Knight Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-340-38848-X
The fourth gamebook in the ninja-themed The Way of the Tiger series, Overlord! offers a change of pace from the first third of the campaign. This one can stand alone very well if you have not played the previous gamebooks, but your appreciation of this one may be heightened if you have played those previous gamebooks. This review will contain some spoilers for the previous gamebook, Usurper!, so you know what to do.
You are Avenger, a young ninja who has somehow toppled three most powerful villains on the world of Orb and defeated a couple of powerful figures from Hell as well. It seems appropriate that you are now the new Overlord of Irsmuncast nigh Edge, the city closest to the Rift, an apparently bottomless abyss that is the home of countless evil beings (think dark elves, orcs, and such). That means the threat of invasion from the evil beings of the Rift is ever present.
But first, you need to call your government to order. Your first action in this campaign to pick four representatives into the Privy Council of the Star Chamber. Those petitioning to be your advisers will meet you and offer their case. Some are your allies – Lady Gwyneth who leads the Shieldmaidens of Dama, the primary lawful good military force in the city; Parsifal, the Grandmaster of the temple of Kwon, your God; the Demagogue who unites the common folks of Irsmuncast to your side. Also in the applicant line are Golspiel the wily merchant; Greystaff the high priest of the generally weak temple to Avatar, nonetheless a God of Good that you can count on for help; and Solstice, the annoying High Priest of the temple to Time, whose priests did not lift a finger to help you at all. Rounding up the faction are the now disenfranchised leaders of the once-powerful armies of the Usurper – the Lord High Steward who used to rule the city and the temple to Nemesis, the supreme God of Evil, under the Usurper’s order and Foxglove, the courtesan who led the spies in the service of the late Usurper.
You may think you can just pick the good guys and be done with it, but heh, the authors can be quite canny – they remind you that you really shouldn’t openly give the middle finger to those folks who worship Nemesis, considering that they do comprise a significant chunk of the local population. So what will be it, sire? Will you be fair and let evil represent in your personal advisory board, or will you openly tip your favor towards the side of good? Common sense should tell you that there is a very good chance that having both Foxglove and the Lord High Steward in the Privy Council may not be a good idea, so which one would you pick, if you want any of them? Incidentally, no, Foxglove isn’t going to give Avenger any, so get that out of your head. This gamebook may rate PG-13 for stylized violence, but there is no overtly sexual theme here. Does that romantic moment in the previous gamebook, where the handsome Paladin of Rocheval, Doré le Jeune, laid his hands all over you to heal your injuries while you are both on a horse, count?
Anyway, once you have picked your four advisers, it is time to spend some time tending to the city’s problems. This is where you play the politician, given a choice of actions that may be good or awful depending on the source of the advice and having to pick the best course of action. Here, you have a Popularity Rating to deal with. You start out with 2 points. Depending on the actions you take, this number will either go up or down. Get to a direly low score and you will face a revolt in your hands, resulting in your humiliating death at the hands of unhappy folks. Have fun!
Oh, don’t worry, this part of the campaign isn’t hard, to be honest, as most of the options offered are intuitive ones. Unless you are perversely suicidal or you want to be contrary for the sake of it, chances are you will breeze through this part without much effort. Nonetheless, this is an interesting leg of the campaign, a nice attempt to introduce some extra value-added content that is a nice change from a standard hack-and-slash adventure.
The later two-third of the campaign returns to more familiar territory: you embark on a quest. Your God reveals to you that you will need to seek out two lost artifacts to strengthen your rule – the Sceptre and the Orb traditionally held by the Overlords of Irsmuncast that are now currently lost. The only general location your God offers you is that you should head toward the Mountains of Undying Solitude far into the east of Manmarch, close to where people say is the edge of the world. Not only that, there is a thriving hidden community of ninjas living there – ninjas devoted to the service of Nemesis. Oh boy.
This part of the campaign is easily the toughest part of the whole thing. A big part of this is that this leg allows you a pretty wide degree of options to pick from, but in the end, there is only one true path to victory. This part is spelled out clearly from the start, and therefore, you should know that something is wrong when you do not have the necessary special item you are told to obtain. Unfortunately, if you do end up at that stage without that item, you will not have a chance to turn back, heh. The enemies by themselves aren’t too tough, but to defeat them, very often you will need guile and common sense as well as brute strength. The Ninjas of the Way of the Scorpion are cunning and their hideout are booby-trapped, so you can’t expect to dash in blindly and survive!
There are some new scenery as well as new cultures introduced, as this time around you will be introduced to the Ninjas of the Way of the Scorpion, the elves of the Forest of Fables, the priestesses of
Lolth Nullaq, and the Paladins of Rocheval from Doré le Jeune’s home island Dragonhold. The nice change of scenery and the introduction of new cultures boost what could have been a standard ninja-kills-all adventure into something more memorable.
There are plenty of opportunities to die here, not least in the hands of your own people, but that’s where the fun is. Yes, Overlord! proves that there is still time to kick some rear end when you’re at the top!