Fighting Fantasy has been a book series for many years and has now jumped into video gaming with this DS title. Unfortunately, most gamers will probably never see the Warlock of Firetop Mountain thanks to unbalanced gameplay and an inconvenient control scheme.
Like a first person Baldur’s Gate, Fighting Fantasy controls movement with the D-pad while the face buttons, or stylus, controls the view point. For some reason, I found using the face buttons to be much more comfortable and accurate than the touch screen. But herein lies one of the game’s major problems; you must use the touch screen to enter rooms or perform other important actions like selecting spells and navigating the menu screens. This means that the player must constantly hold the stylus while using the face buttons. It only gets worse if the player is accustomed to using inverted Y Axis controls too. For me, I need inverted controls when I use the face buttons to control my view point as it mimics a second analog stick, but can only use standard controls when aiming with the stylus. Needless to say, play control is one giant inconsistent headache.
In typical nerdy RPG fashion, the player crafts his own character by answering a bunch of questions from a narrator as the game first starts. Once your skill set has been determined, the player must pick from a list of special abilities. This decision could very well make or break the game. If you do not select critical abilities, like Regeneration, you can plan on seeing the game over screen quite often. Thanks to the game’s brutal difficulty, selecting the correct skill set and abilities might give you a slim chance at survival…for about an hour or two of gameplay.
The game’s difficulty skyrockets to impossible status once you reach a certain point in the game. Up until this point, the player will usually take on one orc or dwarf at a time, which makes the game playable even with the wonky control scheme. But once you hit the room with several floating eyeball monsters and king dwarfs, you will wonder if the game was tested for balancing issues. This single room is just about impossible to conquer, causing frustration levels to reach a new all time high. There is just no way to take down all these enemies, who have a ton of health, while fighting the bad control scheme at the same time. Careful hit and run tactics don’t even work. It only gets worse as you travel further into the game and literally makes the game unplayable. But even if you do clear a challenging room, when you backtrack, stronger enemies will reappear. The game just does not let up.
When the player travels through the first city, the chests in the church are screaming to be opened. All locked chests in the game, however, require the player to complete a very challenging lock picking touch control mini game. These church chests, the first chests the player will encounter, will instantly kill the player if they are touched. Sure, you can attempt the lock picking mini game, but there is no possible to way complete it as the game only gives the player about one second. It wasn’t until my third death that I realized that my lock picking skill probably was not high enough to unlock this chest. The game’s lack of warning and penalty with instant death is just one more example of the game’s highly unbalanced gameplay.
Character growth is also painstakingly slow. Opening up a third ability slot takes way too long and a stat increases do not seem to make your character stronger. Even armor and decent weapons are hard to come by.
From a technical stand point, Fighting Fantasy is an impressive looking game. Like Moon or Dementium, this fantasy DS title moves in 3D with a very smooth frame rate. Unlike these other impressive FPS DS games, all the enemies are 2D sprites instead of 3D polygons. Because of this, enemies will always face the player and move in an unnatural way. This also causes enemy behavior to act inconsistently as they can sometimes get caught on part of the environment or sometimes won’t move at all, even when being attacked.
The game’s box art does a great job of grabbing the attention of fantasy nerds and most DS owner, but the gameplay is so unbalanced it makes the game impossible. Some games are designed to be challenging, like Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox or the more recent Demon’s Souls on PS3, but with some good practice, it is possible to progress through the game. This is not the case with Fighting Fantasy. Even with practice and level grinding, you have no hope on getting through this game. This game single handedly proves how crucial balanced gameplay is when it comes to game design.
Not As Good As: reading the books
Unbalanced As: a one wheeled bicycle
Also Try: Shadowgate
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