Chronicles of the Sword

Developer:  Synthetic Dimensions
Publisher:   Pysgnosis
Year Released:  1996

Review by Rosemary Young (May, 1996)
cots.jpgIf your visions of Camelot are of magic and romance, of knights in shining armour and a mysterious wizard named Merlin with his long grey beard and flamboyant flowing robes, then you are in for a shock with this rendition. In Chronicles of the Sword practically all the above are missing. Admittedly, the aspiring knight, Gawaine, doesn't yet possess his shining armour, but I couldn't help but wonder how on earth he would ever squeeze into it.

Put simply, the mannequin-like Gawaine in this game, with rippling muscles and biceps like tree trunks, looks more like Conan the Barbarian, or one of the once popular GI Joe dolls, than an aspiring knight of Camelot. And Merlin, too, seemingly dabbles in weight lifting along with practicing his farseeing and spell concocting. Either that, or maybe just continually dragging his giant tomes from the top shelf triggered his miraculous transformation. For some strange reason these images just don't sit well with the Arthurian Legend.

Two objectives
In this game you play Gawaine and, along with your major quest to vanquish the sorceress, Morgana (who is set on indulging in a spot of regicide) you are also questing for your precious armour. Still, for the entire game, no less, you stride around in all your glory, looking all but invincible. Provided that you complete your quest at the end of the game you will get your heart's desire (and I may even have detected here a promise of a sequel with the new metallic you), but to start out you must be content with no armour whatsoever, in fact your first quest and the first part of this game is to gather the ingredients for Merlin to make you a magic ring of protection.

The action begins in the Camelot stronghold where, if you chat to the various characters, you will soon learn what is expected of you. Then it's off into the deep, dark forest to ferret out various objects to give you magical protection before you can finally set off after the wicked witch, Morgana.

To fight or not to fight
The puzzles are pure adventuring and not particularly complex, and in case you have any doubts about what to do Gawain has a habit of giving you some very useful pointers in his appraisal of the objects he discovers. Although there are a few fighting sequences this game wouldn't satisfy any fighting fans. In fact there's not enough combat to even categorise it as an action adventure. Nevertheless, if you don't like fighting then there are two difficulty levels that come to your aid. According to the manual the 'easy' option takes care of your fighting for you whilst the 'regular' setting allows you to get more exercise. Personally, I couldn't see that much difference as I survived the first confrontation in 'regular' mode by just pressing the same arrow key a few times though I did have to suffer watching Gawain's head sliced off once or twice before I succeeded.

The option menu to change difficulty levels is displayed at the beginning of the game but you can also access it any time to change your settings by pressing the right mouse button and then selecting the disk symbol. Here there are various other options for you to control the voices, music, etc. In this game all dialogue is supported by text, a feature that I always appreciate. In fact it was particularly useful in this instance because the actors sounded just like they were reading their lines and, ultimately, they became quite annoying, as did Gawain's 'stream of consciousness' when he discovered something. For me at least it gets tiresome continually listening to such enlightening comments as 'A splendid chalice', 'Magnificent glass' or 'The gate, it must be the only way in'. Still although I'd much rather read a characters 'thoughts' and confine my listening to conversation and music I know that many of you will feel differently about this.

There are six save slots which were ample for this game because it is not really very big. There are quite a number of items to collect and occasionally you can modify particular objects in your inventory by using one on the other. Usefully, inventory items can be viewed in detail by clicking them on the eye icon so you are unlikely to end up with that mysterious item in your possession as sometimes happens in adventure games these days.

The frustrations
Chronicles of the Sword is a simple game but it isn't without its frustrations. As I have said the puzzles are fairly straightforward -- what will likely give you the biggest headaches are the pixel hunts. And there are quite a few of them. In fact the interface is, at times, quite unwieldy. Many a time I selected the 'footprints' that signified a screen exit and thought I was going to a new location only to end up back in the screen I had just left a moment ago. And on several occasions I spent ages searching the screen just to find a new exit. The problem being that the game is so dark it was difficult to spot the changing cursor and, to make matters more difficult, the exits can be well and truly hidden almost anywhere on the screen and within a very limited area. It's very easy to miss them.

Now I am always grumbling about 'smart' cursors and I can't avoid another grumble about this one as it was particularly trying. To my mind smart cursors take a lot of the control away from the player, that is you can't choose to look at that interesting object on your screen or, maybe, open it or manipulate it in some way because there is no choice other than to simply click on it. However, in this game it seems worse because there are a number of items to collect that are not represented on the screen at all (they are either too small or hidden by something) and sometimes the screen is so dark they are near impossible to spot. This means that much of the time you aren't even looking out for interesting items to investigate but rather you find yourself just laboriously waving the cursor over the screen and watching for it to change colour to tell you when to click.

Medieval England and in particular stories related to the Arthurian Legend have so much to offer -- fantastic quests, heroic deeds, magic and magic swords -- but unfortunately Chronicles of the Sword just somehow misses the mark. It's a very serious and ordinary adventure game sprinkled with a few not too difficult problems. Even the stable boy with his unspeakable itch wasn't particularly funny. I waited patiently for that 'brief and shining moment' but it just wasn't to be.

You can purchase this game on-line from Playing Games Interactive rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486DX2/66 (Pentium recommended), 4MB RAM, 2xCD-ROM, SVGA, keyboard/mouse.