High above the scorching desert flutters a Magic Carpet ferrying a group of four. One is a nameless Hero who recently proved his worth in the realm of Spielburg. The others are finally returning to their homeland, glad that they are taking with them a Hero destined to save their lands from peril. And so Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire picks up where its predecessor left off: on a journey to the desert city of Shapeir in pursuit of new adventure and new evil to defeat.
You'll soon discover that the three friends were surely right when they said that the lands were in need of a qualified Hero. Shapeir's sister city Raseir was recently overthrown by a sinister and powerful force, and within days of your arrival in the desert lands, Shapeir itself is attacked by magical Elemental creatures of Fire, Air, Earth and Water.
While Spielburg was a quiet little village, Shapeir is a vast city where random townspeople wander the streets and talkative merchants are everywhere. There are a multitude of alleys containing hundreds of houses, most of which serve no purpose other than to give the impression that the city is huge. And while in QFG1 the town of Spielburg was just one of many interesting locations in the valley, in Trial by Fire the large city contains most areas of importance. The surrounding desert hides but a handful of fairly insignificant locales, so most of the game will take place in the busy streets and plazas of the city.
The gold coins your Hero has brought with him from Spielburg turn out not to be valid currency here, so your first objective in the game is to find a money changer. In order to reach it from the inn, you'll need to navigate through the maze-like streets and alleys. Since the directions you get are rather vague, the first few moments of playing QFG2 are a slight turn off.
Luckily, with the correct money in hand, you can buy yourself a map of the city, which can take you to certain locations instantaneously by clicking on them. However, only the city's four main plazas and areas you've visited before are shown on the map, so you still need to travel through the city maze to discover new areas. Fortunately, most of these ventures are easier than the complicated search for the money changer.
Shapeir is a lovely sand-coloured city that houses a myriad of interesting places. QFG2 draws from Arabian Nights and ancient Middle-Eastern mythology, so you'll encounter typical architecture such as a Palace with onion domes. In terms of graphics, the lands of Shapeir aren't very colourful, with yellow being the predominant colour. Sometimes the 16-colour art looks a little rough around the edges, and some backgrounds get a little repetitive, as once you've seen one plaza or alley you've seen them all. While all of this is certainly acceptable from an EGA game dating from 1990, Trial by Fire disappoints somewhat when compared to So You Want To Be A Hero. Character sprites, however, are much improved in QFG2, as the people are more animated now.
Traditional characters make an appearance, such as sultans, evil viziers and harem girls, as well as wish-granting genies. Characters will sometimes use non-English words such as "Effendi" to give the impression that they're actually Arabian. Clothing stereotypes are also used to achieve this effect, so you'll see many men wearing turbans while women either wear veils or are dressed as belly dancers. These superficial concessions aside, the Middle-Eastern characters don't really feel Arabian. Instead they act and behave more like average people in a fantasy game that just happen to be dressed as Arabs.
The music helps greatly to create an Arabian mood. The MIDI compositions effectively emulate typically familiar Middle-Eastern sounds and instruments. Not all background tunes are equal in quality, but they all contribute to creating the right atmosphere.
As you begin to familiarize yourself with the city, you'll meet a variety of characters. From the silly merchant Ali Chica to the noble Liontaur Paladin Rakeesh, designers Lori and Corey Cole once again present an appealing cast to interact with. There is a greater emphasis on dialogue this time, as talking becomes more necessary and characters more responsive. You'll be performing several good deeds in QFG2, to which various people will respond by thanking you or talking about what you did. This greatly makes the game world feel more alive and reactive to your deeds.
The parser interface from the original QFG1 is still in place and functions much the same. Besides the "Ask About" command, a "Tell About" option is now present. However, with a few exceptions this mostly results in universal responses like "My, what an interesting story." Combined with the fact that it's never actually necessary (except for one side quest), it's unlikely that many gamers will make use of this option very often.
Humour again is fundamental in QFG2. Jokes and puns can be found everywhere in an otherwise very serious game, though the humour is a bit over the top on some occasions. Everything the Gnome wizard Keapon Laffin says, for instance, is in some way a pun or a play on words (as is his own name.)
One issue I have with QFG2 is the lack of originality after So You Want To Be A Hero. This is plainly evident in the characters, as there are many types we've seen before: the silly but powerful wizard that enjoys telling jokes, the muscular and arrogant fighter, the wise man that lives in solitude, the tree that harbours a woman's soul. Even some puzzles and sub-plots get recycled. For example, you once again need to collect ingredients that the local apothecary can make into a potion for you, and again there's the prophecy that foretells of a Hero to appear from the direction that you just so happen to have come from. Fortunately, this does not mean that Trial by Fire is a continuous deja vu experience, since there are many new and original elements to experience and discover as well.
One such originality is the scripted in-game entertainment. Twice a dance will be performed in the local Katta's Tail Inn, and a Poet will occasionally perform too. Similarly, on certain days an acrobat will set up a tightrope in one of the plazas, allowing you to challenge him for a few Dinars in a mini-game that tests your dexterity skill. These events occur on set dates, so it is possible to miss them if you don't show up in the right place on the right time.
Likewise, events of more importance take place on set days. QFG1 was a non-linear game in which you got to complete quests at your own leisure, but here that concept has been abandoned. While the game gives you total freedom to go where you wish, certain tasks have to be completed before a set day. This mainly concerns the four magical Elementals that plague the city in turn.Continued on the next page...