I was a little over 13 when I read the first book in UK game designer Steve Jackson's Sorcery! series of Fighting Fantasy books. Enhancing the page-turning elements of the Choose Your Own Adventure books with pen-and-paper role-playing game mechanics, the series instilled in me a voracious appetite for interactive fiction. Twenty-seven years later the series returns in digital form, bringing the genre and my appreciation to a whole new level.
The Fighting Fantasy books, created by Jackson and Ian Livingston, assign players stats that ebb and flow as the narrative carries them back and forth between story segments. Make too many wrong decisions and your character dies, and the story ends (unless you cheat, for shame).
Jackson's four-part Sorcery! series — The Shamutanti Hills; Khare: Cityport of Traps; The Seven Serpents and The Crown of Kings — added deeper RPG elements to the formula. Players could choose to be a sorcerer, choosing from a memorized list of three letter spells to aid them in any given situation. Or players could choose the path of the warrior, doing battle with enemies the old-fashioned way.
Freed to travel more paths than the page-borne version, Inkle's gorgeous digital interpretation of Steve Jackson's classic adventure allows players to experience both sides of the might-and-magic coin. The three letter spell casting? It's right here.
And the fighting? Captured wonderfully in a rock-paper-scissors style dance of defense and assault, acted out with paper sketches and narrated via procedurally-generated text.
While the heart of the story is still the quest for the Crown of Kings, an artifact that bestows magical leadership abilities upon the wearer, the story unfolding across the gorgeous hand-drawn 3D world map truly belongs to the player. Powered by Inkle's Inklewriter technology, it's not just the fighting text that changes dynamically based on the player's actions — it's the entire story.
There are thousands of choices for the player/reader to make in Sorcery!, each on taking the story in a slightly different direction. Do you spend your gold on rations, or save it to spend on magical items and weapons? Do you sleep in the village, or pass on through? Do you struggle against the headhunters and die, or resign yourself to your fate and also die — headhunters are assholes.
This is a game with bountiful replayability, and you never have to worry about your copy getting dog-earned or torn.
The Fighting Fantasy books were a wondrous feat of interactive fiction, each page brimming with possibilities and dripping with tension. Inkle's adaptation of the Sorcery! takes the genre to a whole new level.
Unless the headhunters show up. Seriously, they're bastards.
Steve Jackson's Sorcery!
- Genre: Choose Your Own Adventure
- Developer: Inkle
- Platform: iOS
- Price: $4.99