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Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon (TurboGrafx-16) review


"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.

Rating: 6/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (July 23, 2009)

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zippdementia posted August 01, 2009:

Okay, my main word for this one is focus.

There's also a lot of confusion as to whether you actually like this game or not, which is created by the fact that you spend a really long time complaining about the combat and then a very short time saying that the game is playable. It's a little off putting. I know that's the danger of reviews that fall in the 4-7 category, but I'm gonna use as an unhumble example my own Mirror's Edge review (Resolution Version). If you look at that, you'll see I start off with some pretty strong praise, but end with a lot of harshness. This ultimately leaves you with the impression that the game is poor, but my praise at the start makes it clear why I haven't dropped it to a 1 or 0.

In your review of Griffon, you insert some praise at the end, but we've just spent five or six paragraphs reading about terrible combat. It doesn't leave us with a fresher taste in our mouth. My advice would be to start with praise and then explain where it all goes wrong.

You also need to re-read this and watch your grammar. I'll use one paragraph as the sacrificial lamb here:

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.

First of all, this is a strangely placed paragraph that highlights the confusion I was talking about. You just got done saying that dungeons never let you out and the game is unforgiving. Now you start this one by saying the mapping (which means level design to me) and combat (which you'll go on to bash later) are strong. Very strange.

Your next sentence seems unconnected to the first, unless you meant mapping to be scripting, because now you're talking about characters and events, and that has nothing to do with level design (or combat, in this case). Whatever you lead in with a paragraph has to be what the paragraph is about. Think of them as mini reviews. Paragraphs need intros, middles, and outros just like a full essay, only they also need transitions and continued themes.

This next bit I've bolded the error:

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.

Couple other things here. First off, once we've cleared what? You seemed to be talking about dungeons in general in your last sentence, now you've gotten more specific without letting us know what it is you're trying to be specific about.

Also, what's the Order of the Griffon? So far all I know it's a game, but here you seem to be giving it a persona. Is it some kind of in-game mechanic as well? It's not clear. And then there's invisible things blocking my path... what path? What things? I'm totally confused at this point.

Your last line doesn't help the confusion. You start talking geography but I have no frame of reference to understand what exactly these places are or why your description of them leads to a conclusion that the south part of the world is uninhabited. What world?

In any case, I think you should pull each paragraph apart like this and see what makes them tick and what's making them not tick.
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aschultz posted August 01, 2009:

Thanks again. I think I see how to link up a few paragraphs...the thing is, review writing does have a certain checklist, but adhering too carefully to it gets into trouble and doesn't let you express what's different about the game. You've given me a lot of good rewriting ideas and now I just need to execute.

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