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Written by  :  Nowhere Girl (4364)
Written on  :  Mar 05, 2012
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Beautiful sceneries, captivating story, terrible mazes

The Good

A thing I have to say - because it has much influence on my opinions about this game - is that I played it AFTER I played the sequel. And I mean much later: I discovered "Hand of Fate" in the 90s, when it was about two years old, but I first played "Legend of Kyrandia 1" in 2004. So I can't help comparing these two games - and while clearly being connected, they are very different.
First, this game is much harder than its successor. Which is, of course, not a bad thing if you're looking for challenges. If you don't know you're supposed to find five stones, a coin and a key in the (in)famous cave labyrinth and you're not using some external help - a walkthrough, let's say ;) - you could spend hours just trying to solve this single part. Fortunately, it's probably THE most difficult part of the whole game.
However, apart from the caves, this game generally does have something maze-like. There are a few types of "Dark Forest" screens repeating themselves - they are beautiful anyway, but still give you the feeling it's something that could have been done better - but they also have an advantage: they make finding your way harder. In "Hand of Fate" no screens repeat themselves, even on the most monotonous Volcania "level", it's always quite easy to know where you're going. In "Legend of Kyrandia 1" it's easy to lose a sense of direction.
The mood is also different: much darker and more mysterious. Which is not to say the game doesn't have elements of humor (check out the dialog between Brandon, Darm the Royal Mystic and his pet dragon Brandywine, especially the fragment about why Brandywine eats cats and not knights), but the game is not as witty. I enjoyed this - I hate true horror films/games/stories, but I like that kind of fairytale spookiness you can see in this game.
"Legend of Kyrandia" is also an interesting example of an extremely simple and yet completely functional interface. You just use the cursor for everything: looking, moving, using objects - and it works! What Sierra games accomplished with the usual "walk/talk/look/use" interface, this game does with just a cursor. It if, of course, possible thanks to making the inventory visible all the time, but the most important thing is that it works perfectly well and is very intuitive, unlike all the commands in some very sophisticated adventure games. Clicking on a person will always initiate a conversation, clicking on the ground makes Brandon go to that spot, clicking on an item outside the inventory makes Brandon pick it up, clicking an item in the inventory and then in the place where it is used... well, just makes Brandon use the item, and clicks on everything else may provoke a comment.

The Bad

Again, compared to "Hand of Fate": something I loved about that game were the usually funny comments Zanthia made when you click on her - two per screen. Unfortunately, it's not the case in "Legend of Kyrandia 1": Brandon also makes some comments to himself, but they repeat themselves in various places - it seems that there are about 5 pairs of comments in the whole game.
In "Hand of Fate", if you can read a dialogue line quicker than it changes by itself, you can speed up the dialogue by clicking. Again, this small technical detail is unfortunately absent in its predecessor - you have to wait until the line changes, which may be helpful for people who don't speak English well, but is really tiresome for quick readers. On the other hand, if you enjoy munching on some sweets while playing, you even have a free hand for a cup of tea while reading what the characters have to say. ;)
I have already mentioned the cave labyrinth. Well, it gets simple for "cheaters" who use a walkthrough, but for someone who doesn't want to, or for early players of this game - before any walkthroughs were published, or when the internet was much less developed than today and not so many people had access anyway, so finding a walkthrough was more difficult - it must have been an extremely frustrating part. The rules of walking the caves work like this: Brandon will be killed by monsters if he enters a dark cave without a light source. In some rooms there are fireberry bushes and he can pick as many fireberries as he wants. Fireberries only last a certain time, but it's measured not in real time, but in "interscreen movement" - a fireberry gets dimmer after moving to the next screen and will fully burn out before entering the fourth screen from the one where it was picked, but a dropped fireberry will keep lighting up a dark cave indefinitely. And Brandon has no map, is not even offered any explanation outside of Darm warning him that "terrible beasts live there". Every death sequence will take several seconds because frightened Brandon will keep saying something before the monsters approach him and, as mentioned, there's no possibility of speeding up the dialogue. So navigating the labyrinth without a map could easily take over an hour - try all possible caves, draw your own map, check where the fireberry bushes are... And some places (generally the southeastern part) are only accessible after Brandon gets another, more permanent light source... I wanted to write "enough with that, because that would be a spoiler"... but in fact it can be found even in the screenshots. But I won't tell you how to get the item necessary for that. ;)
It's not even the only maze in the game. In some places (particularly the woods near Zanthia's place) it's possible to get lost, or at least to keep walking and walking, searching for some places such as the little waterfall with blueberry bushes. And the castle dungeons (Brandon needs to find an item there) are another real maze. It isn't dangerous like the caves, but it's dark, still has a very uneasy mood and it's even easier to get lost there. In the cave labyrinth there were some caves with a light source other than the fireberry bushes, which looked completely different - for example the river of lava, the emerald cavern... And dropped fireberries were also a very convenient reminder: "I have already been here!" (still, it's not advisable to play this sequence without either having a map or drawing a map, so a prudent player will probably have another way of knowing where (s)he has already been). In the dungeons all screens look almost the same... well, not entirely, they have passages in different directions, in some of them walls are decorated with a shield... but in principle, identical screens repeat themselves several times. You can't even see the exit - the bottom of that screen will look just like in every other screen in the dungeons (in the caves you could see by the stalagmites at the bottom of the screen whether there is a passage to the south, in the dungeons the southern wall is never visible, the only difference is an arrow or a red crossed circle showing whether there is a passage or not). The dungeons are entered by a rotating wall with a gargoyle on both sides, but the gargoyle is only visible when outside the dungeons.
Any player should also remember that the game has one point of no return. Just like its successor, it feels clearly divided into stages: the forest around Brandon's home, Timbermist Woods, the caves, another forest around Zanthia's home and the castle island. However, unlike in "Hand of Fate", you can keep returning to previously visited places if you want/need to - with one exception. Once Brandon drinks the Pegasus potion and flies off to castle island, there is no going back. So it's possible to get stuck by not taking all required items before this irreversible move...

The Bottom Line

"Legend of Kyrandia" is a beautiful game which deserves to be considered a classic. The graphics are amazing (and I personally simply prefer early-90s-styled hand-painted graphics over further "developments" such as 3D, which I actively dislike), visited places are diverse enough, the story is interesting... However, the game also has some serious downsides. It may be a little too scary for younger players - however, it's a downside minor enough to ignore, also because the game would simply be too difficult for a seven-year-old, for example. However, the mazes and maze-like parts are more serious - very frustrating and just too hard. I still like this game very much, but it feels for me like these sequences are a little unfair on the player - literally unfair, done by game developers who know what they have planned, but then meant to be solved by a player who often receives next to no clues...