Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Kingdom: The Far Reaches (MS-DOS)

Kingdom the Far Reaches DOS logo
I've been looking through my list of 'K' games and there sure are a whole lot of titles beginning with Knight, King and Kingdom in there, so whatever I end up going with I'll be seeing a lot of blokes with swords over the next two weeks. Today's game is Kingdom: The Far Reaches, AKA. Thayer's Quest or just Reaches, and it looks like I'll even get a castle or two in this one.

Kingdom has been sitting in my GOG.com library, taunting me, ever since I bought it in a pay what you want Interplay bundle two years ago. I've been putting off playing it though because at a glance it kind of looks a CD-I port. But no longer! Today you and I are going to find out what this game actually is, and hopefully figure out if it's any good while we're at it.

I saw a button on the title screen labelled 'History', which isn't something you typically see on title screens, so I clicked it and got a fully animated intro cartoon that looks like it was transferred from a antique Betamax tape. But this actually came out in the mid 90s, so they had to strip it down to 256 colours as well to compress it onto a CD. That's not a JPEG you're looking at, that's the actual graphics.

The cutscene depicts an epic battle between the blonde guy and some other folks. Considering that the other side is made up of ugly grinning goblin-men I'm thinking that this may be one of those legendary conflicts of good versus evil you hear about so much.

Team evil is being led by this guy, who's wearing his the highest of his high-collared black robes to make absolutely certain that everyone can tell that he's the most villainous asshole on the battlefield.

"The time of the Argent Kings is past," he announces, before shooting a beam of magic right at the last one standing.

Damn that looks painful. I was kind of expecting him to block it somehow or shrug it off, seeing how he was single-handedly fighting off all those monsters earlier, but nope he just got one-shotted by Lord Evil from a few hundred meters away.

The doomed Argent King decides to use his final words to assure the villain (I think he called him Jorlock), that he's not actually the end of his line.
"There's is one...one who will come... in time... come to... destroy... you."
I can't tell if he was meant to be struggling for breath there, or struggling to lip sync with the pauses in the animation, but either way the result wasn't an awe inspiring acting performance.

"Find him," bellows Jorlock to the bloke in the cloak, who then dives at the camera laughing.

So this is how the Argent Kings were so easily wiped out: because they were incredibly incredibly dumb. The last of them was moments away from death, he could barely breathe never mind speak, but he still managed to find just enough strength to betray the last of his bloodline and ensure that Jorlock would stop at nothing to find and kill them!

I'm not sure an evil magician and his goblin army is the ideal alternative to a monarchy of idiots, but it seems clear that some kind of political upheaval was overdue.

"Enough," says a wizard, as this vision of the past dissipates into smoke swirling around his crystal ball. It turns out that this history lesson wasn't for me after all, it was for the wizard's young apprentice.
"So the high race of the Argent Kings passed from the world, destroyed by Torlock the Twisted."
Huh, so the man on the horse is called Torlock then? Or Torlok maybe?

The wizard goes on to explain that the wisest and most powerful of his order was the guardian of an amulet through which the most powerful magic could be focused. Foreseeing that Torlok was going to wipe out the Argent Kings he decided that drastic action was needed, so he took the amulet... and pulled a Triforce with it, breaking it into five pieces and hiding them around the five kingdoms. And so evil prevails yet again because good is dumb.

Now the apprentice, last descendent of the Argent Kings, must gather the pieces and rejoin them to defeat Torlok! The wizard lets slip that he's had 22 apprentices before him and they all died, but he's confident that our hero will maybe be more fortunate. And with that I'm kicked back to the title screen to start the game.

I usually pick the default medium average normal difficulty for a game, but in this case I've been given a choice between Apprentice and Wizard, so I'm going with the easier of the two because... well I'm playing as an apprentice!

Choosing a new game has rewarded me with a second intro video, this time about a knight bravely making a strategic retreat from a fire-breathing dragon. In his defence he did lose his sword killing another dragon earlier, though a real hero would do a backflip onto the creature's nose in slow-motion and then shove his shield into its eye, instead of this running away bullshit.

Oh well, maybe they were saving that scene for the Game Cube remake.

But then it's revealed that this is all an illusion created by the apprentice to entertain some townsfolk. And unlike the wizard he didn't even need a crystal ball to view it!

Suddenly his boss decides to project himself into town and scare the guy's audience away to remind him who the master is around here. He's come here with an assignment for our apprentice hero (who turns out to be called Lathan), as a terrible thing has happened.

Drakesblood the Wicked has imprisoned the rightful ruler and claimed the throne and Lathan must find the relics to stop him! But aren't I already supposed to be hunting down five relics to make the amulet to stop Torlok?

The wizard explains that Lathan must find The Black Mace, the Hunting Horn and the Rainbow Egg... Thing to defeat Drakesblood. Like he didn't have enough to worry about already.

Actually these items seem to match three of the pictures on the amulet, so I'm thinking that these are actually the same Triforce relics I was told about earlier. I guess I can leave the other two until after finishing with Drakesblood, because apparently he's only 60% as powerful as Torlok and doesn't need a full blast to take down.

Anyway, to the wizard's mansion! There is no time to spare!

'Quick, you must take these scrolls inscribed with spells of seeing! Ignore the sparkling, that's completely normal. Plus it's a magic bag of storing so they're going to vanish before your eyes in a second anyway and that's totally normal. Just take the damn bag already!'

I'm sure there was a definite shift in the animation just then. This looks like noticeably lower quality footage than the scene in the town, like they extended the game at some point with new content. Not that any video looks great when it's reduced to a handful of colours and shoved into a tiny window.

It's a shame really, because the game was displaying full screen video for its history lesson earlier, so it's not like it can't do it when it wants to. Man I hope they didn't put this crappy looking frame around the outside by choice.

Wow I think the music just broke for me. It's sounds like it's fast forwarding through a worn out old cassette tape, and unfortunately it's not improving it any.

Lathan's magical mentor explains that he can get to work on another set of scrolls right away, but he's leaving it up to the clueless apprentice (ie. me) to choose what type to create next. Because he is dumb. I guess I'll go with Scrolls of Understanding, as I'll need all the help I can get there.

Now I get a choice of starting location. I can be teleported back to Lathan's home town of Glendoe, the Haunted Waterfalls, or... damn, I think he just said the Eldritch Forest.

Actually Gandalf I've got a better idea. How about we hit the books or use your magic crystal ball to get a lead on where these relics may be before just picking a random place in the world and asking the NPCs there for help. I know you really like sending your apprentices out to their death, but maybe we could do a little prep work here and save ourselves a lot of wandering around later! Or not.

Fine lets go to the forest then. Sounds like the most interesting place that isn't haunted.

Agh, there's 80s cartoon wood elves here! It turns out that already know of my quest and wish to offer me a stick.

Then the animation freezes and I'm left listening to double speed wood elf music while it waits for me to make a decision. Do I click on the staff or do I click on the map icon on the right to make a run for it? Oh fine I'll take the staff; maybe it shoots fireballs or something.

As Lathan dissolves the staff into his magical bag, the elves explain that I have to take it to the fairy circle and give it to the fairies. You know, this is starting to seem like I'm the one helping them out rather than the other way around. Alright fine, I've come this far, I might as well see where this leads. But once I'm done I'm going to have to figure out who the mole is in my organisation leaking intel to the elves. I already have a shortlist of suspects written up, and it's as short as they come as there's only one name on it. Oh that reminds me, here's an unrelated fact I should mention: my wizard friend is called Daelon.

With nothing else to do on the elf screen, I clicked the map icon and brought this screen up, filled with lots of places to visit and not a whole lot of indication that I can visit them until I sweep my mouse cursor over them. It looks like this is a corner of a bigger map, but I'm limited to just the areas on screen right now.

I don't see any reason not to go to the fairy circle and give them this staff, so I'll head there next.

I bring you a staff! Hello guys, I've got a staff for you! Huh, maybe I just didn't click that 'wood elf staff' button on the bottom of the screen enough times.

Nope, I can hear fairies around but none of them want to come and check out this awesome staff I'm waving around. The only other thing I'm carrying right now are my scrolls of sight and I've only got five of them to last me so I'm disinclined to try using one here.

Alright where else could I visit? Hey the map's scrolled down to center itself on the fairy circle, so I've got different destinations now. I'll check out this forester's camp next, as it's right next to me and probably as safe as anywhere around here.

Oh no, Lathan's been ambushed by Torlok's henchman, and he's caught him in an evil spell! Black mists swirl around our hero, giving him an instant hangover, and providing the sinister sorcerer with an opportunity to end the bloodline of the Argent Kings once and for all! Which he doesn't take.

"I have no strength left," Lathan says out loud to no one in particular. Then he carries on walking to the forester's camp.

"Go away, strangers aren't welcome"

Well that was a waste of time for both me and the animators. Hey has that tree in the frame changed slightly? Yeah, the branch at the top left is dying off. I wonder if that's because Lathan just got smoked, or whether there's a time limit involved.

Alright I can't find anything to click on this screen, so I'll bring the map up again and carry on south to the Huntman's Crossroads.

"Ho fellow!"

"Who are you?"

"Norton the Huntsman, I know much of these woods. For example I know that the Crystal of Keldar will enable you to overcome the crystal tigers. Come back some time and I'll share a story with you!"
Uh... okay then. Well he seemed like a friendly sort, and very eager to give random information to complete strangers. Shame about the voice acting, but it was the mid 90s. Well that info was technically helpful, but it doesn't really give me any clue where to go next and there's nothing to click here either. I suppose I'll continue south towards the moors then.

Well shit. I guess going to the moors is a bad idea then, at least until I convince the elves to hand me some anti-ghost underwear.

Hey Lathan respawned back at wizard Daelon's mansion. I guess after losing 22 apprentices it finally occurred to the old wizard to try teaching one of them a resurrection spell.

"Good, you have returned! The new scrolls are complete."

I'm starting to get the feeling he honestly didn't notice that Lathan just regenerated from a skeleton right in the middle of his living room. Oh, plus I just lost that section of tree branch entirely, so I suppose each third of that corresponds to a separate life. An adventure game with lives, gee I wonder why other titles in the genre don't do that...

Okay, let's not go wandering off into the wilderness this time. I'll click on the guildhall north of Glendoe instead, and see if anyone there knows anything about these three relics. Let's see ghosts and wizards torment me in the heart of civilization.

"A troublemaker if I ever saw one! Guards take him!"

Holy shit he was nibbled to death by piranha rodents! So this is where they got the idea from for the rat swarms in Dishonored!

I can't believe Lathan just walked into a room and was immediately sentenced to death imprisonment before he could squeak out anything more than a feeble "But, I'm..." This game is harsh.

One life left.

This time I'm visiting the barren rocks, figuring that Lathan would have try really hard to get himself killed when there's nothing around. Amazingly he actually did survive the journey and he's even found himself some ancient runes carved on one of the rocks.
"Ancient runes. I wonder how I can understand them."
Hey, that's a puzzle that I even I can solve!

There goes one of my precious finite scrolls of understanding, crumbling into dust and magic sparkles. I hope this is worth it.

"In the Black Keep are the runes/ruins of Isgar which hold the power of law for that kingdom."

Well that was kind of a random thing to find written on a stone in the middle of nowhere. I'm really starting to wish that I could turn some subtitles on right about now. Okay there's no Black Keep nearby that I can see, but there is a bog so I'll visit that instead.

And of course Lathan manages to immediately slip into the water and drown. He truly is a descendant of the Argent Kings.

With no lives remaining, the purple mists of time turn Lathan back into a skeleton. The end.

What a classy game over screen.

The game does have a single save slot, but I can't remember if I saved before or after being drained by the evil wizard in the forest, so I'll start a new game and choose a different starting location this time. I'll try... the Haunted Waterfall.

"Nowtharfoundahpristol tharenchantmendoldsitbah themyoomususeyormajicktooreleethespelofreh"

Uh... sorry guys I could barely make out a word of that, and honestly I'm not even all that confident I heard those right either. I could really use some subtitles right about now. Or maybe they could just stop whimsically chanting their instructions in unison, that'd probably help as well.

Well I haven't got any scrolls of understanding on me this time, but I've managed to get the clip into a sound editor and after playing it over a few times this is best that I can decipher:

"Now thar found the crystal dark enchantment holds it back so you must use your magic to release the spell of rest."

That's... no help to me at all right now is it?

I guess I'll head back down to the forest and visit the elves again for their stick, seeing as I lost it when I restarted. Plus it'll be nice to meet someone who isn't going to kill me on sight or sing to me.


LATER, BACK AT THE WOOD ELF FOREST.


Thayer's Quest (Arcade)
Okay I've done a little research, and it turns out this game is far more interesting than I had suspected. Sure it was a Phillips CD-I game before reaching PCs, so I guessed that much right, and it even made its way to the 3DO... but this started life as a LaserDisc arcade game by RDI called Thayer's Quest, released in 1984. The game is over 30 years old, and had been around for a decade before it even made it to PC!

Instead of giving you a map to pick your next destination, the arcade game gives you a choice of paths instead, and you select them with a keyboard built into the cabinet. This was the first arcade game to ever use a keyboard, and likely the only one until 1999's Typing of the Dead. The graphics quality is far higher in the original game due to it basically being played as video right off a LaserDisc instead of being compressed to crap, and it has significantly less terrible voice acting. I can even understand what the guys at the waterfall are saying in this version! They ended up redubbing the entire game for the home console and PC release, because... well my best guess is that they didn't like the original character names. Like 'Lathan' is any better than 'Thayer'.

HALCYON: HOW COME I'VE NEVER HEARD OF THIS CONSOLE BEFORE? - AN IGNORABLE INTERLUDE.


Thayer's Quest was also simultaneously developed as the pack-in game for the RDI's LaserDisc based Halcyon console, a massive black monolith of a device designed exclusively for interactive movie games, based around the gimmick that it could respond to people using speech synthesis like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Personally I would have chosen to emulate a less homicidal computer, but I have to admit that the idea of a voice operated console was massively ahead of its time in 1984. In fact it's probably still ahead of its time in 2014 as well, which is why a certain other black monolith doesn't require Kinect any more. Companies still get into the trap of thinking that Star Trek voice commands will make game consoles far more accessible for the masses, but they forget that even the Starship Enterprise uses buttons for everything important (besides ordering coffee from the replicator and blowing the ship up).

Anyway, Thayer's Quest on Halcyon was a speech controlled game, not that it mattered much as they apparently never sold a single copy. It seems that the company went bankrupt before even getting console units on shelves, meaning that it performed even worse at retail than the Wii U. Speaking of Nintendo (a company I actually love so don't yell at me in the comments please), if Halcyon had been released as planned, it would've come out BEFORE the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US... and at only 10 times the price! It didn't even come with a robot. Somehow I think this one was doomed from the start.

Alright this time I used up a scroll of sight at the fairy circle to make the fairies show themselves, and gave them their bloody staff. My reward is apparently a portal to the Crystal Castle! I'm not sure I want to be going there yet, but seeing as this staff quest is as easy as puzzles come in this, I'm not expecting it'll leading anywhere too dangerous.

Okay, it turns out that I didn't want to be going to the Crystal Castle just yet.

These must be those crystal tigers that Norton the Friendly Huntsman mentioned earlier. So I'll need the Crystal of Keldar before I can safely make it inside.

"Good, you have returned! The new scrolls are complete."

How can this guy not notice that his apprentice keeps returning as a skeleton? Maybe he is aware of his repeated deaths and just doesn't give a fuck, who knows?

Alright, this time I'll try... the Lower Pools.

Oh right, Lathan has real problems with water doesn't he? I remember now.

Alright, this time I'll try... the open desert. Let's see him manage to drown out there.

This looks bad, but I may still be able to find a way out of it. Come on Lathan, you can summon illusionary dragons and return from the dead but you can't manage a level 1 wind spell?

Seriously? He managed to drown in sand, that's just... how can anyone be so prodigiously adept at dying?

Actually I've got a better question, how the fuck did he manage to survive this long? Did the wizard keep him locked up in his mansion and hide all the sharp objects or something? Or did he manage to burn through a few hundred lives a year before the game even started? You know, that would explain why Daelon's so nonchalant about his resurrections.

Well at least my Scrolls of Teleportation are ready now, so now I can travel anywhere I want in the entire kingdom! I've only got a limited number of them though, and they cost Lathan half his health each time he uses one, but that's hardly an issue seeing as he's likely going to instantly die when he gets there anyway.

This Temple of Cindra seems like a good bet though. Temples are places of worship, quiet contemplation and occasionally human sacrifice, but I'm gambling Lathan's life that there's more of the first two going on here.

Teleportation magic is all about glowing hexagons, huh? Weird.

You know, I think I've changed my mind. This is probably not a temple I want to be visiting.

But I'm here now, so I might as well see if anyone's home.

AGHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Oh hang on, Lathan's still alive. Can't say I saw that coming.

I've got a choice of two doors here, which seems like a big warning sign, but I doubt that even this game is so badly designed that it'll kill a player off for picking the wrong identical door.

I stand corrected.

There's no explanation for this by the way. You click the door, and immediately cuts away to Lathan tired up over lava by burning ropes. It's a shame really as would have liked to have seen how they managed to get him there.

Lathan's down to his final life yet again, but there is still hope! All I have to do is stumble across the location of the Crystal of Keldar or someone who knows where it is, and I can get past the crystal tigers into the Crystal Castle and collect the first relic.

We'll check out the Shimmering Oasis next. Sure it'll likely contain both water and sand, but with a name like that how dangerous is it likely to be?

Oh shit, he just touched the water and he was instantly electrocuted! And then the entire oasis exploded! Nope, I'm never going to top that death. Might as well quit while I'm ahead.


CONCLUSION


Kingdom: The Far Reaches is a game about lovingly hand-drawn death scenes realised with traditional cel-painted animation. The replacement voice acting is kind of crap, the story is beyond banal, and the gameplay is so shallow that it was later successfully ported to DVD players, but if you visit a place, chances are high that Lathan will find a unique way to die there.

It all made perfect sense to me though when I learned that this was the third LaserDisc game by Dragon's Lair and Space Ace creator Rick Dyer. Of course the inventor of the quick time event would make an adventure game that takes trial and error just to reach the next puzzle. He even managed to throw in another one of his 'rescue the princess' plots as well now that I think about it.

Though to be fair, this is VERY early example of an adventure game, as Thayer's Quest made it to arcades just a year after Sierra produced the first ever animated adventure game: King's Quest. It predates the first LucasFilm adventure game, Maniac Mansion, by 3 years. It even predates the Japanese release of The Legend of Zelda!

But as a game, I wouldn't recommend it. Not when you can watch all of Lathan's deaths edited together as a YouTube video, in much higher quality. That's really the only point of the game, and it's not like you'll be missing out on the epic story resolution, as the game doesn't even have a proper ending! Lathan is still two relics short by the end of the game, so you'd have to get the sequel to see the amulet finally reconstructed and Torlok defeated. They should've left this in the 80s.


Leave a comment if you dare, but those who do must beware. For talk is cheap and comments free, but words are worthless if they're shitty.

7 comments:

  1. I have suggestion for you regarding next game box. What about making it work in way that when next article gets published, box from previous article gets linked to it, so then users can visit next article via box from previous article? I know this would require additional work and effort but it seems to me as natural and intuitive thing to have. As at this moment it doesnt fullfill any functional purpose except for visual clue and I believe various visitors try to click it fruitlessly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Okay I've figured out a way of doing that, so people had BETTER instinctively try to click that image, or else I'll be wasting two minutes at a time copying the line of text into each and every new article for absolutely no reason! And that would make me sad.

      Though it will of course continue to serve no functional purpose until the next game goes up.

      Delete
  2. Something doesn't add up: Rick Dyer? Never heard of that guy, but I'm pretty sure Dragon's Lair and Space Ace were developed by world-famous cartoonist Don Bluth. And it shows: the quality of the animation in those two laser games is a million times superior than the one seen in Kingdom: The Far Reaches.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rick Dyer was the president of the company that developed Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, while Don Bluth was the animator. Bluth's studio went bankrupt though during the making of Space Ace 2, so he went on to make the film An American Tail instead. Meanwhile Rick Dyer decided to make a whole bunch of cartoon games for his new console with an in-house animation team, but ended up with just Thayer's Quest and a bunch of trailers to show for it. The most 80s looking cartoon trailers ever made.

      Also the animation in Kingdom doesn't actually look THAT terrible when it's not compressed to crap. Sadly the journey from laserdisc to CD to gif was not kind to it, but if you check out Thayer's Quest cutscenes on youtube you can see the true passion the entire team had for killing off the protagonist in every way possible. I watched an interview with Dyer about the game, and he seemed so hyped to show off storyboards of the death scenes; they really put their heart into it.

      Delete
  3. Do you have any of The Witcher series games on your requests list? If you don't I'd like to request the first game The witcher Enhanced Edition. If you don't like that then The witcher 2 Assassins of Kings is much better. But I didn't think the first game was bad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nope, no one in the three years I've been doing this has ever requested either of the Witcher games. They're a bit too modern I think, as most people want to see games from the 90s. In fact I'm glad you're asking for the first game specifically, as the sequel's too modern to even run properly on my ageing PC. I'm going to have to hold onto that one until I get a new rig.

      Witcher 1 on the other hand, I'm pretty sure I can manage that.

      Delete
  4. There's a collection of the ways to die in this on YouTube. And I would not want to tell that to someone who's concerned about video game violence. But thanks for the interlude, your site has class.

    ReplyDelete

Semi-Random Game Box