Sorcery! Part 3: The Seven Serpents

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After leaving Kahré, I was terrified. The journey had not been too difficult despite some demanding challenges, but I got scared when I realized I was over halfway through and now would be more alone than ever before. Would I get the support I needed, will I become easy prey, and why are there Chinese dragons on the cover? I was at the very least happy to be back on the plains once again, and my imagination wandered. I had high hopes for this installment. Impressively, it went beyond my expectations.

What once was, is now gone

“You stand on the edge of Baddu-Bak, a wild and evil place. Beyond lies Mampang Fortress, the Archmage, and the Crown of Kings.” Already starting this adventure, you will be presented with a theme of loneliness and uncertainty. You are far away from any civilization, as this land consists of barren fields, a ginormous forest, an unstable lake, and houses and towns once full of life, now in ruins. If that was not enough, there are plenty of creatures roaming here, both familiar and unseen ones, environmental hazards, and, of course, the seven serpents. These dragon-like creatures are there to haunt you and will be the biggest threat you have faced so far.

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This approach is a wonderful part of the game, as you will tippy-toe all over this place, but also know that you cannot linger on for too long and must take action. By creating this setting, the game makes the wonders of the original Sorcery! feel more hostile and dangerous, which is a lovely contrast. There are a couple of survivors you will meet on the way, with all being interesting and taking the destruction of their land differently. Some adapt, others are going insane, and some are hostile, giving vast and interesting approaches, but never becoming cliche or simplified. You understand every man’s choice and emotions connected to this land, which is excellent.

Without spoiling anything, you will be able to witness more up close what once was through interesting constructions, making it so you will experience the more familiar and calm land with a medieval civilization living beside nature in a fantasy world. It is not just a nice contrast to make you interact with more people and see other magical elements, but also for witnessing up close what you are fighting for and what might come back one day if you can go the distance. It is also only present for just enough time to give you this emotional connection, and never overstays so the sense of danger goes away. As with the previous installment, every interaction, discovery and even attacks are told through wonderful writing that makes the experience fulfilling and immersive. It is a different approach than the first installment, but just as strong.

Story Score: 10/10

It is dangerous to go alone

For those of you who have read my reviews of the previous installments, it might not surprise you that Sorcery! Part 3 follows the style of previous entries by being a digital gamebook with more interactive elements. For those unaware, gamebooks are somewhat similar to visual novels, where you get choices on how to proceed and thus create your own tale. With the familiar map back, you can drag your character and choose where you want to go, though it’s not that simple. First of, you have a stamina-counter which is basically your health and when you take damage, you will lose an amount until your stamina reaches zero and you can’t go on. To keep up your health up you must take rests, have at least one ration for each day, or use medical items like potions.

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Items are still an important asset, as you can find a lot of things for progression such as lanterns, but also for other uses like dust to obscure vision or for casting spells. Yes, you are a sorcerer, which fits this game title very well. You are provided with specific letters from the star sign you currently have on display and must combine three of them to make a spell. For example, you can cast LAW for controlling unintelligent creatures or DOP to unlock doors and locks. These will require something of you, such as stamina or items to be used, so you cannot use them freely and must take into consideration what you might have to sacrifice.

The star sign you have can also provide support through prayers, which you can utilize for gaining health or to save you in dire situations. After offering a prayer however, you then must wait for a while before you can pray again, so it too requires careful consideration. Gold is also a part of your journey, though due to the lack of civilization, it won’t always be valuable to have, but can be used for other purposes such as pebbles. This sticks with the theme of a wasteland with no real use for money, though whenever you are lucky enough to meet someone who is fond of these coins, you will be rewarded as long as you are careful.

Sorcery! Part 3 will keep you on edge thanks to every second feeling like you are stepping on eggshells, with some roads being peaceful whereas others are worse than molten lava. This sense of uncertainty is its biggest strength, as you never know for sure what to do, must be cunning, and choose your words wisely. Will you stay hidden from others venturing this land, or seek support? Will you take challenges head-on or see if exploration through caves might give you better results? This fantastic suspense makes every event interesting, even if it is just choosing which road to take. No action feels unfair either, since should a path take you to somewhere unfortunate, you might get something else out of it which you might not have discovered otherwise.

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As you may have noticed from the title alone, one of the biggest dangers are the Seven Serpents and while other creatures are also a threat, seeking these out will be one of the main objectives of the game. This makes the entertaining combat from previous installments a grander part here, which is excellent. Combat is one on one, with you and the opponent having an attack-bar each that depletes depending on how strong you make your attacks. You and your opponent will attack at the same time and the one with the highest strength deals the damage. However, as it depletes, you won’t be able to make stronger attacks and must make small attacks or defend to make it recharge. This creates, as before, a wonderful sense of strategy thanks to not being able to see your opponent’s attack-strength and the fact that every monster comes with their own tactics, so will spam attacks, while a humanoid creature might favor defensive play.

What is also interesting, is that combat is a big part, but can also be avoided if you are clever enough and find other ways to take on encounters, such as tricking them. This is the best balance the series has had when it comes to taking on challenges directly or playing it smart, thanks to rewarding both plays and make both challenging. Social aspects are also there, thanks to minor and major encounters still being present, but much more diverse than ever before. You might at times be able to make trades or even play the popular game Swindlestones, where you and the opponent take about four or five four-sided dices each and, after rolling them, guess how many dices of each number you have together. You will have to bid higher than the other until one calls on the other to see if he or she is lying, and the one who lied or has a false accusation will lose one die, with losing all dices meaning losing the game. Like last time, this is a fun and addictive game, despite being a small inclusion.

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A lot of these encounters with humanoid and friendly people, have to do with huge telescopes that can shoot beacons and reveal what might have been or illusions. I won’t spoil this entirely, but this can lead to the map being twice its size and other ways to proceed opening up. This is an incredibly cool contrast to the wasteland and makes exploration more interesting.

Because of all this tension, this installment is harder than any of the previous Sorcery! games and thus the button for rewinding mistakes or try different paths is much more welcome. Though it can be abused and make the game easier, encountering unfortunate events can lead to other worthwhile extras, and I never felt deaths came unfair, making it hard to push that rewind-button even if I barely had any health left. Because of all these interesting and exciting events, brainteasers and challenges, it is hard to fault this game on anything really. It is a wonderful experience.

Gameplay Score: 9.5/10

Not so barren wasteland

Taking on a wasteland-approach to this medieval fantasy-world, it creates a sense of danger thanks to the open fields, the huge forests, and treacherous lake. Though the small details on the map you traverse over make every minor location become visually important, even if it is only an abnormal rock you want to check out, which is a clever way to make the more barren areas interesting. Whenever a beacon lights an area, it creates an interesting and clever effect simulating a vision or magic, with the land brimming with colors. This again is a beautiful contrast to the barren land and makes details you saw in the wasteland have more visual meaning as well. I still also love how the map has 3D depth to give more sense to what is a hill and what might be a ditch and such, making it interesting to explore and plan your journey.

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Each area comes with diverse and interesting locations, making it never visually dull either. The character representing your position on the map and every image to give more description to events, creatures, or characters you meet on the journey, are still in black and white. This is to keep to the old-school RP visuals from 80s rulebooks, which is a nice touch. Your character has different stand such for when he/she climbs or jumps, which is a bit strange and takes you out of the immersion of a tabletop-game, but certainly isn’t too bad when all images are drawn with such attention to detail and are diverse and interesting, with the different serpents being a highlight.

The wonderful music-piece from the startup-screen is gorgeous and sets the tone of the adventure with a strong, orchestrated track. With a lot of varied tones, from calm violins to intense trumpets, it showcases clearly what kind of an adventure you are going on. The combat-scenarios and important events are highlighted with short music-pieces once again and are a great contrast to the general ambient sounds, making these encounters feel more important and valuable. In the wasteland, it might be mostly wind you will hear, but whenever someone talks or there are sounds of snarling beasts, it becomes more tense thanks to the paranoiac setting.

Presentation Score: 9/10

Monster hunting!

For those who have a save file from the second part, your choices will affect the outcome of this installment, making your acquired items, companions and knowledge incredibly valuable. There are tons of different paths to take, making no playthrough the same and with the Seven Serpents being both an enjoyable quest to hunt down, with all of them having strength and weaknesses, it is remarkably addictive. If you are done with fighting them, you can move on to the end and your actions will be carried over to the next chapter, similar to previous games. Not taking on all of the serpents will make the next chapter become much more challenging, but never infuriatingly so. If this was not enough, the wonderful New Game Plus is also back with stronger enemies and more secrets to uncover. I could not ask for more.

Extra Score: 10/10

Verdict

While I would recommend starting from the beginning, if you decide to only get one chapter, this is about as good as the first one and a fantastic entry in this series. The gameplay is the strongest it has been so far thanks to good difficulty, the engaging and intriguing world to explore, the plenty of options to consider, and replay value being as high as ever. For anyone seasoned or has the fondest interest in the world of RP or fantasy, this is an amazing chapter to own, be it on the phone or PC. It is essential should the previous chapters be in your collection.

95/100

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