Everyone that grew up in the 1980s remembers specific things about pop culture. For many, it was MTV, hair bands, Rubic’s Cubes, Ronald Reagan, and the threat of nuclear holocaust. For me, it was about Star Wars, and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
When I couldn’t get my two imaginary friends and their acquaintances together for a Saturday afternoon of pizza and Kroger Crunchy Fish Portions, I would read through role-playing books. The Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone were great, but one of the best series was Steve Jackson’s Sorcery
Many of the books were just a “Choose Your Own Adventure” books but you battle monsters with dice, and of course everyone cheated to get to the end of the book. With the Sorcery Series, you really couldn’t cheat. There were specific instructions when you obtained a magical object, and you would have to know when and how to use it (there was no “use this item” prompt in the book).
The series spanned four volumes, not including a “spell book” filled with three-letter codes. The entire series featured fantastic art that inspired me as an artist, and I so wanted to be a fantasy illustrator when I joined the ranks of adulthood.
Since kids today can’t be bothered with archaic “words on paper”, the Sorcery series has been transformed into an Android and iOS game, and it is even better than the original.
The game features fantastic graphics, as you move your character along a 3d “board” as you travel across to your destination, and there are multiple paths you can take. New passages from the book are stitched together to form a narrative as you make your decisions.
You can do things in the game without being prompted, such as eating rations or casting spells, although there are situations when the book prompts you to think of how to use a spell.
Combat is handled a lot differently than in the books. For one, the creatures you encounter have been re-drawn for the combat, and in the same art style. Instead of dice, you have an attack meter that is drained as you issue more powerful attacks. Each move is written out for you to read, and you have to gain context about your opponent’s state from the text.
If you are attacking and your enemy has a stronger attack (i.e. “rolls higher”) then you lose more stamina/health. Adversely, if you roll higher when your enemy attacks, then he takes more damage. If you are low on stamina and your opponent is stronger in the round, then you can “defend” by moving the attack slider to 0, and thereby only take 1 point of damage instead of the beatdown you would have otherwise taken. It wouldn’t be a role-playing game unless you could pause the action and get more health, and you can thankfully do so by eating rations or praying to your character’s gods.
The combat is satisfying, balanced, and overall challenging (since you can no longer cheat by skipping ahead). The combat narrative makes the combat way more interesting than rolling dice and using your imagination.
If you wanted to backtrack with the original books, you had to remember the passage number you were on and go back to it. Thankfully in the game, you can press an icon of a place you previously visited on the map to “rewind”. You will lose anything you’ve gained past that story branch, which can many times be a good thing.
Right now, only the first (and thinnest) book has been revised as an Android game, and a single play-through can take up two or three good hours. Since there are so many possible story branches, it is definitely worth several different paths, and it is interesting each time.
I for one am looking forward to the rest of the series, as should anyone who played any of these retro “game books”.