Kingdom 1: The Far Reaches
With the current crop of games that are being released crying out for more and more memory and faster and faster machines it was refreshing to find a title that is quite undemanding. Kingdom: The Far Reaches, doesn't ask for much at all and to play it there is no need to spend hours tweaking your system. It runs on a 386 in DOS and plays straight from the CD, so you don't even need to purge your hard drive for that extra bit of space. I'm sure there's still a fair few people out there who haven't been able to keep up with the latest hardware, so this one is good news for you.
We should all know by now that the games that insist on all the bells and whistles are not absolutely guaranteed to be better than any other. So don't be put off by the lack of 'frills' required by this game as far as system demands are concerned. It doesn't bring us anything startling or revolutionary, but it is nevertheless quite playable.
As the box cover says, Far Reaches is a game for all the family (ages 12 and up). Though this means that it is not one for the 'serious' adventure player it is certainly suitable for younger players and for those of you who don't like to spend hours racking your brains over complex puzzles. Younger players, in particular, should enjoy it but, be warned, even though the scenes are not graphically explicit, expiring is a regular occurrence. The fantasy lands of Far Reaches are perilous indeed, and for this reason you are allotted three lives to see you to the end of your quest. They are barely sufficient. A cat with nine lives would find survival difficult in this dangerous world.
There is, however, a save game feature which is crucial when your luck and your lives are running low. Believe me, you will need to save your game often. Unfortunately, there is only provision for one save, which limits experimentation to a large degree and dictates that only one game can be in progression at any one time. Still, Far Reaches has one very good feature which, personally, I think could be made use of in a lot more adventure games to make them enjoyable for a wider range of players, and that is an easy and a difficult mode. You can play either as a wizard or as an apprentice and this latter mode does at least limit the number of untimely deaths as well as removing some of the trickier puzzles.
You play the part of Lathan Kandor and, with the help of Daelon the magician who is your mentor, you must explore the land to retrieve three of the five pieces of the ancient relic called The Hand of Mobus and, whilst you're about it, rescue the proverbial damsel in distress, the Princess Grace Delight.
The short introductory story in your manual tells you how the lands were once ruled by the wise and benevolent Argent Kings but when their power began to weaken they opted to pass on their great knowledge to one chosen wizard who would become the Archmage and lead the Order of the Great Wizards. As it happened the chosen one, Mobus had a very jealous brother named Torlok who succumbed to evil and used his dreadful powers to confront Mobus during that time of great celebration. Mobus vanished during the confrontation, but not before he had broken the Amulet of Power into five pieces and whisked them away. Of course, this greatly angered the evil Torlok and he put to death everyone from the royal line of the Argent Kings -- all except one girl child who was smuggled away -- and who eventually married and had a child named Lathan.
Playing is very simple and the designers have made extensive use of video animation. Select the 'history' option at the beginning of the game and a short sequence will set the scene and then as you progress animated sequences introduce you to each location. Just watch the sequence and listen carefully, usually for a hint regarding what to do or where to find something crucial to your quest. Afterwards you must then explore the now static game area with your cursor to pick up any items and find hidden paths to other locations.
A map is provided for easy travel, and, if you have already viewed the video sequence, when you return to a location it is quite simple to skip it. However, you also have the option of repeating these sequences and this is very useful indeed. Sometimes the clues and voices are difficult to understand and several replays are necessary. A text translation of the dialogue would have helped immensely in this respect. Your inventory is accessed by selecting a pouch icon outside the game screen area and it is here where you can also access the map and the control panel for saving and restoring games. The music is not too bad, but it can become a little insistent at times. Fortunately you can turn it off so that it only accompanies the video animations.
Apart from the dialogue difficulties, there are a couple of other niggling problems worth mentioning. Firstly, the mouse pointer is the same dark green colour as the background that surrounds the playing area so it tends to get lost. This is especially frustrating during a couple of scenes when danger threatens and you have to be quick about casting your spell or whatever. The other difficulty is that the dialogue doesn't change as you progress. Of course, it is good to be able to return to a location and pick up a clue that you may have missed, but this repetitiveness brings its own problems. Occasionally I found it misleading. For instance, return to the maze after having 'solved' one problem there and the Keeper welcomes you back and tells you that you still have to solve a puzzle. Especially as the Keeper acknowledged that I had visited the site before I wondered if there was actually another puzzle -- there wasn't.
Yes, there is a maze in Far Reaches, but not a traditional one where you must wander around and find your own way to the middle. So those of you who hate mazes will be relieved and those of you who like them will be disappointed. I was disappointed, I must confess I quite enjoy having to wander around twisty little passages that all look the same (oops -- wrong game) and find my way from point A to point B to pick up some vital clue.
All in all this is quite an entertaining game -- not difficult, but involving enough. It seems that 'video' is the way games are going at the moment and, though this excludes the player to a certain degree, Far Reaches nevertheless has enough going for it to keep you entertained. It still requires sufficient player interaction and decision making to sit comfortably within the 'adventure game camp'. But, remember, this is not a traditional adventure game where you can wander about and pick up and manipulate lots of objects. There are a few objects to collect, but it is much more akin to watching a fantasy cartoon with the opportunity to direct the action at the appropriate places.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1995.
All rights reserved.
386SX or better, 2MB RAM, DOS 3.3 or higher, VGA, mouse. An MPC compliant CD-ROM is also required