Just in case you missed my last preview, here's a little history lesson. The Fighting Fantasy books were penned back in the late 70s/early 80s by now-game developers Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. They were pretty popular in the UK, but over here in the US, we liked choose-your-own adventures where not every path but one led to death.
What Is It?
Fighting Fantasy is a DS action/adventure RPG where players take the role of a generic hero out to find a warlock somewhere on top of a mountain that presumably is on fire – since the specific book on which the game is based is called "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain."
What We Saw
This time around, I played through a mission immediately following the tutorial. A PR rep from publisher Aspyr backseat-gamed for me.
How Far Along Is It?
The game is still scheduled for an October release.
What Needs Improvement?
How Many Oranges Do I Need…? Within five seconds of taking the controls, the Aspyr rep instructed me to visit the store and stock up on oranges and cheese. He explained that these hit-point-regenerating items were necessary in the early levels because you don't have enough HP before level 10 or so to warrant buying expensive HP potions. That would have been fine, except it turns out you need a lot of oranges and cheese for those first 10 levels. This gets tedious because there's no way to buy items in bulk – so I spent way longer than seemed necessary clicking through menus to buy enough cheese and oranges to feed China.
Music is a Must: No music played while in the dungeon portion of the mountain. I'm told this is a bug, but after long treks through winding hallways filled with trolls and such, I realized just how crucial music is going to be for Fighting Fantasy. The right music will blend with the scenery to keep players engrossed, while the wrong music – or no music at all – would make the resulting monotony of slaying trolls and scrolling through exposition text feel like torture.
What Should Stay The Same?
They Fixed The Stylus: Before, it felt like the stylus had no purpose other than the odd menu tap or as an alternate combat method. Now I feel like I can't live (or walk) in the game without it. Pressing on the D-Pad still steers your character on the upper screen, but keeping the stylus trained on the lower screen will correct your aim during combat (which is managed by pressing the shoulder buttons or tapping the weapon slot with the stylus in the lower screen). It also helps you find items in the dungeons by tilting your field of vision to take in every corner of a room. Plus, they've added stylus mini-games.
Mini-games Make Variety: There are several mini-games in Fighting Fantasy. Like many RPGs, there's a gambling mini-game in town – but most of the mini-games are inside the dungeon. Once inside, you'll come across traps and locked doors or chests. In most cases, a hand icon will pop up on the screen and tapping it starts a stylus-based mini-game that will disarm the chest or open the lock. I enjoyed the ones I encountered – such as a timed lock-picking puzzle where you had to guide a fuzzy dot through a maze of tumblers without touching the sides of the puzzle. This was made much more challenging by the fact that the puzzle appears on the upper screen, while your stylus stays on the lower – so you've got to fight some cognitive dissonance to keep from picking up your stylus mid-puzzle because your hand is telling you you're too close to the edge of the lower screen.
Simplified Character Class System: Instead of letting you choose your class from the lineup of usual suspects (mage, warrior, etc.), the game allows you to create a custom class right off the bat. Or, if you really want to experience the choosing of your own adventure feeling you got from the books, you can answer a series of questions that the game then uses to assign you a class. Kind of like a personality test, only you could wind up as a mage at the end of it instead of being asked to sign up for an online dating site.
My appetite for this game is now thoroughly whetted. The stuff they've added, the changes they've made and just how far the game seems to have come in the last couple of months speaks to the quality of the experience Fighting Fantasy will probably offer. But then, my RPG glasses are known to be a little bit rosy.