Wow, where do I start with this one?
First I think I should take a moment to actually look at my notes as I’ve taken a while to get this one written up. Reasons for this range through time away from home and the release of Dark Souls 2 (I really am glutton for punishment, aren’t I?), but mainly the fact that I needed a little break from the book! I knew it was going to be hard, you don’t maintain a legend as being such a tough little son-of-a-bitch for going on thirty years for nothing, but I didn’t anticipate it being so utterly draining. I certainly didn’t expect to follow up the six-part Crown of Kings with another six-parter. There were some very tough moments in this book that went beyond the usual problem solving of trying a different door or branch of a junction, despite this though my map was still 100% necessary, even though it ended up sprawling over a couple of sides of paper…
I’m very much up for a challenge and the fact this book has eluded me for years was a great motivation to get it done, but one of the main mechanics to add difficulty I didn’t find all that fun, and that was the translation sections. I like the idea of having hidden elements to the puzzles, but it doesn’t half take a long time to translate what the encrypted passages actually say. Good idea in theory, maybe not in practice when the passages are so lengthy. I also disliked the fact that there was a certain element of fuzzyness to the cypher, certain aspects of translation were left for the reader to figure out. As I said in the text, you aren’t explicitly told how to handle consonants, I would have been happier if there was a rock-solid set of rules to solve these language puzzles.
Then there are the ‘errors’. There are a few references which seem to send you in the wrong direction and then the big one, the passage beginning with the wrong key-phrase in the early dungeon section which prevents you progressing. Given how Steve Jackson went out of his way to make this as hard as possible, I looked into whether or not this was in-fact an error or an attempt to be a giant pain in the arse! Asking Twitter, I gained no solid answer, but the feeling seems to be that Steve isn’t that mean afterall and it was a genuine error. Some discussion I read online suggests though that it was an attempt to push ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ into new ground, if it were intentional I would say that it’s not being hard, it’s just cheating the reader you handed a set of rules to. It wouldn’t be good design to change those rules and not tell anyone.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed things that explain away the things I got stuck on or had to guess through, for instance a reader points out how I might have figured out that the mirror was the way to discover Marr at the end. My technique was brute-force guess work, the more elegant method was to have noted the clue in this passage from the scroll I read – ‘A world of illusion in which where he appears to be he is not. AND A WORLD IN WHICH THOSE SEARCHING FOR HIM WOULD INSTEAD FIND THEMSELVES’. Sounds a bit like a mirror, yes? I’m an idiot. This is the kind of thing that I like though, the book is too clever for it’s own good by being so subtle, I wouldn’t normally think to pay attention to such things in a Fighting Fantasy book, but this pushes the books in the right direction as far as increased difficulty is concerned.
My companion, Grog, was also a nice touch , a mechanic that reminded me of the kinda trick Steve Jackson would routinely pull in the Sorcery books. I particularly liked the fact that he appeared to save you from certain death, assuming you were paying attention to the page reference anyway. At that point in the book you’ve seen so much failure, being told your adventure is over when you were so sure you’re on the right track is a cruel move indeed!
Another pointer I was given by a reader was regarding the Chattermatter, as you may remember I went blundering into it’s clutches at first attempt, but had I looked at the illustration closer, I might have noticed some evil eyes lurking up top in the dark…
I certainly love clues and solutions in illustrations, if there are any others in this book that I passed over, feel free to drop them into the comments section below!
A few favourite illustrations of events I missed are all pretty metal it seems, you can’t beat some grave dwelling monsters…
…and these things belong on stage with Bruce Dickinson.
What has to be said though, that despite it’s niggles, despite it’s insanely hard difficulty, it is a brilliant title. The structure is meticulous, it feels like every single detail was considered and given an element of meaning. It has certainly made me want to make sure I read The Trolltooth Wars at some point as I want to learn more about the area and the locations in it. Story-wise it’s about as good as Fighting Fantasy books get, to give it such praise I have to say it reminds me of the brilliant film Memento, in that little makes sense until the very end. You can piece elements together, but the last few details given to you in that lengthy but gripping scene with Marr tie it all together perfectly. I haven’t even mentioned how much fun it was to be a hulking great beast either! That really is the reward to being in such a hard adventure, feeling like such a powerful being was another unique aspect to this book, I will miss the double-roll-insta-kill in the future! Truth be told, there is so much detail and layered elements to the story and the style of game, I can’t even begin to cover it all, Creature of Havoc almost deserves a blog of its own.
Were all Fighting Fantasy books this hard, I don’t think I’d be sat here now writing a blog about them with such enthusiasm, but that the experiment was conducted to see just how infuriating they could be made, I am glad. Like Dark Souls I mentioned earlier, the satisfaction of getting through the tough times is ultimately worth the despair of not knowing where to turn or how to progress.
Give it a go, it’ll drive you nuts, you’ll love it.
And while you do that, I’m going to have a lie down and dream about reading Freeway Fighter or Robot Commando…