by Ian Livingstone, fantasy (2007, reissue)
Wizard Books, £5.99, ISBN 978-1840465-51-8
Legend Of Zagor sees Ian Livingstone actually branching out from his usual rut and trying to design an ambitious campaign for once. However, he is still outclassed by upstarts like Keith Martin in the gamebook series he co-founded, and it shows, unfortunately. Perhaps that is why they sign on Jonathan Green as a stable author - that is the only gamebook designer that fares poorer when stacked next to Mr Livingstone.
This campaign is set in another world, not Titan. It's all about timing: the people of Amarillia in this world had recently banished a powerful Bone Demon into a Casket of Souls some years back. But as they opened an extraplanar gate to banish the Bone Demon there, they unwittingly allowed another powerful fiend to enter their world. That fiend is Zagor, our very own wizard who was most recently defeated in Return To Firetop Mountain. He had entered this world via Castle Argent, an old ruined castle, and now, just like he always did in the past, he's waiting in that Castle for some hardy adventurer to go slay him. Poor Zagor, he never did have a chance to carry out his plans of nefarious evil, did he?
You are a mercenary asked by the king in Sanctuary to destroy this evil wizard and save the world. Naturally, you have to do it alone because everyone else is too busy with things that are of clearly more vital importance than saving the world. A wizard from Titan, Gareth, had planted chests with Silver Daggers and Golden Talismans, but he can't destroy Zagor because he's useless that way. This means you not only have to locate and kill Zagor, you also have to search for these items. Thanks, Mr Useless Wizard from Titan! He must be Yaztromo's more useless brother. So there you go.
While this campaign follows the fundamental game system of the Fighting Fantasy series, there are some improvisations. You can play one of four different pre-set character classes here: barbarian, warrior, dwarf, and wizard.
If you play as Anvar the Barbarian, you will have a higher chance of starting out with greater Stamina (I say "higher chance" because all characters can only have a maximum Stamina of 24) and second highest amount of Luck. Anvar can't be ambushed. If you play as Braxus the Warrior - and I don't see why you shouldn't - he starts out with a good chance of getting the second highest Stamina, but his Combat Skill is tied with Anvar as potentially the highest. The reason why you will want to play as Braxus is because he has no disadvantages: unlike the other classes, he can wear armors with the highest bonuses and he can also use any weapon he finds along the way.
Playing as Stubble the Dwarf gives you the advantage of having the highest Luck score and some combat bonuses against the occasional monsters with the word "Stone" in their names. But Stubble also faces limitations: his weapon choice is limited and he can't wear armor that isn't specifically stated to be of his size. And there is no reason to even try playing as Sallazar the Wizard because not only does he start out with truly terrible stats, he has only 3 Magic Points at the beginning - same as the other three characters for who knows what reason. Using a spell requires one Magic Point, so you will face an additional treasure hunt in this campaign: a hunt to locate items that will increase your Magic Points. To add insult to the injury, your spells can miss. Therefore, you will not only be crippled by the severe lack of starting Magic Points, you will find yourself most of the time in melee combat because you have run out of Magic Points. Given that your Combat Skill and Stamina points are terrible, why bother? The ability to read magical runes does not compensate for the sheer amount of trouble you will go through playing this character.
So you do what every sane person does and plays Braxus the Warrior. And then you find yourself in a sprawling dungeon crawl that doesn't always makes sense. Why is there a merchant in that castle? Who is he selling to and how is he restocking his stock? Why are there a bunch of thieves making the Castle their home when they can barely keep themselves alive? But that is not a problem - the problem here is the sheer amount of tedious notekeeping and calculation Mr Livingstone puts you through. Just like in any campaign by this author, you will find yourself opening doors and slaying whatever is inside to loot the place. This time around, however, you need to remember every detail of names, descriptions, and numbers you have come across. You will have to convert alphabets in a word to numbers and add up the numbers to get the numbered passage to go to next. You better have a calculator close with you, because you have to do things such as this:
Convert the letters of the colour into numbers using the code A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, etc. Add the numbers together then multiply that total by the number of the symbols you found on the chest.
So, you manage to find what seems like a million things needed to let you locate and destroy Zagor, who has a Combat Skill of 16. But then, you realize that Mr Livingstone punishes you for losing too much Stamina in that combat - you die in a later scene if you understandably defeat Zagor by the skin of your teeth. Wait, that's not all, if you do manage to avoid that death scene, you have to race to really destroy Zagor in a sequence best described as a wet dream for a number cruncher but a tedious chore for everyone else. The whole campaign is a tedious chore of calculation and note-taking, and the reward for the effort is an unfair campaign with the odds stacked so much against the player that even Braxus has a hard time getting through without cheating.
Legend Of Zagor tries to be innovative, but it still falls flat on its face. Save this one for rainy afternoons when you want to punish yourself by playing as Sallazar for maximum self-inflicted agony.
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