Legend of Kyrandia: Book One
Review by Scout
Imagine, if you will, it's the early nineties. You and your partner
own a growing game development company based in Las Vegas called
Westwood Associates. Your name is Brett Sperry or Louis Castle,
and you have this new adventure game called The Legend of Kyrandia.
The two of you are trying to convince one of the big dogs of
gaming development, Ken Williams of Sierra Online, to publish it
for Westwood. Never mind the concept. It's your basic thinly plotted
fantasy wrapped around a modest bit of puzzling, some colorful graphics
and some nice music. That's not the point. The point is you've created
a new interface especially for this game, an interface you're sure
is going to get you noticed. No more typing text messages like in
that game you just finished for Infocom, Circuit's Edge. Parsers
are dead. This new interface is better. You use a mouse, see. That's
right. A mouse, and you run your cursor directly over a character
or item and click to interact with it. You've never seen this before,
and most people who try it rave about it once they get past the
offputting novelty of using a mouse-driven interface in a computer
You deliver your pitch, your excitement rising, and then you give
the demo to Williams. He plays it. You wait for his reaction, certain
he'll be impressed. Instead, he asks if you would like to see something.
Sure, you say. After all, this is Ken Williams here. He takes you
into a room, sits you down in front of his company's newest project
and shows you how it works. It's this thinly plotted fantasy wrapped
around some pretty decent puzzling, some very gorgeous, hand-painted
graphics and nice music, but it's got this new interface. No more
typing words. All you do is use a mouse to run a cursor around the
screen ... As you pick yourself up off the floor, you hear
yourself ask the name of the game.
"King's Quest V," says Williams.
Then he drops the bomb. He asks if you would consider selling Westwood.
What do you do?
You sell, right? You realize that what you thought was your ticket
to ride has already been bought and punched and the train has left
the station. What else to do but take the money and run, maybe open
that bar in Mexico you've always dreamed about.
If you are Brett Sperry or Louis Castle, you go back to Las Vegas
and you and the 30 people at your company finish the game and publish
it through Virgin. You follow up with two more installments. You
go on to make the bestselling Command and Conquer RTS franchise,
the Dune series, Blade Runner, the Lands of Lore
series and Nox 1 and 2. Along the way you merge
with Virgin, later get sold to Electronic Arts for $122.5 million
and only in 2002 do the last vestiges of your company finally dissolve
into the ever-transmorgifying corporate landscape.
So Kyrandia, had it been finished twelve or even six months
earlier, might have secured a place in adventure game history. Instead,
it has more or less been eclipsed by, among others, the King's
Quest series. This is no surprise because, in many ways, the
above anecdote is the most interesting thing about this game. Still,
for the patient gamer willing to tolerate some glaring flaws, this
game has some modest rewards.
I recommend that you read the manual before you begin to play,
specifically the segment starting on the second page titled "The
History of Kyrandia." I advise this because you're not going
to find much lucid backstory in the actual game. The abrupt manner
in which the various characters are introduced and the often enigmatic
comments of the main character suggest the developers expect you
to do your homework. If you can't be bothered with all those words,
here's a quick synopsis.
King William the First, king of Kyrandia, calls a meeting with
the forces of Nature and they cut a deal. Mutual care and protection
all around. As a token of its appreciation, Nature creates a Volkswagen-sized
gem right where King William stood, and this gem is called ... wait
for it ... the Kyragem. It's Nature's gift to Kyrandia and the royal
family's eternal responsibility. It acts to focus and concentrate
magic power and in doing so makes Kyrandia the Magic Capital of
The king, being a practical guy, builds a castle around the stone
and names it Castle Kyrandia. Things are good and then not so good.
War then peace, the invention of trousers, and then one fateful
day, for reasons unexplained, Malcolm the court jester kills the
king and queen. Kallak, the chief of the royal mystics who care
for the Kyragem, casts a spell to lock Malcolm in the castle and
then takes the king and queen's only child, Brandon, away into the
forest. As the game begins, Malcolm has just broken Kallak's spell
and escaped the castle and is merrily wreaking vengeance up on the
land and its inhabitants, especially targeting the loathed royal
mystics. Brandon is a young man now and Kyrandia's only hope. Will
he defeat Malcolm? Can he restore harmony to the kingdom of Kyrandia?
Will he discover the secret of his birthright? At the end of the
game, will we even care?
As you may have deduced by now, The Legend of Kyrandia: Book
One has a rudimentary point-and-click control system. The upper
three-fourths of the screen contain the viewing area. Here, you
navigate by running your cursor to one edge of the screen. If you
can advance, you get a clickable arrow. If not, you see the universal
"no" icon of a slash through a circle. The bottom fourth
of the screen is reserved for housekeeping chores. There is a very
limited inventory of only 10 spaces, an options button to take you
to the save and load functions, a long, thin, horizontal text message
box (holy vestigial holdover, Batman!) and a lozenge-shaped amulet
with four darkened, dead gems. These gems light up one by one as
you progress through the game and achieve your goals. Each gem represents
a power that, once obtained, is available to you for the remainder
of the game.
Gems, by the way, are a running theme in this game. As well as
the mystical Kyragem and the four gems in the above-mentioned amulet,
there are myriad other gems scattered around Kyrandia, blue gems,
red gems, gems growing on trees, yellow gems, hidden gems, gems
in plain sight ... so many gems, in fact, that after a while playing
Kyrandia begins to feel a bit like a medieval Easter egg
hunt for the Faberge set.
You aren't far into the game before you begin to see the exposed
roots of text adventures peeking through. At times Kyrandia felt
like little more than a glorified text adventure with the "rooms"
transposed directly to the screen. In fact, in a 2002
interview on Adventure Gamers, Rick Gush, the game's designer,
claims Kyrandia was loosely based on a multi-user text adventure
game of the same name hosted by the Galacticomm Bulletin Board in
the late eighties. According to Gush, the game's creators, Brett
Sperry and Michael Legg, had been playing the original text adventure
and subsequently purchased the rights to use for Westwood's first
graphical adventure. While I haven't seen the original game, a quick
scan of a walkthrough references, among other things, the Kyragem.
Indeed, the paradigms of text adventuring have such a strong hold
over this game that a few hours into it I had reverted to mapping
the different areas using the time-tested standard of labeled squares
connected by lines.
The text adventure "feel" wasn't the only reason I turned
to mapping. It's not because the game world is overly large or complex
(other than the infamous fire berry maze, which I'll get to soon
enough) but simply that everything looks the same. There is a reason
for this: several of the screens were reused multiple times in multiple
areas. Occasionally the artists went to the trouble of modifying
the screen somewhat, closing up a cave entrance, removing or adding
a foreground branch, or reversing the image, but just as often they
didn't. A few times the same screen is used next to itself, making
it appear as if the player character "pops" from one side
to the other, when in fact he has moved over a screen. This becomes
especially annoying in the forest regions, where you really need
some decent visual cues. Because of this ill-considered production
shortcut, the different areas in Kyrandia have a bland, homogenous
look. As much of the puzzling entails trudging back and forth to
these areas in search of inventory items, mapping as you go helps
lower the frustration level a few notches.
This incessant recycling carries over to the music, which often
plays in tight, repeating loops, loops that sometimes don't change
for several screens. The tone seemed off as well, sounding awfully
light and happy for what is essentially a dark, cautionary tale.
In researching this review, I came upon a website
that contained .mp3 files of the original MT-32 midi tunes, and
I finally got to hear what I was missing. Quite a bit, it turned
out. The composer, Frank Klepacki, created a lushly evocative, multilayered
score for this game, but because the files require the true LA Synth
playback that only an LAPC-1 sound card or an MT-32 midi module
can reproduce, few modern-day gamers will ever get to hear it as
they play the game.
Though I played the CD-ROM version with voice acting, the original
release was diskette only with no voices. As with King's Quest
V, the developers were quick to exploit the huge data capacity
of the newly emerging CD-ROM technology to add spoken voices. The
results were a mixed bag but on the whole very serviceable. While
a few voices were sort of leaden, most of the actors did a decent
enough job of it, especially Gloria Hoffman as Brandywine the dragon
and Gimalyn Torrecilla as Zanthia, one of the royal mystics. Gary
Hyatt, the actor playing Malcolm, was by far the standout. Sadly,
as is often the case, the main character's voice left a lot to be
desired. It was thin. It was whiny. It was a spoiled little boy's
voice. And to be fair, it was probably written that way. Checking
my notes, I find scrawled, in capital letters this note to myself:
"Brandon. Most annoying player character ever? No. But close."
Upon reflection, I think that's a bit of an overstatement, but the
general sentiment holds.
My main complaint, though, and what finally brought this game down,
was the puzzles. They were simply poorly designed, often coming
off as little more than exercises in trial and error. More than
once I was reduced to guessing at the solutions, trying this, then
that, until finally randomly stumbling across the answer. Thinking
I had missed some vital clue or overlooked a crucial inventory item,
I would retrace my steps, revisiting each location. I think I spent
as much time searching for nonexistent clues than actually working
on the puzzles. I even made a point of watching for hints during
the second play through, to no avail. To me, one of the pleasures
of a well-made adventure game is discovering the clues scattered
about the game world. This gives me reason to pay attention, to
note the significant detail, to become immersed in the game. Good
puzzle design should reinforce the story instead detract from it.
Good puzzle design should exercise lateral thinking, rewarding both
leaps of intuition and logical deduction. There's not a lot of this
And then, finally, there is the maze.
Where to start? First, a confession. I'm one of those people who
actually enjoys mazes. Yes, it's true. Maybe it's because I have
an inborn sense of direction or maybe because something went wrong
at birth, but when first encountering a maze I'm as likely to rub
my hands in anticipation as wring them in despair. I enjoy mapping
strange, convoluted worlds and trying to make sense of them. It's
exploration in one of its purest forms. I loved the sewers in Traitors
Gate, reveled in taming the beast that was the maze
in The Black Dahlia. I even occasionally found myself humming
as I explored the vast, convoluted nightmare better known as a Daggerfall
dungeon. So what did I think of the maze in Kyrandia?
It was like Zork with pictures.
You remember Zork. You made your way though a vast underground
labyrinth full of snarling grues who feared only one thing. Light.
As long as you had lanterns and flashlights, the grues stayed away.
When the light went out, the devouring began. In Kyrandia's maze,
you have the same basic model. You require light to navigate the
maze. The only source of light (at the beginning) exists in the
maze. This source is fragile and wears out easily. You must find
more light or suffer the consequences. This light is readily available
to you but usually at the price of repeated dying. In a way, this
maze is simultaneously the most elegantly designed puzzle in the
game and the most unfair.
It's obvious that some amount of thought and care went into its
design. In fact, a very, very lucky gamer might conceivably stumble
through the whole thing and survive. It can be done; in fact, logic
dictates that it has to be possible for the maze to actually work.
Still, it felt unfair in that it's nigh on impossible to map the
maze without dying repeatedly. As the chances are excellent you
are going to have to traverse the entire maze at least one more
time (I can just hear the groans), you pretty much have to map it,
and to make the needed map, you must die.
Also, there is at least one place, near the three-quarters mark,
where you can easily find yourself at a dead end. Luckily, it doesn't
take long to figure out that something is wrong and reload. Still,
I hate dead ends in graphical adventure games. For some reason I
can abide them in text games, where they seem more organic somehow.
The game ran like a dream in DOS with not a bump, shudder or crash.
I installed it to my hard drive, booted to DOS and played from there.
There is also an option to install a semi-Windows version via a
wininst.exe command that then lets you click on a KYRACD.BAT file
from Windows Explorer. I didn't try it, but at least it is an option.
There is some confusion about the name of this game. It appears
that this game, indeed all three Kyrandia games, have two
separate titles ... sort of. Originally the first game was released
as Fables and Fiends: The Legend of Kyrandia: Book One. Later,
the three games were packaged as a boxed set titled The Legend
of Kyrandia: The Series. In this set the first game was entitled
Book One: Fables and Fiends, the second Book Two: The
Hand of Fate and the third Book Three: Malcolm's Revenge.
Open the box, though, and the jewel case inserts all show the
original titles, each with The Legend of Kyrandia intact.
Alas, in the end, The Legend of Kyrandia, whatever its official
title, didn't do much for me. All of the parts were there, the story,
the puzzles, the exploration, but they never really gelled into
any kind of satisfying experience, any sort of real payoff. It's
always a balancing act to weigh an older game's worth to the modern
gamer while still trying to imagine its impact back in the day.
While there are games that are still as entertaining today as they
were 15 years ago, Kyrandia isn't one of them. It's more
"important" than it is "fun," offering up some
tidbits of historic interest but not really delivering any sustained
entertainment value. And in a game where the whole point is to find
the magic again, that's just a little sad.
Release Date: 1992
Four Fat Chicks Links
DOS 4.0 or higher
2 MB RAM
Where to Find It
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