The Fifth Disciple

Review by Jen
August 2004

The Fifth Disciple is an odd blend of adventure and simplified RPG-style turn-based combat, with some platform-style side-scrolling movement (there are no arcade-type play sequences, though). I played it together with a group of women on our forum.

You are a young man named Engeor; after a lengthy intro, you find yourself in a prison camp not because you committed any crime but because you attended a wizardry university that fell victim to a magic-fearing new ruler's pogrom. Your first job is to escape, and ultimately you are to learn what happened and why and figure out how to stop the inexorable doom that is about to befall the land.

About half of The Fifth Disciple is the typical third-person inventory puzzle style of adventure game. On top of the usual inventory system common to these games, Engeor also learns magic spells and has a whole separate inventory of those; the list numbers 25 and the spells light up as they become available to use. The spells each have five levels. Every time Engeor gains another level, he earns five "lessons," which are like skill points, to be distributed among his various spells to increase their strength. When using a spell, holding down the mouse button "charges" them from the minimum strength of one dot up to the maximum you have designated for that particular spell.

The spells sometimes can be used like ordinary items in the course of the adventure parts of the game. Mostly, though, they are for use in the combat sequences, which comprise the other half of the game. Engeor employs only magic in the fights; he has both offensive and defensive spells to use against a single or multiple enemies. Battles are like those in turn-based console RPGs a la Final Fantasy, except there is no random element and they are grossly simplified (although not necessarily easy). Every battle location is either marked by an emblem on an overview map or by a specimen of the actual enemy you will face, every spell cast by Engeor always causes the same amount of damage to each particular type of enemy, and there are only about five or six different kinds of foes throughout the entire game. There is no haste required in combat; winning is a matter of formulating the right sequence of spells to cast and on whom.

Not only do you gain experience points and levels the usual way, by winning battles, but also by successfully completing puzzles in the adventure portions, sometimes even by simply picking up items. Higher experience levels give Engeor more mana and health from which to draw. In addition, every five levels he gets another action per combat turn, e.g., at level 10 he has three actions, the initial one plus two gained by experience advancement. Possible actions are magic attacks, potion-drinking, or moving; moving does not cost any mana or count as one of your actions but you are limited as to where you can go (indicated onscreen by big gray arrows) and you can only move once per turn. Mana and health are automatically refilled after every battle, and there are a couple of opportunities to obtain refill potions. It is possible to beat every enemy without resorting to the potions, but they are nice to have for those times when you don't feel like dying and reloading to refine your mana-usage strategy for success.

You will die, and frequently, in both the adventure and the RPG parts, but you can save anywhere, even in midbattle. Theoretically, there are unlimited saves; however, one of my playing companions reported problems when she had more than 99 save files.

The Fifth Disciple was developed by the Czech company Napoleon Games; the game's original Czech name is, best as I can tell, Brány Skeldalu 2: Pátý uèedník. It is actually a sequel to an earlier game called, surprisingly enough, Brány Skeldalu. A cursory bit of 'net surfing indicates that not only was the first game never released in English, it also had a totally different play style involving a party of six. Whatever the case, The Fifth Disciple stands well enough on its own, although here I must admit I never had much of an idea of what the story was; I think this situation would not have been improved, however, by dint of having played the original.

Graphics are hand-drawn with care; the backgrounds are unfailingly nice but the human characters all have extraordinarily flat heads, especially in the cutscenes. At first, to me, the art appeared rather primitive, but after a while I grew to really like the look of it.

The music is worth mentioning here—it is very nice! Hats off to the composer, David Hájek. As well, the English-version voice acting is surprisingly well done, especially considering the game was developed in another language.

Gameplay is fun fun fun, with the two caveats that there is too much too-tiresome combat near the end of the game and there are two or three unfair puzzles in the adventuring part, unfair meaning nigh unbeatable by anyone at all without outside help. Look for a walkthrough by kwbridge, another of my playing partners, to be posted somewhere sometime soon. She had been in contact with one of the developers, who was kind enough to help our group get past these points.

Outside of those few frustrations, I think I can speak for all of us who played when I say The Fifth Disciple is a fine ol' gaming good time. A big part of the fun for me, though, was playing the game with these three other women. I can't quantify and separate the fun of the group play from the fun of the game itself, so I guess in closing I'll say this: I had a great time but your mileage may vary. The Fifth Disciple has a high cheese factor that is offset by its skillful and unique genre-blending. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Napoleon Games
Publisher: Cenega
Release Date: Q2 2004

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium 350 MHz
30 MB free hard drive space
CD-ROM drive
Windows 95 or later
DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card
DirectX 8.1 compatible graphics card

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