Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Hillsfar (NES) review
"It certainly doesn’t skimp on the seemingly endless parade of fetch quests (“retrieve this rare spell component for me,” “rescue the princess,” “find my pantaloons,” etc) that lead you to seek out a dreary maze somewhere and open every treasure chest in sight until you discover some halfhearted clue . . . that sends you off looking for another dreary maze."
Well met, young lad!
It’s time to put down that homemade broadsword, cleanse your palms of those bothersome Cheetos™ stains and choose your lot from the stalwart fighter, the pious cleric, the cunning thief – even the mysterious mage! You’ll select a noble race, your well-endowed gender, and endlessly reroll those stats until you get them just right before setting forth to brave the dangers of the treacherous Moonsea! Therefore it’s a pity that all of the above (except for the hand-washing, hygiene is always a virtue) is completely meaningless, because all you ever do in this game is run through exasperating mazes picking up trinkets that you can’t do anything with in order to advance a nonexistent plotline and reach the exciting conclusion – in which, predictably enough, nothing much happens.
Thus we enter the clutches of Hillsfar – an official “Advanced Dungeon & Dragons” product. It’s generally a bad sign when an officially licensed release can’t even spell its own name right, but there’s no sense in nitpicking – not when the actual gameplay is a billboard unto itself. After riding into the city of Hillsfar you’ll find it to be rather lacking in terms of dragons, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on the seemingly endless parade of fetch quests (“retrieve this rare spell component for me,” “rescue the princess,” “find my pantaloons,” etc) that lead you to seek out a dreary maze somewhere and open every treasure chest in sight until you discover some halfhearted clue . . . that sends you off looking for another dreary maze and so forth. Each class has its own objectives, which would theoretically add to the replay value, but that doesn’t change the fact that the main activity to this game is inane and repetitive in the extreme. The only thing that’s “Advanced” here is its state of decay.
Observe: you’re thrust into an ugly overhead labyrinth consisting of little more than walls, the floor, a nasty time limit, and your poorly rendered character sprite. These dungeons are also huge while the playing area doesn’t take up even half of the screen, resulting in a ludicrous amount of scrolling as you senselessly blunder into walls, traps, and the unusually crimson arms of the law. Yes, the city guards begin to swarm onto the scene as your remaining time dwindles, often attempting to trap you into a corner (which is actually pretty easy due to the sluggish controls). Just to drag things out, their touch won’t do anything to you until the clock finally runs out, at which point you’ll be variously booted out (minus your newfound booty), robbed blind, or tossed into the neighborhood coliseum for mortal combat with a slavering minotaur.
As for the traps, every one of these infernal creations is packed with teleporters on the floor as well, merrily transporting you to a completely different location within its walls. Oh, and they’re invisible. Lest you be fortunate enough to find your necessary clue early on, the programmers made certain that you can’t leave the way you came in, either; you’ll have to wait for the exit staircase to appear around the timer’s halfway point, naturally in a random location (so let’s hope you found that clue already). In the meantime you’ll “dash” about aimlessly to run afoul of the odd trapped chest while amassing the requisite (and mostly useless) gold, healing potions, and quite possibly a headache.
For there aren’t a merely few of these treacherous lairs, mind you, but dozens upon dozens upon dozens, all of which appear all too hauntingly similar. You can enter nearly every building in the city even if it ends up having nothing to with your quest. because there’s nothing more heroic that breaking into the locals’ houses and making off with everything from glittering hoards of gold to smelly old clothes, right? Good luck attempting to pin down the location of your next bungling burglary; every location on the map manages to look and feel exactly the same – which is to say, excruciating. This cart was released in 1992, well after the introduction of the Super Nintendo, and yet raises the question as to who switched your NES with an Atari 5200 thanks to visuals that stand out as a stunning example of blah. The city’s palette alone evokes a breathtaking sense of “brown” unseen since the early days of Faxanadu, and nearly everything takes place in abject silence, although when you hear the music it does have, you’ll likely agree that this isn’t such a terrible thing.
Loiter about in these bleak environs long enough and you may be accosted by a random personage of questionable value, like the disheveled thief-type who offers his services in exchange for a percentage of your take.
Staff review by Sho (July 12, 2004)
Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.
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