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SummaryThe ending rivals some of the best RPGs ever made.
The GoodReturn to Krondor has been sitting on my shelf for years. I had tried to play it a long while back, but for some reason didn't get very far and quit. I decided to try it again in 2004 with my new Windows XP P4 system and the last patch applied. And I'm glad I did!
Installation and gameplay was flawless. You are prompted to insert the second disc only at a certain plot point, and since the story is linear, you'll keep the same CD in your drive for great lengths of time (unless you restore an earlier save). The 59-page manual is well written and leaves out just enough so some of the gameplay surprises aren't ruined. Saving and loading is easy and you can name your saved games, although with too small a number of letters for my taste.
While I was playing, my non-game-player husband would peak in on me off and on, especially when he noticed that I had turned up the volume. He'd take a look at the screen and make random comments or ask questions. Here are a few of the dialog exchanges I recall which will give you a feel of what RtK was like:
"The music is great - Listen to those violins!", he said. "You can tell it was made by Sierra.", I answered.
(Ain't it the truth! Sierra had a knack for contracting great musicians for their games. Oh how I miss them sometimes.)
"That game looks different than the last RPG you played. No races or stuff to choose." To which I commented, "They're preset in this one."
(All characters are predestined so you don't need to worry about roles, races, professions etc. You can choose how their skills are divided so the gameplay leans towards your preference - Fighting, Balanced or Mage. They call it "Game Focus". I chose the Balanced for my first time through .. and the Easy setting.)
He commented, with a smirk on his face, "He runs funny .. like he's got a log between his legs!" [snicker, snicker] Grinning, I answered, "Hey .. maybe he does! He really doesn't move around very well, does he."
(Running does look pretty silly. Movement overall is rather clunky throughout. In some screens, though, it's possible to change the camera angle which helps tremendously - especially in very small rooms or while in combat. Using the arrow keys is necessary in some tight areas where a mouse click is not adequate.)
"What're ya doin' now?", he'd ask. "Trying to figure out how to unlock this trapped chest.", I said. And then, "Oops! That didn't go very well ... I guess I'd better restore and try that again!"
(The "bookmark" Quick Save and Quick Load rescued me often. It really didn't take long too figure out "reflex" lockpicking. Piece 'a cake! Reflex lockpicking, versus "Dice Roll" (based on luck and attributes), is something you choose in the beginning.)
"This is a long game. I thought you'd be finished by now!" I replied, "No, I'm not finished yet! I've just started Chapter 3. Now I can do all sorts of cool stuff - like use all that alchemy equipment to mix up my own potions. But first I have to learn the recipes and get all of the ingredients."
(The strong variations of some potions - like Healing - can only be found by making your own. The process is so realistic that I can imagine what it would've been like to actually be a mage. The drawback is that you have to lug around all of the heavy, space-hogging equipment everywhere - that is, if you want to make something on the road.)
And later, during a battle sequence, he commented, "Why is everybody all bunched up together? Can't you spread them out?" To which I replied, "I have to wait for their turn. And that'll take awhile."
(Most of the time, James and his party are arranged in a triangular fashion when the battle first begins. There are limits as to where each person can move on the screen, and that takes a few "turns" to accomplish. If you can't get close enough to an enemy to use a close combat weapon, you may need to end the turn without accomplishing a darned thing.)
"Why can't she cast a spell now?", he remarked while watching me work out battle strategy. To that I told him, "Well, she'll have to drop her weapon first .. and then I'll need to remember to find it on the ground!"
(This part was stupid. Mages & priests should be able to cast spells even while armed with a weapon. Or, at least, drop it into their backpack - not on the ground.)
How often have you gone through a long game, such as this one, defeated the last, most powerful enemy and gotten a crappy ending? An ending that left you saying ... "Is that all there is?" Without giving too much away, I'll tell you that Return to Krondor's ending is one of the best I've ever seen!! There are dying words, expressions of pain and anguish .. plus a lover's last kiss, conversations amongst the heroes, congratulations and accolades from their lord. And ... after the credits finish, a final scene! (T'would have even made Lord British envious!)
The BadSpecific actions on the player's part trigger advancements in the story. If you've cheated (by referring to a guide) and know where those are, you can speed up your game (or slow it down). Or, if you don't know where they are, you might end a "chapter" earlier than you should - with characters too wimpy to beat even a rookie brigand. Luckily the start of each chapter is "auto-saved" if you make that mistake.
The graphics are in keeping with a 1998 game, in a no frills sort of way. As you can see from some of the screenshots here on MobyGames, the characters are blocky (no fingers in the hands, for instance - reminiscent of the Elder Scrolls game Redguard, coincidentally released the same year). Krondor and the outlying territories are depicted nicely albeit simply. During the portions leading to the "end game" I did notice some pixel overlap in several screens. Characters seemed to walk -through- the other on-screen graphics, in other words. (The animations in the cut-scenes are pretty darned good, however.)
While inventory is fairly easy to use, there are some inconsistencies relating to design. Some "like" objects (i.e. flasks and alchemy ingredients) are grouped into one slot, while potions and scrolls that are alike take up individual slots. New additions to inventory go into the first available slot, but their positions change when you look later. The player cannot permanently change their arrangement, but that's okay.
It was disconcerting not being able to rest or cast spells during Chapters 1 and 2. You are attempting to build up your experience and equipment (money) during these crucial first chapters, so I do not understand the reasoning behind this.
In many other games, enemies -and oodles of them- abound and you don't need to go looking for them .. they either just appear or come looking for you. Not so in RtK. Most encounters in this game are randomized .. and you must seek them out in various places (mostly inside buildings in the beginning at least). I really didn't dislike this element, but it really is unique.
The Bottom LineSome have said that RtK has too much Quest for Glory in it to be called a real RPG. For diehard AD&D gamers that may be true because this game has a distinctively different flavor to it.
But, it is decidedly not a QfG game! There's plenty of story, yes, but combat and spellcasting are the primary facets of gameplay. Only one "puzzle" exists and it was a hit-and-miss logic type puzzle, but there are no other "adventure" aspects (unless you count questing). Also absent is "action" - no jumping or swimming - which I consider a plus.
I heartily recommend Return to Krondor as a good RPG and worth playing - mostly because the ending is one of the best I've ever experienced.