Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero review

The Good:
  • Fresh approach to traditional adventure gaming mixed with an effective use of humour. There is much to do and explore
  • And plenty of interesting characters to meet. The music is excellent
The Bad:
  • Presence of combat may discourage some players. RPG elements such as frequent skill-building sometimes feel like wasted time. Genuine puzzles are few and often too straightforward. The game world doesn't evolve
Our Verdict: While actual puzzles are meagre and interspersed with RPG elements, So You Want To Be A Hero offers a fun and unique experience and never ceases to be an adventure game at its core.

Quest for Glory is often mentioned in the same breath with Sierra's other acclaimed adventure series, while in contrast, some gamers dismiss it as an obvious RPG hybrid. Personally, I've lost interest in the debate about what is "true" adventure. Riding logs in Leisure Suit Larry III didn't annoy me, nor did fighting Nazis in the Indiana Jones games. What I care about is playing adventure games that strive to be challenging, innovative and enthralling. If that describes you also, then let's take a closer look at Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero.

You sign your name into the Adventurer's Log Book with a flourish. "I have come to Spielburg to become a Hero."

First released in 1989 under the title Hero's Quest, but renamed Quest for Glory before the VGA remake three years later, So You Want To Be A Hero is based on the tale of an unfortunate Baron Stefan von Spielburg, who sought to drive the evil ogress Baba Yaga from his barony over a decade earlier. In response to his aggression, Baba cursed the Baron, who subsequently lost his son Barnard and daughter Elsa under mysterious circumstances. Struck with grief, Von Spielburg started living as a recluse, neglecting his leadership duties and refusing to see anyone. Even the court jester, Yorick, left the Baron in search of young Elsa, who was only eight years old when she was kidnapped. The jester was never seen again.

The Baron's indifference led to the degradation of the Royal Guard, and eventually no sufficient armed forces were available to prevent an invasion of brigands. This well-organized group of rogues settled in the valley, occasionally robbing its inhabitants and preventing all trade, ruining local economy. Fortunately for von Speilburg, as the wizard Erasmus explains, for each curse there is an equal and opposite countercurse. The rather prophetic countercurse that one day may redeem the Baron involves a Hero coming from the east. Since you've arrived in Spielburg valley by an eastern mountain pass, it seems that you've got your work cut out for you.

Quest for Glory I is set in a medieval European environment, depending heavily on Germanic names, history and folklore, as well as mythology from various other cultures. This mix helps create a unique fantasy universe where "Adventurer" and "Hero" count as actual job descriptions and a peculiarity known as the Famous Adventurer's Correspondence School exists. As you begin, you assume the role of a recent graduate of this school who wants nothing more than to prove his worth and be proclaimed a Hero.

While conversation and dialogue are plentiful and essential in QFG1, the main character himself does not speak. What he says and does are narrated while he remains a 'tabula rasa' throughout the game. Though the Hero is always male, his name, personality and voice are left to player imagination, which allows you to more closely identify yourself with the character on screen. The silent protagonist trick is common in RPGs, but rarely used in third-person adventures.

Back when it was first released, QFG1 was advertised as being "three games in one". As you start a new game, you first need to pick one of three character classes: Fighter, Magic User or Thief. In many RPGs, having different classes largely means having different ways to beat up monsters. QFG1 takes the principle an important step further by applying it to puzzles: to open a locked chest, the strong Fighter will have to use brute force to break it open, while the Thief will use his roguish skills to pick the lock, and the Magic User can use a spell. Also, for each class there is one distinct part of the game in which only they can participate. Most encounters do have different solutions for the three characters, although it goes a little too far to speak of three completely different games.

A class is basically a template that determines which skills your character has. There are thirteen skills listed in the Character Sheet, varying from basic ones such as Strength, Agility and Intelligence to more sophisticated skills like Climbing, Weapon Use and Magic. You will only be able to successfully climb a tree, for example, when your Climb skill is at a certain level. Practice makes perfect, so you may have to try a couple of times before finally succeeding. Some gamers may consider the obligatory skill-building to be an unwelcome nuisance, as it seems rather pointless to have to try climbing a tree twenty times before accomplishing it. Fortunately, while practice may be time consuming, it shouldn't become frustrating if you have a little patience.

Skills can be trained to a maximum level of 100, but skills that are at zero can never be used or improved. Once you've chosen a character class in the beginning of the game, you are given 50 skill points that you may distribute among your skills freely. Alternatively, you can spend these 50 bonus points to gain a maximum of three skills that are otherwise unavailable to the chosen class. For example, Fighters and Thieves may choose to take Magic as an extra skill.

Quest for Peace? Part 1

Many adventure gamers believe that Quest for Glory has too much fighting. As I review each game in the series, I'll show that it is only as combat-heavy as you want it to be. This I will try to accomplish by playing through the game without ever getting involved in a battle.

Monsters and brigands appear randomly as you travel through Spielburg's forest. There are various safe zones, so you'll only be threatened while moving through empty forest areas between locations. Enemies will follow you around in the forest, but they are easy to avoid, and after going through a few screens, they will give up their pursuit.

Sometimes you may have to take a detour if a monster approaches you from the direction you're headed. When a monster does get too close, you'll find yourself in a battle, but even after a fight has started, escaping is always possible. Having to avoid monsters from time to time may occasionally be annoying, but doing so is easy, and all in all, the actual threat of enemies is negligible.

If you do participate in combat, your Hero's Experience skill will rise. This results in monsters appearing more often, and tougher enemies will appear.

The Fighter class inevitably has to complete some quests by resorting to combat, but Thieves and Magic Users can use their specialized skills to complete their tasks peacefully. (Though they can alternatively resort to aggression as well, if so desired.)

Additionally, the Magic User has two spells available to keep enemies at bay: Calm and Dazzle. Both cause enemies to stop moving for a while, allowing you to walk away. This won't work when you're already in a battle.

In QFG1, avoiding all fighting is relatively easy. Accomplishing the same in the next games, however,

may prove to be tougher...

While multi-classing seems like a cool idea, I am convinced that this was a mistake on the designers' part, as it undermines the three-in-one premise. Part of the challenge is lost as well, since multi-classed characters can simply choose the easiest solution to each puzzle. If you want to get the most enjoyment out of the Quest for Glory games, my advice is that you stay away from mixed classes.

There is indeed some combat in the game, though much of it is optional (see sidebar for more detail). A number of skills are important when fighting monsters and brigands, and as you continue to practice, you should find battles becoming easier. For example, the more proficient you are in the Weapon Use skill, the more likely you'll hit an enemy. If you train your Strength skill, you may find that you're able to deal more damage the next time you're in a fight.

When you confront an enemy, a close-up screen is presented in which you and your opponent trade blows in real time. Defence is also possible as you can step left and right for short while, and if you have a shield you may use it to dodge enemy attacks. Unfortunately, defending is rarely effective, and I typically found myself resorting to offence only, making the combat system anything but strategic.

Of course there's far more to the game than character classes, stat-building and combat, which adventure fans will be glad to hear by now. As you explore the town of Spielburg, you'll come across the Adventurer's Guild that, as it turns out, is far from a place bustling with adventurous activity. Instead, it appears more like a retirement home for the one elderly Adventurer that has survived in recent years. While the sleepy Guildmaster will eagerly share some interesting tales of past glory days, your main interest here is the Quests board. It holds a handful of advertisements offering jobs and requests for able Adventurers. This bulletin board will give newcomers to the game a nod in the right direction, but naturally there are more quests available than the five presented here.

Most quests can be solved in a non-linear fashion and not all of them need to be completed in order to win. Dead-end situations are possible, but only when you make obvious mistakes like selling key items or killing creatures you shouldn't, which are easy to avoid. Quests include activities that can be divided into three categories: item fetching, traditional puzzles and skill-based puzzles.

While item fetching is as simple as it sounds (find item X for creature Y), luckily there are also some traditional puzzles to solve. Some are very basic (feed the bear so he won't attack you upon entering the cave) and a good number of them require use of your character's skills (like throwing rocks to knock a bird's nest from a branch.) While some puzzles require more cunning than others, none are really elaborate or difficult.

In the endgame, you face a series of classic adventure puzzles, some of which involve timed sequences. For example, as you enter one area, you quickly need to close off all exits and use your wits to manoeuvre past a group of enemies, which should appeal to those who enjoy traditional puzzling with a quicker pace.

Continued on the next page...

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