"Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) provided a formula for RPG's, but unfortunately the licensed computer games focused on the formulas without trying for anything approaching creativity. Order of the Griffon (OotG,) a Turbografx-16 only entry, is fun without being especially good, largely helped by ignoring the more arcane AD&D features nobody cares about. With nothing resembling original plot (hunt down a vampire) or items, and a relatively small world, it sputters along with li..."
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) provided a formula for RPG's, but unfortunately the licensed computer games focused on the formulas without trying for anything approaching creativity. Order of the Griffon (OotG,) a Turbografx-16 only entry, is fun without being especially good, largely helped by ignoring the more arcane AD&D features nobody cares about. With nothing resembling original plot (hunt down a vampire) or items, and a relatively small world, it sputters along with little more than strong graphics, until you acquire some awesome spells and have to navigate dungeons with bizarre teleports.
Until then, you're railroaded into linearity unless you have the misfortune of hitting one of many long dead ends. For starters, you pick four of twenty-one pre-set characters, but don't worry, most of them are so lame that you have four or so realistic party choices. This is a theme that recurs throughout the game: you'll meet NPCs, select from a few things to tell them, and probably get attacked anyway. Or you'll be asked if you want to rescue the prisoners. Decline, and they whine and wake up the guards anyway. Sometimes OotG gets crazy, and monsters only attack you if you make the wrong choice. Then you get to pick the right one next time. It never, though, allows you to deviate from nauseating lawful goodness, and it always has an excuse handy not to let you out of a dungeon you started.
Thankfully the mapping and combat are a little more sophisticated. Radlebb Keep, where you start, has the usual collection of fellows who assign you your quests, traitors behind locked doors, and citizens held hostage by orcs. Once you've cleared that, Listen carefully to the Order of the Griffon, or you'll wind up at the wrong dungeon where something invisible blocks your path. Be careful: there's Koriszegy Crypt, Keep and Cellars. The cellars are the hole in the ground next to the Keep, and while they're not too far away, that leaves the south half the world as unpopulated woodland.
This, combined with three towns (one largely deserted) leaves not much of a world to save. And what there is goes easily if you know shortcuts. Cutting across to Kelvin, the deserted town, gets you a chunk of treasure. In AD&D this means experience, too, often an hour's worth of fights. Here the continual save trick, reloading if you hit combat, is the closest you'll get to an abstract puzzle in the game. Early on it may be the most fun you'll have. Later, you have a variation on that, resting to regain heal and attack spells repeatedly, reloading if you're interrupted.
The ambushes aren't tough but, like combat in general, they take forever to get going. You always start far away from monsters. Running towards them adds onto the already considerable time-waste of hacking at enemies, then finding the next weakest, and so forth. It's not particularly rewarding or clever, and you're fairly sure you're going to win, because the enemies miss even more than you do. Between this and OotG moving its own cursor laboriously around, melee buildup is anticlimactic, and even getting slings to mow down the enemy just causes the screen to scroll all over the place.
Suffering the ordeal of early combat, though, will give you magic wands and such that blast enemies away and make the next bit easier. Used at the right time, they tide you over to the next trove. Plus, lightning wands turn enemies into dancing skeletons for a bit. It's cool even if it happens to you, even cooler than the silly spells enemy spellcasters throw at you that just never work.
Enemy fighters also blunder, going one-on-two against your frontline in a narrow hallway. Those surrounded by your players won't even attack. Magic users nuke your party with a fireball, which also bombs their allies in the area. Better, they'll move together as a convoy to let in YOUR fireball. OotG plays dumb, too: he'll pick out an enemy for you to attack, and it's not good remembering what you did last round or if your line of sight is blocked. So it honks at you, which thankfully stops the irritating combat background music. I've had enemies half around a corner a character was touching but "YOUR VIEW IS BLOCKED"--basically you can't chop their tails off if you can't see their eyes. Some enemies even walk half onto your character.
But you get them back as your mage piles up fireball spells with their multiple miniature explosions, and then an ice storm at level seven, which turns enemies white with its shattery noises. Battles become tactical and quicker, and you can rest to recharge spells after each one. Dragons that can breathe or cast spells force you to adapt strategies that won't work until they decide to start off with stupid spells. Winning gives you massive gold and experience, along with some clever magical items--that you'll never be able to use because, well, you're at the end.
Getting there is hardly trivial, though; You can probably stumble through and win, but building on optional fights with treasure slowly gives you a large edge with additional items and experience. Eventually the extra piled-up gold translates into wands, and the fights go even faster. You'll still lose occasionally, when the enemy casts the right spells and gets lucky, but you have enough ways to improve your chances.
For instance, Devil Swine may cast charm at one of your players. This can turn him to the other side until combat ends, and while it also makes him stupid, you have to work around him. Various mages cast web spells that encases a party member in white strands he can't break out of, making it dangerous to approach some enchanters. You can hope they cast the wrong spell, or you can wait to launch everyone at them at once. Clerics are hopeless but sometimes stumble on a spell to freeze a party member. Then you'll always have enemies with critical hit, or regeneration, or who just run to goodness knows where and distract you from bigger monsters.
To kill them, building a daunting repertoire of spells and items is legitimately fun, with your magic armor and weapons bathing in color-coded glows: +1 is blue, +2 red, +3 green. You'll feel delightfully snobbish as you just can't be bothered to keep that +2 shield in your party's item pool later on. Graphics are a strong point, and from the whirling views as you turn to the mud daubs and delightful forests that make up dungeons, to the creepy undead monsters in combat, you'll rarely have problems with the presentation.
OotG is unambitious and still hardly perfect, and it does best when it breaks away from the AD&D formula and just tries to dazzle you. There's no doubt Dungeons and Dragons was influential in some of the early RPG's. By the time it got to computers, however, other people had taken the concept in far different directions, and the basics plus a flabby plot weren't enough any more. OotG has a depth alien to the console action games Hillsfar and Heroes of the Lance, and it ditches the big manual from Pool of Radiance, which took eight Apple II disks, habitually threw fifty goblins at you. After a while, it felt stuffier than the homework I procrastinated by playing it. OotG worked in reverse, starting almost as a tutorial, but by the end, you are nuking monsters with fireballs and frantically scribbling maps of traps and teleports, and you wonder why the rest of the game wasn't like this.
Community review by aschultz (July 23, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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