The Fifth Disciple
From the same publisher as Gooka (and a lot like it), The Fifth Disciple is a lengthy hybrid game that tried my patience towards the end, but certainly packed a punch along the way.
Lots of punches in fact, or rather magical whacks, and it's the fighting that ultimately wore me out. There is certainly a lot of it but it's more that it's a little unbalanced than the sheer amount. Some can be avoided, but you will have many a battle with all manor of beasts and wizardry fiends, and towards the end a little less would have been a good thing.
Still, the battles are good fun, and tactics play a part. As the intensity of the enemy (as well as the number of them) increases towards the end, your favourite spells will have been charged up to maximum and your battle plans drawn up after much practice, and probably a fair bit of failure along the way. But in the end it's the failure that will provide you with a strategy to defeat the Fifth Disciple of the title, and triumph over evil.
Battles are turn based, although your character might not get to go first. That can count against you, but the same battle won't necessarily start the same way on a re-load. So if the enemy vanquishes you before you even get a chance to let loose a fireball or conjure up a golem to help you, fear not. Simply reload, and chances are the fight will start differently next time.
All of the battles are magical, in that you fight with the spells at your disposal. There are 25 in all, and you learn them as you move through the game. There are also 5 levels of each spell, and as your experience increases you gain bonus points which you can use to upgrade the spells of your choice to a higher level. The higher the upgrade, the more points it will cost, so it's a balancing act, particularly early on when spells and points are at a premium.
Everything seems to add to your experience, and once you get enough your character moves up a level, and gains the bonus points necessary to upgrade spells. Finding items, successfully using items, even steps along the way to solving a puzzle all gain experience, but it's the battles that seem to be the real key to getting those spell upgrades. So whilst, as I said, you can avoid some, you will likely want to wade in, and get your armament up to more than nuisance value to anything but snakes, as quickly as you can.
The higher your level, the more health and mana you also have, which is another reason to fight early and often. Most of the enemies pack a good sized wallop, so good health is essential, and as spells are the only way to fight, you had better have a good stock of mana on hand.
Some of the spells help with health, and enable you to cure wounds. There is no mana creating spell though, not until quite near the end. So you might want to stock up on mana potions when you get the chance, assuming you have found the merchant and can afford them.
Initially you have no money, indeed, you have nothing, as you start in prison. You play Engeor, a student of the University of Magic who has been imprisoned for speaking ill of the wizard Wahargem, and who must now save his land from that very same wizard. Once you escape, you will find a town, and then learn how to make money. Not surprisingly, it's through fighting. Defeat wild beasts and sell the skins, defeat the bandits and sell their swords. Buy potions, spell scrolls and other essential goods and chattels.
The game design ensures that you get to settle into something before having to be proficient in everything. There is no magic at first and no battles, and the emphasis is on solving conundrums like any inventory adventure. As noted, it's about getting out of prison, then its finding and utilising items in the correct way in order to leave the prison camp. This adventure element is at its most pronounced in these initial stages, but continues throughout the game; my estimate is a third to half of the game is standard adventuring.
The action elements kick in once you escape, and build as you progress, but in the middle third it's the role playing elements which are at their strongest, as you have to carefully manage your limited resources and skill. By the time you reach the last third, you will probably have forsaken all but a half dozen of your favourite spells, and they will be powered up to the max, and you will have so much money it won't matter what you spend it on except that there is nothing to buy then anyway. Whilst you still have to find and use items, it's then a slug fest till the last hurrah.
I like a bit of in game thuggery, and turn based fighting is particularly enjoyable. I don't have to worry that I will be dead before I look up the spell I want to cast.
Managing your battles is easy in The Fifth Disciple, as is everything else in the game. It will sound complicated if described in any detail, but rest assured it isn't. If you have played Gooka it's much the same here. The manual, though, could have been a little more illuminating.
A pop up menu lists all your available spells and their level, and placing the cursor over the spell will tell you what it does, how long it will last, and what it will cost in mana to cast. Each spell has its own icon, and there are 5 categories of spell, each being a different colour. You pretty quickly get to know the colour and picture of your favourites. To cast them, which is mainly (although not exclusively) in battle, you hold down the left mouse which brings up the action menu, and choose spells. Select your category, and then the corresponding spell icon. Hold down the left mouse again to power up the spell to your desired level, indicated by a little set of lights, and let fly.
If it's in battle, you will already have chosen the target. Again, the mouse cursor is used to do this. Placing it over the respective enemies gives a summary of their strengths and weaknesses, and you can select your particular target in your turn. You can change your mind at any stage up until actually casting the spell. When it's your turn, your character is highlighted and, depending upon your level, you will have up to 3 "actions" in your turn. These might be offensive or defensive (eg casting a shielding spell, or a health spell) or a combination.
As you use your mana, certain spells or spell levels will become unavailable, so a good strategy is essential. Enemies will also respond differently to an attack depending upon their own attributes. For instance, a level 5 fireball spell will get different results depending upon the defensive capability of the enemy.
You have a wide variety of spells. You can immobilise enemies for a certain number of turns, turn them against each other, link their life force so if one dies so does the other, conjure up minions to help you, and heal and protect yourself. You can drain their mana, pour deadly rain upon them, ring yourself with Armageddon fire, and hit them with fireballs and lightning. It's all good tactical fun.
At first anyway. After a while though, your best spells and strategy will defeat all foes, and even when you face 4 of them at a time with health that outnumbers you five-fold, you will likely employ the same strategy and use the same spells and win again. You will lose a fair few battles to get to that stage, but eventually it does become the same old thing.
And there is, as I said, a bit too much of it in the latter third. Combine those two things and it starts to get a tad tedious.
But I got to the end, so it didn't completely overwhelm me. I confess, though, that I did resort to a walkthrough at the end, because I didn't want to search the cathedral anymore than I had to in order to find the items needed to finish. Searching meant more fighting. and by then I had had enough.
I also resorted to a walkthrough with some of the in game conundrums. Obtuse is not a word we use here at Quandary, so lets just say some of the solutions were opaque. I am not the only one who thinks so either, and I doubt many players will finish without a peek or two.
The Fifth Disciple is played in the third person, with a series of side scrolling (and occasionally up and down scrolling) scenes and settings. In some areas you move around using a little map, and you can choose your path to avoid or engage in a battle. In some settings once you vanquish a foe it is gone for good, but in others they seem to respawn (or perhaps they wander in from elsewhere). The inventory is permanently displayed across the bottom of the screen, and your health and mana levels are indicated by a red and a blue globe respectively. Click an item to use it in the game world or to combine it with another item.
Your character, Engeor, moves around in his world in response to your right mouse clicks. You look at items and objects with the right mouse as well, and carry out actions with the left. If you have a third button or wheel, it will toggle through your inventory items.
It looks quite good, having a sort of old fashioned Sierra look about it. The voice acting varies, but is mostly ok, although some of the early characters have some strange auditory mannerisms to say the least. The dialogue caused me to chuckle at times, but such things are always a matter of taste. It isn't comic dialogue by any means, but if your taste is similar to mine you might get a kick out of some of it.
You can play with subtitles, and tweak a few settings. Saves seem to be unlimited and everything loads extremely quickly, although I did do the large install. You can also choose to have the game autosave before a fight, which is a useful thing indeed, as you can't save once a fight starts.
I had fun with The Fifth Disciple, and for quite a long time, as it is a long game. It's different to most things I play which helped my enjoyment, but it could certainly use some editing and a little more balance. However I expect I will play it again after a while, in order to try and design different strategies utilising some of the spells I didn't use. And if a game leaves you thinking you will play it again, it is probably pretty happy with itself.
Note - since playing The Fifth Disciple, I have played Daemonica and now moved onto standard rpg's. Whilst the fighting is different, compared to say Divine Divinity there is a lot less of it (and I have yet to finish Divine Divinity). So whilst I remain of the view that some more balance would have helped, rpg players may well not be at all concerned, and the hybrid adventuring in The Fifth Element certainly adds something I have yet to find in many games.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2006.
All rights reserved.
Pentium 350 MHz processor (700 MHz recommended), 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended), Win 95 or above (played fine on xp), CD ROM drive, 30 MB disc space (500 MB recommended), DirectX 8.1 compatible sound and graphics cards, DirectX 8.1 (supplied on disc).