Retro Review – Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire (1990/2008, Sierra On-Line/AGDI Interactive, PC)

by Benjamin Fitzgerald

 

It’s been over a year since I wrote my review of the first Quest for Glory. I started Trial by Fire right after I beat the first game, but I never got very far in the third game, Wages of War. I decided it was time to finish the series, but I lost my imported character file. Since I needed to replay the games anyway, I figured I’d write up a review while I was at it.

I can’t stomach 16-color graphics, and I would have skipped the second game were it not for the VGA remake. Fortunately AGDI recreated the game in 2008, so I get to experience the whole story. AGDI updated the graphics, revamped the combat and eliminated the text parser, making Trial by Fire an enjoyable, streamlined experience.

My last review provided an overview of how the game worked. I don’t want to repeat myself. Suffice it to say that you can play as three different classes (fighter, magic user and thief) who approach problems (and combat) in different ways.

Wandering the streets

In the first game, you defeated the Ogress Baba Yaga and freed the Baron’s children from her curse. The Baron named you the Hero of Spielburg and rewarded you with a lot of gold. From there you went south with Shameen and Shema to answer another hero’s call. The second adventure takes place in the desert sands of Shapier.

A traditional harem

So You Want to Be a Hero was mostly inspired by Norse and Germanic mythology. Trial by Fire is heavily influenced by Arabian folklore. You arrive with a purse full of foreign coins in a city that seems almost impossible to navigate. Whatever the reason your friends brought you here, your first task is obvious: find the money changer.

Dinarzad the Money Changer

With no clear agenda in mind, you spend the next several days exploring the city of Shapeir, occasionally venturing into the desert to test your mettle and sharpen your metal. You meet the enchantress Aziza, play wizard games with a gnome and spar with a Simbani warrior. You also enjoy the simple things in life. Your katta friend Shema dances at the inn and the renowned poet Omar inspires with his verse.

Everything changes when a fire elemental starts to ravage the city. There is panic in the streets, and it’s up to you to capture the creature. An air elemental appears a few days later, and then an earth elemental. Finally a water elemental attacks, threatening to destroy the only source of water. There is a greater force at work here, one that eventually finds you on a caravan to the city of Raseir. Rumor has it that a terrible evil awaits you…

Trial by Fire serves as a good continuation to your hero’s continuing saga. I honed my talents as a thief and pulled off several daring heists. I earned initiation into the Wizard’s Institute of Technology. In the end, I prevailed against terrible evil. The danger was far more serious in this game. The primary antagonist in Quest for Glory didn’t pose a serious threat to anyone outside of Spielburg Valley. The villain in Trial by Fire wants to unleash an evil djinn that will conquer the world. Failure is not an option.

There are some major differences between Trial by Fire and its predecessor. For one, the game is very linear. Events occur on specific days and have to be resolved by a certain time frame. This makes perfect sense to the story of course. You can’t ignore a destructive force forever. However, this does diminish the replay value of the game. While a fighter doesn’t solve these problems the way a thief does, the problems always occur in exactly the same order.

Almost impossible odds

Also, the bulk of the action takes place inside the city gates of Shapeir and Raseir. While the desert outside is vast, there is little to do there other than hone your combat senses. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but the desert is so difficult to navigate that discovering those mysteries can be difficult. That said, rolling sand dunes would be very difficult to navigate without a compass, so this element works in the game’s favor.

Fighters who behave justly and honorably can become a paladin at the end of the game – the path of a true hero. This opens up new special abilities and side quests in later games in the series. This isn’t easy to unlock; you have to behave honorably at all times. For those who are willing, though, the paladin eventually receives a lot of awesome abilities.

There are some problems. There are certain skills which are hard to train in this game. While this doesn’t pose a problem in Trial by Fire, it will later in the series. The combat system bothers me as well. While the combat is enjoyable, it’s difficult to the point of feeling unbalanced. Combat was either too easy or too hard, and there wasn’t any happy medium. I was constantly adjusting the skill slider because I just never knew what to expect.

That said, the endgame is awesome. It’s quite a bit darker than anything in the first Quest for Glory. Knowing that you’re being used as a puppet in someone’s scheme creates a genuine sense of despair. I hated the final scene as a thief the first time I played, but it wasn’t hard at all this time. This leads me to believe I let my frustration get the better of me a year ago.

The fate of the world hangs in the balance

While I enjoyed Trial by Fire, it can be a challenging (and often frustrating) experience for modern gamers. Thanks to old-fashioned copy protection, there is no automap, which can make travel difficult, especially in the early game. The learning curve in combat is also pretty steep. This isn’t unheard of in modern gaming, but it doesn’t make it less frustrating. Dodging is particularly troublesome, as you have to have a high dodge skill to effectively avoid attacks. But since your dodge skill progresses slowly when you struggle to avoid attacks, this gets very frustrating.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like here as far as story is concerned, and this is a great series for anyone to get into who enjoys old-school gaming. The setting is really well-done as well. There aren’t a lot of video games in a Middle-Eastern setting (the Prince of Persia series is the only one that comes to mind), so this exotic setting can be fun to explore.

All in all, this is a good game. There’s not a lot to do in the desert and it’s more linear than So You Want to Be a Hero. At the same time, the stakes are higher and you are learning what it really means to be a hero. It’s not quite as enjoyable as the first one, but a very good game in its own right.

 

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About

Benjamin Fitzgerald has been playing video games his entire life. An avid Star Trek fan, the first game he ever played was Interplay's "Star Trek: 25th Anniversary." He has many other interests as well, including writing music, cooking and spending time with his friends, including his best friend, Shadow.

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