it was terrifying. The amount of times I would write down what page I’d just come from just in case I died going forwards… I was a child and they were pretty difficult.
Skip ahead 18-odd years, and here I am having played a good few hours of Fighting Fantasy Legends; a game celebrating some of the most popular books in the Fighting Fantasy series which Ian Livingston and Steve Jackson began in 1982. It is comprised of the content of three books; The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: The Citadel of Chaos and City of Thieves; but fleshes out all three by combining them into a single, cohesive world. Whilst you are introduced to City of Thieves first, you can (in theory) tackle the stories in any order.
It begins with a simple character creation; you choose race (which determines character model, among other things) and decide on your point allocation. This determines how many dice you have for skill tests; how many you have for luck tests and how much stamina (Health) you can have as a maximum. Interestingly, your stamina is dependent on how many points you actually use. I chose to pull both skill and luck up to twelve dice, meaning that my stamina was only 12, but it would be just as viable to bring stamina to its maximum of 24 and have 6 in luck and skill. Once created, my character was thrown into the deep end of a quest to save Silverton from a Skeleton King.
The gameplay of Legends is a combination of difficult choices, world exploration and dice rolls; much like Steve Jackson’s earlier adaptation of his Sorcery! series. You could argue that it takes the words from the page and simply presents them in a more user-friendly manner, removing the need for real dice, paper and turning pages. I believe, however, that this transfer to the digital form has made the whole thing much more accessible, yet fairer. The books were fantastic reads, but they were incredibly tricky and prone to being…cheated. I fully admit to “saving my progress” while reading, but I felt bad about it. Don’t get me wrong; FFL is a damn tricky game full of random unfairness, but it allows you to choose your own difficulty; making encounters trickier at higher settings. You also, on death, don’t have to start the whole book again. You are dumped outside the last location, battered and bruised, and can try again. Death does have penalties in the form of “injuries” and “curses” which give your dice the chance to botch, but it doesn’t mean the end…unless you choose that. I stayed far away from the Hardcore mode, but it’s there, if you fancy getting frustrated.
The stories; aside from their linking elements of course; seem incredibly faithful to the books. Whilst this does mean that avid readers may already know solutions to certain puzzles, it does mean that the incredible world-crafting talents of Jackson and Livingstone take centre stage. Whilst much does fall into classic 80’s high-fantasy tropes and stereotypes, (O’Seamus the Leprechaun anyone?) each adventure is just as enthralling as the last with twisting tunnels abound.
On this note, the one criticism I can level at the game is one which has been thrown at the books repeatedly; often, you can feel lost. There is no realistic way to predict what will happen in each situation, and often item interactions feel random. Whilst a skull pendant sucking in white lightning and saving your skin is incredibly useful, you can’t predict that, because both the pendant and the lightning comes out of no-where. There is a lot of adventure-game logic in Fighting Fantasy, but I suppose in just adds to its charm?
In terms of presentation, FFL does a good job of bringing the world to life. Whilst it couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a dual PC/Mobile release, the imagery feels fitting to the style of the books and the sound design adds to the suspense and wonder of the world. Whilst the graphics won’t test your card too much, I did notice some stuttering on my i5 between scenes so there could be some optimization issues, but realistically as a slow-paced game which doesn’t rely on moment-to-moment action I found it an annoyance at worst,
One final note; the game advertises itself as a card game. If you are expecting a hand or a deck, you will be disappointed. Whilst there is some behind-the-scenes randomisation as some events are pulled from a “deck” but realistically the only element which is card-based is the presentation. Granted, items are collected in the form of cards, and when battling your character and the enemy will appear as cards on the screen, but if anything, this is more of a dice game.
Regardless, Fighting Fantasy Legends is a great way to experience some excellent interactive stories in a more accessible way. Yes, some of these tales have been presented before in other game, but if you fancy exploring some amazing high-fantasy locations and stories and don’t mind a bit of random chance, or if you just want to revisit Titan for some loving nostalgia, FFL is by far the best place to get your Fighting Fantasy Fix.
- Nomad Games: nomadgames.co.uk/fightingfantasy/
- Fighting Fantasy: www.fightingfantasy.com
Store links –
- Steam – http://store.steampowered.com/app/496340/Fighting_Fantasy_Legends/
- Google Play – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nomadgames.fightingfantasylegends
- App Store – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fighting-fantasy-legends/id1134485161?ls=1&mt=8